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? ūüėČ

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.

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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.

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 2

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Within the well-worn pages, I found a handwritten note from twenty 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 those who produce. 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 personal 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:¬†‚ÄúDo 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‚ÄĒ¬†a man‚Äôs 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.¬† ūüôā

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‚Äôs 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‚ÄĒof greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire‚ÄĒmay 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¬†

Posted in Faith, Family

To be known

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. ūüėČ

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. There are two ducks, one facing left and the other facing right. She’s on the left. 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

It’s Christmas!

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This season, we celebrate Jesus’ birth! ūüôā

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

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,

¬†‚ÄúNeither this man nor his parents sinned,‚ÄĚ said Jesus, ‚Äúbut 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 ūüôā

Posted in Faith

The time is NOW

graveside
Death.

It’s going to happen to all of us at some point. ¬†And on Earth, it is final. ¬†When someone we know and love dies, they are now physically gone, and that is/can be extremely painful. ¬†We can feel helpless, lost, scared, uncertain and afraid. ¬†And something I’m sure we never consider is how unresolved issues with those we had negative experiences with will never be resolved, and closure will escape us. ¬†Why am I posting so morbidly?

Because recently God brought a passage to my mind that has been working its way through my thoughts and prayers for the last two weeks. ¬†It’s Proverbs 6:16-19.

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

I could write volumes on the first six items listed, but my focus for this post is on the last one: ONE WHO SOWS DISCORD AMONG BROTHERS. ¬†And the reason I’m tying this into death is because the time to reconcile and “make things right” is now. ¬†It’s while those who have hurt us or whom we have hurt are still alive. ¬†The goal as believers should be to keep and maintain peace in our families, our relationships and everyone we encounter.

Discord that is being sown is usually in the form of words against someone else. ¬†It’s mainly gossip or speaking about someone in the family/relationship who isn’t present to defend themselves with the intent of getting someone to think negatively about someone else. ¬†The speaker shares just enough information to help you “form an opinion” about someone who isn’t even present. ¬†Of course they wouldn’t say these things in front of the actual defendant, but they’ll definitely plant seeds to make you reconsider their character or motives. ¬†And the truth is that the one sowing the seeds is the one who has the ulterior motive. ¬†It also promotes unforgiveness and bitterness toward others. ¬†It’s destructive.

I’ve been in many Christian circles where some want validation for their hurts and wounds brought on by others, and to share that is fine for the purpose of prayer, healing and restoration. ¬†But to stay in the position of unforgiveness or anger is not healthy, spiritually or otherwise. ¬†And it truly has no place in God’s Kingdom.

Sin, and namely the sin of pride, is what hinders us from moving into a place of forgiveness for those who have wronged us. ¬†We think, what was done to me was so significant, I don’t have to forgive. ¬†I get to be the victim, and nothing is required on my part. ¬†But that kind of toxic thinking is harmful to yourself and others around you. ¬†Was the sin against you truly worse than what you’ve done against Jesus? ¬†Be honest.

Did someone pop into your mind just now? ¬†Someone who hurt you, or whom you’ve shared misinformation about? ¬†If you find yourself perpetuating events over and over again, ruminating on them for your own self-gratification, you need to stop. ¬†You are sowing discord, and God hates it. Why? ¬†Because He is about unity. ¬†Sin has been dividing us since the Fall. But to those who have given their lives to Christ, your life is not your own, and your reactions and responses reflect what you believe and the power of Jesus to a watching world. ¬†Are you letting Him move you in compassion to a place of forgiveness so you can love those who hurt you, serve those who anger you, and provide a place of safety for those who think differently than you?

And be advised: If you do not believe that the enemy prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), you’re mistaken and deceiving yourself. ¬†The goal of the enemy is to separate, divide, kill and DESTROY. ¬†You are made in the image of God, and because Satan hates God, he hates YOU. ¬†His tactics haven’t changed. ¬†He still tries to use US against each other, and he’s working mightily in those of us who struggle with letting go of hurts. ¬†This is a serious problem¬†that needs to be addressed for ALL of our relationships, but primarily the one with God.

Christians, it’s not okay.

1 John 4:19-20 says, “We love because God first loved us.Whoever says, ‚ÄúI love God,‚ÄĚ but hates his brother is a liar. The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love the God whom he has not seen.”

Many families are divided because sisters are against each other, in-laws disagree and pull away, brothers are competitive, and children learn to cut off those who don’t think like they do, because it’s been modeled for them so well. ¬†But this is not the way of unity and it is not okay in the eyes of Jesus.

Caveat: I realize there are harmful, abusive situations where boundaries have to be made. That is not the discord God is talking about in this passage. ¬†And I also realize there are issues within families between believers and non-believers. ¬†We can’t expect those not walking with Christ to follow His laws. ¬†So, we need to be prayerful about forgiving them, loving them and modeling Jesus to them. ¬†Seek a Christian counselor or a trusted pastor if you are having trouble forgiving.

My plea is for those who are walking with the Lord to search deep in yourself and ask if the rift that was caused in your family is worth the remorse you will feel later in life when that person is gone. ¬†Can you truly turn a blind eye to it? ¬†Search your heart and reflect on why you won’t open your heart to the idea of that person being in your life. ¬†Is whatever happened really worth losing the relationship for yourself, your spouse, your children, and future generations? ¬†Is it worth acting in a way that is hurting your relationship with God? ¬†It’s easy to parade around on Sundays acting like we have it all together, but God knows the discord that is being sown in our families, and the way we hide so we don’t have to deal with ourselves. Denial is a safe place for many but it is still inexcusable in this instance.

Again, this is not okay. ¬†So if there is any truth to what I am saying, AND I KNOW THERE IS, Christians, I am imploring you to stop and repent of the words that are coming out of your mouths to character assassinate those you are hurting. ¬†Be alert of who is trying to get you to do the character assassinations, and don’t give the devil a foothold. ¬†Do not let him use you to hurt someone else. ¬†It’s divisive and truly hated by God. ¬†Do not feed into the lies spewed by those who try to sway your minds. ¬†Go directly to the person to set things straight, and don’t let gossip take over your conversations. ¬†We are accountable for our words and how we represent the Kingdom.

None of us who are believers should let time pass on these crucial relationship missteps. We need to pray about reconciliation, be willing to let Christ give us the love we need for others, and let ourselves be humbled to the point of forgiveness and restoration.

THE TIME IS NOW.

**If you do not have a relationship with Jesus and want to learn about Him, I invite you to go to the following link for great resources. ¬†And if you’d like me to pray for or with you, you may contact me directly at grace.hejnal@gmail.com.

https://needhim.org/knowing-jesus/

With love, G ūüôā

Posted in Faith

Living Intentionally

gentle breeze

I’ve been in a season of quiet and stillness for a few months now, and it’s becoming incredibly refreshing. ¬†I am typically busy, running from appointment to meeting to gathering to party to… you get the idea. ¬†Since I’ve learned to allow myself to say no, and not feel guilty about responses, I’ve become increasingly relaxed. ¬†I believe it’s a lesson the Lord has been trying to show me for some time now. ¬†And I’ll explain why.

The beginning of 2016 was a huge transition for myself and my hubster, K.  He was working the night shift at his factory job, and since I work at home, I transitioned with him so we could still be connected.  We did our best to be close: eating meals together, praying when we could, talking about what we were reading, fasting for specific reasons, and hanging out, since getting together with others was restricted to weekends and sporadic events we could handle in the hours before starting our night shifts.

Loneliness, isolation and quiet were paramount in that season. ¬†We couldn’t change the way we felt about not being around other people, which was devastating and eye-opening, but the positive effects on our marriage were incredibly significant. ¬†We grew so much in our communication and we bonded in ways I know we wouldn’t have otherwise. ¬†We both were grounded in Scripture, challenging each other with questions about what we were reading, and sharing dialogue regarding passages that spoke to us. ¬†It was a beautiful, trying season.

Just before Easter, we went back to day shift. I changed contract companies, and K began a different position with a new team under him.  We both began a new journey.  Staying as close as we were, when we were all we had, has become a challenge, because now we have time for others again, and family needs, and insert any other type of distraction here.  The down time we had in the winter was a way of opening our eyes to our availability: to others as well as ourselves. And for the first time, it was a time to just focus on our faith and each other.

Something we do pride ourselves on, is being available for others with our presence, and if that’s not possible, we send cards and prayers in our physical absence. ¬†We try to stay connected to others as much as possible, because we are two social people who love people. ¬†But I must admit that I know that I am someone who needs to step back at times to re calibrate in quiet. ¬†And knowing that I’m an introvert, I had to stop considering what others might think of my absence. ¬†Saying no to things is okay. ¬†For so long in the past, I would be upset about turning something down, or saying no for fear of what someone’s opinion of me would become. ¬†It took me¬†a while to give myself permission to be okay with being true.

What I’ve come to realize as I reflect on both seasons this year, is that sometimes it is necessary to pull back and reassess our positions. ¬†As believers, we are definitely sent out into the “mission field” every day, as servants and representatives of Jesus. ¬†Divine interruptions happen frequently and we have to be ready. ¬†However, we also must admit our emptiness at times and “fuel up” so we can be who we need to be for the Kingdom.

Living intentionally as a believer means that I am living with the purpose of reflecting Jesus through my words, actions and deeds. ¬†I am a human vessel who is used by God to show the world His Son. I am accountable for that. ¬†And sadly there are times I know I haven’t done a good job of that. I can remember times when I served in ministry that my actions became obligatory, that my “I’ll pray for you”s were rehearsed and unfeeling, and my “yes”es were because I was afraid of what others would think. Just as our bodies need physical food to provide energy so we can function, our spirit needs the Holy Spirit and downtime to recharge and be filled so we can reflect Jesus.

Don’t believe me because you feel like you’ll miss an opportunity to serve God? ¬†Even Jesus took time to stop and pray, step away from the noise and reflect. ¬†We don’t have to think we’re saving the world or missing out on opportunities. ¬†The more time we have with God, the more we are able to hear His voice (John 10:27) and know what His intentions are for us on a daily basis.

When I was in the early stages of working the night shift, my physical body was a wreck (working during the night hours does something horrible to your mind and body).  However, I spent my days literally reading my Bible on my couch with my husband, sharing insights and fueling up.  Free of distractions and obligations, we both felt disconnected from others, but incredibly linked to the Lord.

I believe God wanted me to slow down and focus on Him. ¬†And He accomplished it by changing my availability. ¬†My choice to work nights was optional, K’s was not. ¬†But I wanted my husband to feel supported and encouraged, and I didn’t think it would affect me as much as it did. ¬†I’m glad we switched back to days, despite how much we were growing. ¬†Because now even on day shift, I am still available for others. I am just more mindful of my time and whether or not my “YES” is because of God or my desire to please others. I have learned to pray before responding and not feel guilt, even when I get push back or disappointed responses from others. ¬†I have to be true to myself and my Lord.

I am intentional now about staying connected to Christ. ¬†Knowing myself as I do (imagine that), I realize that as a woman, I emotionally respond to many things. ¬†I’ve learned to slow down, filter it through the Lord’s filter instead of my human emotional filter, and have seen my responses change. ¬†I realize that my eyes are being opened in many other areas of my life as well, and in order to navigate the dark, stormy waters that are approaching, I need to cling¬†to¬†my anchor.

Now, K and I also as a couple have to be mindful of when we’re getting so busy that we’re not making time for each other. I imagine every married couple knows when that happens because you start to get irritable or angry about little things when it’s really because you’re missing each other and not making time to connect.¬†It’s an easy fix. ¬†Say no to whatever is taking you away from your covenant. ¬†My Lord needs to be first, then my spouse, then whatever God says is next, not what I deem important.

And just so this doesn’t sound like I’m knocking being there for others, K and I both have developed some pretty cool relationships with people this year and are connecting with some friends we’ve not spent as much time with in the past. ¬†We are able to say yes to spending time with others without compromising time with each other.

My perspective has changed in the area of serving as well. ¬†I know when God is saying Yes for me for something, and stepping into obedience has blessed me incredibly. ¬†A study on forgiveness that I began teaching last fall with one woman went from an eight-week study to eight months. ¬†The relationship that was forged through some many painful, tearful evenings blessed us both. ¬†The study produced a woman who now is able to transfer her insecurity to Jesus and she was able to forgive someone for 35+ years of hurt. ¬†I will never feel bad about saying no to things while working alongside the Holy Spirit for that woman’s transition.

Also, a door opened after ending my time with her, to help another woman who is struggling with her marriage. ¬†My Tuesdays are set aside for her and developing trust through her heartache. ¬†I’m enjoying what the Lord is teaching us both through her ¬†sessions.

Slowing down, focusing on Jesus and listening instead of running has strengthened my heart and faith in many ways. I’m so thankful for His leading me to rest in Him, and teaching me to depend on Him instead of working out of my own power. ¬†I’m intentionally seeking rest and stillness now, without fear of any other feelings being hurt. I am following where Jesus leads.

Posted in Faith

Clear vision

I was seven years old when I realized that I could not read the words on the blackboard in my second grade classroom. ¬†They had become blurry after a few days, and I wasn’t allowed to sit in the back row any longer. ¬†I mentioned something to my parents, and shortly after, my mom¬†took me to see Dr. Rowe, a local eye doctor who¬†fitted me for my first pair of eyeglasses. ¬†It’s been almost thirty years since that day, and I’m incredibly grateful for the maker of corrective lenses and disposable contact lenses. ¬†Without them, I would not have been able to blog my first 60 blog posts (or do many other countless things)!

I was diagnosed with myopia along with astigmatism. ¬†Reading close-up or far away truly made no difference. I was unable to do it physically. ¬†Seeing underwater is something I’ve never been able to do, nor have I been able to see clearly across the room when removing my glasses at the end of an evening before bed. Had I been born in another time period, I would be considered an invalid. ¬†I would not be able to see the computer screen to medically code for the veterans that I submit claims for. ¬†I would not be able to drive a vehicle, order lunch from a fast food place, see across the room to whomever had called my name. ¬†I had a fear of losing/breaking my prescription eyeglasses (due to my intense prescription), or having a contact lens fall out, and having to drive home from someplace with only one working eye. ¬†These are not life threatening emergencies, but realities in the life of someone without 20/20 vision. My hope was to one day be able to see without glasses.

Recently, my husband and I made a financial decision that would allow me to undergo LASIK surgery.  So I did.

