Treasure In Earthen Vessels

Discovering the Indwelling Holy Spirit

Erica the Beloved May 15, 2017

[I have created a new category on my blog called “Amazing People” for stories of those special individuals who have touched or influenced my life as well as the lives of countless others. Erica Rutherford was such a person. I know you will enjoy her touching story, and in the end you will understand why I call her—Erica the Beloved.]

 

I will never forget the first time I saw Erica. It was January 6, 2003, and my husband and I had just arrived at the Oasis of Hope Cancer Treatment Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico. We came here as a last resort since all conventional efforts to treat my husband’s fast-growing prostate cancer had failed. Isn’t that what you do—one last ditch effort to halt the inevitable?

 

It felt strange being in another country, although the atmosphere at this facility and the warmth of the staff were comforting. I had done my research and believed this place to be what its name suggested: an oasis of hope for those who had none.

 

Knowing no one, we made our way to the dining hall for the evening meal. There she was—Erica. The fact that there was not a single hair on her bald head was totally overshadowed by her award-winning smile. Her soft hazel-green eyes sparkled with hope. With her pretty head tilted to one side and in a slightly slurred voice, Erica introduced herself as “Erica the Wonderful.” Within seconds, I knew that she was indeed wonderful, just as she had claimed. My heart struggled to accept that this wonderful young woman was in a battle for her life. Although cancer had invaded her twenty-seven year old body, she vibrated with life as she spoke of future plans.

 

Within a few days Erica and her mom, Carol, seemed like family to me. Each morning, the resident missionary held a Bible study and prayer time for family members and any patients who could make their way to the third floor. Our hearts fused together as similar stories were shared about the war in which we were all engaged—beating cancer. It didn’t matter what kind of cancer we were fighting—it was clearly the same enemy that had attacked our lives. If we had nothing else in common—we had a genuine hatred for the “C” word.

 

Erica had tongue cancer. Her doctors had misdiagnosed her illness over and over, wasting valuable time while giving the edge to the disease. It started as a small sore on her tongue, but like most mouth sores, it didn’t go away in a few days. The doctors tried to tell her that she had herpes or that it was from the Pavlova virus. There was just one problem—Erica was still a virgin who had never even kissed a boy in her life. She had not done drugs nor taken a drink of an alcoholic beverage. There was simply no explanation. Carol described her daughter like this: “I don’t even know where this child came from—she was so special.”

 

After watching Erica around the hospital for a few days, I took the liberty of renaming her “Erica the Beautiful.” Since she was both wonderful and beautiful, I had only added another dimension in describing the angelic creation of God that she was. Yet, as I now contemplate this one called Erica, not only was she “Erica the Wonderful” and “Erica the Beautiful,” she was much more. Those who saw her carrying her IV stand up the stairs instead of waiting for an elevator might call her “Erica the Incredible.” Those who heard her stories of numerous surgeries and countless Chemotherapy and radiation treatments might think of her as “Erica the Courageous.” For the fortunate souls who heard her testimony of God’s saving grace, she was “Erica the Faithful.” To all who had the opportunity to simply be in her presence, she was “Erica the Charming.” To her loving mom and family members, she was “Erica the Adorable.” And to all of us whether family, friends, or only a brief acquaintance, she was “Erica the Unforgettable.”

 

I have often marveled at the confidence of the Apostle John. John did not refer to himself as “John the faithful disciple,” or “John the eloquent writer,” or even “John the close friend;” but rather, “John the one whom Jesus loved.” What confidence! What an amazing relationship with the Savior! I believe that is the same relationship Erica had with the Lord Jesus. She was the one whom Jesus loved. Yes, even greatly loved. And while we knew Erica as wonderfully beautiful, incredibly courageous, faithfully charming, and adorably unforgettable, yet the One who created her knows her best as “Erica the Beloved.”

