Posted in Faith, Family, Stepfamily

Grief, forgiveness and new beginnings

Let’s face it: this time of year can be difficult. With Thanksgiving and Christmas back-to-back, we can be forced to face a lot of emotions we aren’t ready for: people that trigger us, loved ones who have passed, relationships that have ended, gatherings that force us to be social, etc. Any fellow INFJs out there? 😉

One thing has been made clear to me recently through my Bible study and my walk with the Lord: as a follower of Christ, walking through grief is necessary and mandatory to be obedient. Ignoring it will stifle my spiritual walk and hinder growth. Disclaimer: This post is intended to be a transparent account of one believer’s journey through trials, grief, forgiveness and eventually hope. It is not written maliciously, but with the intent to provide enough detail for comprehension and learned lessons. Please don’t misinterpret or misrepresent my words. This is not libel in any way.

grief

While the stages of grief are listed as: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, not everyone follows the pattern listed sequentially. But the end result of acceptance is the universal goal for walking through grief, and typically is an indicator for healthy mental health.

This year, for me, has brought many instances of grief, and I’ve learned more about myself coming through each one. Though not every instance has been extremely painful or one that causes me deep despair, I’ve felt the emotions come and go, tried to analyze them rationally and have learned to lean on God in new ways as a result.

Exhibit A: I am a stepmother. I’ve been married for over seven years to my best friend who had two daughters from his previous marriage. If you’re not a stepmother who has drama at times, I apologize. This is a bit of a rant. In the small family unit we have, the dynamic is clearly broken. It is not God’s design to have broken marriages and relationships that aren’t clearly marked. So much pain resides. I’m encouraged by some families who weather the differences and come to accept new family members. My dynamic has not. I remain on the outside, chosen by my husband yet completely unwanted by others.

I continue to try to love with all that I have, and have been struggling to not become bitter over repeated offenses. After so much time has passed, there are still words and actions from so many on that side of the family, that have been deliberate to get a reaction from me. I, unfortunately, get stuck trying to determine why, after all this time, we are still playing games. It’s frustrating and downright irritating. Maturity would help, but clearly that’s asking too much. Insecurity changes people and lack of going through the grief process completely stunted some. So I back off and don’t respond anymore.

But I’ll just be honest. Some days I win the battle. Some days the enemy does. Value is sometimes hard to find when you’re a “back burner”. Others’ feelings are valued higher than yours. Where a Christian spouse puts their spouse (2nd only to God), in divorced families, the lines seem to get blurred between kids, wives and even parents. Guilt inhabits my spouse at times and causes him to make decisions that put me out in the cold, and I’m left to fend for myself. This is so clearly not God’s intention. But it is so in line with the enemy’s intentions of killing and destroying. You think he’s after your family? Check the relationship between you and your spouse.  How’s your marriage going? The enemy is after that first. If he can erode from the center of God’s precious design, the rest will just unravel. Be on alert ALWAYS.

Sadly in our situation, the children (and others unknowingly) have been used repeatedly to carry out tasks that make no sense to me, and I’m left to question their motives and hearts. I can see the insecurity in the other parent, the need to prove something, the lack of accepting responsibility, the resistance to acceptance. I process and process, and when I feel like I’m finally okay again, something happens again to make me question my ability to love with Christ’s love. I realize I’m not able to do it in my own power. And I’m expected to keep peace and not make waves. Who can imagine why I camp out in anger? The tower Grace built has no drawbridge, a deep and deadly moat and you had better believe there are alligators in there! Just try to get to me!!

castle

But as much as my love for isolation and justified anger tries to grow, the Holy Spirit within me fights against this. I am not a new creation who is meant to harbor hurt and justified offenses. I am reminded repeatedly through Scripture WHO I am and WHOSE I am. And Jesus died for ALL of us; me, my hubby, the kids, the ex-wife, the in-law, etc. Whoever started the pain doesn’t have to end it.

So I’ve grieved the relationships I thought I would have by now. I have accepted that I helped raise two daughters who keep me at arms length because of expectations on the other end, and am hopeful some day they can be released from that obligation. But until then, I accept that my husband chose me and that is enough. It’s still painful, but he is well aware now. And we knew that choosing Jesus would do this to us. It’s worth it all.

Ephesians 6:12 states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. I’m not fighting people for my value. Because I am a daughter of the King, I already HAVE value. I’m fighting the enemy whose goal is to destroy my ability to see my value. And if he can destroy that, he thinks he wins. Those who continue to hurt are only being used by him. And the truth is they have hurts they need to address as well that have absolutely NOTHING to do with me. So in turn, I give the offense to God to handle, and I carry on with my life.

armor of God

Exhibit B: This year also brought a physical loss to grieve: my maternal grandmother passed away early April. Though expected due to her mental decline and physical inabilities at 91, the actual loss hit hard. A family member who abandoned our family almost 25 years ago made all of us wait EIGHT hours to show up to pay last respects while my grandmother’s body laid on a table decomposing. I couldn’t fathom the selfishness and the audacity to not care until after a shift of work was completed. Irritation took over and I had to surrender it. To me, the actions were incomprehensible.

I was able to forgive quickly in that situation, however, because I had been accustomed to the rejection by that family member and had noticed lack of healthy grieving patterns over the years I had known them. This was not surprising, just unbelievable regarding the relationship between that person and my grandmother who had passed. And dealing with the loss of my last living grandparent made me ache for Heaven like I can’t even express. Lots of emotion, but we had more pressing tasks at the moment.

I watched my mom and her three sisters grieve completely differently and was sadly able to assess where each of them were on the day we laid Nanny to rest. Prayers were going up constantly due to strained relationships and for the ability for all four daughters to get through the motions so that each could move on and grieve separately later. Since my grandmother had dementia, she hadn’t known me for a while. I had grieved her ability to do so long ago, but recognizing she was completely out of this world and onto the next took some time. That acceptance was a little slower.

A few weeks after her passing, while visiting my parents, I had asked my mom who had gotten Nanny’s Bible. My mom went upstairs and brought it down for me. Immediately, I was actively grieving her again, this time seeing my grandmother as a young woman searching hard after her Lord. I read her notes in the margins, saw her highlighted verses, read her underlined passages with notations about soldiers, or those who suffered depression, or those seeking hope.

1

Reading her Bible was like reading her diary. There was such a connection and I wanted to respect that privacy, yet I couldn’t tell her. She was already gone, and I had to grieve that she hadn’t known me as the Christ follower I am today. How I wanted her to know that out of nine grand kids, I could say where I was – her prayers had paid off!! I wanted her to know that I fell away during my teens and twenties, but that God got a hold of me at 27 and I finally heard His voice! The ache for her to understand wasn’t rational, but I knew I could find comfort in knowing the Lord knew my decision for Him and He knew her influence on my life.

7

6

 

2

3

10

Within the well-worn pages, I found a handwritten note from fifteen years earlier when she was praying for my dad’s salvation. That broke me! Her fervent prayers, in her beautiful cursive, locked into the pages clinging to hope. And all I could think was, “What a legacy.” And yet, I have memories that aren’t all that exciting when I think about time spent with her as a child. I know she loved me and I know she loved all of us grand kids, but I also know she struggled with depression and value. I have been able to forgive my grandmother for hurt from years ago, recognizing the similarity to the people Jesus prayed for on the cross, “They know not what they do.” Recognizing her inability to stretch in certain areas allowed me to give grace that only the Lord can give. And I saw her hurting, so I forgave.