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The last picture of me with prescription glasses on. ūüôā

I have been researching the surgery for quite some time. ¬†I had watched a video that showed up close EXACTLY what happens during the procedure, and the follow-up afterward. ¬†I spoke with people who had done the procedure and loved the results. ¬†I had read reviews online of local surgeons, their staff, and reviews of the procedure, cleanliness of surgical space, and rates of success before choosing a location. ¬†I reviewed pricing options, financing options, and reimbursement factors before making my final decision. ¬†And ultimately, I found out I had money left over in a health savings account from a previous job that would cover the cost!! ¬†SOLD! ūüôā

So I had LASIK surgery this past Thursday morning, while my husband and I were off of work. ¬†I had to put antibiotic drops in the night before, and I left my home Thursday morning incredibly hopeful, squashing the anxiety I felt in my stomach. ¬†It’s silly how our minds wander down crazy paths when we are about to embark on something we’ve never done. ¬†Vast were the irrational fears that began to creep into my mind: would I jerk around during the procedure and laser off my nose? ¬†What if the numbing drops didn’t work and I could feel everything? ¬†What if I woke up after the procedure and my vision was WORSE?!?!

Thankfully none of those things happened.

Below is a picture of my eye before the laser part began.

My husband was fascinated with this:

wp-1468173951583.jpgAnd the laser part where they began to reshape my cornea:

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How wild, right!?!

The end result, however, has been none of those crazy irrational fears I’ve listed above. ¬†I had to go through some excessive tearing of my eyes as they adjusted to the corneal tissue growing and reattaching itself, and I also had a few sporadic moments where light sensitivity became an issue. ¬†Overall, I woke up Friday morning with the ability to see into the bathroom and I didn’t have to reach over to the nightstand for my glasses. ¬†It was a wonderful feeling, and still catches me by surprise!! ¬†I’m extremely thankful and glad I did this!

It got me thinking about eyesight and vision in general. ¬†Going through this procedure certainly was an example of trust for me. ¬†The second that I laid on the surgical table, I could not physically see ANYTHING/ANYONE. ¬†I had to trust the surgeon, the nurses, the laser, the pre-programmed measurements, the table, the calming medication, the numbing eyedrops, the outcome, the treatment afterward, etc. ¬†I ultimately trusted my Heavenly Father, as this was elective, and I didn’t have to put myself through this unless I truly wanted to. ¬†I trusted God with my choice of location, and the decision to do something that would benefit me long-term.

Throughout the procedure (Note: you’re awake the entire time), the surgeon was very good about making sure I was physically comfortable and ready to proceed. ¬†He and the nurses would encourage me, let me know what the next step was and how long it would take, and then GO only when I said I was ready. ¬†That helped me to feel safe and secure with them. ¬†Understanding what was coming and having a guide to know ahead of time was essential in building trust. ¬†If every day was like Thursday morning for me, I would be exempt from having trust issues. ¬†Wouldn’t that be great? ¬†But that is not always the case in life, is it?

I’m about to drop some serious truth here: ALL HUMAN BEINGS are people: individuals created by and loved by an amazing God. ¬†Over time and given our family dynamic, we learn and develop how to respond to those around us, sometimes based on personal experience, sometimes based on our parent’s views, sometimes based on other people’s views who have significance in our lives. ¬†We inadvertently are shaped by those who we learn from.

Value for every human being should be the same, as we all have value in the eyes of our Creator.  Sadly, though, bad life experiences with someone of another faith, religion or color has tainted our view of them as a person.  Even worse, shared stories of these events or views help children/others to take in that same tainted view, and begin to see someone through our perspective, as dark as it may be.

We go to the heart’s core function of judgement.

We may not even know someone, but based on what Susan’s sister’s uncle’s brother went through, we may find ourselves in a similar situation. ¬†The odds of that happening are beyond slim, but we begin to think irrationally and filter life through others’ eyes.

Is this fair?  Should we even be doing this?

The answers, of course, are NO and NO.

How does this begin, how do we end it, and how do we proceed for future generations?

In the original texts of Scripture, Romans 7 and Romans 8¬†use¬†the word “sarx”, which is Greek and means “sinful nature” or “rebellious nature”. ¬†The Bible is stating that we all have within us a nature that goes against the Lord’s value system. ¬†We are created, born into a sinful world, and daily fight against the laws of God. ¬†These laws are innate, since we are created by HIM. ¬†Our nature, however, hates the laws of God, and therefore chooses to reject the laws set in place to protect us. ¬†Only when we submit to the authority of God, and accept Jesus’ blood sacrifice as our own, can we be made right with God, and be given a new nature. ¬†Until then, we are sinful, hateful, judgmental human beings with an autonomous nature that is inherently selfish. ¬†See Paul’s words in Romans 7:14-25,

14¬†We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15¬†I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16¬†And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17¬†As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18¬†For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19¬†For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do‚ÄĒthis I keep on doing. 20¬†Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[b] a slave to the law of sin.

  There is a constant war going on inside of us until it is surrendered to Jesus.

Romans 8: 1-17 tells us this:

8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c]And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.

12¬†Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation‚ÄĒbut it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13¬†For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14¬†For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.15¬†The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, ‚ÄúAbba,[g] Father.‚ÄĚ 16¬†The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God‚Äôs children. 17¬†Now if we are children, then we are heirs‚ÄĒheirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Our flesh (sin nature) and our spirit is¬†at war. ¬†We have been blinded by the enemy who longs for us to stay blind and follow him. ¬†See John 8:44 and 1 John 1:8-9. ¬†To deny Satan’s¬†power doesn’t make him less powerful. It means you’re already under it. ¬†He is very much at fault.

Second Corinthians 4:4 states:

4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Without clear vision, we are led to believe that we are here on Earth to serve ourselves, that people’s lives don’t matter, that we can make judgments about each other, slander and degrade each other, hate, murder and kill those that think differently, and assume that there¬†are no consequences.

That is not the truth.

We are born into sin, whether we want to admit this or not.  We are sinful people.  We will always be selfish and want what is best for us, disregarding the needs of others, or their well-being, because this is how the enemy operates.  Our nature and the wiles of the devil cause us to be selfish and have no regard for how we live.  The only way to combat this, is to recognize our very rebellious nature that wants what it wants, regardless of how it affects others, and surrender it to Jesus Christ.  He has proven Himself to be the Son of God, who loved us in our rebellious state, and died to destroy that sinful nature, and to vanquish the darkness that wants to separate us from God and others.

Seeing sin in others is pretty easy, isn’t it? ¬†Do you know someone who gossips, who loves to share news of something that happened to someone else without the actual person being present to agree/disagree? ¬†Do you know someone who makes vulgar comments toward a certain type of race, gender, employment status, etc.? ¬†Do you know someone who places blame on someone else constantly without ever taking responsibility for their own actions? ¬†We are so quick to judge others, without realizing what it truly says about ourselves.

Matthew 7:3-5 says the following:

3¬†‚ÄúWhy do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother‚Äôs eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4¬†How can you say to your brother, ‚ÄėLet me take the speck out of your eye,‚Äô when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5¬†You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother‚Äôs eye.

Who are you to judge someone else?  Do you never make mistakes?  Do you never have a bad day and react accordingly?  Where is the love and grace for people who have bad days?  Where is the lack of stereotyping when someone wrongs you?  Where is the forgiveness for actions that hurt?

The truth of the matter with what is happening in America currently is corruption at its worst, and injustice that is out of control.  We are allowed to be angry when people are being murdered for no reason.  We are allowed to be angry when those who are supposed to protect us are profiling and making matters where there was previously none.  We are allowed to disagree.  We are allowed to protest these wrongdoings and state solutions that can benefit society.  These are still freedoms we are allowed to have here.

What is not allowed is incessant murder in the name of someone else. ¬†We are not allowed to let our anger take control and take lives of those whom we deem “inconsequential”. ¬†We are not allowed to take weapons and use them on others because we disagree with them, or feel like they no longer deserve to live. ¬†We are not allowed to go in front of the justice system and make judgments ourselves. ¬†We must wait for these processes to work themselves out in time. ¬†But our impatience keeps us from thinking rationally, and our feelings of injustice have us crying out to God that He’s taking too long.

These are judgments that are reserved for God alone. ¬†And HE wishes no one to perish without the knowledge of who He is, so He’s not advocating murder when we disagree. ¬†Where is the peace and love for each other? ¬†Where is the positive dialogue that can happen when we put others first?

We hate punishments, and we hate correction. ¬†We want to be right. ¬†We want to be heard. But we need to find a new way to do this. ¬†And though I would love to provide a clear-cut solution to the hurt in today’s world, I don’t have the one you want to hear.

I have one name:

JESUS.

The reason people are out of control and self-seeking is because they are operating out of their blinded vision.  They only see themselves.  They have hatred in their hearts and are using their voice as a mouthpiece for justification.  They hide behind computers so their faces will be obstructed.  They write and spew words that vilify and destroy others.

We, humans, are hateful beings. Read any comments section on any news site and you’ll see people who have never met each other, destroying each other because of a difference of opinion. ¬†We don’t care to hear what others have to say when it doesn’t support our own beliefs.

This is not love.  This is not mercy.  This is not grace.  This is not right.

This is blindness.

The only way to clarity is to seek Jesus and His ways. ¬†We are so quick to make assumptions about others, or to predict behavior patterns. ¬†The truth is that God says none of us know the intentions of another’s heart. ¬†So why do we act this way?

I’m reading a book by Ted Dekker called “The Forgotten Way” and in it, he says the following regarding our understanding of Paul’s teachings in Romans:

“Have we lost sight of Paul’s teaching? ¬†He made it plain: The preeminent evidence shown by those who know the Father is this: LOVE. ¬†And not just any love, but the unique kind that loves enemies, not only those who show us love in return. ¬†A love that is patient, showing no jealousy or arrogance, keeping no record of wrong, not seeking its own and not provoked by another’s behavior. ¬†This is to love as Christ loves, submitting to each other without judgment.”

The description above is the way to show the world the clarity of who Jesus is, by HOW HE LOVES.  He longs to see peace and unity among all of us.  Black lives matter.  White lives matter.  ALL LIVES MATTER!  Jesus died for all of them.  We are not to be taking these lives away from each other.  We are to encourage each other, and show love to those who are unlovable.

Something I learned a long time ago is that hurting people hurt people. ¬†Instead of responding with another harsh word or assuming why someone says/does something, why not respond to them in love? ¬†Turn the anger away, instead of fueling it. ¬†Ask Jesus for the love to give to those who are bitter. ¬†No one knows the journey of anyone else, so show grace when someone may not view life the same way. ¬†Show mercy when someone deserves justice. ¬†The Lord will take care of someone else’s need to “learn a lesson”. ¬†It’s not your job.

And let’s begin to ask the Lord to help us see others the way He does. ¬†He sees us as we are: by our hearts. ¬†If we truly saw ourselves the way He does, we wouldn’t be so quick to judge others. ¬†We need Him to transform our hearts of¬†stone¬†into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

Colossians 3:5-9 shows us who we really are, no matter how we deny it to ourselves:

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:[a] sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self[c]with its practices

Thankfully, there is a verse 10:

10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator

Jesus never leaves us as He found us.  He transforms us.  We can become NEW in Christ and learn to love with His heart, instead of our sinful, hateful heart.  We can see each other through His eyes, with love and compassion for each other, with a yearning for others to know Him and share His gospel of life eternal with God.

Love is possible.  Unity is possible.

Will you choose to have clear vision today?

Posted in Faith

Selflessness and what it means for all

Ugh…I’m so done with this…

A nose that is blocked by swollen nasal passages with only mouth-breathing as an option, an incessant cough that sounds like the Jake brake on a diesel truck, and an urgent rushing to the bathroom due to the side effects of the cold medicine that is NOT providing relief or results.

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And it’s no one else in the house that is driving me up a wall with these symptoms…it’s ME!¬† My voice has taken on a low, James Earl Jones-type inflection that I’m not used to, and just this morning on a work phone call, I had to convince the recipient that it was me!!

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Forgive my brief complaint, but I’ve never been down this long. Typically, I determine my main symptoms, listen to my body and rest, drink plenty of fluids, take OTC meds and move on about my day.¬† But since January, after completing our corporate fasting at church, my body hasn’t been the same.¬† I thought I knocked it out by using NyQuil and Vicks on my feet with socks, four weeks ago, but this came back! Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve probably been able to breathe through both nostrils seven days total.¬† I know it’s not the end of the world, but I would give anything to smell ANYTHING!

So, with plenty of time to take a respite on the couch, I’ve had my “morning” quiet time (which is now 2pm or later EST due to being a vampire for job-related reasons) and as I was catching up on an online Bible study, reading Scripture began to turn my complaining into praise.¬† I fell on 1 Corinthians 13, which many of us lovingly call, “The Love Chapter” because it defines characteristics of love.

I’d love to be able to say that I could insert my name into the chapter and say how loving, patient, kind, etc. I am, but I’d only be fooling myself.¬† There are times in my life that I can recall the exact opposite.¬† I may have let my emotions take over and responded erratically to a situation, or assumed something about someone before I had a chance to know them, or put an expectation on someone that once they didn’t meet, I knew I could call them out.¬† That’s not even half of what I know I’m capable of.

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The truth of this passage is that love is many things that we cannot do on our own.¬† Our nature has a way of putting ourselves first in all things (we call this SELFISHness), but the gift of God is that He is able to equip us to put others first.¬† Being others-centered is a way of becoming like Jesus.¬† Jesus didn’t focus on Himself during his entire 33 years on Earth!¬† Sadly, I can’t even go a day!

Selflessness is proof of Jesus being present in our lives.¬† By putting others first, we are showing that we know others have value, and they should be served.¬† There’s no scale where we balance out the actions of another to see if they deserve to be treated kindly, we just do it.¬† Now knowing that love is of God, and knowing that to know love means to show love, consider the following:

1 John 4:8 states, “Anyone who does not love, does not know God, because God is love.”

Hit you in the gut a bit?¬† Here, the apostle John is urging those who are reading his words (followers of Jesus, the church) to love.¬† He begins verse seven with, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and anyone that loves is born of God, and knows God.”

To know God is to know love, and to know love means we realize the value of it and our need for it, receive it from God and give it away to others.¬† God never gives us something to keep for ourselves.¬† Now the lesson in this verse is that if we withhold love to others, we are not loving God.¬† If we aren’t loving others, we aren’t loving at all, and we can’t possibly know the Lord if we’re not loving like Him.