 

Our stay in Tijuana lasted only three weeks, but my relationship with those I met there continues on today. In time, we all had to say good-bye to the special person in our lives that had brought us to the Oasis of Hope Hospital. Yet, we stayed connected through phone calls and emails for our hearts had been linked for eternity. Within two months of arriving back at home, on March 31, 2003, God’s holy angels came and carried our angel, “Erica the Beloved,” to be in the presence of the One who loves her most. She was and is His Beloved. ~ Janie Kellogg

 

 

More Than Physical Therapy May 4, 2017

Filed under: Christian Growth — Janie Kellogg @ 8:34 pm
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It felt really strange, almost as if my head had been gently detached from my body and laid to the side. I was learning to trust my highly-recommended physical therapist as she tried to put my head back where it belongs. This was my fourth therapy session, and each session was growing in intensity. I wondered what she would do next.

 

Apparently, I had injured my neck at some time in the past, and now my head was off-center. It had been this way for so long that my new center felt more comfortable than my true center. Yet, my charming young therapist was determined to get my head on straight once again.

 

She worked the muscles on either side of my neck, removing the knots that had developed. A stretch here and a pull there—attempting to relieve the pain I had endured over the previous four months. She said the stretching and pulling would strengthen my neck muscles so they would eventually be strong enough to hold my head in the correct position. That should stop the pain.

 

As I contemplated her strategy, I thought about the spiritual struggle I was currently going through. Perhaps my physical condition and my spiritual condition had some things in common. Could it be that some of my spiritual muscles were sagging and I had found a more comfortable place to exist that wasn’t my true center? Things like slouching in prayer or slacking in Bible Study; yielding to selfish thoughts rather than Christlike ones, and even stooping to self-pity because things weren’t going my way in an important area of my life. Could it be that the worst symptom of all was my drooping faith to believe that God was still in control of my circumstances?

 

As my therapist continued to do her highly-skilled work on my neck, I smiled at God. I had caught a deeper meaning of my therapy session on that beautiful spring morning. Yes, my neck muscles were being strengthen to do what they were designed to do, and now I clearly saw that it was time to strengthen my spiritual muscles as well—the muscles that keep me on true center—true to God and true to my inner being—a woman after God’s own heart. Who knows, maybe some of that pain will go away, too! ~ Janie Kellogg

 

The Man-Boy Dreams of Heaven April 20, 2017

[I am excited to post my second short story—The Man-Boy Dreams of Heaven—a true story about my stepson, Alan Wade Kellogg. In spite of Wade’s many special needs, he is loved and adored by all who are fortunate enough to be a part of his life. Likewise, he is loved and adored by his Heavenly Father. I think you will understand why as you read about his life and his dream of visiting heaven.]

His small one-hundred-ten-pound, five-foot frame stood tall among the tombstones scattered across the mountain cemetery. The only sound was the wind rustling through a few dead leaves still clinging to the trees overhead. Wade did not know that Papa Buddy had died the week before Thanksgiving.

Dad had brought his thirty-two-year-old son with a missing chromosome over Jumbo Mountain to visit his grandfather’s grave. Because Wade had handled death with great courage so many times before, Dad wasn’t concerned that today would be any different.

“We had a funeral last week,” Dad said, as they neared the mound of fresh flowers heaped high over the dirt pile next to Grandmother Minnie’s grave.

“Who?” Wade asked, turning his head sharp to see Dad’s face.

“Bud.”

“Is he in heaven?”

“Yes,” Dad assured him.

Fighting back tears, Wade faced the reality of yet another life gone from his. Dad marveled that once again he processed the sadness like a pro.

Old enough to be a man—still so much a boy, this man-boy has many special needs. Wade is best described as a full bundle of God-given life living inside a body with a missing chromosome—Chromosome 4, to be exact. Wade has few basic survival skills, yet he is a genius in other ways. His ability to retain information is an uncommon gift. If it is history or geography, Wade knows his stuff. He can name the capitals of every state in the United States, and most capital cities of nations around the world. An avid Olympics fan, he can call out the dates of all future Olympic Games. While in middle school, Wade participated in an Academic Quiz Bowl. As expected, he gave all the right answers to his team; but he also gave them to the opposing team.