Exhibit C: I accepted two positions this year: one of them was a permanent position within the US government, and within six months, was asked to take the Lead position in the same department. Any of you who work in leadership know the isolation that can result because you are under management, but above the production. I’m smack dab in the middle and though I love the challenges, I have no counterpart to assist. So I have to go to God for wisdom, guidance and help when working certain tasks.

I have had one worker who attacks me on a routine basis. She is a great worker, but one who is verbal when she has ideas of how something should go, and isn’t quiet about suggesting them to me. I listen and implement as needed, but don’t make all of the decisions. I also have made mistakes in the course of my training period, which this person has pounced on repeatedly.

facepalm

I find myself constantly having to forgive her so that I can remain professional, and simply because I cannot respond or address the situation without having the union involved. I choose to let things go, accept the support from upper management when they are aware and step in, but I can’t say that it’s not painful. One of the hardest things for me is when someone repeatedly does something to me and I have absolutely no clue why. I am simply her lead. I have to forgive. And God has been patient with me in learning this step. I turn the offense over to Him, and trust Him with the outcome. In turn, I am respectful through email, Skype and other means of communication and let it go.

Exhibit D: Two years ago, the Lord made it clear to my husband and myself that He was asking us to leave the church we had been growing at for almost ten years, and move to another church in the same town. We went, knowing only one person there, and tested the Word. It was biblical. Kevin knew immediately that we were being sent there. I had a month’s worth of sermons before I was a believer for the move. But I began to accept that this is what He was calling us to, and a few months later, there was a clear reason why I was at our new church (they were seeking to start a new women’s ministry – WOOHOO!).

But that didn’t stop the enemy from using the new location as a means of value-shredding. Our old church was so close-knit. We knew everyone and everyone knew us. We were greeters, task-doers, project-completers, life group leaders and Bible teachers. Once I knew my spiritual gift, I jumped in response, and it was awesome to see Kevin grow too. Then we were asked to move…to a bigger church…to where ONE person knew us…to where we had to start relationships from scratch…to a place where it seemed everyone knew each other already. (I know these are lies from the enemy, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t rush out after each service each week!) [Insert panic here].

running

And to top it all off, those close friends from our old church began to fade away. Those who said they would stay in touch, didn’t. We helped one couple move and after promises of dinners over and get-togethers have been to their home once since. There’s still a bottle of wine that was meant for them as a housewarming gift collecting dust in my collection. God’s response to my heart ache? Forgive.

Proximity changes relationships. If we see each other every week, we’re probably more involved. But staying in touch with those we don’t see actively can be challenging. I’ve learned to grieve the friendships that I thought would stand the test of time. I have learned to forgive even Christians who have hurt me unintentionally, or maybe even intentionally. (People who are hurting, hurt others – Christian or not.)

The enemy uses some of the people closest to me at times to tell me that I’m unwanted. And I believe him. I know that I’m loyal, love deeply, and have always felt like only certain friends can handle me. I want to be loved back the way I love, but end up aching instead. So I get the message that I’m too much. And it hurts. And I get angry. And I wallow in the loneliness for a time. And then I stop wanting girls as friends because the pattern never seems to change. Guys were always easier to hang with and had great senses of humor. But I digress… 

Then last week during Bible study, I had a revelation. God spoke into my heart in one of those a-ha moments. Those who followed hard after the Lord all had one thing in common: They did it alone and on the dependence of God. Their expectations for man had to be surrendered, and the calling placed on their lives shifted to primary.  Are we seeking the approval of God or man?  Paul asks this very question in Galatians 1:10.  If we are seeking men’s approval, we aren’t really servants of God.  And I know what I want to be…with or without those I thought would be standing next to me, because I know WHO IS ALWAYS WITH ME.

New Exhibit A: David was “a man after God’s own heart”, yet if you ask some, they remember primarily his infidelity. I’ve walked in those shoes, as a recipient and the accused. I know what I deserve. I don’t need human judgement, thank you. My Lord asked for a repentant heart and since I believe in and follow Jesus, He has granted me forgiveness and grace.

David was a Shepherd who took down Goliath (murder), and then later became King after Saul died – trying to murder David! God used Him, and David didn’t have an army of his besties running with him at all times.  He had his faith in what God could do.

Exhibit B: Rahab? She was a prostitute. Yet God used her to protect Joshua’s spies and in return, her family would be spared when the Israelites came to destroy Jericho. She didn’t have the acceptance of her town or the people of her profession. She exhibited faith and was obedient so her family could be protected.

Exhibit C: John the Baptist. He was a desert dweller who liked bugs and solitude, until he had to start baptizing people. Then he jumped wholeheartedly into his calling and was alone. Shouting for people to repent will definitely isolate you.  But he kept telling the truth about what was happening (and who was coming).  He was even imprisoned for calling out Herod’s improper marriage, and was beheaded for it. But it didn’t stop him from doing the right thing.

Exhibit D: C’mon…Noah? Clearly thought to be insane when he began building an ark, when there had never been a flood before. But he did it with faith. He obeyed, built and reaped the reward of listening. There were no neighbors cheering him and God on. There was no encouragement from the peanut gallery.

My understanding is now this: I have to follow hard after Christ on my own. It’s great to have encouragement and biblically we are told to encourage others for accountability and such, so don’t take my revelation to be saying we should exclude people and hide/isolate/build walls. That would be counter productive to what the Lord is asking us to do.  But the ache of thinking others are going to come through will only lead to human disappointment.  Expectations lead to conditions, which leads to conditional love, and truly, that’s not love at all. So, we have to let go of the expectations and forgive those who hurt us: all of the time, not just when it makes sense.  

The actual steps we need to take in our walk, will be completely by ourselves, holding the hand of Christ in faith.  

holding hands

Can we feel it tangibly?  No.  But we can definitely see it throughout Scripture that those who really trusted in God weren’t clinging to human relationships.  They were following hard after Christ.  They were doing the unthinkable and were willing to die for it.  They weren’t pleasing men or seeking approval from others who were supposed to believe the same things as them (or even those who didn’t believe the same things).  They were stepping out in faith, answering the call, and accepting that it may lead them AWAY from family (Abraham and Lot much?).  

The words of Jesus: 

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 10:34-38

If that’s not division, and a call from Jesus to serve Him no matter the cost, I don’t know what is.  I think we have to recognize that it can be completely unhealthy to uplift our family, friendships, relationships (or insert vice/idol here) above Jesus, because it means we aren’t willing to fully follow Christ. 

Because the cost of Christ is truly losing things, and not having the rosy relationships we desire.  Sure, we may be blessed along the way with wonderful moments and happy times, dear friends who get it and are still encouraging- but we are in a battle.  And the goal of this present age is loving others to Jesus, not being so self-focused that we focus on the grief we haven’t moved through.  We have to be others-focused.  We have relationships that may never change this side of Heaven.  And THAT’S OKAY.

I’ve come to realize that forgiveness does indeed take time, but it is mandated by Christ in Scripture because it is evidence of a life changed by Him.  When we hold onto grudges, or justified anger (righteous or not), it’s not beneficial to the Kingdom if it creates disunity.  Forgive, have the conversation if it’s necessary and move on.  Vengeance is HIS anyway.  He sees their treatment of us.  He doesn’t need us to seek revenge and hurt others more.  We have to step back and let HIM fight for us.  

