Three Hours of Darkness – Grace Appeared

I have read the Easter story since I was a child and I am still awe struck with the way it can never be too familiar. Matthew 27:45 says, Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. Having the knowledge that darkness fell, I have not really thought about the reason why darkness fell. I read the following in the Matthew Henry Commentary: How this was signified–by an extraordinary and miraculous eclipse of the sun, which continued for three hours, Matthew 27:45. There was darkness epi pasan ten gen–over all the earth so most interpreters understand it, though our translation confines it to that land. Some of the ancients appealed to the annals of the nation concerning this extraordinary eclipse at the death of Christ, as a thing well known, and which gave notice to those parts of the world of something great then in doing as the sun’s going back in Hezekiah’s time did. It is reported that Dionysius, at Heliopolis in Egypt, took notice of this darkness, and said, Aut Deus naturæ patitur, aut mundi machina dissolvitur–Either the God of nature is suffering, or the machine of the world is tumbling into ruin. An extraordinary light gave intelligence of the birth of Christ (Matthew 2:2), and therefore it was proper that an extraordinary darkness should notify his death, for he is the Light of the world. The indignities done to our Lord Jesus, made the heavens astonished, and horribly afraid, and even put them into disorder and confusion such wickedness as this the sun never saw before, and therefore withdrew, and would not see this. This surprising, amazing, darkness was designed to stop the mouths of those blasphemers, who were reviling Christ as he hung on the cross and it should seem that, for the present, it struck such a terror upon them, that though their hearts were not changed, yet they were silent, and stood doubting what this should mean, till after three hours the darkness scattered, and then (as appears by Matthew 27:47), like Pharaoh when the plague was over, they hardened their hearts. But that which was principally intended in this darkness, was, (1.) Christ’s present conflict with the powers of darkness. Now the prince of this world, and his forces, therulers of the darkness of this world, were to be cast out, to be spoiled and vanquished and to make his victory the more illustrious, he fights them on their own ground gives them all the advantage they could have against him by this darkness, lets them take the wind and sun, and yet baffles them, and so becomes more than a conqueror. (2.) His present want of heavenly comforts. This darkness signified that dark cloud which the human soul of our Lord Jesus was now under. God makes his sun to shine upon the just and upon the unjust but even the light of the sun was withheld from our Saviour, when he was made sin for us. A pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun but because now his soul was exceeding sorrowful, and the cup of divine displeasure was filled to him without mixture, even the light of the sun was suspended. When earth denied him a drop of cold water, heaven denied him a beam of light having to deliver us from utter darkness, he did himself, in the depth of his sufferings, walk in darkness, and had no light, Isaiah 50:10. During the three hours that this darkness continued, we do not find that he said one word, but passed this time in a silent retirement into his own soul, which was now in agony, wrestling with the powers of darkness, and taking in the impressions of his Father’s displeasure, not against himself, but the sin of man, which he was now making his soul an offering for. Never were there three such hours since the day that God created man upon the earth, never such a dark and awful scene the crisis of that great affair of man’s redemption and salvation.

As I have been pondering this particular verse in Matthew’s telling of all that transpired on that day. I can’t help but ask one other thought provoking question.

What if it was so dark because grace was so thick?

Grace descended on earth with such a presence that silenced mankind. Grace overwhelms!  Centuries later and we sing lyrics such as “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”

Marvelous grace or our loving Lord

grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Yonder on Calvary’s Mount outpoured,

There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace Grace God’s Grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Have you, like me, ever really taken it in that the grace God shed on us through His son is greater than all of our sin: individually and collectively? As I have thought about this over the last several days, I just had to ask about those three hours 2000 years ago. Did it take the thick darkness of grace to expose the broken lives sin destroys?