Shortly after his high school graduation, Wade’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mama-Judy had hormone-negative breast cancer, not the usual garden-variety type. This would be a fight for her life. With Wade requiring 24/7 care, Dad’s plate was soon piled full. He held a job, tended his cattle, and kept up with the daily needs of his family. Still, Dad was by his wife’s side as she endured the many facets of cancer treatment.

Tough choices lurked on the horizon. “I can take care of Mama-Judy or I can take care of Wade, but I can’t do both,” the strong man said, bending beneath the God-size load. He wondered how long he could hold up.

“Why are you taking her and not me? Wade needs his mother more,” Dad argued with God, reminding Him that she had been Wade’s caregiver since birth.

Feeling as though God had turned a deaf ear, Dad continued to pray for wisdom, strength, and a miracle. He sought help at the Department of Human Services, but with a waiting list of 4,000 unplaced clients, hope was slim.

Mama-Judy fought hard against the disease claiming her life. Others fought beside her, bringing food and taking her for treatments. Her church and community offered up petitions for her healing. Once a hairstylist, the loss of her hair from chemotherapy was especially difficult, yet she endured with great grace. She worried most about her family. Would her husband survive the pull? Would God answer in time? She watched the impossible become possible—a door opened that wasn’t supposed to—and this mama’s boy was placed in a home for the disabled.

When the inevitable came into focus, Mama-Judy voiced instructions for her funeral, as well as how this family would move on after she was gone. Dad should remarry—he need not be alone. Oldest son, Brad, and new bride, Amber, should not attempt to be Wade’s caregivers. She knew too well the strain it would put on normal family life. And Wade—Dad must promise that he would always be cared for.

“Death is swallowed up in victory,” declares the treasured Bible promise, yet somehow it doesn’t feel like victory. The empty chair at the table; the eerie silence of a house once filled with life; sitting alone on a church pew—such pain must be endured by faith in the One who conquered death.

Some rocky years passed before Wade found the place made especially for him. A home here, a home there—none quite suited for this man-boy who had only lived with a loving family. Nonetheless, God and Dad remained faithful. Wade eventually moved into a group home hand-picked by God Himself. Wade’s caregivers, Randall and Peggy, respect their clients as valued members of society and encourage them to live life to their fullest potential.

Wade is best suited to a life of routine, so change can be difficult. However, he can be coerced to accept most anything with a promised visit to the ice cream store or a piece of his favorite step-mother’s homemade pumpkin pie.

While visiting the hospital after the birth of twin nieces, Ruby and Sara, Dad carefully placed Ruby in Wade’s arms and asked, “Do you have anything to say to her?” Wade gently put his small bent finger on Ruby’s tiny check and said, “Welcome to the world.”

In a moment, like quicksand pouring in over something caught in its grasp, death was overtaken by more life—it simply succumbed as new life emerged. And just as promised, the preciousness of two new lives somehow swallowed up the pain of loss.

Wade had attended church his entire life, but surprisingly had never asked what would happen to him when he dies. Dad wasn’t sure Wade could process such important issues as sin, forgiveness, and salvation. His caregivers had honored Dad’s request to take Wade to church regularly, and one day it happened—the understanding of this man-boy was opened. Wade cried out, “Lord, save me,” and He did.

“Wade, do you know what sin is?” Pastor Frank questioned hard.

“Yeah, sin is having a fit,” he said, ducking his head sheepishly to one side. He gave the right answer to every hard question and was baptized in the church where he grew up.

Today, just an ordinary day in December, Dad and his son are once again making their way over Jumbo Mountain, this time to deliver a Christmas gift to Wade’s Aunt Priscilla. The graveled road winding up and down through the pine trees is a trip they have made a thousand times before—but this ordinary day is about to become extraordinary.

The noise of truck tires pounding against the gravel is broken by Wade’s words. “Hey, Dad, I had a dream last night.”

“Really? What about?” Dad asks, not making too much of it. He knows his son is a person of few words, unless it is to his advantage to speak.

“I dreamed about Papa Buddy. He was in Heaven with Papa Junior,” Wade’s paternal grandfather, “and Mama-Judy; she had brown hair,” he said, explaining that she didn’t have hair when she died. “But she does now.”