We can ask the Lord for help in accepting the boundaries where they are, focus on the lost who need His truth, and continue to carry the light into the world.  If you have family who are walking alongside you in this, fantastic!  If you don’t, be encouraged that the goal of your faith is the salvation of your soul.  And you’re never alone.  Let this be your new beginning.  🙂

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 

1 Peter 1:3-10 

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Posted in Faith, Family

To be known

"Sweet One"
Our house guest on 9/9/18

Ahhhh yes, this is a picture of our sweet guest whom we met Sunday morning after arriving home from visiting with friends in Port Clinton for the weekend.  I have a nickname on my street.  I put out bird seed and corn, and as a result, squirrels, rabbits and ducks tend to come to the tree in the front of our home.  I’m known as “Snow White” and I love it.  I’m not sure all of my neighbors are fond of my furry and feathered friends, but I listened.  I don’t want to be an annoyance to others with gardens, so I tailored back a bit when there were deer starting to come (how I miss them, but I do live in the city…).

So, Kevin and I arrived home on Sunday morning, and before he went to pull into the garage, I went to hop out of the car in the driveway.  I saw a small duck by the front tree.  Nothing unusual – there are usually way more than ONE duck, but I figured she beat the crowd of 25-40 we get from time to time.  When I got out and closed the door, she didn’t really seem to move.  Hmmmm.  I knew since we had been gone, there wasn’t a lot of feed down, so I went to the garage and got the bag of crushed corn to spread out.  I figured I wouldn’t be able to get too close, but I’d spread it nearby for her.

As I neared the base of the tree, the little duck got up a bit and then stumbled.  She clanged.  Yes, clanged as something metal hit her foot.  I started to sense something was wrong, so I looked at her right webbed foot and it had a fishing lure with a metal flap sticking out of it.  I paled, and looked over to my hubs in the garage who was beginning to unpack the car.

fishing lure

“Babe!!”  I screamed.  He was surprised, and stuck his head out, “What??”

“Something is wrong with her.  Can you come here?  Can you help?!?”

I didn’t even know what was going on, or if we could help, or how…all that mattered was getting that thing out of her!  I began to pray.

Lord, you see her.  What happened?  This looks really bad.

It had rained for two days straight.  The front lawn was saturated.  Even the small bit of leftover corn that was on the ground in front of the tree was sitting in a pond made by the overflow of water.  The little duck tried to get away from me by this point.  I had knelt down in my jeans a few feet from her, and tried not to panic.  It was raining and I wanted to cry.  I can’t stand seeing anyone or anything in pain.  You cry, I cry.

Kevin assessed the situation and then lovingly said, “Grab the fishing line, and hold it gently.  Don’t let her get away.”  So I grabbed the line that was trailing behind her, about eight feet, and held on.  I couldn’t stop repeating, “It’s okay, baby, it’s okay…it’s okay, it’s going to be okay.”  I had no reassurance but I wanted to calm her.  She tried to take off of the ground once, but I held fast to the line.  I was so worried I was hurting her worse!

She landed again, and realized she wasn’t going to get away.  Kevin walked slowly to me, and knelt down as well.  He placed his hands on her back and sides and held her tightly.  He slowly rolled her a little bit to the side and that’s when we saw the three-pronged fishing barb in her underbelly.  My stomach sunk!  Tears began to pour and I had to take a deep breath.

Then Kevin looked at me and said, “Hun, I need you to hold her exactly as I’m doing while I go get some pliers.”

“I’m sorry, what?!?…Okay…I’ll try…”

More tears, more prayers.

Kevin lifted his fingers from the duck, and as he did, my hands replaced his.  I felt the beating of her heart, blood rushing through her little body so fast.  I’m sure mine was matching hers.

Oh my goodness, I don’t think I can do this…

Her little duck face was pressing into the grass a bit, as we had her on her stomach.  I slowly re-positioned her so she could relax a bit.  My hands literally encompassed the entire width of her little body.  I kept taking my thumbs and softly rubbed her back while whispering that it would be okay.  “It’ll be okay, sweetheart, it’ll be okay.”

How is it that we can comfort others when every fear known to man is flooding our own minds?  Love seems to take over.

My legs, of course, started to burn as I was sitting in an awkward position- concentrated on holding the duck.  Not too tight, but not too light to where she would take off and I’d have to grab the string again.  I shifted. Ugh, it was freaking me out!

Kevin quickly returned, and was so calm, told me how to hold her while he worked.  He was able to remove the entire hook from her foot. I couldn’t even fathom how she got snagged like that!

Then my thoughts went to a fisherman who had to have known that there was something attached to the end of his line…anger began to burn in my heart.  How could they leave her like that!?!  And then I had to pray it away and accept that I didn’t know how it happened.  Maybe there was no one to blame, or maybe there was, but it’s not my place.  God knew, and the good news was that she came to our yard and was getting help.  I let out a sigh of relief, but had to pray away that she might begin to bleed or try to bite us, or fly away…there were a number of possibilities that could happen, but panicking never seems to solve anything.

“Babe, I need you to make sure you don’t let her go.  I have to do the stomach now.”  I looked into his eyes, and saw tenderness.  More tears.  More prayers.  “Wait, let me shift.”  And I adjusted my footing in the wet grass, my knees burning in pain, but I imagined nothing like what this sweet girl was experiencing.  Her heartbeat was still a million miles a minute.  I rubbed her back some more, and then rotated her a little.  Lord, hold us.

“Hold her still here…”  he pointed. And I did.  My mind was asking the Lord for the physical strength to hold her and calm her, and please heal her, and let her be okay.  Kevin twisted the pliers, and little pieces broke off.  He worked so tenderly, and our little duck never made a noise or tried to get away.  She just laid there.  He worked some more, and some more little pieces removed from her underside.  And finally, he took a break, wiped his face (rain was dripping from the tree above us onto our faces the entire time), and looked at me.

“She may get a little agitated.  This last one might hurt.”  I held her a little tighter, and he tried again to get the last piece that was twisted into her feathers on her stomach.  I couldn’t even look. I was so afraid to see her wound.  It was hard enough to know she was in pain in my hands.

“That’s the best I can do. I think she’ll be okay.  You can let go when you’re ready, but be careful.”  His words scared me, because what if I let go too quickly? What if something happened and she yanked? I know the Lord calmed my spirit, because I was still repeating, “It’s going to be okay…it’s going to be okay, sweetheart…”  Her little body was facing down, but her head was turned a little to look at us.  I lifted my hands.

She didn’t move.

I began to cry again.

And then I realized she was in shock.

“Honey, maybe step back a little bit.  Let her readjust.  She’s probably really freaked out right now.”

Kevin reassured me.  I stood up and moved to the other side of the tree.  And within two minutes, she finally moved.  Not quickly, but enough to get herself right side up again.  I then cried tears of joy.  I didn’t want to leave her side.

She’s not my pet.  I have a dog that is my shadow, and my heart is so full because she’s in our home.  But man, I would’ve taken that little “sweet one” into my house so fast.  Bella Bean probably wouldn’t have even minded. She is so passive now. 😉

I moved into the house to help him unpack.  But I wanted to see if our little girl in the front yard would make it.  There was no blood.  No cry.  No frantic movement.  We removed the fishing line, she had a wounded foot, but there was still a small piece of the lure in her stomach.  There was nothing we could do anymore.  I had to rest in the fact that God knows her length of life.  For me, it was everything to hold an animal I have admired for years in my front yard.  Because of her woundedness, she allowed us to get close and we were able to have an impact.

