by Ryan Thurman
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants
Remember those leading you, who spoke the word of God to you, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
It takes no special talent to look around and point out things that are numbing and depressing. But becoming keenly and consistently aware of what’s good, true, and beautiful requires we be intentional: we must open our eyes, minds, and hearts, and keep them open.
One way to do this is to recognize and reflect on the people who have marked our lives. I have been thinking about this lately and want to write around this theme. It is a way for me to follow God’s instruction to be a 'remembering' people, who remember God’s work of grace throughout history and in our own lives. This is also a way for me to publicly honor those God has placed in my life.
We live in a time where it is hard to maintain healthy relationships in our lives, from our own family, to our friends. We have been disappointed often by those closest to us and we are aware that we too have failed those we love most. But here is the mystery; although we are weak and frail God chooses to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God to others.
We also are formed from a very early age by a message, that says we need to be independent and self-sufficient. As Frank Sinatra so famously sang, "I made it my way." But I think this is wrong. The Biblical example is that we are to follow and learn by imitation from those who walk with Jesus in an intimate way. We need these spiritual mothers and fathers who can love us and point us to Jesus and allow us to walk with them as they walk with Jesus.
Father Peter Hocken is one of those people in my life. I have gotten to know him over the past few years as we have been part of the Wittenberg 2017 initiative together. At first I was enamored with him as a gifted teacher, and then this grew into deep respect as I watched him interact with others so genuinely and humbly. This past June while we were in Wittenberg, Germany together we moved into friendship as we had different opportunities to sit together and share a meal. One of the last evenings I was able to spend one on one time with him. We walked through the old town and stopped at a cafe and he bought me a Heineken. As we sat together enjoying our beers I was able to ask him many questions about his life. It was one of those events that are sealed into my memory as a transformative moment. Father Peter, at age 85 continues to pour out his life as an offering and a testimony to the love and power of Jesus.
Who have been the people in your life that have helped shape who you are today?
Who are the people in your life whom God might be leading you to pursue and invest in. And who knows, one day may write about the importance of your investment in their life?
Fr Peter Hocken writes about his teaching ministry
In the mid-1990s the Lord gave me a new understanding of the centrality of the second coming of Jesus in the biblical revelation, that His coming in glory is what everything else is preparing for, along with the place of Israel and the Jewish people in the Father’s plan from before creation. I saw that everything the Holy Spirit is doing is preparing for this wonderful consummation. My earlier teaching had focused on the renewal of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council and on the importance of Christian unity in this renewal. The new light on Israel and the second coming gave a fuller context to that teaching based on a more complete biblical vision. The Lord raises up His Coming in glory and that sheds new light on everything else. Some people have told me I give a “big picture” teaching.
Only in the last three years have I had a website making these teachings of recent years available: www.peterhocken.org
Some of the main areas of this teaching are:
By Amber Jesse
Hey friends! Amber Jesse here again.
Yesterday, my big brother Cliff shared a song that he wrote and recorded to celebrate his bride of 14 years! His beautiful lyrics and melody inspired me to share more of their story with you, today. I’ve also posted their song on the blog page.
Cliff and his wife (my sister-in-love) Tara are very dear friends of our little “A2J” community, and they’ve given me permission to share a little bit more about them. Their story is my absolute favorite example of how God can heal a marriage and make it shine with such radiant light that it leaves no doubt of the reality of Jesus. Cliff and Tara would be the first to tell you that their marriage did not have an easy start. This story is long and multifaceted, as most good stories are, so today I'll just try to give you some highlights!
Cliff joined the Army at 17! He was sent to Iraq while his beautiful young bride was left behind to give birth to their first baby. Cliff returned for a short visit to meet his baby boy, Aiden, for the first time, and also to say goodbye to our Mom who was just one day away from dying of cancer.