Wade has Dad’s full attention. “Oh? What else?” Dad asks.

“There were mansions and streets made out of gold. And I saw Jesus.”

Trying not to appear too anxious, Dad questions his son, “So what did Jesus look like?”

“He had a crown, and said, ‘Welcome in.’”

Dad pulls the pickup truck over to the side of the road and parks. He doesn’t want to miss one word his son offers to tell. “What else did you see?”

“I saw Bob Hope and Merle Haggard,” both popular entertainers from Wade’s childhood.

“Anyone else?” Dad asks.

One by one, Wade calls the names of those he saw in heaven: America Mouser, a delightful 101 year-old lady he had met in a nursing home; Mr. Rogers, host of Mister Rogers Neighborhood; Carmen Taylor, his special education teacher; Leila Williams, an adopted aunt; and Dennis Williamson, his great uncle.

“Did you see others?” Dad presses for more.

Wade names others: Cousin Ed; Aunt Ina Jo; Cousin Daniel, his Aunt Camilla’s son who lived forty-five years overcoming his own disabilities; Granny Grace, his great-grandmother, and Granny Ruby, a beloved family friend.

“Did anyone else say anything?”

“I don’t remember.” Wade’s voice trails off. “Oh, and Jesus said, ‘Welcome in,’” telling Dad for the second time as if it were the most important thing to remember.

“Is that all?” Dad asks, sensing the end is near.

“They were happy to see me.”

“Anything more?” Dad makes one final attempt.

“Nope.”

It is over as quickly as it began. Dad doesn’t know why the Heavenly Father would give a vision of heaven to a man-boy with a missing 4th chromosome, but he does know that his son is at peace with life—and with death, too. Wade fully believes his family will be together again—all in the presence of a loving Savior who says to each one who enters: “Welcome in.”

 You just never know when an ordinary day can take a turn and become extraordinary.  ~Janie Kellogg

 

 

Oh How He Loves February 14, 2017

Today is a day to celebrate L-O-V-E. We can have a lot of loves in our lives, but if we don’t know the Lover of our souls, we haven’t yet known what it is to be truly loved! There is nothing that can compare to the L-O-V-E that Jesus has for us. Take some time today to whisper “I love you” to the Lover of your soul. He is waiting to hear your voice, and even more so, He is waiting to hear your heart.

Below are the lyrics to the song “Oh How He Loves.” It is a beautiful love story between God and His children. Read it slowly. Take time to feel the emotion in the words. Grasp their meaning. Are you a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy? Do you realize how beautiful He is? Are you drawn by the grace in His eyes? If you have time, pull up a YouTube version and listen to the David Crowder Band sing it.

Oh How He Loves

He is jealous for me.
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And, oh, how He loves us, oh.
Oh, how He loves us.
How He loves us all.

And we are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about the way…

That He loves us.
Oh, how He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us,
Oh, how He loves. ~ David Crowder Band

oh-how-he-loves-us

Wishing all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day! I trust that you will live loved today, because you are loved with an everlasting love. Oh, how He loves you! ~ Janie Kellogg

 

Asking for Overs ~ New Year’s Day 2017 January 1, 2017

Filed under: Holidays — Janie Kellogg @ 4:55 pm
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“Oh, how I wish I could write like her,” I whispered to the Lord as I turned out the light. “My journals are full of the same stuff. Why can’t I write so people will read it?”

 

I had just read a few choice lines from Ann VosKamp’s new book The Broken Way to my husband, explaining that every sentence is so insightful I must stop and process it before I can move on. He had agreed.

 

As I settled down under the bedcovers, the Holy Spirit spoke one of those profound things to my heart:

 

“Not many people read books, but everyone reads lives. It’s not that I need more people writing the message—I need more people living the message.”

 

Ouch! My toes felt the divine crush.

 

I awoke early the next morning, and the dialog with the Holy continued.

 

“This is what many of My children do with the gifts I give to them—be it writing, singing, teaching, preaching, serving—you name it. They focus on the gift rather than the Giver.”