Let me explain it out even further.  To know God is to know who He is and what He has done.  God, in His great mercy, sent His Son to Earth to model His characteristics: patience with those who needed it, words of life for those who were dead, compassion toward those society had rejected, etc.  Jesus manifested God in the flesh.

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And we as believers who also live in flesh, have a responsibility to exhibit the same.¬† Why?¬† Because Jesus died for our sins and rose to defeat them. That’s why.¬† Plain and simple.¬† The hurt you dispel to others hurts God just as much as the hurt you receive from others.¬† Both hurt. Both offend. Both stunt growth. Stop the cycle.¬† Give the offense to God, trust He will work it out, and move on with your life.¬† If you’re holding onto things from the past, you’re not moving forward and there is much life to be lived.¬† It begins with taking the focus off of ourselves and putting it on Jesus, who deserves all praise for what He has done so we could be reconciled to God.

Staying in a position of selfishness means that I am constantly questioning why things are happening to me, or thinking for some reason that they shouldn’t happen to me. That is illogical in a world of selfish people. You will be hurt. You will be offended. You will be shamed, picked on, bullied, etc.

The key to combatting the “me syndrome” is knowing your own value, which resides in WHO GOD IS. He is perfect in every way. He made you, you are HIS and you are loved by Him. Hold onto that truth, and live that out. Choose to let go of that which desires to imprison you, love people where they are because you want to be loved the same, and choose to focus on things that are of importance.

So much is temporary here, but what really matters is our response to the goodness of God, and His compassion toward us. Do we believe He is who He said He was, and are we living our lives aligned with His plans for us? Are we living surrendered to His purposes? How do you know?

Let’s say your day gets interrupted by someone who doesn’t know God and they treat you in a way you don’t want to be treated. Do you condemn them, or love them? Because they don’t know God, stop and consider that you may be in their lives because you will help them learn who He is. If they don’t know God, they can’t love like Him. But we can. The responsibility to love will always be on our shoulders. And it’s not a hard thing to do when you realize what He has done in love for you. It gets easier to pass it on, because love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. No longer when you’re hurt or wronged will you be holding onto it, and rehashing it over and over. You’ll let it go quickly to God for His forgiveness, and choose to love. It is entirely possible with God.

I want to love like Jesus loves.¬† My heart has lived on Earth for 36 years and I have endured much, but also not as much in comparison to other people.¬† I have endured what God allowed in my life, or the consequences of choices I made apart from Him.¬† But through grace, and His forgiveness, I don’t have to hold onto the past or the hurt people have caused me.¬† I believe that putting others first, especially those who have hurt or wronged me, can be a stepping stone in their life to see grace in ways they don’t expect.¬† And who gets the glory there?¬† God!¬† Putting others first will always be Christlike.

The weather outside has turned to rain, and it is getting colder as some snow is on the way.¬† My husband, went to the back bedroom, threw on a shirt, jeans and some shoes, and left!¬† I assumed my coughing had done him in!¬† Surely, he couldn’t take it anymore!!

But alas, I was wrong.  Instead, my handsome groom dropped off the following:

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This, to me, is a picture of selflessness.

I haven’t been verbally complaining of my ailments (although I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if my coughing would cease either), but just the fact that he would go out of his way to do something that makes me feel better, means he put me first.¬† This is love.¬† This is doing something for someone else because it benefits them, and the blessing from God for being obedient is now my husband’s.¬† He gets it.¬† And should he come down with something that is just as¬† relentless, I will do exactly the same.

Now having taken my Mucinex, my praise is even better!! I am incredibly thankful for the love that God has poured over me and allowed me to receive, despite my heart that needs His tender care and Scripture soaked wrapping.  I am thankful for an opportunity to share these truths with others via the internet.  And I am thankful that this sinus infection is maintainable and temporary.  I want to remember the lozenges that were brought to me in a time of need, so I can do the same when an opportunity arises.

Dear reader, I pray that any hurts you carry, may be dropped at the foot of the cross for the sake of being free. Realize Jesus’s love for you just as you are, and that you can have a relationship with Him today by just accepting that He is the Messiah and He loved you enough to die for you so you could be with Him forever. Our lives are fleeting, but they matter to the Lord. He created us for His glory, and loving on each other for His sake brings Him much glory. Will you choose to be less selfish today, so someone can see Jesus in you? If so, I just may share some of my lozenges with you. ūüėČ

Posted in Faith

Thoughts on the New Year

open door

Well, we’ve officially moved into a new year. 2016 is here! Maybe it’s my age showing, but I’m amazed at how each year seems to go by faster than the one before. And as I look around, I see there is always more money to make, less time to spend and many unhappy people.

With the new year comes time for New Year’s resolutions. Since 2010, I’ve stopped making resolutions because I don’t like the feeling that I’ve failed. Setting the bar and not meeting it means I didn’t succeed, so why put that unnecessary pressure on myself? But lately, I am feeling the opposite. Since I have given my life to Christ, it doesn’t matter if I set the bar and fail, because He gives opportunity after opportunity without deadline.

I’ve written in the past about how I’ve run ahead of God and how He’s been extremely gracious in my hustle and bustle. In the past, I have loved the frantic, crazy pace of getting things done and having the feeling of accomplishment. I’m not ashamed of it because it’s part of my make up, however as I get older, I’m realizing God is asking me to sllllllooooooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwww dooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnn.

Being a woman, it’s natural to just take over certain tasks, keep everyone in line, make sure things get done, and go to bed depleted. Checking boxes makes everyone happy, especially when the bottom line is saving money and time. But in all of the busyness of life, I’ve even recently noticed how Christian biblical women authors are encouraging women to listen to the voice of the Lord and slow down. And I believe God is speaking through them.

Lysa Terkeurst has released

the best yes
,

Susie Larson wrote

your sacred yes
and

Karen Ehman shares how to

let it go
.
I’m seeing a recurring theme from women who have “been there, done that” and have learned the rhythm of the Lord is in patiently waiting and not rushing. What a crazy concept in our fast-paced society! We don’t like to read these books that make us admit that we’re so goal-focused and check box driven, especially when it means something in our behavior pattern will have to change. Yet realizing EXACTLY THAT will save us much heartache and unnecessary rebuke.

What is it that sends us to the task driven life? In social circles, what is it that we are afraid of, if we don’t DO something? Each woman (or man) who reads this can answer the questions themselves. Honestly, I believe the questions should be mulled over, and prayed over, with time to hear back from God before replying. When we can recognize WHY we jump to do something, and whether or not it’s something the Lord is truly asking of us, we can answer with confidence and not hesitation.

fasting

Our church is currently in a new sermon series about spending time with Jesus. As part of that study, we are learning to fast and actually spend quality time with God. Doing so requires discipline to follow the suggested regimen, not eating physical food, but depending on the Word of God and what He is speaking to us. It’s a common practice done in the Bible by Jesus, for getting closer to God, and seeking His will. I’ve done it once, as a teenager, when raising money for the 30 hour famine. I’ve never done it longer, and I’ve never done it with the intent of getting specific answers from God. I believe it is not a manipulation tool, because God cannot be manipulated. But it is a practice worth doing, to have my physical body completely depend on God during my quiet time, and to exchange my hunger for food, to hunger for Him.

I have much to pray about specifically at this time in my life: I have many unsaved friends and neighbors, stepchildren with concerns about their futures, family members who have broken relationships, a job that is inconsistent at times, clarity for a dream/passion of mine to come to fruition. All of these things need to be placed in the loving hands of the Father and LEFT THERE. I needn’t pick them up again. I can trust Him and I believe that my quiet time with Him will be beneficial, as He will provide what is best for me.

fervent

Now my issue is that I’ve listed my specific prayer needs/wants, but I’ve left out the ones that the Lord has for me. How will I know them if I don’t ask Him what He has planned or what He is asking me to do? I fall into the trap of thinking that prayer is simply telling God everything that I want Him to accomplish and then waiting for it to happen. Have you ever had a conversation with someone like that? They just talk at you and walk away, and you feel as if you didn’t have a chance to share your viewpoint on anything? It’s one-sided, unfair, and is one thing I’m resolving this year. I’m going to take the time to wait for His response. Who am I to make demands? I know I am His daughter, but if anyone deserves respect and ultimate praise, it’s God. I need to be reminded of how I walk into His presence.

And something else that is heavy on my heart, is the gift that the Lord has bestowed on my husband and me. We love spontaneity, whether it be something we do together solely as a couple, or whether it involve other people who need us in a time of need. We have been obedient in listening to the Lord for those opportunities and then just “going”. And we’ve seen the fruit of that obedience. A dear friend of ours recently said Kevin’s and my greatest gift is our presence. That we stop what we are doing, and just show up. And I think that will be something I pray about specifically again this year. Where do you need us to be, in what way, and what should we bring, if anything? Giving of time has become such a wonderful way for me to see how the Lord can use me, instead of me having an agenda, or a place to rush off to. Time really is the most precious gift.

Have you ever done the OneWord movement for the New Year? I’ve come up with mine and it will be something I pray over and specifically focus on for 2016. My word is #abide. God has been speaking into my heart for some time now about spending time with Him (which is why I’m so jazzed about our sermon series at church), but also because I have been convicted by James 4:7. I need to be drawing near to God and resisting the devil. So much time in my past has been given to him, out of fear or insecurity, and I’m reclaiming my value this year. I’m going to spend more time with the Lord, actual QUALITY TIME, and immediately relinquish all thoughts that aren’t from Him.

post it

calendar

tast list

Finally, I have a challenge for you, a very simple one. If you trust your life in the capable hands of God, do you believe He has everything under His control? Do you know that He hears the prayers of His children and filters them through His ultimate purposes and wisdom?

A girlfriend of mine told me a few years ago that when she is in prayer about the future, or something that she is uncertain that she’s supposed to be doing, she takes the task, calendar, or a sticky note with the option written on it, and puts it on the floor. Then she prays over it, and waits to hear back from the Lord regarding it. She doesn’t say YES until she knows it is what He is asking her to do.

I’m going to be doing this challenge. I’ve said yes so many times in the past, without knowing whether or not something was correct, and I’ve become overwhelmed and burnt out. So instead of struggling to find my way, I’m going to give everything to Him and wait for Him to interrupt my plans, intercede with a better idea, and speak to my heart in a way that only I know.

Praying a special prayer for each reader, that your year would be one of surrender, hope, trust, love, grace and forgiveness. God is trustworthy and faithful to His promises.

Posted in Faith, Family

What’s Next for us (a sweet testimony of the love and goodness of my husband and God)

¬†I cannot believe it’s been four years since I walked down the aisle to my groom.

Time has passed.  At times so swiftly, other times without regard for my impatience.  But it sure seems fleeting.

Four years of marriage is not a normal celebratory year, at least in popular circles or in card shops.  Typically, we tend to celebrate the first, fifth and every fifth year after that for patterned events.

So why is four such a big deal to me today?

Because I want to share where God has moved in the lives of two simple people in Ohio, out of the entire Universe. ¬†And I finally am ready to share a deep hurt that was healed and overcome. ¬†But first, some highlights of one of the happiest days of my life…becoming Mrs. Hejnal.

new startcake2

candles

God's KnotThe day had finally come.

My husband and I had a lot of strife getting to that day.

As with every wedding, there are moments that things don’t go as planned, and ours was no different. ¬†Leading up to our wedding day, we had a few hiccups: reservations and contracts for locations that went missing (gasp!), family issues with¬†unforeseen miscommunication (with people who weren’t even part of our day) (YIKES!) and deadlines we didn’t plan for (seriously!?). ¬†Waking up the morning of the wedding, I just prayed for God to handle it all, and we would soak up every minute.

And on the day of the wedding, everything fell into place.


We both were so excited and were ready to commit to each other.  We could have done without the trimmings and planning. We just wanted to be together!   me staring offKevin excited

listening to In Christ Aloneso happyfrom the startrings

our new stepfamilyStarting over would be an adjustment for me.

I had been divorced for a few years, and I was used to doing things on my own. ¬†My personality is independent by nature. ¬†For as long as I can remember, once I conquered something, it was on to bigger and better. ¬†I didn’t like someone telling me what to do or how to do it. ¬†I would figure it out and then move on.

So, I definitely had a lot to learn about submitting to a man. ¬†Obstacles, schmobstacles…

It couldn’t be that hard, though, right? ¬†I mean, this guy and I seem to get along so well. ¬†We play video games together, go to church together, grocery shop together. For those who are afraid we do too much together, we do have separate interests and hobbies, but they are done in moderation. ¬†We truly enjoy each others’ company. I’ve never had such an amazing and supportive guy best friend. ¬†So moving into the¬†house that was now ours, and sharing EVERYTHING shouldn’t be so bad, right?

Sadly, I didn’t prepare myself for everything. ¬†I did what I normally did, which was to jump into the abyss and run full speed.


We had those who opposed Kevin’s and my marriage, and I felt obligated to try to change their minds, quite verbally, I remember. ¬†I had those who slandered me on a regular basis, so I found myself in defensive positions constantly. ¬†And I felt I had to prove to everyone that I was capable of being a stepmother, since I’d had no previous children of my own. ¬†How hard could this be? ¬†(Just reading this, I’m exhausted.)

Another factor I didn’t really see ahead of me that would test my patience and willpower were his daughters. ¬†At the time, they were 14 and 17. ¬†They are both beautiful women now, and have always been loving and understanding. ¬†They have grown a ton, and so have we. ¬†But let’s be honest ladies, learning to love someone else’s children seems to come easy, but it comes with being on the back burner and being rejected A LOT. ¬†If you keep your eyes open for the lessons, however, it also teaches you humility and compassion.

I was young (and I say that to be humorous, but also to indicate my maturity level in all of this). ¬†I expected things to go swimmingly all of the time. ¬†I am not one for confrontation, so I didn’t have to worry about arguing with the kids. ¬†They rarely voiced discontentment. ¬†They were eerily silent more than I could stand at times. ¬†But I learned about them, I stretched myself and spent time with them when they were in our home, and I shared as much about myself as I could with them. ¬†They were adjusting too.

Was our daily life all roses and gumdrops? ¬†Absolutely not. ¬†I can remember a few days where I stayed in our bedroom and avoided them, after an argument with their mother, or someone else in the family who wouldn’t accept me. ¬†I had to become aware of the times that the enemy would try to pin Kevin against me, and when the enemy would isolate me. ¬†Sometimes I felt excluded, unwanted or just plain ignored. ¬†Those were painful times, but they passed. ¬†We all grew.