During my college years, I spent two summers working for a group of Orthopedic doctors. While I mostly worked in the file room, I did get the opportunity to learn how to work in the dark room.  This is where the x-ray film was developed before being handed over to the physician. Believe me, it was literally a dark room – absolutely no light.  So there I would sit with one lone radio for company and wait for film to be dropped and then when ready I would transfer it to be picked up for viewing.  Only the complete darkness of that Dark Room could expose what needed to be healed. So I sit writing my thoughts on this blog wondering the same thing.  Was the darkness that fell on the earth that day needed to expose what needed to be healed?  Was it grace laying on the world so heavy that when it lifted man’s heart was exposed?  When the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom, was that the power of marvelous grace inviting us to come boldly to the throne of God?

Jesus hung on the cross, shedding His blood for my sin and at the same time pouring out grace’s invitation, beckoning the world to trust Him through faith. When love so powerful comes from the One who created time and is not constrained by time takes the time to shed grace; it could come with a powerful earthquake, tearing of the Temple curtain and darkness.  When grace met sin in a collision of holiness and evil; grace came in with a fury. Satan could not win that day and he could not keep Christ in the grave.  Death could not hold Him! The grave could not keep Him! Grace had been shed and mercy had been poured out freely.

Let us not romanticize grace and think it always comes in softly.  Sometimes grace says “enough!” and you hear “It is Finished”.  Then the earth shakes.  Grace has a power that will not only overwhelm the heart of man,it takes over the atmosphere.  Never underestimate the power of that marvelous grace… “grace that is greater than all my sin and guilt”.

If He mentions “Boaz” then…

If you only know me through my blog, you know I focus on single motherhood, divorce, and overwhelming life issues. There is so much more to my story…our story.  In honor of Valentine’s Day please sit back and enjoy a portion of a love story that will keep you smiling.

It all began when I received this email after our first date:

Dear Joy,  I think we’re both at a point where we need “to pick each other’s brains” a bit. We have had a great introduction to our past lives… and know God has directed us to where we each have our own callings fulfilled in the best way we know how. but now our lives have intersected and I can at least speak for myself… you have stirred something within my spirit… there’s a transparency that I feel like I can tell you anything and I honestly am not worried or concerned about it coming back to bite me… and if there’s anything that I can say is the open-candid conversations we’ve had have been awesome because you know things about me that I haven’t even told my closest friends. I love that we can talk for hours and it feels like minutes (at least that is my impression). I love hearing about the things (and people) that matter most to you. Honestly, I know I haven’t technically met your children, but I feel like I know them well already through what you’ve told me because I know your love for them runs so strong. So honestly,I’m thinking why didn’t God allow me to meet you 16 or so years ago? And then I remember from my own story, God uses the brokenness of our lives to rebuild into strength.  Your experiences have refined you into the beautiful woman you are today. And ultimately, your journey gave you Meighan and Caid, the most precious gifts to you.  My journey taught me patience and trust… God’s best will always come for those who wait. Pastor Philip has been preaching on sacrifice for the last month, so I guess that has been going through my mind too.  It’s quite real to me that if there’s going to be something more than friendship between us then there will be sacrifice from both you and me… I say sacrifice and not compromise because sacrifice means we lay down our wills before God and allow Him to choose the path. So that’s what I am in the process of doing. I am praying daily that if there is a future for us that goes beyond friendship that He will direct our paths, give us wisdom, guide us in the area of sacrifice, and kindle a connection between all of us that can be a nucleus of a new family. But if not, then God’s path will guide us in a clear way that will take what we’ve learned and encountered together and help us to be ready for what God has in store in the future. And so far as I can tell in my heart, God is answering this prayer. But since it also depends on you… that is the remainder of my thoughts from yesterday… “What does Joy think? Are we of like minds? (after our first date) Did God confirm a different direction in her spirit?”  I guess the real question is would you like to go on another date?

The Rest of the Story

As I began to seek the Lord much more diligently concerning my relationship with Jeff, I prayed very specific. I knew I did want to go on another date! I prayed that while on our second date if Jeff is the man I am to marry and be a father to Meighan and Caid then somehow, someway Jeff would talk specifically about Boaz (From the Old Testament book of Ruth). We had a wonderful second date filled with great conversation, good food, and lots of laughter. As he drove me back to my home, he mentioned he would like to meet my pastor and introduce himself.  Jeff explained to me that as a pastor, he understood how seriously a pastor cares for the families in his church. He said I am not asking Brody permission to date you, but I do want him to know me and understand my intentions. I supported this and told him that I did. Then Jeff said, “Much like Boaz gave his sandle at the gate when he met with the elders.” (Ruth 4)  I tried to keep my composure as I smiled and nodded.

