Posted in Faith

Promise Fulfilled

In the beginning, GOD created the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1). He wasn’t alone in the process. He was beside Jesus Christ (as John 1 affirms) and the Holy Spirit who was hovering, ready to breathe LIFE into the creation. This proves the Trinity was present, yet One (Psalm 104:30, Job 33:4, Colossians 1:16).

As God spoke, things BECAME. Things came into being that had not previously existed. And as He said them, they were.

And after God created light, atmosphere, land and vegetation, He went on to fill the sky, waters and land. And finally, in the midst of the Garden of Eden, which had a river that divided and became the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates rivers, He created man.

This man was created with a formed body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit. His form wasn’t alive until the Lord God breathed into Adam’s nostrils to give him life (Genesis 2:7). And he was not a robot. He wasn’t designed to take and follow orders. Adam would make choices throughout his earthly life to either deviate from instruction, or obey out of love. This is, in fact, an act of love from our Creator. Knowing some will reject and deny Him, He still created and sustains their lives today.

God formed man from dust, and placed him in the Garden of Eden to share the responsibility of maintaining His space. The garden was protected and secure. It had vegetation and trees bearing fruit that would sustain the man and animals. God saw that even after allowing Adam to share in the creativity of naming animals, it wasn’t good for him to be alone. One might say, “He wasn’t alone, he had a zoo in the garden with him.” But God meant that there was no one like Adam that would be relatable to him. And the Lord stated to Jesus and the Holy Spirit that it wasn’t good, Adam would need a helper.

Out of man, while he was in a very deep sleep, God created a woman, and not just as a separate being with His words. Woman was formed from the rib of Adam that the Lord took while Adam was asleep. Her body and form was different from Adam and she would complement him in a way he wouldn’t yet understand. She was originally a part of him, and formed from him. When Adam awoke from his sleep, he was overjoyed! After naming animal after animal, he saw that there was a being that was like him!! And he was grateful as his words describe in Genesis 2:23 state.

I’m unsure of the timing between Genesis 2 and 3, but in the Holy Bible, the Fall comes rather quickly. The woman is deceived by a serpent in the Garden. All he asks is, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'” When reading in Scripture the original discussion between God and Adam (the woman wasn’t yet created), God told Adam that he could eat from any tree in the garden (Genesis 2:16), “…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you should surely die.”

Whether Adam shared the exact words of God with the woman, and how, we don’t know. But we do know that her response was not what was asked. She stated that they were not to eat of the tree, nor touch it, or they would die. And the serpent was quick to lie, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Doubt.

Immediately, the woman was considering that if she won’t die, what is the harm in knowing good and evil? She looks at the fruit which is pleasing to the eye (isn’t all sin?) and believes for the first time that God might not have been truthful with her. So she eats of the tree. And gives some of the delicious fruit to Adam who doesn’t hesitate or correct, refuse or knock out of her hand.

Immediately and together, they went from complete union with their Creator, to their eyes being opened. We’re unsure where the serpent goes, but they knew they were naked and tried to cover themselves with fig leaves.

And God walked through the garden, and as He approached them, they hid. Why would they hide from their Creator? Why would they clothe themselves when previously their forms hadn’t included shame? Because sin had entered the garden. Death was now imminent for them and all of humanity.

In the next few moments, God calls for them, they hide and eventually reveal that they hid because they knew they were afraid. This passage makes sense to us because even as children, when we knew we’d be caught for something and there was no way to cover it up, what is the first thing we do? We hide. As if that solves the problem. But the intricate detail of hiding here and something to note of significance, was that this was something our ancestors would never have done. Until this moment, they had been in perfect fellowship with their Creator. The bond was broken, and God knew it.

He asked questions to invite them to repent, to participate in owning up to what happened, but immediately God is met with blame and accusation by both parties involved. The serpent is never asked what happened. God is fully aware and now, as a result, there must be punishment for what has happened.

This is the first time we see God extend grace instead of complete destruction. And as He offered Adam and the woman (she’s not named Eve until after the curse) time to explain what happened, He showed His patience. He does the same with us. He waits for us. He allows us time. He knows we want to cover up our sin and not address it, but the fact then remains the same now: Sin must be dealt with. And while God would’ve been justified to allow them to have to pay for our own sin, He had another idea.