Now the kicker: I’ve shared previously on this blog that I wanted to go back to school when God revealed that He wanted me to go into Christian counseling. ¬†What I didn’t share was how I made that decision solely by myself, signed up for, was accepted into college and THEN told my husband. ¬†Who does that!?! ¬†Ugh, I hate that things went down that way.

Kevin and I have had many conversations about US adjusting to each other. ¬†And at the height of one of our saddest but most raw arguments, he admitted how hurt he was by that, and I was ashamed that I’d not even seen that I had done it.


My point for all of this is to share what my view of marriage is, and how it’s taught me to rely on my Lord and my husband. ¬†And to share that through some of the heartache, pain and humbling heart condition checks that were necessary, God is not done with Kevin and me. ¬†There is more to come, and it can¬†WILL be accomplished with our Lord and my unselfish, unconditional loving husband.


A ceremonial addition we incorporated into our service was God’s Knot. ¬†It’s a cord of three colored ropes that you braid during your ceremony. ¬†The groom holds the ring and the bride braids the three colors together. ¬†Below you can see the description, and the shadow box I made of our knot after the wedding.God's Knot cord 3 strands

I loved this aspect of the ceremony, but the truth is that I didn’t know how to incorporate it into my marriage.

I had my faith, Kevin had his, and we would meet in the middle, I was sure of it. ¬†We were growing as a couple. ¬†We were going to church. ¬†We were attending life group, and I could see Kevin’s growth, and it just fueled me to do more at church because God wanted me to be helping others in their lives. ¬†After all, mine was perfectly fine…

Yet in all honesty, for the first two and a half years of our marriage, I was running my race to the goal line (whatever event I had created in my mind), and Kevin was jogging behind, lovingly supporting me, but keeping silent.

Newsflash, brides: That’s not journeying through life together.

That’s living as though you’re still single, and just having the guy’s last name. ¬†What could be more emasculating to an amazing man (or any man for that matter)?

I have learned so much in the time since I’ve walked down the aisle.

I have learned the ability to admit my wrongdoings.

It’s not that I didn’t know how to do it before, it’s just that in the past, my lips seemed to go numb, and my mouth wouldn’t open to get the words out. ūüėČ ¬†I mean, come on, who loves to say, “I was wrong”? ¬†If it seems hard to say, take a few minutes to repeat that over and over…it gets easier.

I have learned the ability to put my partner first.

Kevin is so simple, and I mean that so lovingly. ¬†He really doesn’t ask for much. He’s not extravagant, he doesn’t have unrealistic expectations for me, he just lives so simply, and if he sees a need somewhere, he does it/fixes it/helps someone/loves on people. ¬†I couldn’t ask for a better example of who Jesus is.

Kevin really is a living example of someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to see others love their lives and Christ. ¬†But my nature (and let’s be honest again, it’s not a personality flaw, it’s my sin nature), was to put myself first. ¬†And I have a background, so here’s where I used to justify it.

Coming from a first marriage that ended in my leaving abruptly, I wasn’t used to putting the other person first. ¬†I had been dealing with someone who had so many expectations for me to live up to, and a facade I couldn’t pull off…well, it just was such a relief to get away from someone trying to change me and I could finally have an opinion without him making fun of me, or calling me a name because I thought differently. ¬†But unfortunately, my desire to overcome that part of my past, left Kevin in the dust! ¬†I had opened a business and gone back to school all by myself. Surely, you’re proud of me, right, honey? ¬†Honey??


I’m going to take you back to a moment in time that is forever seared into my memory. ¬†It’s painful, but becomes beauty from its¬†original ashes.

Thankfully, God got a hold of me one morning/afternoon in February 2014. ¬†And let me tell you, where I should have been treated harshly for the words I let spew out of my mouth during a Valentine’s dinner to my sweet husband, God wrapped His arms around me and said, “Tell me what’s wrong.”

The afternoon¬†after that dinner, when I was alone in my living room (Kevin was at work), I had such shame. Have you ever been so mad at something, but had so much going on, you didn’t know who to blame or where to put the pain? ¬†I was at my wits end! ¬†(Clearly.)

¬†I had allowed myself to become so overwhelmed, overworked, disappointed, and so angry at everyone and everything, that I didn’t even want to go into the Lord’s presence. ¬†Quite honestly, I figured He didn’t want to talk to me. ¬†He was there at the restaurant the night before, when I unleashed venom against my husband (who had done nothing wrong), and made him my punching bag for my built up anger. ¬†Surely, God’s back would be to me.

I wrestled in the living room. ¬†I went from couch to chair to couch and thought, This is ridiculous. ¬†I can’t even muster up the courage to talk to God. ¬†And though I wanted to cry (and for those of you who know me- that’s not a hard feat for me to accomplish), I couldn’t get any moisture from my eyes. ¬†How sad…now what?

And so I texted a few of my soul sisters from church: “Will you ladies¬†pray for me? Without going into detail, I’ve hurt my husband and feel like I can’t pray.”

Within minutes, my dear sisters countered the enemy’s lies and told me to press into God, to seek Him with my heart and He would reveal a way to redeem myself with Kevin, that I need to resist the devil, draw near to God (James 4:7-8) and just boldly go to Him.

I stretched myself out on the floor facing downward.  And then I laughed.

How absurd, I thought! ¬†I have no words to even say. ¬†Obviously I’m sorry, but where do I begin?

So I stayed on the floor, arms stretched out in front of me. ¬†And I started, “Lord, I don’t even know what you want me to say…”


Within seconds, He spoke into my spirit, not words of condemnation or ridicule, but peace and truth. ¬†He somehow got me to the point of repentance. ¬†I can’t even explain exactly how, but with my arms out in front of me,

I began to sob,

and then cry,

and then mourn loudly.

I hadn’t let tears out in a LONG TIME! ¬†On my knees, still facing the floor, I knew what I had done wrong. ¬†I knew I had gone before Kevin and hurt him, but God was letting me know that I had RUN IN FRONT OF HIM AS WELL! ¬†Talk about a 2×4 to the face! ¬†I’m just living my dream, without regard for anyone. ¬†What in the world is wrong with me?!?

The Lord is our judge, yet also a loving Father. ¬†That day, when I should have had Him laying out the record of all of the times I had wronged my husband, God chose to show me His grace. ¬†(And if you know 1 Corinthians 13, Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, so this clearly shows you where my belief about God didn’t match up with His character.)

He spread out such merciful, totally needed, completely undeserved GRACE.

Still sitting on the floor, I cried endlessly, and felt His love, compassion and clarity. I knew within minutes that I had to back out of school, close up shop on my business, and put my focus on HIM and my husband, and then my family.


Words that echoed in my spirit, which will never go forgotten, were the following: “Grace, you’re calling me the Lord of your life, but you’re not letting me do it.”

That realization hit me so hard.

I had such remorse for my treatment of Kevin. ¬†He didn’t deserve my tongue-lashing. ¬†I had immediate sadness at knowing my dream of finishing college would again go to the wayside. ¬†But knowing that I was a fraud to myself and my Lord was the most painful. ¬†Who was I kidding? ¬†Yes, my grades were high where I wanted them to be, but the grade for my contribution to my marriage was F after F. ¬†My priorities were so skewed. ¬†Devastated, but hopeful, my heart ached horribly, but I couldn’t wait to talk to my husband.


Later that evening in our bedroom, I finally had the opportunity to apologize to Kevin. ¬†He had been quiet all day when he got in from work, and my stepdaughters were over. ¬†I certainly didn’t want to do this in front of them, so I asked the Lord to give me the words at the right time. ¬†Kevin listened so intently, and yet his face would look away at times. ¬†I shared with him all that the Lord revealed to me during my quiet time, and when I was finally done, he looked at me, and said, “I can never stop you, Grace. ¬†You get something in your mind and you just run with it. ¬†I’m in awe of you. ¬†Everything you’ve ever wanted to do, you can do it. ¬†But what killed me was that you’ve never asked me, not that you need my permission, but that you would consider me. ¬†You’re still living like you’re single.”

Dear friends, if I can impart wisdom to you regarding marriage- which is a holy, beautiful, institution using two broken, imperfect people (one man, one woman), take my words to heart. ¬†YOU CANNOT CLEAVE TO SOMEONE BY YOUR OWN WILL. ¬†The Bible is so full of wisdom and truth regarding marriage being an institution that reflects the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. ¬†That one would lay down their life, they would cleave to each other, they would forsake all others, they would lead, serve, submit… ¬†I wasn’t doing any of that. ¬†And I had been so blinded because of my own selfishness, I didn’t realize the pain Kevin ¬†even felt.

I used to pride myself on telling others to “put the shoe on the other foot”, but I couldn’t follow my own advice. ¬†And because I had squashed the Holy Spirit, I wasn’t hearing His gentle rebukes to consult my husband, pray before deciding, wait to see if it was something the Lord wanted of me. ¬†All of these steps I took were “GRACE-driven”, but not grace-driven.


I have learned the ability to squash the enemy instead of the Spirit.

If you are married or considering it, your primary concern will always be for the other person. ¬†Yes, you have dreams and goals, but trust me, if they don’t include your spouse, you live a life of secrecy and darkness. ¬†These things always come to light, Scripture says. ¬†Even in the midst of a godly marriage. ¬†If we’re not seeking the Lord and our spouse’s approval on things, are we truly surrendered to their ideas, opinions, viewpoints? ¬†And let’s not gloss over the fact that the enemy HATES marriage, so he will do anything he can to separate, isolate and KILL off any part of you that works in conjunction with your spouse. ¬†Instead of running ahead of your mate and figuring things out, seek your spouse’s opinion (communication is sexy, people) and see what he has to say. ¬†You may be surprised by his wisdom and acceptance of your ideas.

Submission to a man of God is easy.

If a man loves the Lord, and follows His commands (most importantly to put YOU first in his life, and love you like Jesus loves the church), you can easily walk alongside him and submit to him.  I know every marriage is not like this.  But if you are a godly woman, you are not alone.  Your Lord is your husband and voice of wisdom until He gets through to your husband.

I learned that my husband “gets” the idea of unconditional love (and it’s something I cannot take for granted)

When I screwed up royally, Kevin never held it over my head. ¬†We have thousands of dollars in college loans for a degree that I never finished, and he’s never said another word about it, except to tell me that we have to remember a certain amount coming out monthly. ¬†He said it’s a lesson that we learned together.

Talk about GRACE!! ¬†Could you do that? ¬†If your husband cost you THOUSANDS of dollars for a dream that God called you out of, would you be able to NOT talk about it? ¬†I mean, we may want to tell our girlfriends why we can’t go out for coffee or dinner, “because let me tell you what my husband did…”.

He NEVER did that. ¬†He just moves forward with me, seeking God for our next step. ¬†That’s insane, but possible with God. ¬†Kevin’s love for me overshadows my mistakes. ¬†Sound like anyone else you know? ūüėČ

I’ve learned God’s plans for me do coincide with my dreams (after all, He put them there), but I can wait for His direction and timing to execute them.

My frustration and becoming overwhelmed was because I was putting pressure on myself that was never meant to be there. ¬†I needed to seek God and His Word regarding my steps, but I was too busy running to stop and read (or listen). ¬†And out of that journey of running, I realized many reasons why I was pushing to prove myself. ¬†I am now equipped with Ephesians 6 and the armor of God. ¬†I know the schemes against me, I know the tactics the enemy uses, I know his cunning behavior. ¬†I cannot prepare myself for everything, but I can be aware, and that is what is required of us. ¬†We need to watch and know that he seeks to KILL us and DESTROY us. ¬†This is your ENEMY…the one that knows he loses in the end. ¬†So remind him of that.

And ultimately, I have a few dreams that are in my think tank. ¬†I know the Lord put them there. ¬†He is slowly revealing timing for certain things, but I’m more patient than I’ve ever been. ¬†I know when I see myself putting on tennis shoes in my mind’s eye, I need to sit back on the bench and consider him and my husband first.


The cord of three strands is essential to a vital, godly marriage. ¬†Kevin is a flawed human being. ¬†As am I. ¬†And there is only one other person involved in our marriage, who has a vested interest in our marriage, who is not flawed. ¬†God designed it, He knows the obstacles, but He has the power and the resources to conquer them. ¬†And He’s given us the wisdom to learn how to do it.

Put simply: RELIANCE ON THE LORD HIMSELF.

I can come up with some pretty awesome ideas (brushed knuckles on chest), but if I haven’t sought the Lord or Kevin, I will be devastated at the loss of time spent by choosing to go the path alone. ¬†I’ve witnessed after a long day of work, Kevin come home and say something that neither one of us has talked about, but that I know the Lord must have put on His heart. ¬†That is evidence enough for me that He is present in both of our lives. ¬†And He has to be! ¬†We are so prone to going our own way, but in a marriage, it’s always about the other person. ¬†Sacrifice to self is essential.


Something else that the Lord brought to my mind in the living room that day was that friends lay down their lives for each other. ¬†I hadn’t done that. ¬†For me to be successful as a wife, submitted to my husband and completely surrendered to the Lord, I had to lay down my hopes/dreams/college credits/Avon makeup business for the sake of Kevin and my longevity. ¬†It’s not that these were bad ideas, but sometimes the Lord asks us to give up things that are in the way of what He is trying to accomplish through us. ¬†If my grip had been so tight on school or my business, where would that have left Kevin?

hold everything in your hands


I’ve learned to let go of hurtful, hateful moments and live in the NOW.

Earlier, I had mentioned how things went wrong leading up to our wedding day. Life isn’t perfect, and moments aren’t as tidy or neat as Pinterest tries to convince us. ¬†Over the last two years, the Lord has been working on my heart of unforgiveness. ¬†I’ve been holding onto so much, about so many people, that it had become a huge wedge in our marriage. ¬†I had to come to the realization of three things:

  1. Kevin wasn’t responsible for the actions of those who hurt me, so I had to stop treating him as if he was.
  2. Holding onto the anger for what others had done wasn’t hurting them. ¬†It was hurting me. ¬†And Kevin. ¬†And other family members. ¬†My responses weren’t Christlike many times, and if I was trying to be a light, I wasn’t accomplishing it very well.
  3. Forgiveness is able to be done by humans, but the peace that comes as a result, is something only the Lord can give. ¬†I have said I’ve forgiven and forgotten a ton of times. ¬†But I hadn’t ever given the situation to the Lord. ¬†Then, all of a sudden in 2013, God started messing with my sleep schedule. ¬†He would keep me up, replaying an incident or how I handled it. ¬†My anger would rage, my thoughts would get wound up, and I would want to scream. ¬†But when I learned to take those moments and hand them over to the One who already died for their mistakes, and mine too, I was able to let Him deal with that person and no longer hold it over their heads. ¬†I cannot tell you the freedom I have, and the lack of weight on my shoulders for doing this! ¬†If you need help with forgiveness or unforgiveness, call me, text me, email me. ¬†I will be doing a bible study on this topic because it is so beneficial to our mental and physiological well-being.