 

Ouch! Again.

 

Guilty as charged. It was true. I had made the gift (or talent) God had given me about me. I had attempted to enhance my gift, develop it, grow it, market it, and if the opportunity had arisen, I’m sure I would have sold it. The Giver pushed aside to make room for the gift.

 

He directed me to the Mount of Transfiguration story.1 There it was in plain sight how Peter immediately switched to the “it’s about me mode.” Jesus had been transformed right before his eyes, and Moses and Elijah showed up to boot—a marvelous display of God’s power and glory. Yet, the event soon became about Peter—where he was, how he felt, and what he could do to make this moment better.

 

Here is Matthew’s telling of what happened: “Then Peter began to speak and said to Jesus: Lord, it is good and delightful that we are here; if you approve, I will put up three booths, one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

 

How do you improve on that display of majestic mystery? That brush with the Eternal?

 

God gives gifts to His children for the purpose of drawing us closer to Himself, just as He did Peter. He wants us to see His magnificent glory and power so we can tell others about Him. He desires an intimate relationship with us, where we continually communion with Him, depending on Him to enable and anoint our gift for His purpose—reaching the world with His message.

 

Yet, like Peter, we soon make it about us. Our excitement takes over and ideas flood our mind about how we can make it g-r-e-a-t! Forget waiting on the Holy Spirit to direct our gift toward God’s purpose. The way we see it: God gave it, but we can take it from here.

 

How often do we offend the Holy Spirit by adding our humanness to a divine gift? Jesus said: “…the Son can do nothing by himself.”2 So how is it we think we can?

 

Making the gift our focus interferes with our intimacy with the Giver. Rather than seeing His glory, His power, His offer to operate through us, we envision all we can do for God with this gift. Instead of drawing us closer to Him, it pulls us away from Him. Our time and energy goes toward working the gift. Even prayer time centers on planning for the use of our gift. Intimacy is out the window; so is faith and trust.

 

I wonder if God ever wishes He hadn’t given us that gift in the first place.

 

Have you been thinking lately that your gift isn’t working like it used to? Are the results not what you’d hoped for? Has the freshness and anointing slipped away? Is it more a job than a joy? Perhaps you have even begun to doubt your gift?

 

Maybe we should ask ourselves this question: “How’s my intimacy with God?” If the answer is cold, lacking, or non-existent, then we shouldn’t expect our gift to work either.

 

So what can we do? Can we have overs? Perhaps.

 

Can we make our gift about the Giver and not about us? Maybe.

 

Can we allow it to draw us closer to Him rather than draw us away from Him? Not sure.

 

Can we let our intimacy with Him override our desire to do our own thing? I don’t know.

 

Is God a giver of second changes—and third—and fourth—and fifth? Definitely!

 

I don’t know about you, but I am asking for overs. As this New Year floods in, I see a fresh opportunity to handle my God-given gift differently.

 

Let’s brace ourselves, breath in some grace, and begin again. Isn’t that what a New Year is all about? Like the beginning of a new day!

a-new-beginning-2017

Dear Jesus, I bring this gift back to you. Please forgive me for what I’ve made it. Sanctify it anew, burn out the dross, remove the humanness I’ve added, and purity it for your purpose. May it be used for your glory in 2017, not mine.  ~ Janie Kellogg

 

1Matthew 17:1-8 (AMP) 2John 10:19 (NIV)

 

God’s OK with Exuberant Angels December 22, 2016

Filed under: Holidays — Janie Kellogg @ 4:28 am
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Christmas is full of surprises—those little unexpected moments which delight our hearts and fill our souls to full. It happened a few nights ago at my grandchildren’s Christmas program. Parents and grandparents watched their little ones pull off a spectacular rendition of Jesus’ birth. Every line was not perfectly spoken nor right on cue, but it was magnificent nonetheless.