From inside the window, I watched her, and she leaned forward, starting to eat the seed at the base of the tree, and I cried tears of thankfulness.  Within a few minutes, she then took off.  Low to the ground, but she began to glide higher as she went.

Kevin met me in the living room and wrapped his arms around me.  I was still crying.

“Thank you so much for helping her!!”  I sobbed into his neck and he hugged me so tightly.

“Babe, I know your heart.  I did what I thought would work.”

Then a few minutes later in the kitchen, he said, “I wonder if she’s one of your regulars, and she knew it’d be okay to come here.”  An interesting thought.  What if she had been here the whole time we were gone? How long HAD she been here?

And from the living room couch a few minutes later, Kevin said, “How wild for her to be here when we got home.”  Yep, I thought.  I’m so glad we were able to be here for her.

She arrived on Monday evening for dinner, but got chased out by other ducks, and I saw her fly over to a neighbor’s driveway waiting.  She was limping, so I knew it was her.  When a kid on a bicycle went by, she took off, low to the ground.  Darn it!! I thought.

And so now, it’s four days later.  A squadron of mallards came for dinner at 7pm tonight and of course, my nose was pressed to the window.  I didn’t see her.

“Lord, will you send her here for dinner, just so we can know she’s okay?”

The group of mallards took off, and then within minutes, she showed up.  She laid down by the food and began to eat.  A louder duck landed nearby and walked up on her, but they ate together in peace.  She stood up once to move, and because of the hobble, I knew it was her.

“You heard me, Lord…thank You!”

duck 2 I know it’s not the best picture, but she’s in the front.  I sat on the porch until it got dark to make sure she was able to eat.  She did, and then she took off again with her friend.

I love these little sweet animals.  I love interacting with God’s creation.  I don’t engage those whom I know will hurt me. I keep my distance.  But I absolutely am intrigued by behaviors, markings, patterns, etc.  Animals are incredible creatures with instinct and protective behavior, but they are still here on Earth for a reason.  Sure, someone could take my ducks and have dinner tomorrow.  I get it.  But I love to admire them.  I think they’re beautiful and I love interacting with them.

A few weeks ago, I built trust with a squirrel who comes once a week to my feeder from across the street.  She and I are able to sit a few feet apart from each other on the front lawn. She will take unsalted peanuts from my hand and plant them in my grass.  Will she find them all again? Probably not.  But she is doing what comes to her naturally.  I find it fascinating.   Our Lord is so creative and I love to see Him glorified by them.

I share all of this to share about being known. My husband doesn’t think I’m crazy for feeding animals.  He knows my love, appreciation and fascination for them.  He’s crazy about me, so he stepped into my panic and helped the duck.  It was a moment in time where we both worked toward the same outcome, trusted each other, and were both relieved when it was over.

This weekend, we celebrate seven years being married.  He truly is my best friend.  He deals with my quirks, my need to verbally process my emotions, my love for seeing success in forgiveness moments.  He understands my ache when I am rejected, and lovingly encourages me to stay who I am, that those who reject me are missing out on something special.  He and I had a hard year.  We learned more about each other this year than the other six combined.  But we grew, we endured, we recommitted.

Loving someone else is risk.  It involves taking them at their best and their worst.  And forgiving constantly without remembering.  Because peace should reign in the walls you call home.  And we have something we’ve both prayed for, for years.  It takes work, but it’s so easy at the same time.

I’m so incredibly grateful for the moment on Sunday that the Lord allowed us to have with “Sweet One” the duck.  It reassured me that my Lord sees me, and knows my heart, but so does the man He’s entrusted with it.  And I’m grateful for their love.

I love you with all of my kidney, Kevin.  ❤

Posted in Faith

What’s so good about Good Friday? (A plea to know Him)

three crosses

How could today be a good Friday?

For those of us who believe in Jesus, it’s the best Friday as we reflect and remember what Scripture teaches us about that day. So much happened that changed the course of history for those who know and love Him. And if you don’t know Him yet, it can change for you.

I’ve read recently that the road Jesus traveled in Jerusalem on the way from the Praetorium to Golgotha is called Via Dolorosa. In Hebrew, this means “Painful Way”. We are told in the gospels that He carried His cross until it was taken by Simon of Cyrene. I can’t imagine the physical and mental anguish our Lord had to endure. Being charged with blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was sentenced to death after a middle of the night trial (totally shady according to Matthew 26:3-5). Because of the festival, it was common practice to release a prisoner, chosen by the crowd. Barabbas was released, a known criminal, and Jesus was flogged.

We may know public humiliation, but when has anyone called for our deaths in the streets of our city? When has a group of people spit on us and called us names, laughing and taunting? And would we be able to stay silent, to fulfill Scripture from Isaiah 53:7 that states that, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.” Silence among those who accuse? This is not a natural response, trust me. No words of defense, or supernatural acts of explosions or angels raining down fireballs on those who screamed? His response was unheard of. Superhuman, actually. First Peter 2:23 states the following, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” What absolute confidence.

Because Jesus was fully God and fully man, He knew the exact time frame He’d have to endure the physical pain and anguish. And I’m not minimizing that impact on his physical frame. None of us know what it’s like to have skin ripped from our backs by tools of torture. None of us know what it’s like to have to carry our “death bed” for a distance before we are placed on it. None of us know what it’s like to be placed on that piece of wood, helpless and scared, knowing we are about to be suspended in the air until our last breath.

Yet, we ARE the ones who deserve that for sinning against our Holy Father.

As someone in the medical profession who loves to understand the disease process, I have researched the physical changes that occurred during Jesus’ arrest through His crucifixion and it’s intense to say the least. Beginning with internal stress, Jesus began to sweat blood (hematohidrosis) while praying at the Mount of Olives. He was exhausted, as He hadn’t slept. When He was being beat by the Roman soldiers, flesh was ripped from his back by scourging, and there would have been fluid buildup around His lungs. The crown of thorns that was placed on His head was known to have irritated major nerves, causing agony. The beatings should have taken Him out. But He kept going. His will to fulfill the task was foremost on His mind. That, my friends, is real LOVE.

He was naked when He was hung on the cross. Romans pierced the median nerve in the hand with nails which would have shot bolts of pain through his arm into his spine. Having a nail in the plantar nerve in the foot would have had the same effect. And the position in which He was hung, was to make breathing nearly impossible. One would have to push up, painfully, on the nails in their feet, to try to fill their lungs with air, which are already compromised by fluid. There are a few theories as to what Jesus’ cause of death was, but medically, it could have been a blood clot to the heart, exposure or thirst, hypovolemic shock, suffocation, pulmonary edema.

We know that His legs weren’t broken (John 19:33-34) because He was able to audibly give up His spirit. With legs broken, He wouldn’t have been able to push up to breathe.

Jesus knew for Him it was temporary pain, but for us, permanent redemption.

The outcome outweighed the task. He knew that God the Father would raise Him back to life, and that He would be seen by thousands to begin the early church.

Today, we remember His physical sacrifice. The Bible declares that it was our death that Jesus paid for. In Romans 5:8, we see, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

You are a sinner. I am a sinner. Neither of us can ever be fully whole and sinless this side of Heaven, but the One who has the power to wipe the slate clean DID. He took a part of Himself, allowed Jesus to become fully man so He could identify with us (Hebrews 4:15), and took His shed blood as full payment for the sickness of our hearts, so He could redeem us and bring us back to relationship with Him.

If you believe the name of Jesus, accept that He died for your sins and believe in His resurrection, you are saved.