I’ve learned that where God said No for now, it doesn’t mean forever.

I still have dreams. ¬†I also have a husband whose work schedule might change, and stepdaughters in college. ¬†I want to be there for them. ¬†This doesn’t mean my goal of counseling will fade. ¬†It means that the Lord will be faithful in what He told me: He will give me what I need when I need it. ¬†And I can rest in that.

I’ve learned that everyone needs second chances, and third, and eighteenth, and ninety-seventh, and…

The beautiful truth about the God of the Bible is that He is full of grace and mercy, justice and truth. ¬†He gives grace much more than He punishes. ¬†Like the loving parent that He is, He disciplines those He loves, but He doesn’t leave us in timeout, or in prison! ¬†He conquered death so we could be with Him. ¬†Is He happy with our choices and behavior all of the time? ¬†That depends on your walk with Him. ¬†But the good news is that when we screw up, He is faithful and just to see the sin, cover it with the blood of His Son, and grant us newness. ¬†Out of that thankfulness, we need to be appreciative and turn our lives in another direction.

Where our sin is great, His grace is greater!


So that’s my story. ¬†At least for now. ¬†Four years may not seem like a long time, but for me, it’s been packed with lesson after lesson and grace upon grace. ¬†I’ve titled this post “What’s Next for us”, but to be truthful, only God knows that.

I just know that we’re all in, whatever that looks like. ¬†And we’re going to do it hand-in-hand until He calls us home.

flowers butterflies marriage walking the future

Posted in Faith, Stepfamily

Open letter to stepmoms and some reflection

Recently, I was on a website for stepparents who struggle with their issues, need encouragement and are dealing with heartache. ¬†I don’t read the stories to get stuck in each individual encounter, nor do I read them for feelings of affirmation for myself. ¬†I read them to remind myself that my own situation as a stepparent has grown remarkably in the last three years, and the family I’ve been a part of, for over five. It helps me to celebrate the small milestones and to thank God for what He is doing/has done.

This past spring, I completed a study on forgiveness and began to put into practice the steps necessary to release the hurts/anger/offenses. ¬†The change in my heart was proof of Christ’s conviction, release and freedom. ¬†I couldn’t shut up about the changes, the prayers, the weight lifted! ¬†It was no surprise that when our class ended, I was asked by the leader if I would teach the study out of my own home, for the benefit of women who struggle with areas of unforgiveness in their lives, not just stepfamily situations. ¬†Without hesitation, I said yes, and I can truly see God’s hand in it. ¬†It’s been amazing! ¬†And I pray it continues.

In reading the post for this particular day, one of the moms who was sharing her heartache was at the end of her rope. ¬†Normally I would skip past and move onto another topic, but I felt compelled to share some hope with her. ¬†Below is my response. ¬†Keep in mind I have no idea of the woman’s faith or lack of, and am just sharing my heart with a complete stranger.

As a stepmom of a little over three years, and dealing with the BM for over five, I want to share hope. I still deal with painful moments, and heartache. I’ve got many moments of ambushes, intended public humiliation, childish behavior in my memory, and am praying forgiveness through them. I have learned/am learning that my reaction to intended hurt says a lot to those who watch: primarily the children I’ve come to love as my own, and to my husband who chose me as part of his journey, and extended family, friends, extras. Ladies, we aren’t machines, so pain still hurts. But I’ve found my faith in the Lord is my mainstay. I keep praying to Him for strength He has willingly given, and I keep the long-term in my focus. When my girls are a little older (they’re 20/17 now), I know in my heart, they will know that I kept myself from retaliating, spoke kindly of the BM even when she didn’t deserve it, and put them first MANY TIMES over my own happiness.

As stepmothers, we end up on the backburner many times. IT HAPPENS (much more often that we feel we deserve), but we chose to enter into an already existing family, with hurts/damaged feelings/ high emotions, etc. It’s not as much about being the bigger person, as it is about remaining strong in the commitment between your husband and yourself, and your value in Christ.

Remembering every incident that created a wound had begun to make me bitter and hurtful. Having learned to give my hurts to Christ who died for these moments and asked me to let them go so I can live, I am finding it easier by saying, “Jesus, take this moment from me. Help me to love with Your love and remember this moment no more. Thank you for the grace you freely give that I don’t deserve. Help me to continue to give it to those who hurt me.” Does it take away the wound? No, it leaves a scar. Does it remove the memory? No, sometimes seeing the repeat offender makes the memory more vivid. But I have to continually give the hurt to Jesus. He has helped me heal and look at my scars lovingly. In the palms of His hand are the scars I’ve given to Him that He didn’t deserve either.

With time, comes healing, and with Jesus, the freedom to not stay in bondage to bitterness, but to free ourselves to love those who hate us, and to show our children how to be overcomers. All of the children have pain we can’t imagine, and loyalty issues we wish they could move past. We have to be mindful of that and allow time to work in their lives too. But I do know from Scripture that LOVE heals a multitude of sins.

When I let my guard down and began to treat the BM like another human being, even when she didn’t want to acknowledge my physical presence, I saw Jesus at work. Over a few months, she began to talk to me like a human being, and I kept praying for Jesus to soften her heart as well as mine. I believe in miracles because I see evidence of forgiveness everyday. My prayer for all of you is the same. Go to God and let go…continue to love the kids, and your hubby, and even your enemies. It changes you, and you can still live. The ex, if she wants to remain in the past, chooses bondage. You CAN be free!”

I proofread it and hit send.

And then I read it again.

And I read it once more.

And then I cried.

Happy tears for the growth in my heart and faith,

and sad tears for the moments I’ve given up to the BM that I couldn’t be a part of.

Happy tears for the girls who are loved regardless of their behavior toward me at times,

and sad tears for the bad moments I pray they forget.

Happy tears for the man who loves me and whispers words of encouragement and praise when he sees my growth,

and sad tears for his heartache at missing his girls at times.

The life of step-anything is hard, rough, rewarding.

I know when I was younger, I never thought, “I’ll grow up and become a stepmom. ¬†I’d love to be name-called, made fun of, judged, slandered, alienated, pranked, stalked, brushed aside, etc.”

I wanted children of my own, a small version of Gracie who would love books like me, and show off wit to impress me and make me belly laugh, and have a heart of selflessness that would be evidence of Christ in her life.  My dream daughter would exhibit a love of working in the garage with her daddy, and run the mower for him, and tinker with electronics like he does.  She would love to write, and snuggle.

And I don’t have that.

At least from my own blood.

I have two girls who came prepackaged, with their own abilities, humor, mindsets, and gifts.

I had schematics and formulas for the child I was supposed to have, but God has been changing my heart to show me what He did give me.

The booklover I wanted happens to be BOTH of my stepdaughters. ¬†They are relentless readers who escape for hours with huge books. ¬†Their memory retention blows my mind. ¬†And I’m amazed at their lack of having to study.

The wit I throw around at family gatherings happens to also be in both of my stepdaughters. ¬†The youngest is always pushing the envelope to get me to laugh (and she succeeds) and I love to return the favor. ¬†When she throws her head back and silently smiles, it makes my heart beam. ¬†And it’s even better when she emits sound! ¬†That really makes me happy!

Selflessness is coming…I can see it. ūüėČ ¬†Kids and these darned electronics…

Our youngest does work in the garage with her father, is mesmerized by helping him take things apart and put them together. ¬†She’s never been afraid to make sure that things work and if they don’t, she wants to know why.

The writer is our oldest. ¬†For Christmas, I got her a real leather-bound journal with fresh, paper. ¬†If she gets it wet, it’s TOAST! ¬†It even has a really cool emblem on the front, like it’s from the Hobbit or something… ūüėČ ¬†Since I’ve known her, she’s had notebooks, diaries, journals and paper somewhere on her person. ¬†I don’t know what she writes, or about what, but just cultivating that practice is healthy.

Snuggling…well, I’m settling for sidehugs and leg pats. ¬†Both girls have an issue with personal space, so I respect that. ¬†My nieces fill my love tank with their hugs, “I love yous” and lap-sittings. ¬†And my husband is an incredible snuggler. ¬†Even at night, when he’s dead asleep, he still reaches for me.

I am also entranced by what they are capable of. ¬†The youngest loves tennis and finished her varsity tennis career this Senior year. ¬†I’ve sat through almost every match, watching her do her best, and¬†watching her get upset with herself when she blew it. ¬†The oldest is in school for nursing, and where she lacked motivation in her high school senior year, she now prioritizes things for her classes, meets deadlines and even changed schools to get the program done faster.

So, in a way, I do have what I’ve prayed for. ¬†Either through osmosis, or through the power of God and what He is able to do, or both, these kids have somehow embodied the essence of me, and I am content.

Two amazing young women who challenge me every day
Two amazing young women who challenge me every day

Could there truly be light at the end of the tunnel?  Or maybe better yet, instead of looking to the end, I should enjoy the journey itself.

When I said this life is rewarding above, I meant that it is truly rewarding.

I dish out time and money like crazy, but I would have done the same with my own children. ¬†I can’t imagine missing something that is important to them, because I know it matters to them, and it matters to me. ¬†And it makes me feel extra special when they ask me to be a part of something. ¬†I easily would slip into the shadows, but they don’t make that happen.

Time has healed, and is still healing. ¬†Forgiveness is a practice that must be utilized daily. ¬†Assumptions have to go out the window. ¬†Judgment has to take a backseat. ¬†Humility is forefront. ¬†And Christ MUST BE¬†the head. ¬†The enemy would love nothing more than to keep us hating and playing games. ¬†But I refuse. ¬†We have lives to live, and so do the kids. ¬†And honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Posted in Faith, Family

Shaken to the core

Recently I had something happen in my life that shook me to my core. 

Normally this type of feeling is spurred on by something happening outside of my control (c’mon ladies…you can nod here), or when I am incapable of understanding something that takes time to process.¬† It usually involves me processing my faith again at another level, and sometimes it can be pain-inducing.¬† I can only count on one hand the number of times I’ve been shaken to my core, but it seems to be¬†happening a lot more lately.¬†

Since¬†last fall’s¬†private retreat, I’ve been on a healing journey with Christ, and He is walking me through some incredibly painful memories, for the purpose of joy and healing, but also to address my issue with lack of trust in Him in certain areas.¬† And I only have a few sisters in Christ I know of, who welcome these moments of healing and pain, to get to the other side.¬† I’m not sure¬†we wake up every morning saying, “Bring on the pain!”¬† We just pray, “Bring on the day, and whatever that means, I’m willing to walk beside you still…”

Being in a stepfamily, there are many opportunities for miscommunication, feelings being hurt, unintentional heartache, and hurt emotions.¬† I have two stepdaughters.¬† Both¬†girls are in their teens, are progressing in school and their goals, and we talk about everything under the sun.¬† Normally…¬†

Somehow in the commotion of life, I was out of the loop on a planned event that was coming up for them.¬† It’s not uncommon.¬† Communication with exes aren’t always the best.¬† And we’re all human.¬† But once the event was¬†revealed, I had another obligation the same night¬†and I was unable to attend the event with them.¬† My issue wasn’t only NOT being able to attend the important event with them, it was how Satan twisted my unavailability to go (and the lack of communication) right to my core lie:

That I don’t matter.¬†

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I can’t explain how my emotions looked on the surface, but if you have ever seen a two year old’s drawing with no consistency whatsoever, you can imagine how my feelings were that evening.¬† Not being included on the invite wasn’t the issue.¬† It was how I slowly got the time and date of the event, from people who weren’t family, and from an email that wasn’t sent to me.¬†

I wasn’t even included.¬†

And if you’re a stepparent who cares deeply about the children you’ve grown to love, you want to be present for as much as possible.¬† Granted there will be times you can’t be, and the kids don’t hold things like that over your head especially when you do attend things with them.¬† You are putting your time and money into them, even when it’s not received or cared about.¬† It’s for the greater good, that someday because of something you’ve done/said/contributed to/prayed about/etc., you have made an impact in their life and it’s going to MATTER!¬† Darn, there’s that word again.¬†

I don’t know how many people¬†struggle with the negative self-talk that seems to plague so many of us.¬† But for those of you who are aware of it, the issue becomes when the emotions rise,¬†there’s no way out of the situation, and we just have to roll with it, that we are pushed into the arena of faith.¬† It wasn’t my first instinct this time.¬† Lately, I’ve been progressing toward a direction where the moment that initial anger begins to rise, Christ stops it, I calm down, and choose another route.¬† But the other evening sent me to the dark place.¬†

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The place where all I have around me are hurtful words, hateful stares, and a crooked smile from the one who loves every minute she gets to cause me pain.¬† And I camped there for a bit.¬† I couldn’t process.¬† I couldn’t even hold my hurt back.¬† I blew up and said stupid remarks that reflected my hurt but came across as attacking words.¬† I blamed, and I raised my voice.¬†¬†My family left the house, and I folded laundry.¬† And then my night began with my planned event that took me from being with the rest of my family.¬† And as I stood there, putting out food for my guests, I held back tears and started praying.¬† I have learned that when my emotions get out of control, the best thing to do is take all of it to God.¬† Holding back from Him was only going to hurt me more.¬†

So I was honest with Him. I told Him that I was pissed.¬† That I couldn’t believe that this far into our marriage, that something so little could set me off just right, that I wasn’t able to define the actual hurt, and that I was upset about something out of my control- which is exactly where HE wants me to be.¬† And then I decided to just let Him take it.¬† The hurt, the lie, the anger.¬† And I proceeded to have a fantastic evening.¬† Instead of festering on the hurt and heartache, I was able to hand it over to the One who died for all of this crazy stupidity anyway.¬†

I have two lessons learned from this:

ONE: Realize what is really necessary. 