And the surprise—one little boy (Zane ~ age 5) proved to be a most exuberant entertainer. Dressed in a white tee-shirt, jeans, and a makeshift halo, he stood on the bottom step of the risers that held the angelic choir. This truly adorable angel was poised for a great performance, yet he had one small problem—staying focused. He twitched and twisted with his experiment to see how far it was to the floor below. He swung his left foot off the riser to touch the floor with his tennis shoe; then his right foot—left foot, right foot, over and over it went. Yet, when the choir began to sing another song, he refocused and belted out the words with all his might. A few lines later, his excitement overcame him once again and he amused himself with less important things. The grand finale was his painstaking efforts to pull his arms out of the sleeves of his tee-shirt, leaving us to wonder if the play might end with one half-dressed angel.

The thoughts of this priceless moment bring a smile to my face this morning, yet I wonder if that little boy might reflect us—yes, you and me—during the Christmas season. We know we are supposed to focus on the Greatest Gift Ever Given, yet we get distracted by all the amusing things around us. When something pulls us back to the main thing, we refocus for a time, only to be overcome once again by things of lesser-importance. Like Zane, we do it over and over.

No doubt that little fellow brought delight to the heart of every onlooker, but I believe he also brought delight to the heart of God. Exuberance, energy, excitement—they’re simply part of being a little boy who is cherished and enjoyed. And so are we—cherished and enjoyed by our Heavenly Father. He knows that our exuberance, our energy and our excitement are simply part of being His child—created to live life to the full, to experiment with who we are and what we can do. Perhaps one day we’ll get it right—but until then, here’s a little advice using a few borrowed words from Luke’s account of the original spectacular event that might help us stay focused on the main thing:

In this season of celebration, remember that Jesus coming to earth was indeed good tidings of great joy to all people. So come with haste and find the Savior, glorify and praise God for what is seen and heard, and then go tell everyone what great things God has done. When the hype is over, just ponder all these amazing things throughout the coming New Year. Oh, and don’t forget to look for those little surprises along the way. Christmas is full of them!

 little-lamb

Merry Christmas to all, Janie Kellogg

 

He Came For Us December 18, 2016

Filed under: Holidays — Janie Kellogg @ 7:10 pm
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I sometimes think we look at Christmas through rose-colored lenses of our own choosing: God sent His sweet Son to earth by way of a warm cozy manger, dazzled lowly shepherds with an angelic host, and led kings to bring gifts to the Baby Jesus. It’s a beautiful story that stirs our hearts each year and leads us to give gifts, too. And we love it.

 

But like most everything in life, the deeper meaning of what happens isn’t always in plain sight. In reality, there is a much nobler greatness behind the magical scenes of Christmas that involves our destiny. You see—you and I were born into a world-gone-wrong.

 

God had created a world He called “good,” that is until evil entered the picture and ruined everything. Then darkness reigned. God’s world would eventually destroy itself because evil left unchallenged would lead to death for everything, including us. It was no less than a tragedy in which you and I were left without hope. Here’s why.

 

History had opened with Adam and Eve falling for the guise of knowledge. It was a costly fall for them, and us. Wrong won. In time, man grew so evil that God regretted that He had made us at all, and He destroyed the world with water. Wrong won again. Throughout the centuries man became so wicked that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Yet, what they declared to be right turned out to be all wrong. Then along came the Pharisees, making a mockery of the Holy Law and changing what was good into what was prideful and self-seeking. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Man couldn’t get it right—only wrong—hopelessly wrong.

 

What might a look at the Christmas story through nobler lenses reveal?

 

Mankind was locked in hopelessness—stuck on wrong.

Someone had to right the wrong.

Someone had to challenge evil.

Someone had to bring hope.

Someone had to come.

And He did!

 

That glorious night we celebrate as Christmas is about many things—but none more necessary for us than a Babe lying in a manger bringing hope to a world-gone-wrong.

 

He came for us! But don’t miss the deeper meaning behind this statement. Claim it for yourself. Make it personal—declare it out loud: I was without hope in a world-gone-wrong, and He came for me.

 

 

he-came-for-me

 

 

Dear Lord Jesus, as we look at the manger scene this Christmas, help us to see the deeper meaning of why you came to earth—you came for each of us. ~ Janie Kellogg