The very painful circumstances of Cliff's early life, along with his years spent in war-torn Iraq, left him wounded, weary and hard-hearted. Tara and Cliff suffered for many years in a marriage largely devoid of the love that’s needed to thrive and grow. I watched my brother struggle with his own inner agony and angry outbursts. Tara shut down in many ways to try to survive. She became a sad, wilted flower.
I knew in my heart that Jesus was the One who could restore their hearts and their marriage, but Cliff had a strong aversion to God, and Tara had very little experience with even the idea of prayer or having a relationship with Jesus.
I remember a time when Cliff said to me, point blank, "I don't want God!"
In 2008, during my summer in Southeast Africa, I sensed God's strong invitation to fast and pray for Cliff and Tara, and to speak life over them and their marriage. I sensed the Holy Spirit filling my heart and I wrote these words:
"When I get home, I will speak over Cliff that he WILL be a man after God's own heart. He will have a revelation of
the depth of God's love for him... He will be a carrier of God's glory. He will come to the end of his rope, and no longer be a slave to anger or bitterness or anything of this world. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit. A burning flame, an unending fire will fill him… Cliff will be filled and overflowing with the joy of the Lord.
He will walk in radical faith. His family will also be radical lovers of God... Cliff will honor his wife and their
relationship will be an example for others. He will not walk in bondage. He will not walk in addiction. Cliff will walk closely with the Lord. He will hear God's voice and listen. He will not harden his heart… Cliff will be my teacher. He will lead me down the narrow road. He will lead his family and thousands more down the road of life. Aiden will follow his lead... Cliff will be consumed with love… He will use his gifts for proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven… He will be transformed!”
When I returned home, Cliff drove to Phoenix (from Ajo, where they were living at the time), and we met up for lunch. As we waited for our food, I confidently read these words to him, telling him I was absolutely sure they would happen. He looked puzzled and maybe a little intrigued. I remember him saying, “Hmm, I guess we’ll see...”
Over the next few years, Cliff continued to struggle. He continued to malfunction emotionally. He and Tara continued in unhealthy and damaging patterns of communications. They knew it was hurting Aiden and their baby girl Adeli, but they couldn’t seem to make any lasting changes. All the while, God was wooing and pursuing their hearts.
Whenever Cliff would come to Phoenix, he’d end up around our little band of Jesus lovers called “Apprenticeship to Jesus”. As he encountered the beauty and love of Christian community, he became more and more intrigued. “Was this whole Jesus thing even real? Could God really change my life?”
After one really bad argument between Cliff and Tara, he called me up. He seemed to have hit rock bottom- depressed, angry and in immense pain. He was planning to get into his car and drive off indefinitely. My heart ached. I had been here with him and Tara before, but this felt different. I worried that something terrible would happen.
In that moment, I gave Cliff a challenge. “Please! Come stay with with us here in Woodland for a while. Then you can decide what you want to do next.”
He took the chance, accepted the invitation and came! A couple of our guys in the neighborhood took him in, and then I witnessed what I’d call the miracle of community. Over the course of a few weeks, a whole group of amazing men of God, one-by-one, came around Cliff and poured into him… their friendship, their insights, and their love!
All the while, there was this beautiful, faithful couple in Ajo who had consistently been praying for them.
Long and amazing story short, Cliff returned to his family significantly changed. He was invited to a Christian men’s retreat with some guys in Ajo and shortly thereafter I got a phone call from my brother that I will never forget.
“Amber, these guys were getting baptized and… I can’t explain it… Something came over me and I wanted to run into that water! I gave my life to Jesus! I’m putting my hand to the plow, and I’m never looking back!”
So, that was the beginning of a brand new Cliff…
Tara kept a close eye on him for a whole year to see if this new “fad” would stick. Once she realized that Jesus had indeed started to form a new and beautiful heart in Cliff, she came wholeheartedly on board. This woman who didn’t even really know what it meant to have a conversation with God, became what I’ve often referred to as a “sponge for truth.” Tara is a wise soul, full of grace and beauty. Her heart is the loveliest. She is a flower that has BLOSSOMED.