That is what today is all about: remembering what I’ve done to put my Lord on a cross, so His blood would be shed, so His wounds would forever heal me, so His resurrection would bring glory to God, the same God I will stand in front of someday, at the end of my brief earthy life. Instead of dismissing me to Hell, He will lovingly declare that He knows me because I knew Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the door is open to all of us, not just Jew, but Gentile too! My eternal future is SECURE. AMEN!

There is truly an inexpressible joy inside of my heart, because I realize what I’ve been saved from. I know the things I’ve done, but even those I don’t remember, I am accountable for. Our God is a God of love, and justice. Both qualities can coexist- ask any parent. You love, but must correct. Obedience is necessary. And He also came in and paid the price for us, so we wouldn’t have to face our consequences- the ones we are all guilty of! What an incredible Savior! God’s grace is immeasurable and unending!

I know the end result of a life that isn’t surrendered to God. It is darkness and silence that will ensue as a result of rejecting Him. And it won’t.ever.end.

The Bible describes Hell as a place of torment, weeping, gnashing of teeth. Scripture says it was meant for the ones who rejected God, those who fell from Heaven and followed the prince of the air. There is no hope, no relief, no end. Is fighting God really worth it? Whether we like it or not, He gets the final say. He allowed sin for His purposes, yet He has offered a way out: place your trust in His Son, follow Him and be saved. Eternity is a long time, people. We all will live forever, but after earthly death, we will be in one of two places.

Please repent and come to the truth! Jesus is the ONLY doorway to the Father. In John 14:6, Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Entering Heaven is contingent on the relationship with His Son who paid your debt. It is not how many good works you do, by being a “good” person (the Bible says not one of us is good (Romans 3:10-12 and Psalm 14:2-3), or by trying hard enough. We must know His Son to enter Heaven and live forever. Scripture also states that the Lord does not wish for anyone of us to perish. He is providing time now, but we don’t know when the End is actually coming, so don’t delay!! Please make your decision for Christ today. Your life will change, your end destination will change, and your future will be secure.

Today is the best Friday, because I now have life. There is a quote someone said which I’m paraphrasing, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, He came to make dead people alive.” I love that! That’s the truth. Will you make Jesus your Lord today? You are welcome to call or reach out to me. I’d love to introduce you to Him.

Have a blessed Easter, dear ones! 🙂

Posted in Faith

Remembrance

Sometimes in life, you have to take the time to slow down, be still and just REMEMBER.

This past week, made me do just that.

Reverend Billy Graham passed away on Wednesday, February 21 at the age of 99. Seeing the post about his passing from my husband on social media, brought to mind so much of my childhood. I was instantly in tears. Growing up Lutheran, this man was well known, and his evangelistic association was renowned. My maternal grandparents talked about, listened to and gave on a regular basis to his ministry. Upon visiting my grandparents in their home, for as long as I can remember, I can hear my grandfather wanting me to sit down with him in the living room and listen to Billy with him. My grandfather loved watching sermons on the television or hearing them on Christian radio.

My mother has shared over the years with our family about her own response to Jesus through the message of Billy Graham. She felt the Lord ask her to respond during a crusade she attended when she was a young girl. My grandfather at the time was in a rush to get out of the parking lot and back home, so she never went forward, but she bargained with God in the backseat, saying that she would one day accept Him. And when she was pregnant with me in 1979, she heard the Lord prodding her again about her decision. She dedicated her life to Him on the couch while I was in utero.

As a teenager, I remember when Graham came to Cleveland for a crusade. For months beforehand, my parents and other church members were praying and preparing for the vast work that is involved in putting on a crusade. I went to prayer services at many local churches with my mom, and learned to pray specifically for the crusade and those who would hear the message. We would pray for peoples’ hearts to be ready and their ears to be opened. We would spread the message about the crusade with flyers and conversations. We didn’t have social media invitations we could send to our 300+ friends at once. It was word of mouth and print media.

6.11.94 bg crusade

On June 11, 1994, I asked my best friend who was Catholic at the time, to come with me. After all, it was Youth Night, and she was beginning to go to youth group at my church. Eighty-five thousand people were there that night. We went with my parents, and heard dcTalk, Michael W Smith and finally a message from Billy Graham. When the time came to make a decision, Laura and I looked at each other, and said we would go forward. We didn’t hesitate (I had remembered my mom’s regret for waiting) and we walked down the concrete steps at Cleveland Municipal Stadium during “Just As I Am” to the grass below, to be met by a man and woman who would pray with us and get us phone numbers of people to follow up with later. I’ll never forget the joy of walking with Laura, feeling a bond between us that was deeper than our already amazing friendship. My friend had heard about Jesus and wanted to know more! And I felt ready to commit my life to Him. It was an incredible evening, and one that I had tucked away in my heart.

Something that stands out to me, is Graham’s humility. Since his passing, everyone is putting their two cents in about who he was. Many who didn’t like him or his message have been trying to paint him as a homophobic political activist. And even knowing that those who hate Jesus will say the same of us, I saw how Graham responded. In each article, you would read how he had apologized for his comments and admitted his humanity. If he offended someone or misspoke, he owned up to it. He didn’t pretend he didn’t say something. He apologized for hurting others, but also wasn’t afraid to say what Scripture says. In one of his crusade messages here in Cleveland, he stated, “I am a sinner who belongs in the gutter with the rest of the sinners”. Just because he was a preacher who reached millions, didn’t mean that he saw himself any higher than any of us, nor was he. I admit I don’t see that in many other people who claim to follow Christ. I admire the man who can admit wrong, ask the Lord for help and take personal responsibility.

He also was truthful when he would say, “The word of God is offensive, because it demands a response. It demands change.” Many in today’s world don’t want that in their lives, and Scripture also predicted the worlds’ response to such accusations. Those who are content in their sin will refuse the gospel and reject it. We become comfortable living the way we do without regard for the Creator who designed THE WAY that works. We follow the flesh and then justify it. But that just doesn’t work. It creates the society we live in now, where everyone wants to have what others work for, where others want everything they want without regard for how it affects others, and selfishness and lack of personal responsibility is prevalent. We see the decay of society, and then bash anyone who draws attention to it.

Graham never beat people over the head with his Bible. He was a Baptist preacher, yes, but his message was never a list of dos and don’ts, but the one message that meant the most: YOU NEED TO BE SAVED, otherwise you will be in Hell. He wasn’t afraid to tell anyone what was in the Bible, because he knew the message meant more than our choice to live against it. The Bible has the power to literally change lives of those we love and share the Earth with! The Bible holds the cure for our sin state. It also is a mirror for our souls, so we can see our desperate need for a Savior. Coincidentally, when Jesus left the Earth, He had commissioned his disciples to continue sharing the truth of the gospel, that eternal LIFE is in belief in Jesus, people must repent from their sin, and be baptized to show their commitment to the family of Christ. Graham shared that message of us being sinners and needing a Savior and he did it well, because so many responded during his crusades because of his truthful messages and his godly character.

I can only imagine what the reception was like in Heaven for a man who was so humble, never stating that he DIDN’T need Jesus, and to actually look into the face of God on the other side. I cried tears of hope and joy this week, because it reignited a joy in my heart for what is to come. Those of us who believe the truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection know that this life is not all there is, there is so much more. Eternity is a long time compared to the blink of an eye we have in these bodies here on Earth. Remembering the work of Billy Graham and his hope of the world turning to Christ made me remember the Lord confirming for me in my heart that I am His beloved daughter, and I am loved beyond measure.