A girlfriend of mine said earlier this week in a prayer meeting that after her mother passed, it gave her a perspective of life, and that a lot of things we¬†prioritize sometimes aren’t really necessary.¬† Many things¬†don’t really matter other than the time spent with people.¬† And I was able to witness the truth of her words the very next day.¬† In the scope of life, one instance of being passed over wasn’t going to define me, or make me feel inadequate in a marriage that I know I am very well loved in.¬† One instance of not being included didn’t mean that my stepdaughters didn’t want me there, or that the miscommunication was intentional.¬† If I let Satan win that day, I would’ve believed all of that.

TWO: My reaction matters. 

Emotions fluctuate.¬†¬†This event was a¬†reminder that sometimes in life, things are beyond my control, and the mark of a Christian is continuing to love through pain, and letting go so¬†God can handle it.¬† How does my reaction define my heart’s stance on whether or not I am willing to let Christ handle something?¬†¬†Do I trust God to handle my broken heart?¬†¬†Do I allow Him to have control when I feel so out of control?¬†

I think it’s important to realize that life triggers SO MANY DIFFERENT EMOTIONS.¬† We tend to realize the bad ones because they have an effect on those around us.¬† There’s always forgiveness, there’s always grace, and there’s always communication that needs to take place so hurting hearts don’t continue to hurt other hearts.¬† But there’s that first step of admitting it too.¬†

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It’s a beautiful thing to ask God to help us be aware of our emotions, and what sets them off, so we can go to Him to help us handle them.¬† He gets it.¬† He’s taken on human flesh so He could experience the pain and heartache that He died for.¬† God knows the pain that we cause each other, intentionally and unintentionally.¬† It’s why He came to Earth to die and be resurrected so we could have hope to move past the heartache and hurt.

My cousin once put the crux of the Crucifixion into perspective for me by saying, “Grace, He hung on the cross and bore the sins of the person who was murdered and the murderer, the woman neglected and the adulteress, the person being raped, and the rapist…”¬† We tend to see things from a judgemental perspective, but the truth is that hurting people hurt people.¬† Are there victims in situations?¬† Absolutely.¬† But acknowledging a hurt, and forgiving it gives us the perspective of Christ.¬† Hurt happens.¬† Sometimes intentionally and other times unintentionally.¬† Either way, we must respond the same.¬†¬†He died so we could provide the grace to each other.¬† This life is not all there is.¬† There is much more planned, and much more to come.¬† Holding onto hurts will just prevent the growth He is trying to accomplish in us.¬†

This week, we celebrate the life of Jesus, our Lord who took on every painful moment that has happened, IS happening, and WILL HAPPEN.  He entered into humanity to conquer death and provide LIFE to the fullest.  The same God who walked the Israelites through the desert and provided for them in their impatience and distrust, is the same God who listens to my anger prayers and my cry for stability when my emotions take over.  I was shaken to the core by something so menial, yet HUGE to me, because of my healing journey.  I choose to forgive, to hand it over to Christ, and let Him dispose of it for me. 

He really is LOVE.  He really is GRACE.  He really is FORGIVENESS.  And He really is RISEN!! 

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Posted in Faith

On understanding forgiveness

Forgiveness is not easy.

Yes, I know that‚Äôs an understatement.¬† In the life of a Christian, however, it should be easy.¬† I know…I know. ¬†I can almost hear you beginning to protest.¬† The Bible talks about it constantly, so there is much to learn about the concept.¬† Also, Jesus came to Earth to show us that God loved us so much that He forgave us and redeemed us.

So, as Christ followers, why is forgiveness the bumpiest part of our path?  How do we overcome something that creates so many emotions in us?

I‚Äôd like to let you in on something I learned about, during my talk with God on my drive into work this morning.¬† It softened my heart (I actually felt warmth in my chest), and I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.¬† Believe me, even as I write, I‚Äôm still struggling to let go.¬† I know I want to give God my hurts, and He was pretty insistent at telling me to do so.¬† Yet my stubbornness is holding onto them currently.¬† Talk about fighting the flesh…

John 1:12 says, ‚ÄúYet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.‚ÄĚ

Source: gatheringlex.org

When we choose to accept God’s call on our lives, we enter into a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).¬† We begin to walk in the newness of the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:4-6) and we shed the flesh (old desires, habits or anything that separates us from wanting to be obedient to Christ).¬† In doing so, we develop new habits.¬† We begin to see needs in others and we talk with God about how to meet them.¬† Then we physically follow through so that the lost can see who God is, and know that they are loved.

That is the profile of being a Christian.  Simply meeting others’ needs and sharing Christ’s love, forgiving and spreading His Word.  Nowhere in that description is there room for judgment, anger, bitterness, hatred or resentment.  However, as Christians, do we still feel these feelings and deal with roots of these emotions?  Absolutely. So, in thinking about forgiveness and my resistance to let go, I needed a perspective shift, and it was this morning that God brought to my mind the concept of enemies.

To those of us who have been wronged (go ahead, you may nod your head), we have held onto a thought, word, conversation, action or anything that justifies our anger and bitterness.  We may not even consciously do it.  But something triggers that emotion again when we see that person, or hear something that sounds like the comment that put the seed of bitterness into our hearts, and we are reminded all over again of the pain we felt.  In that instance, we tend to look at that person who hurt us as an enemy.

Here’s a twist: God looks at the concept of enemies differently.  Yes, they are still people who wrong us.  Anyone who is not a child of God, who has rejected His teachings, is considered an enemy to God.  Does this include people of other faiths, following rules and regulations that are not governed by our Heavenly Father?  Yes.  The hard reality is that God said Jesus would be the doorway, and He is the only door to God.

Referencing John 1:12 above, the criteria to be a friend (child, family member, son, daughter, etc.) of God is right there.  We need to believe Jesus is who He said He was and that He loves us.  We also know that because of our belief through faith in Jesus, and grace from God, we are His extended family.  The Bible says we are no longer enemies.  Anything apart from that means we would have remained an enemy to God.  This is a hard truth, I know, but please stay with me.

Paul wrote the following to the church in Colossus regarding our position with God.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.¬† But now he has reconciled you by Christ‚Äôs physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation ‚ÄĒ if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.‚ÄĚ (Colossians 1:21-23)

Source: trulyrichmom.com

Paul is addressing Christians who, after accepting the truth of the gospel, now are no longer enemies of God.  They (we) are now reconciled through Christ’s body and are asked to follow through with what God has called us to, until He returns.  It’s that simple.  This is the transition of enemies to children of God.

 

But what becomes of those who are Christ’s enemies?  The Bible states there are two places we go after we die: a place for those who love Him and a place for those who reject Him.  Heaven and Hell.  Both are two real places and both are not entered into, until we pass from life to death (or life to life, for a believer).

In this context, I feel a real urgency.

Because this means that if someone is not a friend of God’s, that they will pass from life to death, and never know Him.  This is a serious offense, and one that should be taken very seriously.  For those who are lost and unbelieving of who Jesus is, their fate is ultimately death.

And the insight God brought to my mind is that we can’t let these people perish.  It’s up to us to be the hands and feet of the gospel, so that everyone has the opportunity to accept or reject the truth.

So, what does this have to do with forgiveness?

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells all believers to go against their instincts of hate and rejection.¬† We are told to ‚Äúlove your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.‚ÄĚ

Simple enough?¬† No way!¬† That‚Äôs easier said than done.¬† If you‚Äôre like me, you‚Äôre thinking, ‚ÄėWhy should I be praying for them?¬† They‚Äôre jerks!‚Äô

Think about it this way.  Is God really concerned about the little fights/disagreements/injustices of our daily lives?  Yes, He does love us enough to love the intimate details that affect us.  But we already know where our inheritance is.  I think His goal for sharing this truth with me this morning, was to show me that their unsaved status is a little more important.  And that’s something I cannot argue with.

Source: betsyfromtennessee.blogspot.com

Any enemy of God is an enemy of ours, and we are not to reject them and give them what they deserve.  The lost may not be aware of their need for God yet, and we are to be the ones to help them.  If we’re rejecting them, we’re encouraging the lost to stay lost.  But maybe because of our injustices, we have an opportunity to show them that they are forgiven, which is not a reaction they will expect.

God showed me the bigger picture, which is this: While He is concerned for all believers and hurts for us when we are wronged; His goal isn’t to just make our lives better.  He is using our pain to help grow us in His character.  We are being asked to step out in faith, and show the person who wronged us the truth of the gospel by praying for them.

Their enemy status is not just against us.

It’s against Him.

Those who are not children of God may hate and reject us forever without any repercussion.  But if they hate and reject Jesus forever, their consequences are eternal.

I may be justifiably angry at being hurt or rejected, but the pain is ultimately Jesus’.

It’s not me they’re hurting the most.

Heck, it’s not even about me.

I’m not to seek revenge or stay the victim.  In Christ, I AM VICTORIOUS!  And not in a prideful way, but victorious in the sense that I have hope of eternal life because of what Jesus did for me.

I can overcome forgiveness issues if I keep the mindset forefront that God is primarily concerned with those who are His enemies.  He doesn’t wish anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

In light of eternity, is anything that was ever said/done worth losing someone over?

If it is, you may need to ask God to help soften your heart.  We as believers should never have the idea that we’re good to go, and that’s all that matters.

The hurting world around us is waiting to be shown the love and mercy of Christ.  Can you look past yourself to see them as an enemy of God, and that they need grace in every sense of the word, just like you did?  Let’s shift the perspective from ourselves and put them first.  The Holy Spirit will guide us to help those who have hurt us, and instead of festering hate and anger, He will begin to produce love and mercy.  It’s a win-win.  We get to let go of the pain and someone sees the light of the gospel.

Source: heritage-christian-university.blogspot.com

If you are a child of God, you are being called to step out of your comfort zone and love those who hate you.  You are being asked to lessen your pain and put Christ’s first.  It doesn’t mean your pain is any less worthy to be worked through.  It just means that you have the supernatural spiritual ability with Christ’s help to love someone when you feel you are unable to do so.  You are able to love and forgive, even in the midst of that pain.  Can you do that?  If not, I invite you to pray and talk to God about the root of bitterness that needs to be taken from your heart.

I promise you that you will flourish and love with Christ’s love in an amazing way!  Why hinder your own growth for someone else to rejoice over?  They may not even be aware of the pain they caused you.  Please let it go.

Posted in Faith

Enough is enough

It’s time¬†I stop believing the lies that¬†have been¬†put into¬†my mind.¬† I don’t know when, as a believer, I started to believe that I was never good enough, or that there was something wrong with me. I¬†absolutely despise¬†that I’ve given Satan so much time in my life to¬†whisper His lies into my ear, over the words of my Father.

I’ve realized many things lately.¬† I was born into sin (as we all are), but at the age of twenty, I gave my life to Jesus.¬† I know I am a child of God.¬† I am not perfect, nor will I ever be.¬† I am very flawed.¬† Because of issues of bullying when I was younger, and dealing with verbal abuse, I don’t have the best self-esteem.¬† I do believe I’ve been restored in my thinking with Jesus’s help (and the loving man who is now my husband),¬†but there are still some lasting impressions from patterns of behavior.¬† My defense mechanism is to lash out and make others hurt like I have¬†in the past.¬† I’m aware of it.¬† My reaction is to¬†apologize to make up for it, but that doesn’t take away the scars I’ve left behind.

I am a Christian who should be displaying Christlikeness (and I know I do), but, some days I feel like a constant failure¬†because I haven’t¬†fully released anger and hurt that has worn heavily on my shoulders.¬† Satan wants me to be distracted, because when I am focused on myself, I’m not making room for God, nor am I giving Him glory by showing the world what He’s done with me.

Satan also wants me to believe that God can’t truly heal my scars.¬† And in some ways, I guess I’m guilty of milking that way of thinking.¬† I hate to admit it, but I want the scars to show, to be felt by me, to be examined.¬† Each one tells a story and when I get to talk about them, the focus is on me.¬† I get to self-pity and be prideful as I describe how I went through something.¬† Ugh.¬† It makes me sick just writing that.

Maybe it’s okay, though, to look at the scars.¬† They represent hurt and a time of pain, however they are proof that I survived, I certainly didn’t die, and IN NO WAY can I compare my agony to what Christ endured for me.
The greatest thing about scars is that they do carry a huge amount of significance, because for there to be a scar, there had to have been a cut at some point.¬† And that’s where I’m at today.¬† I’m getting ready to cover my scars because they no longer need the attention I’ve been giving them.

So now for the good news: One of my spiritual gifts is the gift of exhortation (definition by Merriam-Webster: “using language to incite or encourage”) and that is why I’m choosing to do something with my life to glorify God by helping those where I see a specific need.¬† In praying for where God wants me, I feel that I should be counseling others.¬† I’ve looked into getting a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Christian Counseling.¬† And I choose to move forward with that degree come¬†January.¬† Thank you, Liberty University.

I didn’t write this¬†note to get pity comments or pats on the back, so you don’t have to respond to this.¬† I wrote because I like writing.¬†¬†I’ve been dealing¬†with some heavy things, of late, and¬†in helping someone else, I’m reflecting on a lot of things in my¬†own life.¬† Not for the sake of¬†stealing the glory, but because I think Jesus wants me to see the areas of me that is fixing.¬† He needs me to be clay again, instead of hard rock, so He can form me.¬† He is the potter, after¬†all.

I’ve been told¬†by many that I have a¬†gift with words, that I communicate very well, and that I¬†should be a writer (and I’m grateful for those compliments-they give me purpose).¬† If you¬†are a close friend of mine, you may at some point have gotten a card or letter or email written by me where you flipped the card over to keep reading, or scrolled for hours to see what my point was.¬† I obviously feel I have a lot to say (it’s okay, you can laugh there).¬† If you ask me, I’m still in my infancy stage with writing.¬† I’ve been out of practice for some time, but I do believe God is going to use those gifts in me: writing and counseling.

I would love to see something I’ve written published.¬† I’d love for someone to read something I’ve written and be moved to tears and into a relationship with Jesus.¬† I know these things will come in time.¬† Before any of that happens, God wants me to focus on Him and walk through every area I’ve hidden from myself and take it to Him.

God is breaking through, not just in me, but in believers all around me, who are experiencing newness and communication with God in a new way.  There are some who were intentionally drowning Him out and they are hearing Him for the first time.