There is so much more to our story, but I thought it appropriate to share with you a portion of us living and experiencing that God is in the details.  Whether you are married or single take the time to focus on all the details of your life that the Lord has never overlooked or dismissed.  What concerns us is very important to Him.

Well… we are off to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.  With glad hearts we reminisce over this last year and we know the Lord has done great things.

Integrity through divorce, is that possible?

As I blog on the topic of divorce, I understand that this topic will take several posts.  Please bear with me as I begin to answer a very tough question.  A question that is asked often and a question that stares us in the face because of the harsh reality of living in a fallen world.

“Do you ever advise a friend to walk away from a marriage, even as a Christian?”

To look at this question through the lens of right and wrong or justified and unjustified will not give the clarity that is desperately needed. As I have thought through and prayed about this question, I have remembered the devastating circumstances of godly individuals faced with the harsh reality of a dying marriage.  I am not too far removed from my own divorce that has left deep scars on my soul.

When is it time and when is it appropriate to advise a friend to walk away?  I do not think there is a single time or one event that will be the sign to advise someone to walk away from a marriage. There is usually a culmination of experiences, choices, and circumstances that lead to the very question I am answering.  As believers, we are to take marriage seriously.  Marriage is THE EXAMPLE to the world of the Gospel. It is a beautiful display of Jesus and the church, the bride and groom.  However, when it is a marriage of two people claiming to be followers of Jesus and the marriage is being destroyed by one’s sinful choices and hardness of heart, it is devastating.

Another question to be asked is “what is happening in my friend’s marriage that is leading me to think divorce is the only option left?”  Sometimes it is easy to be caught up in the particulars of a situation and we do not look at the real heart of the matter.  I can only use my own divorce as an example of what I mean. It is a preferred situation when the answer is black and white in scripture.  However, there are circumstances that are not so cut and dry. I found myself in the latter category. It was this reason that I leaned heavily on the principles of God’s Word and one of the particular scriptures that became my heart’s cry is found in Job.  (you are probably thinking, “Of course the scripture was in Job!”  After all, Job went through terrible life-altering events)

Let me be weighed on honest scales,
That God may know my integrity.  Job 31:6

I want to explain this verse so that you can apply the godly wisdom to unwanted circumstances. The word “weighed” means to weigh out. When we weigh something we know exactly what we are dealing with. Weighing something gives accuracy.  In this verse, Job is asking the he be weighed.  If you and I are to be weighed then we have to put everything, all of ourselves in a position of being completely known. For me, it was two years of marital counseling and 4 years of personally entrusting myself to the godly wisdom of a counselor. I deliberately put myself in a place to be weighed – completely known.

For Job, he didn’t want to be weighed on just any scale, he desired to be weighed on honest scales.  Some versions of scripture use the word “accurate”. I found the meaning of this word, honest or accurate, to drive my prayer life and reveal the motives of my heart. The word means, justice; righteous.  The scales of righteousness are not easy to step on and be weighed.  This type scale reveals MY heart not my marriage.  To be weighed on this scale one will not reveal the other person. The only person revealed is the one being weighed by honesty.  Honesty, according to God’s standards.Choosing to stand on these scales challenges our lifestyle and our choices.

We have a tendency to think that if the Bible does not directly address our circumstances then we are stuck and have no direction.  However, I believe the books of Job and Esther are perfect examples of circumstances that are not black and white and God proves His faithfulness to the individual that continually seeks the heart of God. I wrote the following in my book Identity Crisis: Moving From Crisis to Credibility,

 If integrity is one side of the coin then Psalm 26:2 is the other side. The American Standard Version says: “Examine me, O Jehovah, and prove me; Try my heart and my mind.” If we surrender to God’s scales and he weighs us then we must be at peace with how he chooses to examine our heart and mind. To be all right with one and try to manipulate the other is hypocritical. You can’t have it your way and his way. You may have already entered into this area of your crisis. You may be living out the portion of these lyrics to the song “Restored (The Grindstone Song)” by Cheri Keaggy: “I’ve been living against the grindstone, where nothing is sure but the Lord.” It is more crucial now than ever to understand and trust the Lord. There is purpose to your pain. There is reason for your heart being examined and your mind being tried.