And with the mourning of Billy Graham’s legacy and his impact on my family, I was able to go to see Steven Curtis Chapman in Cleveland on Thursday, February 22. During my teenage years, I listened to Christian radio and heard about this guy who wrote songs. I found them catchy, so I would go to a local store called Lemstone in Parmatown and listen to CDs before buying them. Steven Curtis Chapman’s music would resonate with me while I was trying hard to follow Jesus. I bought “Speechless” in 1999. And hearing “Dive” made me realize that I could hang on the fence and do the church thing while still doing the “world” thing. Or I could DIVE into my relationship with Jesus and try to make a difference for Him, instead of trying to keep my feet in both worlds. Those lyrics are still tucked away in my brain! That song had such impact on my decision for Jesus.

SCC Dive

I bought my first car in 1999, plugged my Walkman into my cassette deck using an adapter in the car and would blast his music while driving. I even bought a specialized license plate: SPCHLES! I was all in, and loved the deep meaning lyrics that he wrote. Some of my other favorites were “His Strength is Perfect”, “I will be here”, “No Better Place”, “For the Sake of the Call”, “The Great Adventure”, “Lord of the Dance”, “Not Home Yet”, “I Am Found in You”, “Live Out Loud”, “Magnificent Obsession”, and “Much of You”. And listening to SCC sing those songs during his concert, it made me reflect on the impact those words had on my life as a young believer.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know some of my story, my heartache of a divorce and finding a reason for living in my later twenties. But through all of my years of life here, I have known that the Lord has something for me. He gave my name to my mother while she was still pregnant with me, not even aware of what sex I would be. I know He has a purpose for my life, but I also now know that my life is meant to glorify Him, not myself.

Two men that God has used to sow seeds of truth into my heart are Billy Graham and Steven Curtis Chapman. I love listening to biblical sermons and I also love songs that stick with me, that I can sing anytime and that give me hope.

I bring up the topic of remembrance, because Steven Curtis Chapman sang a song for us called “Remember to Remember”. He spoke about remembering moments of impact in our lives so that we could mark God’s faithfulness. Building altars was a practice typically done in the Old Testament, where people would take rocks and stack them up, to symbolize an altar of thankfulness, for themselves, for their children and for others to witness.

And I felt like last week God gave me the time to do just that. And to be honest, I think it’s going to become a practice of mine. I think it’s important to step outside of ourselves, and reflect on the people God has used to be a part of our lives, and who have helped us become who we are. I’ve got a list of family members, teachers from my Lutheran schools growing up, musicians, authors, magazine article writers, friends, Christian sisters, etc. And every now and then, I think it’s a great idea to sit back and think about their influence in my life. From someone as well-known as Billy Graham, down to a neighbor who texts for prayer requests…

Remember their message.

Reflect on how they pointed me to Jesus.

And then think about how I can spread that same message outwardly to those who have been placed in my life…

It’s your turn.

Who are the most influential people in your life?

Posted in Faith

It’s Christmas!

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This season, we celebrate Jesus’ birth! 🙂

Reflecting on Luke 2, I love to think about what was happening on that night.

A census was issued by Caesar Augustus to have families return to their birthplace. Joseph and Mary made the trek to Bethlehem to be counted. He was going to register Mary who was pledged to be married to him. Most of us are familiar with the story of an innkeeper that told them there was no room, however Answers in Genesis gives this account as a reasonable explanation for what really happened:

Joseph and Mary probably stayed with Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem, but because of the large influx of people, the house would have been crowded and the kataluma (guest room) was full. Consequently, Joseph and Mary would have been relegated to living in the lower level of the house. It is hard to believe that pregnant Mary would have been turned away from a relative’s home in a society that greatly valued familial ties.

Archaeologists have excavated first century homes from the Judean hill country. They have discovered that the upper level served as a guest chamber while the lower level served as the living and dining rooms. Oftentimes, the more vulnerable animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft. This sounds strange to many of us, since we wouldn’t dream of bringing some of our cattle into the house at night, but even today in some countries of Europe (e.g., Germany and Austria), the farmhouse and the animal quarters are often different parts of the same building.

This is where the manger comes into play. Mary likely gave birth to Jesus in the lower level of a crowded house, in which some of the animals had been brought in for the night. She then wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and laid Him in the manger (feeding trough).

And thinking of the shepherds out in the fields that night, it’s incredible to think what they saw and heard. It probably started out as a normal evening, and then within moments, an angel appeared (most likely, the shepherds had never seen them before) and told them not to be afraid. Sure, no problem. But then, the shepherds are told:

I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. -Luke 2:9-12

Can you imagine just minding your own business and then a being appears next to you with a message? And then immediately after that, the sky opens and more angels show up, singing?

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST HEAVEN, AND ON EARTH PEACE TO THOSE ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS!

To be alive and witness these events had to be amazing! I know the shepherds had to be initially fearful, because an angel told them not to be, and there must have been an ignition in their hearts to go see what was happening because they “hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” Luke 2:16

Here’s the part I love: He used unlikely messengers. And I’m not talking about the angels. I love that God chose shepherds to carry the message to the people. Then they spread the news of what they saw, praising and glorifying God for what they had seen and heard. Oh, to be near people that rejoice and get excited about what the Lord is doing! Never before, did they have hope like that! Up to that time, those who knew the Lord only knew that one day He would send a Messiah to save them, and here they were in the fields, getting the message firsthand. What an honor!

I’m in awe, as well, of the role of shepherds. They obviously take care of sheep, but how exactly? They provide food, water, protection in the field and when walking through rivers, shelter from storms, and restoration to the fold when one runs off.

And how incredible that the Lord used the same role to describe Himself, to say that He is our Good Shepherd! In John 10, Jesus explains to the Pharisees about those who are able to enter the sheep pen by the gate, not other means. He is equating access to the Father through Him, our Good Shepherd. He says that those who know Him hear His voice, which is the same as shepherds who have a specific call to their sheep. Others can mimic the shepherd, but the sheep won’t respond. So it should be with us.

I segued to shepherds because I love the correlation between one who protects sheep and the ONE who protects us. Jesus was sent by God to become man, to be able to identify with us in our flesh, to be tempted and resist, so He could prove that we could do the same. He also humbled Himself by doing His Father’s will. He sacrificed His life for His sheep (US!) and died on the cross so that when God and the Holy Spirit resurrected Him three days later, not only did He fulfill Scripture, but He conquered death FOREVER for those who believe in Him. Death no longer has a hold on us!! And there is also now a WAY, a DOOR to get to the Father that is not through human means, no matter what people tell you. We have FULL ACCESS to our Heavenly Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. And all of this was to be accomplished by our Lord whom we celebrate today.

So it’s an honor to reflect on the good news that brings us great joy this Christmas morning! Jesus came to Earth to fulfill His redemption plan for us. I am so thankful for the way He modeled righteous living, His continual and unending mercy and grace, His forgiveness that is never withheld and His precious, sacrificial love. He was fully God and fully man so that He could redeem us.

When you are sipping coffee, watching wrapping paper fly by, and listening to Christmas music, may you take a moment to stop and reflect on all that this baby meant and still means for our salvation.

Glory to God in the Highest INDEED!

Posted in Faith

Darkness

Darkness settled in.

It’s not the first time, and I know it won’t be the last, I tell myself.

Instead of wearing warmth and joy, my bones are clinging to darkness.

Such weight.