And Cliff… Oh man! I could go on and on about what an amazing person he is! Early on in his journey, he asked me how he could expedite his spiritual growth. I told him to read the words of Jesus and do exactly what he says. Cliff really took that to heart. He has, in many ways, become my teacher. I look up to him and admire how passionate, kind and teachable he is. He is truly a man after God’s heart!
So, Jesus has done it again! His passionate, sacrificial love has won them over.
And I’m the one who can tell you! I’ve been with them all along the road. I knew them before and I know them now. They are not the same. They have been and continue to be dramatically transformed. And how sweet it is to my soul to see my nephew and my niece growing up and thriving in this love.
Those words I sensed God leading me to speak over them nine years ago, while I was in a little town in Southeast Africa… those words become more true each and every day.
Now, I’d like to encourage you to click the link below to hear the song Cliff wrote for Tara. It’s called “Dearest One.”
by Amber Hunter Jesse
My mom really loved my dad, and I think he really did try to love her back. Together, they brought me and my big brother Cliff into the world, and they wanted to make us a happy family.
But our family broke and fell to pieces.
I cried my eyes out on their bed, as mom told us she was divorcing him. I was only eight years old. I understand now that she couldn’t live anymore with his unwillingness to get the help he needed for his depression and mental illness. He often stayed home while she worked full-time at the courthouse and we were dropped off at mediocre babysitters, the only one’s mom could afford.
When I was 11, my mom cried as she told me that my dad would be spending the rest of his life in prison. He had shot a man to death. I remember my young and puzzled brain, trying to make sense of it. I think I went into survival mode. My immediate response was, “It doesn’t matter. I’m fine. He was nothing but a sperm donor to me.” Looking back, I can see that I was traumatized. My mom was limited in her understanding and ability to walk us through a healthy, healing process. She tried to bring it up throughout the years, but I had made it an “off-limits” topic. I was ashamed and terrified that people would find out that I was the daughter of a murderer. “Anguish” isn’t too strong a word to describe how I felt realizing I had lost my dad forever.
In the middle of my senior year of high school, my mom was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor. In other words, cancer. She died only four months later. I remember a conversation we had maybe a month before. She said, “Amber, there will be times in your life when you think, ‘I wish my mom was here,’ but I want you to know that I already know. I already know that you’ll do so many amazing things in your life.”
Since then, I’ve been on quite a journey! After graduating from college and spending a very inspiring summer in Pemba Mozambique, I was invited to move into Downtown Phoenix , to start community of people called “Apprenticeship to Jesus, (A2J for short).” These past eight years, we’ve tried to walk closely together, on a common path into the beautiful heart of Jesus. I’m so thankful for how God has surprised me with this miracle of community! It’s been a safe harbor where I’ve consistently felt known and cared for, and where I’ve had a sense that I belong. Our shared life has also been a place of transformation; we’ve come to understand that relationships are the context where God matures, heals, and forms us in Love.
When I moved into the A2J community I was very passionate about Jesus, but I was also more injured than I knew. I was limping, spiritually and emotionally. I was extremely sensitive and when a wound got touched I lashed out at the people who loved me the best. My A2J family supported me through a much-needed season of mourning. I pinned this large burlap cross above my bed and, for two solid months, I wept and ached in the presence of God. My community also gave me the courage to begin unpacking my painful places with a professional counselor. Over these years, I’ve experienced significant growth and heart-healing that, upon reflection, causes me to gasp in amazement.
What’s even more amazing is that my brother Cliff decided to jump on board! Cliff is one of my best friends and one of my very favorite people. You should see him! The love of God has completely transformed him, along with his beautiful wife and kids. It’s been a dramatic and beautiful thing to behold.
Four years ago, my brother called me up and said “Amber, I think it’s time for us to go visit our dad.”