Just think, God can KNOW your integrity and my integrity.  This word, “know” means to find out and discern; clearly understand; to know by experience. There is so much solace in knowing that in crazy circumstances God knows what you are experiencing and He clearly understands what our heart cannot. When we encourage others to step onto the only scale that can vouch for integrity, we begin to walk a journey with that person that is acknowledging their difficult circumstances and seeking to understand. This comes through a variety of ways and one of the best ways is to support your friend to seek godly, wise counsel. Entrusting oneself to this part of the process is crucial. It is in the knowing that the fog clears and clarity is given. Becoming aware of the ugly truth and then admitting the truth can be painful.

Integrity in this context means innocent.  Is it possible to come through great devastation and the Lord see you as innocent? Yes.  However, arriving at this takes a lot of time and letting that time be God’s timing. It also requires submission to a process of godly counseling. It demands you be completely transparent with a few safe people. There is a process of being weighed.  As you are faced with how to direct your friend, please begin on the only scales that will safely deliver his/her heart and soul to a life of integrity.

“Our God is a consuming fire A burning holy flame, with glory and freedom Our God is the only righteous judge, Ruling over us with kindness and wisdom We will keep our eyes on you So we can set our hearts on you Lord, we will set our hearts on you!”

There are times that divorce is no option.  Let the process not be dictated so much by the details of the situation, although that can not be completely ignored, but allow for a process that is guided by a life of integrity.

**Please leave a comment; let’s have THIS dialogue.

(I have written in more detail in my book. It is available http://www.amazon.com/Identity-Crisis-Moving-Credibility-Morgan-ebook/dp/B00HE0Q2EC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423669904&sr=1-1&keywords=identity+crisis+joy+anisa

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The Hospitable Heart

Several days ago, I was given the opportunity to set up a booth at a Minister’s Wives Retreat. When I arrived, I made my way to registration and was greeted with warm welcomes. There was laughter, a lot of chatter, and women embracing one another. A few had settled in by the fire, enjoying delightful conversations. I set up my booth, found my room, and then made my way to the dining hall.  What I experienced for the next 24 hours deeply touched my soul and has forever changed how I desire to BE in women’s ministry.

For me, there is nothing worse than walking into a room full of women that are there with one another and I do not know a soul.  As I made my way through the buffet line, I looked around and it suddenly felt like high school all over again.  You know the feeling… (well, maybe you do… if not just humor me)  I looked at each table and realized that everyone there already had a place and I felt like the misfit. So I prayed quietly as I prepared my salad asking the Lord to lead me to a table where I could sit and possibly make a few new friends. I made my way passed the first few tables and finally stopped and asked, “May I sit here?”  I was greeted with five spontaneous smiles and “Yes, please do”.  The introductions began and the lady next to me immediately began talking to me. Then a lady walked toward the table and all the ladies at the table asked her if she had eaten.  They quickly introduced me to her and I realized this was the lady who was overseeing the retreat and had been so gracious and open to my setting up my booth.  As we all talked, time passed and it was time to go into the first large group session. I was invited to sit with them and as we all interacted I realized that when the love of Christ is the bond there is no stranger.  However, there was more to it than just that one principle of the body of Christ. How do I know this?  I have had other experiences, where the particular ingredients of a similar experience were completely missing.

As I walked to my room at one o’clock in the morning after spending more time with this fabulous group of ladies huddled all together in one hotel room, I wondered what was so different. The next day did not disappoint! As I interacted with this particular group of women that all serve together at the same church, I watched them interact with many others.  They served one another with the same love and with such grace.  I drove home later that evening and knew that my soul had been touched and my heart had been challenged.  Over these past few days, I have pondered what I experienced.  I cannot say it better than Peter wrote it in I Peter 4:9-10.

Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

These women were more than welcoming, they were hospitable. They were not just being nice to the new gal.  They wanted to know the new gal. They were not just being polite to the other women attending the retreat, they served the women.  I heard a quote years ago that the way to the top is through the towel. In other words, you want to influence others and affect people with the love of Jesus then you must serve them. This is what I saw and experienced with this group of women.

As I have reflected on my experience, I have found myself desiring to live out what the beautiful ladies of Georgia graciously displayed. What would our women’s ministries be if we each were hospitable to one another without grumbling?  How effective would we be if we ministered to one another as good stewards of grace?  Talk about amazing! If we think that hospitality is merely an act of being friendly then we water down the Gospel.  Hospitality is an overflow of the heart.  These women touched my heart and my soul has been refreshed.

Hospitality is connected to our attitude and the way we minister to one another can only be as deep as the grace we swim in. Hats off to the fabulous ladies of the GA Baptist Convention! A particular thank you to some of the most beautiful souls I have ever met, the minister wives of North Metro FBC in Atlanta, GA are one of a kind.  You have an attitude that reflects the heart of God and you swim deep in grace.

There will be a drawing for a beautiful print.  Here’s the catch! Please comment on the blog post and nominate a minister’s wife or a women’s ministry leader.  A name will be drawn on Sunday.  Please check back on Sunday to see if your nominee won and arrangements will be made to contact you.

Divorce: Balancing Truth with Grace

I was asked the following questions: “Without “bashing” the other parent, how do you answer those hard questions that children ask during/after a divorce?” and “How do you break the news to your kids that divorce is imminent?” I can identify with both of these women’s concerns. When someone is seeking the Lord with all of their heart in the midst of circumstances that they have no control one of the best options is to walk through that fire balancing truth with grace. It is one of the most beautiful gifts you can give to your children in the midst of such an ugly situation.

When you seek truth and you walk in the truth and you speak truth then you will not be “bashing” the other parent. Children only ask what they want to know. However, they do need to be given direct and truthful answers. What we are called to do is to show grace.  The hard truth will need to be spoken. It is in truth that the way is made for overwhelming grace to wash over us and begin to heal us. If we sugarcoat the truth to make ourselves comfortable and to avoid the difficult conversations then we shortchange the power of grace.

How do you know know if you are “bashing” or speaking truth? What is your motive behind why you are giving the information you are giving? It is not your responsibility to prove the pain that exists in the hearts of those under your roof. They know the pain because they feel the pain. Nor is it your obligation to prove your own pain to your children as a way to win their devotion to you. You can and must walk them through the brokenness with validation of their pain and their own experiences.

The more direct you can be when breaking the news of the divorce to your children is best.  Direct does not mean there will not be emotion.  What it does mean is you are setting a standard within your own home to not ignore the elephant in the room. You are willing and available to be fully present for the tough stuff. That conversation will be very difficult, but the focus is their pain. Depending on the ages of the children the conversations will be different and the emotional responses will vary.

Ultimately, you will need to take care of your soul and guard your heart.  No one is able to balance truth with grace unless you walk in the truth of God’s Word and allow the loving-kindness of the all knowing God to bring into the light what has been hidden in the dark. To lead your children with openness and honesty, you must first and foremost be open and honest with others that are godly and trustworthy.

As you walk in truth and experience grace, your children will begin to have the confidence to do what they see you living. In the darkest times and the ugly circumstances the greatest gift you can give your children is truth and grace. The truth of the reality you all are living and the grace to allow their emotions and the pain of their heart to be validated. Then the great opportunity is to walk with joy knowing that His grace is sufficient and He has you all in His grip. Allowing for every tear to fall understanding the Lord sees each of you and your pain is not invisible. Leading your children with understanding that only God can give purpose to the pain. Give them truth. Give them grace. Give them purpose.

A winner will be chosen from the comment section below for the next giveaway!