I keep thinking of a story my sister told me once.  She explained how she and a friend of hers, wrote down specific names of people and issues they were struggling with, on balloons.  Then they walked outside and released the balloons, in a way symbolizing that they were going to let go of the people who were hurting them, and the issues they wanted resolved.

balloons

I think it’s time I bought some balloons.¬† Right after I sit down and reread some of the greatest stories ever told, in the Bible where Jesus tells me He took my sin on Him and that I am free to live under grace and with His righteousness.¬† I need to embrace what I know to be true.¬† I need to not let Satan blur the lines.¬† I need to be quick to forgive and quick to love.¬† THAT is true Christlikeness.¬† No more Christian copouts…”I’m a work in progress” stuff…let’s get to the meat of the issue.¬† If you’re still staying that, you’re not really letting Him take the problem away.¬† I need¬†to start¬†“walking in the truth” as the¬†Bible says.

So if you took the time to read all of this, (wow, you have a lot of free time), please just¬†pray.¬† When you have a moment and if I pop into your mind, just lift me up.¬† Ask God to continue to chisel away at old Grace so that new Grace can continue to come forth.¬† I know He’s working daily in me, and I have to live life the way it was meant to be lived…FREE!!¬† I want others to know the grace He gives unconditionally and the love He pours out without restraint.¬† I want to be covered in it.¬† Also pray for others who are walking the walk and are struggling too.¬† Every believer is a target, and every one of us is vulnerable.¬† If it weren’t true, the Bible wouldn’t equate Satan to be “prowling around like a lion looking for prey”.¬† Be aware and be on guard.¬† And stand firmly on the Rock that is higher than all of us.¬† Enough is enough…clarity from here on out!

Posted in Faith

Misunderstood

Have you ever tried to convey a message from your heart, only to have your words mistaken for something entirely different from your original intent? It can be extremely frustrating. Many times, the recipient doesn’t know the tone and may have preconceived ideas for the message, therefore any words used can get twisted and cause pain. I’ve spent a lot of my time trying to explain myself, only to have my words misconstrued and the intent lost.

For example, I had wronged two people in the past with hurtful words, and after prayerful consideration and wanting to bridge the gap, I attempted to make things right by apologizing. My attempts at having a face-to-face apology went to the wayside as neither party was willing to meet, so I used email as my choice of communication. I wanted to handle the situation in a Christlike manner, but it backfired in my face. My words of apology were laughed at, only to have both people use my words against me, and make themselves out to be the victims of hateful speech.

So now what? How do I correct this kind of wrong? How do I deal with the rejection when I’m trying to do the right thing? I want to be understood, yet neither party is allowing me the time or the space to make things right. What do believers do in these types of instances? What if the recipient doesn’t allow me to apologize? What then?

Matthew 5:22-24 helped to answer my question. It was also quite surprising that in my NIV translation, the heading for this passage is MURDER. Wow, I didn’t physically hurt anyone, right? They were just words. But as I read on, the beginning of this passage in Matthew states how we have been told that murder brings about judgement. God, however, says even anger against a brother brings judgement. Whoa…back up the train…just anger? Same as murder? Yikes! This is a lot to comprehend.

Whether or not the offense was brought on by someone else and my response was retaliation, or if I was the one to provoke a situation, the purpose behind going to the one you’ve offended, is to be reconciled to God. The offender has committed an offense by their words, and in order to be reconciled to God, they must take care of business, so to speak, with the person they’ve created distance between, so that there is nothing separating you from God.

You may be reading this and saying, “That’s great, Grace, but we don’t have to do burnt offerings to be acceptable to God anymore. Jesus did His work on the cross and we’re good now.”

I say, “Nay.”

I think this passage is a reminder that God knows us best. First Samuel 16:7 states that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the inside of our hearts, and if we think we can just run into His presence with our good intentions while hurting those around us, we’re sadly mistaken. Believers represent our risen Lord and we need to walk in the Spirit.

Social media has increased our routes of communication. It’s so easy to put emotions and feelings into words and throw them out into the world wide web. But what do you do when they hurt people? What do you do when you’re slandered and you feel the need to defend yourself? Should we retaliate, or turn the other cheek? This, being a Christian blog, hopes to show you the obvious. That cheek should be readily available.

Something else I’ve learned from the passage in Matthew is that the act of approaching and seeking forgiveness from the person you’ve offended should be done in private and the reason being is to keep both parties from creating more animosity and hurt. When offenses are gossiped about and spread to others, it creates judgement in the hearts of people who are only hearing one side. By addressing an offense between just the two of you, you can control the situation and come to a safe and responsible conclusion that breeds acceptance and love.

What, though, do you do when the parties don’t want to hear the apology and aren’t ready to receive? You pray. You continue to talk with your Heavenly Father, knowing your heart is in the right place, that you are remorseful and ready to change the behavior that caused the offense in the first place, and ask for His intervention in the matter. He sees all. He knows our hearts, remember?

My words of advice to others (and especially myself) is that if you don’t have anything nice to say (even if it’s not spoken), keep it to yourself. Ask God to make you aware of your thoughts and words. If you are consistently speaking horribly of others, your heart needs to be re-evaluated. Deal with the root of your anger. Why are you attacking others with words? What can you do differently to not speak harshly of others? And do you gossip so that others will agree with you? Why do you need public affirmation? How can you deal with an offense differently in the future?

We’re all prone to sin. We were conceived in it and unfortunately in this life, cannot escape it. But God does promise us restoration, and He loves submissive hearts that turn to Him for guidance and are truly repentant. Pray that He will restore the relationship. If it takes time, wait for it, and continue to let God change you from the inside out. Being reconciled to God means that we aren’t allowing anything to stand in the way of our relationship with Christ. It means we are aware of our sin, are addressing it, and have taken the proper steps to continue to walk in His Spirit. We can’t always please people, but we can be aware of our offenses that separate us from God, and that’s not a place we should want to be.

Ask for forgiveness from God when you’ve dealt with some situations in a manner that doesn’t represent His Son well, and ask for solutions to your heartache. God is constantly at work in us, when we accept Him, and He is willing and able to show us our sin and is even more delighted when we turn from it to mirror the life of His Son. Know that your attempts are not futile, but that God sees the steps you’ve taken. Whether or not the other party forgives right away, you have been obedient and it doesn’t go unnoticed.

I will not be discouraged, and I will be more cognizant of the way I treat others in thought, word and deed. Where I am wrong, I pray God continues to work in me, so that I can better represent His Son who loves me and forgives me. Please pray for my heart to continue to be changed through Christ. Rejection hurts, but who knows that better than Jesus?

Posted in Faith

Taking chances

Five years ago today was a¬†sunny, cool Saturday in North Olmsted, Ohio.¬† I was twenty-six years old and scared, yet excited.¬† Around ten in the morning, I was standing in the living room of the house that my husband and I had bought two years earlier, and was starting to move boxes into cars and trucks of family members and friends.¬† All of my belongings had been stacked into the corner of the room for¬†quick and easy loading.¬† I was moving into my¬†new apartment down the street.¬† My husband knew that I was leaving him, so he went into work that day.¬†¬†He was still in shock¬†that I¬†had¬†signed a lease to move out.¬† I knew he didn’t hate me, but he wasn’t supporting my decision.¬† It meant we would have to admit we truly had marital problems.¬† So, at my insistence, we were going to¬†attempt a separation.¬† To me, it was¬†the Christian solution to an unhealthy marriage, to see if¬†we could salvage any part of our seven year relationship.

After sipping some coffee to get started, my mother, sister and brother-in-law helped me load up their vehicles.  Two really good friends grabbed furniture and loaded a pickup truck.  We worked tirelessly until every piece of furniture was in the apartment, and then everyone left me to unpack.  Within four hours, everything I owned was in my new apartment and I was free from my husband.  That last sentence might sound puzzling to some, but to me, it is justified.

The feelings I had in that initial first moment alone were incredible.  I was frightened, fearful and doubtful.  Had I made the right choice?  I was also excited because I knew some friends were taking me out that evening to celebrate my new step, but I was also feeling sorry for my husband.  He would return home to an empty home and hardly any furniture.  It would be a new step for him too.

My now ex-husband and I had many differences and we had allowed¬†alcohol and distrust to separate something that quite possibly¬†could have been something¬†of value.¬† He was controlling and manipulative.¬† He was insecure in his own skin and overbearing.¬†¬†And the worst part was that he didn’t see it, nor did he want to address it.¬† I too, had a laundry list of sins that I was working through and some that I was also not addressing, and it was just a toxic environment.¬† Something had to give.

I had to leave to grow. 

I¬†felt sheltered and stepped on.¬†¬†I was insecure as a result, and completely empty.¬† I believed in God and knew that He loved me, but I wasn’t living a noble life, nor was I proud of the shell I had become.¬†¬†Leaving my husband to seek some peace¬†was my first step at¬†doing something out of the ordinary and I was hoping to have¬†a resolution with my then husband.¬† I figured time apart would heal wounds, create love where there wasn’t any, and maybe God could fix us.

In the weeks that followed, my husband¬†would call me to tell me that he¬†was so alone, that¬†he couldn’t go on without me, that it was hard to live…and for a while, I¬†believed him.¬† Three weeks after I had moved out,¬†he invited me out to have a drink with him (it was his 32nd birthday) and we talked.¬† He was still remorseful for his controlling behavior, for his lack of knowing how to love me, and for his lack of trusting in God.¬†¬†My biggest complaint was his need to get affirmation from his coworkers¬†who had drinking problems.¬† He chose them over¬†me, and broke our covenant.¬† I was forgiving, but also run down¬†from the¬†mental and¬†verbal abuse over the years.¬† His words meant nothing to me at this point.¬† I told him that I wasn’t seeing anyone, that I was still faithful, and that I was hopeful that our year apart would be fruitful and not without some merit.

I had just been let go from a job¬†due to lack of work for me, and was waiting for unemployment to kick in.¬† I didn’t ask for money from him, even though he was¬†still financially liable for me.¬† I sat¬†next to¬†him at the bar watching¬†his mouth move,¬†but inside I felt so sorry for this person I once thought would be the¬†father of¬†children I was certain the Lord would bless us with.¬† As he played his game of trying to woo me back to the house so that we could “kiss and make up”, I remember feeling a strength inside of me that I didn’t know I had, and for the first time, I stood up before he did, said, “No thanks” and just left.¬† It was his birthday and I’m sure he felt I owed him something, but I was beginning to change internally.¬† God was working in me, and even though I wasn’t constantly aware of His presence, I¬†knew that I was spiritually protected.¬† Walking down the stairs of that bar leaving him with his mouth open was priceless.

Two weeks later when I thought we were going to meet to go over the separation paperwork, he invited me to the same bar to talk (I probably should’ve been skeptical at that point)¬†and as I entered the establishment, there was a blond girl sitting extremely close to him, with her hand on his mid-thigh.¬† I was taken aback and was caught completely off guard.¬† I sat down next to his friend and ordered my beer.¬† It was awkward to say the least.¬† These two guys had gotten off work, met up with a woman¬†who was comfortable enough with my husband to stroke his thigh and I was obviously the soon-to-be-ex-wife.¬†¬† I was the outcast.¬† Why was I sitting there with them at all??

Then a light went on for me.¬†¬†This was his way of showing me that he could move on. ¬†I realized we would not be speaking about lawyers or separation terms at all.¬† I proceeded to drink beers (many of them) and do shots with the bartender.¬† I said some things I didn’t need to, but it didn’t matter.¬† My husband and this woman got up to leave, and so did his friend.¬† I¬†could hardly see straight I was so angry.¬†¬†I kept drinking while they left.¬† Then I started drunk texting him some horrible things.¬†¬†I¬†became self-destructive.¬† And I let Satan win that night.

After probably six drinks and multiple shots, I drove (assumedly¬†all over the road) to the house that I had moved out of a month prior, threatened his new girlfriend and asked her to leave since my name was still on the house.¬† She refused and I grabbed my ex and physically pushed him against the side of the house and told him that he didn’t know who he was messing with.¬† He was three inches taller than me, and at least seventy pounds heavier.¬† He looked scared and I was asked to leave, so I got into my car, peeled out of the driveway and drove back to my apartment a complete wreck.

That night, I cried myself to sleep.  I realized that I was the one who wanted out of the marriage. I was the one who left.  I had chosen to rent another residence so that we could repair what we had built.  I believed he was able to be trusted and that he was still being faithful to me.

I, however, was the only one who wanted a commitment that would last. 

And for the first time, I also sadly realized that I had chosen a man who didn’t want anything¬†I’ve listed.¬†¬† He was simple and only wanted a woman on his arm.¬† And because I was asking for him to consider my feelings and goals, I was in shock because he had replaced me within a month’s time frame.

There was a woman in my house, laying next to my husband, who had a Harley¬†in MY garage parked right next to his.¬† I could never compete with that.¬† That would never be me.¬† I wasn’t that type of girl.¬† I was a¬†Christian who wrote short stories, downloaded music, met up with friends for drinks here and there…I would never be the barhopping wife he wanted who would help him please his ego. ¬†He had chosen what he wanted, and since he couldn’t control me anymore, he moved on.

And the next morning, I woke up to a restraining order.  This quiet Christian woman who just wanted peace, had created havoc the night before, and now was being told to not return to the home my name was still legally attached to.  I was never violent with him; my words are my sharpest weapon.  What had I done?  And yet, it was a wake-up call I needed.

I write all of this to help myself see the difference in who I was five years ago, and to reassure myself that even though my intention to leave my husband was initially temporary, it was also the step I needed to see who he truly was.¬† We screamed and argued for years.¬† We dated (if you call it that) for six full years before getting married, and I still chased after him for a year and a half even after obtaining his last name.¬† The man didn’t want a devoted wife, he wanted a trophy.¬† He wanted someone who would dress provocatively so that it would draw attention to him.

I wasn’t that woman.¬† I still am not that woman.¬† I didn’t/don’t need public affirmation.¬† I just wanted a home with a dog and a family.¬† I wanted to write and serve God and do things with family.¬† He wanted parties every weekend¬† with friends sleeping over so we could rehash the craziness of the night before after we woke up with hangovers.¬† We were living two different lives under the same roof and I was oblivious because of my dreams (delusions?).

I believe I fell in love with the idea of being in love with him, but not who he was. ¬†I’m not the first woman to do that, and I won’t be the last. ¬†But we really need to know these things before entering into relationships with men. ¬†They don’t need the expectations, and we don’t need the heartache. ¬†We need to step into relationships when we know that the man is a man of God who will treat us as God would. ¬†Or the best he can, this side of Heaven.