Why do I enjoy these garments of pain?  I know better.  I know each and every time the enemy shows up to harass me, and I give him my joy so willingly.  Instead of removing the heavy chain mail of the past, I opt for shifting my weight and adjusting the heaviness until I can just barely manage to walk.

For a full day, the darkness consumes me.

Call a friend, text someone, reach out.  But I can’t.

I can’t put a name to the darkness that is swallowing me up.  I don’t know how to explain what I’m feeling.  Old images of painful memories are coming to the surface and I can’t stop them.  I can instantly feel like I did in those moments: helpless, scared, angry.  Won’t anyone defend me?  Won’t anyone come to my rescue?

And as the memories and images replay over and over in my mind, I begin to get angrier. They are images of those who have bullied me, hurt me, left me, abandoned me, hated me, slandered me.  Clearly my heart has not forgiven them.

I begin to accuse: Weren’t you supposed to be there for me, God?  Weren’t you the one that told me you’d be with me always?  Where are you?  Look at how my enemies are positioned, laughing at me and hating me?  How can you allow this to continue?  I feel unloved and unwanted yet again.

In my mind’s eye, I am on a cliff, that is stretched out across a huge abyss.  All I can see for miles is desert and drop-offs.  There is one clear path, but it begins to crumble underneath me as I walk.  Panicked, I begin to sprint, only to have the rocks fall faster and heavier to the openness beneath me.

And as I sit in darkness that is all-consuming, fearing the end of myself, my mind transitions to the book of Psalms.  David is a master at crying out to God.  He is so persistent, unafraid to scream at the Lord, begging for answers and wondering of His existence.

The mirror shifts to me.  I am David.

I want to know NOW where God has been.  Why are all of these old memories here again, taunting and hurting me even as I have moved forward? Why is this allowed??

So I reach for my Bible in the stillness of the house.  I am alone, yet I know that I’m not.

The darkness is still here.

And in the recesses of my mind, I know the Lord says He is too.

I open to book of Psalms.

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I journey to Psalm 94, unsure why.  I am just looking for hope.

Any shred of light to take me out of here, out of the darkness that surrounds me…

Verse 14 begins to bring me comfort.

“For the Lord will not reject His people; he will never forsake his inheritance.”

As I move further through the psalm, I see Him providing protection and confirmation.

“Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.  Who will rise up for me against the wicked?  Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?  Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.”

And then verse 18 happened:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me great joy.

He heard me.

In the darkness, He heard me.

He saw what was happening in my mind, with my feet giving way to emptiness, and gave me a direct Scripture to combat it.

Tears coat my face.  When did I start to cry?

I make an instant choice to accept His answer, and I repent of my selfish focus, for allowing the enemy to use the past to remind me of who I was.  I accept His consolation.  His comfort.  His joy.

And the warrior in me, though loving the chain mail, begins to shed the heaviness.  I peel off layer after layer until there is just me.

The daughter of the King.

The one He died for.

The one He rose again for.

The one he defends in the darkness that I can’t see.

The one that He loves.

The one He watches over constantly.

The one He never forsakes.

I accept the TRUTH.

And with my new Spirit armor, I walk from room to room, declaring my home a sanctuary of His peace, His love, His joy, His presence. I rebuke and cast out anything that isn’t from Him, and explain that it isn’t allowed here.  ANYMORE.  EVER.

A peace rests on me.  I didn’t know to ask for it.  I didn’t know how.  I just know it came.

I try to re-imagine the thoughts that just haunted me, but they are gone.  Mist and fog replace the concrete memories.

He has come for me.  He defended me.  I sense joy in my heart again.  The veil is lifted.

The Lord is the Lord of my Home, my Heart, my Marriage, my SOUL.

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So, this morning, when the enemy brings to mind some past experiences to condemn me, I fight back.  I’ve put on my new armor in Ephesians 6 which is so light I can’t even tell it’s on, and my voice is ready for praise.

The power of Jesus and HIS NAME is something I cannot forget.

Demons do exist.  They shudder and tremble at the name of Jesus.

Do you ever say it out loud?  Do you ever scream it in response?

JESUS conquered death and all that is coming for Christians, because He is the VICTOR.

There is power, strength, deliverance, mercy, grace and joy in HIS NAME.

THE NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES.

Darkness has no place in the light.

Posted in Faith

Forgiveness

forgiveness

This topic is incredibly relevant given the recent tragic events that took place this past Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio.

An elderly man, returning home from Easter dinner with his family, was gunned down in the street by a distraught man who was at the end of his rope, and felt the need to kill. The murderer then uploaded the video to Facebook and posted several videos of himself “snapping”- in his words.

The victim was a 74-year old man named Robert Godwin.  And his murderer, Steve Stephens, is now dead after a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, post police car chase in Pennsylvania.  There are still details coming in, but the ones I’ve shared have been confirmed.

If you live in Cleveland, or nearby, like myself, you’ve heard this story relentlessly for the past two days.  Even out-of-state radio programs, news stations and other avenues have been trying to educate us and alert us so we could protect ourselves and our families, but also help find the murderer who was on the loose, and bring him to justice through our judicial system.

Though Stephens worked at a mental health facility and was on the giving end of mental health needs for so many, he clearly needed help himself.  Sadly, in the end, he took the easy way out.  And though he seems to have escaped our system, make no mistake, he is facing his judgement today.  That final act is reserved for God alone.  It is not our decision to decide his fate.  We may have opinions and justified outrage, but where he lands was decided before he pulled the trigger on himself today.

In light of this tragedy, let’s revisit some truth about last Friday- Good Friday.

Christians and believers all around the world celebrate Good Friday, which is truly a day of mourning.  Jesus Christ, whom we believe was fully God and fully man, was crucified over 2000 years ago by Rome, Herod, the Gentiles, the Jewish Sanhedrin, and the people of Israel.  These groups worked together to have him tried, found guilty and murdered for claims of blasphemy, sedition and treason.  His death was senseless, much like the one listed above.  To some, he was guilty, but some weren’t as convinced, for they had witnessed miracles and saw Him give love to people whom no one else would have.

JESUS WAS SINLESS.

Regardless of the claims against Him, Jesus was without sin and only carried out the work He was meant to do for the redemption of all of us- Jew and Gentile.  But He was found guilty by Rome’s laws, convicted in the evening quietly, so that His death would be a message to those seeking to overthrow the government.

Once He was put in the tomb, they thought they had won.

A common word heard in some communities regarding Jesus’ life is this: Propitiation.  I heard it many times in my Lutheran upbringing.  And yet, the value of it never sunk in until today while researching.  According to Bibleinfo.com, Jesus’ death,

“…lies in the fact that a just and perfect God could not simply sweep sin under the carpet and go on running a perfect universe. God must deal with the injustice of sin. Suppose a criminal should come before a judge and that judge would simply excuse a crime of murder, rape, or theft simply because the judge loved the criminal. What would society think of such a judge?

The Bible says: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right” (Genesis 19:25). Selfishness has a natural consequence that eventually results in death to the innocent (Rom. 6:23). Jesus, the Judge, assumed the consequence of sin on the part of man, rather than inflict death upon the sinner. That consequence was death.

The death of Christ accomplishes reconciliation, or reconnecting us back to God. Romans 3:25 says, “…whom God set forth as a propitiation” for our sins. “Propitiation” literally means “something that appeases a deity.” However, in the Biblical sense it means much more than this. It can mean to “accept hurt”, to “forgive”, to “show mercy.” As sinners we transgress God’s perfect law and have no legal right to exist. But God himself who sits as Judge accepts the hurt, pays the price, forgives, and offers mercy.”