Wisdom for parents

When I was asked,”How do you balance raising five children in a blended family – all with different needs and different life experiences? How can we, as their parents, parent them differently without them feeling we are choosing one over the other?”

What a loaded question! It is these type questions that cause me to be thankful that I get the opportunity to get out of the way and only the wisdom of the all-knowing God can shine light in the places we are seeking to understand. As a parent, I am continuously being challenged and growing and failing and seeking the Lord to give me wisdom as I desire to be a good steward of the gifts He has given – my children.

This question is not only applicable to blended families, I believe this can be a struggle for the family that is completely intact. Each child is a different person.  Yes, they may share characteristics but their soul and heart is uniquely created by God. Even in the most traditional family children can have different life experiences. If you were to talk with me and talk with my brother you could wonder if we grew up under the same roof with the same set of parents.  Whether extreme or minor, I am sure you have similar experiences of different perspectives and different experiences than your siblings. With that being said, I think the best way for me to answer the first question is to focus on balance.

Balancing our time and attention and influencing each child that the Lord has put into our care is one of the greatest challenges of parenting. I don’t know that viewing balance as equal time with each child is the best definition. Instead, what if we really understood what our child needs and we become intentional about meeting their unique need. King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, wrote these words, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”.  I want to focus on the first part of the verse not because it is more important but I want to answer the main question. If we as parents are to train up our child in the way he/she should go it will require not only my investment of time but knowing them.  We are to prepare them for what they are designed for, to live life for God and for others. It will be in the knowing that we will have the necessary discernment to see the area of their life that are the weak places and need to be strengthened. The temptation is to give excuse or ignore the areas that are in need of more attention: character, work ethic, friendships. communication, how they respond to negative emotions, and more… Parenting is not for the weak at heart.  The training takes time and knowing, but everyday we have to have a plan of how our child should go. I am so grateful that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning! Ask yourself, how can you train more intentionally (it will be different with each child) and have a plan that is active for today but will also extend for generations to come.

“In parenting, the days are long but the years are short.”

all things through Christ

For years, Philippians 4:13 has been the one verse that has been universal in my life.  When I was asked recently what my favorite bible verse is, this immediately came to mind.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”

I can’t think of one life circumstance or any situation that this verse cannot give wisdom and direction.  However, it is important that I keep this verse in context.  So often, we are tempted to use God’s Word like a fortune cookie. This is not a good luck charm. Why did Paul write this short but ever powerful sentence? Philippians 4:13 is the wrapping paper on the gift of contentment.

 “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

For years I did not understand the context that Paul wrote Philippians 4:13.  I have to admit I did use it as a motivator, my personal good luck charm. Then life was slammed by a crisis called divorce and single motherhood and I really wondered if I could do all things through Christ and if He would strengthen my very weak and wounded soul. As the days turned into months and the months into year 1 and so on; I did learn that I could do whatever the “all things” were for that day and His strength is perfect.  I did not experience Philippians 4:13 fully until I understood and began to “learn that whatever state I am, to be content”.

The verse that I discovered in my early teens became my most challenging truth. We like the motivational feel of Paul’s words but dare we really experience the depth of these words with the blood, sweat and tears of really being content in WHATEVER state we find ourselves. Can we really live everyday, “in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need”. If we only choose to quote Philippians 4:13 as a way to pump ourselves up for selfish gain and personal motivations then we cheapen the truth and we miss the perfection of His strength and the sufficiency of His grace.

We cannot have one without the other.  When I choose to be content in whatever state I am in then I fully experience that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I did find contentment in abandonment and rejection.  I did find contentment in my singleness and parenting alone. I learned that when one chooses contentment, Jesus is there. When Jesus is your resting place,you stop wanting and you begin to be satisfied in Him – the one who sustains you and the one who keeps you.

It is only THROUGH CHRIST that we can do whatever our “all things” are.  However it is only in choosing contentment in those “all things” that we experience a strength that cannot let go.

Order your copy of Joy’s new book Identity Crisis: Moving From Crisis to Credibility at http://www.amazon.com/Identity-Crisis-Moving-Credibility-Morgan/dp/1614489157/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1421095539&sr=8-1

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