I also write this as a way of therapy.  This morning waking up and looking at the date, I am reminded of my independence.  I am reminded of my family reassuring me that God would forgive my divorce because I was biblically released, that I would be blessed for leaving an unhealthy marriage, and for starting over so that Christ could live in me and manifest Himself through my life without fear of what my ex would think.  I wanted to grow spiritually.  Living in that home, I was never able to do that.

I made many mistakes.¬† I drank a lot.¬† I smoked more cigarettes than I had in years.¬† I craved the bar scene and couldn’t stand to be alone in my apartment.¬† I worried about my ex, what he was doing, what he wasn’t doing, etc.¬† I filled my hours with beer, “friends” and “friends with benefits”.¬†¬†Some nights, I was alone, other nights, I let the alcohol numb me and¬†I shared myself with a few men in drunken situations because it filled my carnal needs. ¬†Total shame.

Thankfully over¬†time, I developed the realization that I was a person of value.¬† I was/am a child of God and God desired for me to be loved, but not like that- not in the arms of men who wanted my body but who didn’t care for my soul.¬† It has taken five years to let God revitalize the shell of who I was, and I am forgiven.¬† I am new.¬† It feels awesome to write that!!

I took a chance to save my marriage, but six months after I left, I lost it.  My ex husband and I were finalized by May and my name was off the house as of 7/7/07.

The¬†road I’ve walked to get to where I’m at now is paved with a lot of tears, bloodshed, regret and sadness, but¬†during that time, I¬†was being renewed through Christ.¬† I lived on my own for a time,¬†worked some¬†bartending jobs, and met a lot of new people.¬†¬†I never got an STD or ended up pregnant.¬† I put myself in some scary situations and had to learn how NOT to tell lies.¬† Slowly over time, I was growing in the Scriptures.¬† I learned the value of communication.¬† I learned to¬†love others.¬† By April of 2007, I¬†was going to a church in Elyria, Ohio.

I craved God.  I craved being around people who would help me instead of help me hide my pain.  I struggled with drinking the moment I left my ex-husband.  I got a DUI three months after leaving him.  I spent a weekend at a hotel as part of my sentence.  I met a man who was a great friend, but who had his own issues.  I started a new job.  I started dating said friend and began to learn many new things.  I had a love for cooking and being in the kitchen.  My brother and his wife had a new baby girl and I was craving time with them.  I began to spend more time with my parents.  I was reading my bible.  I was broke at times, and rich at others.  But this entire time, God was changing me and renewing me.

Reading Joel chapters 1¬†and 2 gave me¬†a¬†perspective of God’s great love for us.¬† Yes, US…every single one of us, who has¬†walked (sometimes stumbled in a drunken stupor) off the path, and questioned¬†His greatness, His presence, His judgement, His love…HE LOVES US.¬† He is slow to anger and abounding in love.

I was a wreck when I almost had a second DUI.  I had to do another weekend for 72 hours and attended the same program.  The coordinator of that weekend class was in awe.  He remembered me.  His first question was why was I there, and why would I attend the same class again?  Had I learned nothing?  I remember sitting across the table from him saying that I did indeed learned something, and I was on the road to recovery.

I had taken chances by walking away from a marriage, I had taken chances on drugs and alcohol, and I had taken chances on people I know would leave me the next morning.  I was ready to take a chance on love and hope.  He said he was proud of me, and I walked out of that hotel a changed woman back in September 2008.

I’ve rededicated myself to Jesus Christ.¬† I am a¬†sinner who was¬†once lost, but¬†MAN have I been found!¬† I still mess up.¬† My words are still my worst weapon.¬† But I am aware.¬† I am now a wife and stepmother who knows the meaning of selflessness all too well.¬† I am simply me and I have forgiven my ex-husband.¬† I have forgiven myself and I have forgiven my past.¬† I have married again simply because I believe in love, forgiveness, trust and hope.¬† And I believe my new husband believes the same.¬† He is a man of God who has taught me much.

I guess through all of these ramblings, what I would like you to take away from it is if you are ever uncertain on whether to take a step, take the chance.¬† I’m not saying to walk away from your marriage or a job because you get mad at it.¬† But I am saying that if you are feeling that something is out-of-place, it’s okay to question it.¬† It’s okay to step out in fear, but end up leaning on Everlasting Arms.¬† Life is risk.¬† Love is out there.¬† Fear halts us and removes hope, but Jesus gives life.¬†¬†He restored the years the locusts had eaten, and then some…simply because I took a chance…

Posted in Faith

Letter to the empty

Dear [insert your name here],
That empty feeling you have inside of you is because there IS something missing in your life…it is SOMEONE and that person cannot be seen with the naked eye.¬† However,¬†His Spirit can be felt in the soul and His peace, love, mercy and grace is yours for the taking.¬† Pointing fingers and placing blame is a way of deflecting the act of actually dealing with yourself. ¬†Not dealing with your own pain only hurts you.¬† And expecting other people to feel the same hatred/bitterness you do, is wrong.¬† It is a way of controlling them, NOT LOVING THEM.¬† Seek God and turn away from the selfishness in your life.¬† You will be released from the pain/pressure/fear you’ve been dealing with, and you can start a new life with His peace and His love (notice it’s not yours, because true peace and true love can only come from God).

The Bible promises we will never be plucked from His hand. But the first step is always the hardest.

That is why I am praying for you.¬† Forgiveness is a process, but it is necessary for release of our own pain.¬† By being bitter, you’re only hurting yourself.¬† And the Bible says it ages us.¬† It can steal years from your life.¬† I’m asking you not to die early over anger.¬† Release your hurt and give it to Jesus.¬† True forgiveness comes from Him, and revenge is never an option, because forgiveness means letting go.

It doesn’t change the past, but it does promise hope for the future.

Since the beginning of our lives, we all were born into sin and cannot escape its grip on our life.  Because of sin, there is a chasm between us and God that we cannot fix.  If you die with that space between you and the Lord of the Universe, that chasm and space will be there forever, and you will be alone.

But know this: there is ONE who has conquered SIN AND DEATH. God’s Son Jesus Christ came down from Heaven, lived a sinless life and became the sacrificial lamb who would bear our sins, die OUR DEATH, and be resurrected through the power of God, so that sin and death could no longer hold us.¬† And because of that demonstration of selfless love, we are able to reach God by ourselves, through Jesus, with no need for an intercessor.¬† The cross He hung on, becomes the bridge in the chasm, to a loving relationship with Your Creator.

Your Heavenly Father HAS made a way for you to be in His presence.¬† Please don’t waste away time and the life He has give you here on Earth.¬† Take the step of faith to believe in His Word and give yourself peace and freedom from worry and despair, by turning to the Lord and asking for His gift of LIFE.¬† It costs just one hopeless, broken and weary life.¬† It’s okay to take the mask off and hand it over.

Believing in Jesus is the only way to true freedom.  Forgiving when someone wrongs us, is the first step to actually healing, and though there may not be immediate justice in your mind, things will begin to change in your heart and through Christ, you will be able to accept that person again and love will fill the place in your heart where the hurt used to be.

I’m sharing these truths simply because I’ve lived through them myself, and what I couldn’t do on my own, Christ did, and I now am grudge-free and thankful for a place in God’s Kingdom.¬† I don’t deserve anything either, but that’s the beauty of grace.¬† It is completely undeserved.

Everything that happens down here on Earth will affect us.¬† We have emotions for a reason.¬† But if we learn to forgive when we don’t feel like forgiving, we’ll release ourselves, and we’ll speak to a watching world about the power of God and what His love truly means.¬† The choice is yours.¬† In time, I pray you will surrender.

Love, Gracie

Posted in Faith

Hey there…how are ya?

Hello all…this is my first blog and I just want to say hi and thanks for stopping by. The majority of my writings here will be for self-reflection and¬†to see¬†how God has been a part of my life.¬† Some days I like to look back and see the road that I’ve traveled.

Currently I’m 29-years old and living in an apartment in North Olmsted, Ohio.¬† A ruined marriage by both parties due to lack of maturity and lack of commitment led me to making life decisions I thought I’d never make and choosing to drown myself in lack of reality.¬† I also wandered quite far from the safety net of being under Christ and learned some of the repercussions of having done so.¬† Thankfully God didn’t leave me in the pit where I put myself. ūüôā

I was reading the book of Philippians in February and was awakened to verses 12 and 13.¬† Growing up in a Christian home, I knew Philippians 4:13 by heart.¬† “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”¬†¬†However, I had never paid¬†attention to the preceding verse,¬†about being content-knowing what it¬† is to “have plenty” and knowing what it is to be “in want”.¬† That made me stop and think a bit.

I’m glad I did.

I would’ve missed the statements that I am allowed to claim for myself.¬† (And you too…)

I have been in both situations ever since I left my ex-husband.¬† God¬†has never failed me. ¬†I am claiming these verses because I know very well that I’m undeserving of Christ’s love and forgiveness, but HE STILL LOVES ME.¬† AND He still wants to use me.¬† It took some time for me to realize this.¬† I’ll explain below.

A defining moment in my spiritual understanding came around March 2007.¬† I had¬†been laid off¬†from a medical billing company in Middleburg Heights due to “lack of work”¬†a week after leaving my husband.¬† Trying to settle into my new apartment, I was jobless and¬†bills were starting¬†to come in.¬† I took a job bartending in Avon, Ohio.¬† Working at the bar provided for me financially, but where I was excelling with money, I was bankrupt in self-esteem and value.¬† I was not in a good place, emotionally or spiritually.

Six months after leaving my ex-husband, I was craving LOVE.  I knew I had failed God, had fallen away and needed to be fixed, but because of my divorce, I had second thoughts about myself, my worth and whether or not I had done the right thing.

One Sunday morning,¬†I was listening to the radio and flipping stations in my car.¬† I had just pulled into a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot and¬†parked.¬† I¬†was about to step out of the car to go get a cup of coffee and a bagel.¬†¬†I heard a man’s voice¬†on the radio, and¬†the only word I caught was, “…divorce.”¬†¬†It made me stop and listen to¬†what he was saying.

The radio station was¬†103.3FM (WCRF in Cleveland, Ohio) and¬†I was listening to¬†a church sermon.¬† My mother had¬†played this station on the radio when¬†I and my siblings were¬†younger, so I was familiar with the station and their method of playing sermons from local churches to reach shut-ins and people who couldn’t make it to church.¬†¬†Neither reason applied¬†to me.¬† I was physically able to go to a church, but hadn’t decided which one.¬† And let’s be¬†honest, I wasn’t really seeking one either.¬†¬†My¬†Saturday nights had been binge-drinking evenings, so my Sunday mornings really were Sunday afternoons…

Anyway, I was intrigued by this man’s voice.¬† The pastor was sharing a story about how he had recently been approached by a newly divorced woman who was questioning whether or not God still loved her.¬† After hearing that, he definitely had my attention!

This woman’s¬†concern was that the Lord wouldn’t need her anymore because she had gotten a divorce and was broken.¬† She was scared because she thought¬†she would be viewed as a failure for not staying married.¬† Again, my¬†curiosity was piqued!¬† I had been questioning the same things in my¬†own heart!

To backpedal for a second, I had grown up in a church all of my life.¬† I¬†had seen how the church treated people who had been divorced, and people who had children out of wedlock.¬† So, this woman in the pastors’ story about her fear of being rejected¬†seemed reasonable and also mirrored my¬†current dilemma.¬†¬†I really wanted to hear this pastor’s response.

The¬†pastor was bothered as he¬†sat with her and heard her pain.¬†¬†He said that he started thinking about how¬†HE could help women who were/are going through divorces, but how he was limited (he was happily married and had never experienced divorce).¬† As the proverbial light bulb went on above his head, he said he suddenly realized that God allows us to go through certain things, so we can take our pain and use the redemption process to prove God’s love in our painful stories.¬† This woman would be able to reach another divorcee much more than he would!!

He explained to this wounded woman, that though he was the pastor of a church, he would never be able to touch peoples’ lives the way she could, because he had never been “in her shoes”.¬† She had¬†gone through something he’d never experience.¬† He realized and helped this poor young woman realize that God needs and uses ALL of us, especially those¬†of us who are broken,¬†because we all have something¬†to offer His people.¬† He said that God needs wounded healers because we can identify in ways other people can’t.¬† And I thought, “THAT’S ME!¬† I want to be a wounded healer!”

I was spiritually broken, but desired more than anything to know that God still loved me, even though I had walked away from a marriage that¬†He could’ve fixed.¬† I chose to walk away for my own safety and out of hope for a better life.

I cried in my car for at least twenty minutes in the middle of a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot.¬† In my heart, I had recently been wrestling with “being okay” in the presence of God, since I had chosen to leave my husband.¬† I was scared about standing in front of God,¬†knowing He discouraged divorce.¬† I justified my action of leaving¬†because there was no growth, no desire to grow emotionally together or with Christ, and I¬†had felt so alone.¬† I was pretty sure God had written me off, and I was uncertain of my spiritual future.

However, after hearing this message on the radio, I was determined to find this church, listen to this pastor, re-establish my relationship with Jesus (I was a previous convert who had fallen away and embraced disobedience), and see how God could use me.  My life was not over!

I’ve grown immensely in relationships since my divorce.¬† I’ve also allowed Christ to heal my heart where human failing had torn it in half.¬† I’ve mentored other people with my story and I’ve stepped out in faith into a ministry that forces me to speak in front of other people about the life-changing life of Jesus.

I mentor to the young women housed at the Lorain County Detention Home in Elyria and it’s been such a fun journey for me to express my faith and it’s also a great stepping stone to see the faces of the hopeful.¬† God can use wounded healers to help heal others.¬† If you’ve experienced something that was painful and scary, question it.¬† Talk with God about it.¬† Ask the hard questions, and read the Bible.¬† Scripture reaffirmed me in places I was definitely spiritually void.¬† I learned of Christ’s love and forgiveness in a new way since my divorce, and I firmly believe God can use all of us, especially those of us who have walked dark paths.¬† His redemption is real and His love neverending.

I’m not sure exactly where my road leads now, but I definitely believe that God is present and loving.¬† I know He is my judge, but also my Heavenly Father.¬† He has me in the palm of His hand, and nothing can take me from that place….ever again.

My goal is to use this blog to examine some special times in my life, from my past and present.  I write because I like to write.  Sometimes writing out certain experiences helps me to see something differently, and if I can help you see Christ from a different perspective, than I am accomplishing my ultimate goal.

Thanks for reading, and be blessed!