We had reconnected with our dad through letters, but we’d never gone to see him in prison.
I knew Cliff was right, it was time. So, we sent him a postcard to let him know we were coming and, before hearing anything back from him, we drove the eighteen hours to the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas to visit our dad for the first time. We hadn’t seen his face or heard his voice in over fifteen years.
My heart was pounding as I sat at that picnic table waiting for him to come. His letters had revealed significant mental illness and instability, so we had no idea if he would even come out, or how he would respond to us. Would he be angry or overwhelmed? Would he say strange things? I wasn’t even sure how he felt about me. Would we hug? Would that feel weird?
I looked up and saw a frail inmate in an all-white jumpsuit. He had grey hair, and he was unfamiliar. “Well, that’s not him,” I whispered to my brother. But as he came a bit closer, Cliff leaned over and said, “that is him!”
When our eyes met, my dad gave a hesitant smile. I found myself jumping out of my seat as he sped his own steps. We threw our arms around each other and I said, “Hi dad.”
As tears welled up in his eyes, my dad said, “do you remember the last time I saw you? I’ve replayed it over and over in my mind. I just can’t remember if I hugged you… if I told you that I love you.”
Our visit inspired me to write a song called Freedom Road.
It’s been a long road, learning what it means to forgive my dad for all the ways he wasn’t there for me when I needed him. I’m still learning to trust God with my dad. This process has opened my heart and allowed love to grow and to blossom.
Since then, our dad has sent me a lot of his amazing original artwork, and I’ve created art books that I’ve sent back to him. He said to me “they’re the best gifts I’ve ever received and that comes right from the center of my heart!” As I sort through all his creations, I feel so proud of him and thankful that we've found this way to collaborate and make something beautiful together.
I cannot imagine the pain of spending life in prison, let alone with his serious mental illness, and in one of the harshest prisons in America. He's starting to become more open with me, even sending a drawing of the inside of his cell. Art helps this dad and his kids to connect.
Last month, my brother and I went back for a second visit. It went beyond our hopes.
We arrived on the rare picture day and were able to get a photo with our dad! I was so excited! We didn’t even think that was possible.
Our dad has the sweetest smile. Cliff says that it’s his favorite thing about our visits. This time, dad shared stories from his childhood that made our hearts hurt, and helped us to understand him so much more. He sang for us a new song he had written. Yep, it turns out all three of us are songwriters! His song was gentle and emotional, and his tears made his chin quiver as he sang. He said it was the best visit ever, and that he felt like “a free man, outside of the fences.” We all agreed together that God is restoring so much in our family.
As we were leaving, and he was headed back to his cell, I got this urge and I ran back over to give him
another hug. It caught him off guard, and he smiled.
We left that prison with a mix of joy and sorrow in our hearts.
I remember my mom’s words. “Amber, there will be times in your life when you think, ‘I wish my mom was here,’ but I want you to know that I already know. I already know that you’ll do so many amazing things in your life.”
I feel an ache as I read those words.
I wish my mom was here to see this photo.
Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was one of the main leaders of the American civil rights movement, a political activist, a Baptist minister, and was one of America’s greatest orators. King’s most influential and well-known public address is the “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1963. In 1964, King became the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (for his work as a peacemaker, promoting nonviolence and equal treatment for different races). On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of revenge. Man has never risen above the injunction of the lextalionis: ‘Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.’ In spite of the fact that the law of revenge solves no social problems, men continue to follow its disastrous leading. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path. Jesus eloquently affirmed from the cross a higher law. He knew that the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy would leave everyone blind. He did not seek to overcome evil with evil. He overcame evil with good. Although crucified by hate, he responded with aggressive love. What a magnificent lesson! Generations will rise and fall; men will continue to worship the god of revenge and bow before the altar of retaliation; but ever and again this noble lesson of Calvary will be a nagging reminder that only goodness can drive out evil and only love can conquer hate.
-Martin Luther King Jr.