We all can look back through our own lives and remember moments where someone has wronged us, hurt us, hurt someone that we love, and caused pain in one way or another. By the world’s standards, we have a right to be upset, and to retaliate.  Eye for an eye, right?  After all, going back to the Facebook murderer, didn’t Stephens deserve to be shot by someone else?  What right did he have to be the one to do it?

Yet, a few days earlier, on the day that Robert Godwin was murdered, believers everywhere celebrated the miraculous and divine resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave-the place He conquered death for us, so we could have eternal life with Him FOREVER!  God accepted Jesus’ death as our death, so those who believe in Him and call on His name will be saved.  To those of us who follow Jesus, we cannot let unforgiveness take root in our hearts.  After all, Jesus certainly didn’t!

We ALL have hurt others too, and have sinned against our HOLY God, whether we agree with the setup or not, that’s the way it is.  God is God, we are created beings.  We act out of selfishness, hurt each other, make demands and misuse our bodies.  We have every right to go to Hell, and experience eternal separation from Him.  But Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate our exoneration from ALL of our debts (past, present and even FUTURE) in the perfect, sinless resurrection of Christ.

Because He died, we died with Him. And because HE LIVES, WE CAN LIVE WITH HIM FOREVER!

Robert Godwin was killed on Easter.  And that same day, his family was interviewed by news reporters and agencies trying to get the first word.  Clearly, this family had every reason to be outraged, upset, furious and retaliatory!  But if you’ve seen the reports or heard their interviews, their response is in sharp contrast to our human nature.

Yes, tears are being shed, questions are on their lips, but instead of hate speech, violence and anger, their words are carrying the truth of what we celebrate.

Tonya Godwin-Baines says this to the accused murderer:

“I just want him to know that God loves Him…we love Him.  Yes, we’re hurt.  But we have to forgive him, ’cause if we don’t, the Bible says your Heavenly Father won’t forgive you.”  

-http://fox8.com/2017/04/17/74-year-old-man-killed-in-cleveland-was-father-of-10/

Tonya is correct.  She is remembering Matthew 6:15, where it states,

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

I was sitting on my couch watching the news when I heard her say this, and I immediately started to cry.  She’s right!  Here I am, having awful thoughts toward this man for what he has done to them, but she’s redirecting my heart to truth.  She, and her family, all agree and are spreading the message that forgiveness has to reign.

Why?  Why should they forgive this man who killed their family member?  In cold blood, in the middle of the day, because he had girlfriend/gambling issues?  This older man had nothing to do with this young man’s problems!  What right did he have to take Robert’s life?

The answer is he had no right!  And we are all justifiably angry about the injustice of it. But this family is demonstrating for us a quick response to an even worse reaction if unforgiveness takes root in their hearts.

What is forgiveness?  Personally, I love this definition:

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.

-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgiveness

I teach on this subject, and believe it is a choice to let go and not hold onto something offensive.  As a believer, we go a step further to deepen our faith by trusting that God will deal with the offender, and that He can be trusted with the outcome without our manipulation or assistance.

Forgiveness is necessary for a sound mind and a free heart.  And it’s a gift to an offender who may not even be seeking it, but also the giver who doesn’t bear the weight of the offense any longer.

Don’t believe that your health can be affected by your anger and unforgiveness?

“Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”

-Karen Swartz, M.D. at Johns Hopkins,         http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_connections/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it

I’m also reminded of a story in the Bible, found in John 9, where Jesus healed a blind man who had been blind since he was born. The disciples (not even the religious leaders who were ready to accuse him at every turn), asked which of the parents had sinned in order to make their son blind (assuming God was punishing the parents for something- sound familiar to any thoughts we seem to have at times?).  Jesus’ response was that neither of them had sinned.  The act of blindness had happened so that when Jesus encountered him and healed him, he would glorify God.  His exact words were,

 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. “

Say what!?!  This poor guy had to be blind from birth, so that later in his life, he could be healed by Jesus??  That sounds crazy!  But to be honest, it is also beautiful.  Our lives are meant to reflect the light of Jesus whom we choose to believe in, and our circumstances may be just that-something that happens or that we must endure so that God may be glorified.   It doesn’t mean we’re being punished, it means there is something bigger going on.

And this is where I go back to the Godwin family.  They have demonstrated extreme restraint and forgiveness.  I’m not God.  I don’t have an answer for why He allowed Robert to be walking down the street by himself when this other man felt the need to shoot someone at random.  I know God would’ve prevented it,  because He certainly can step in and assist us at any time.

I am choosing to believe that Robert Godwin was a saved man, who is being heralded by his family for being selfless and teaching ALL of them about the love of God.  God knew that Robert was coming home to him in Heaven.  Maybe God allowed the death of Robert to be a message of hope for those of us who struggle with life at times.  Yes, we can have tragedy, pain and struggles, but God sent His Son Jesus years ago to save us from sin and the charges brought against us before Him. Jesus chose to forgive when the world was against Him.  If He could love beyond the hate thrown at Him, who are we to withhold love for others?

At the end of our lives, we will all stand before God with our infractions and charges. None of us will be exempt.  Everyone will give an account for what they’ve chosen to do with their lives.  The only way we will not face eternal death and separation from God and our loved ones is to choose Jesus, who was the Lamb who died to spare us.  Jesus will stand in front of those of us who have surrendered our lives to Him, and defend us, saying we are no longer condemned, but free because of His shed blood.

I don’t want unforgiveness in my heart.  I don’t want the physical effects that come with not letting go of hurts and infractions.  I want to reflect the light of Jesus to the world, which is full of pain and heartache, and share with others, that, with Jesus, we can forgive.  I want to offer the same freedom He offers, and point people in His direction so that they too can share in the gift of eternal life with Him when ours ends here.  And I’m thankful to the Godwin family for reminding me of the goodness of Good Friday and the beautiful life-giving truth of Easter, that because of Jesus, we have been forgiven and should extend the same to those who hurt us.

It is not our right to hold onto the offense when Jesus already died for it and wants to grant grace for it.  And that may sound like it doesn’t make sense.  Where is the justice for when people do things wrong?  It’s on the cross.  Right next to my sins, are yours.  And there was blood shed to cover them.  That’s what His grace IS.

My challenge to you: May you take some time and be bold enough to search your heart for the names and moments that have hurt you over the years, and when you’re ready, go a step further. Pray for that person or group, ask the Lord to have mercy on them, forgive them in your heart, and remember the offense no more.  We are to pray for our enemies.  We are to love those who accuse us and wrong us.  It’s completely counter-cultural and absolutely absurd, but it is Jesus’ way.  It’s freeing, and moves us from judge, jury and executioner to a son or daughter of God.  

And a separate challenge: pray about the unforgiveness in your heart for moments and hurts done to someone you love or care about.  It’s not your burden to carry.  Give it to Jesus.  There is no reason to have hatred in our hearts for injustice.  We can walk alongside our friends, and help point them back to the cross. God doesn’t need any of our help deciding who deserves what, when we all deserve death.  When you realize what you’ve been saved from on Good Friday, your heart will open up to the idea of loving those who have hurt you, in spite of the hurt, so that you heart, soul and mind can be healthy and at peace with God.  

Praying you can take these steps, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, release those who have been on your “hook” and trust them in the hands of God.

Love, Gracie 🙂