God begins His response to their disobedience and He starts with the serpent:

“Cursed are you, above all livestock and all wild animals. You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. HE WILL CRUSH YOUR HEAD and you will strike his heel.

GENESIS 3:14

Did you see it? The declaration from God above that a plan is already in place?

As God delivers the punishment to the serpent, He states that Death is coming for the serpent who brought sin into the world by tempting the disobedience of God’s created humans. God will send a Deliverer and though the serpent would strike repeatedly to try to defeat this person, the Deliverer will deliver the FINAL BLOW. He would not just wound the serpent but He would CRUSH HIS HEAD.

Throughout Scripture, we learn so much: about our history, about those who went before us; we see their sins laid bare in the text. We aren’t looking at humans who did better than us, we see humans who made choices: either to serve God and follow Him in relationship, or reject being His creation and therefore create their own lives with consequence. This has not changed in over 6000 years. It is true of all of us today.

Where humanity is given a choice to be lorded over with love, or have self-rule, because of sin, humans choose power for themselves. And there is a consequence. Scripture explains that the place or state of Hell was created for the devil and his angels. The devil has followers who believe his lies, and desire power for themselves. They have access to humans today to influence, breathe lies and tempt. And humans EVERY SINGLE DAY still have the choice to allow the temptation to become sin, or override it with righteousness and say no. But apart from God, we will stand in our sin and be sent to Hell.

Don’t believe me? Think everyone is good until proven guilty? We are not good people who become bad. We are bad people who only have hope for goodness through God. Scripture states we are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). Through the bloodline of our parents, sin is passed down. So there’s no hope to be sinless at birth. We already are infected without cure.

Scripture tells us that only God knows the hearts of humans (1 Samuel 16:7) and we are more sin sick than we realize.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

JEREMIAH 17:9

So what was God’s plan in the Garden? Temptation presents two options EVERY time – obey it, or reject it. Sin is the act of agreeing with the temptation and not slaying it. And sin is rebellion against God.

We see in Genesis 6 that God was grieved after sin took over. Multiple marriages took place, women were treated as lesser (part of the curse for the woman for her part in the eating of the fruit – Genesis 3:16b), unrestrained anger caused murder, shame and lying. It grew and grew, and God sent the flood. He allowed eight people to begin again (Noah and his family). Again this is another act of grace on the part of God – He could’ve wiped out humanity wholly, but His plan was already in motion.

God’s words through human authors throughout Scripture give us the lineage of humanity, lists of genealogies for the purpose of explaining the line for the Messiah, the Promised Deliverer. Eve’s sons were not the Deliverer as much as she had hoped, but through one woman, He would come. And throughout the Old Testament, we see types of Christ, moments where the Promise is not forgotten and clues to who He will be. Hope is passed down from generation to generation – praying for deliverance from sin.

And finally, in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we see God send an angel to a young virgin named Mary. The angel explains God has chosen her and promises her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. She accepts the role, and even in the face of disgrace at not being married, carries the child to term and gives birth to Jesus. Joseph, Jesus’ human father, stays with her and protects her and Jesus (among other children) at the Lord’s leading.

At the age of 30 years old, Jesus begins a public ministry: teaching counter-cultural truths regarding who the Father is and who HE is. He ruffles the feathers of the religious, stirs the hearts of the ungodly, and teaches the masses who earnestly seek Hope and Restoration. He begins to open eyes of the blind, heals the sick, brings to life those who have passed on, all at their appointed times. And as He preaches Hope, the religious and political leaders see power slowly slipping away. They cannot have upheaval and unrest. Something must be done.

A plot to kill Jesus forms, and secret meetings take place among religious leaders and political leaders. They cannot allow this man to create hope and cause a rising up against Rome! Judas, known as the Betrayer, never decided in his heart that Jesus was the Messiah. He walked with Jesus as one of His disciples, heard him, was certainly intrigued by him, but never declared Him to be who He truly was. And when the opportunity presented itself to make money by turning over the one most feared, he agreed to the sin in his heart.

Crucifixion was a nasty way to die. As Jesus was finally arrested and found guilty by the crowd screaming, “Crucify Him!”, God’s plan was still set in motion. Remember, Jesus is part of the Trinity of God. He was fully God at the time of Creation, and yet fully man when He was born of the virgin Mary. His part in fulfilling the Promise of Redemption for humanity would take Jesus agreeing to it and going through with it.

Consider Jesus as Paul writes to the Phillipians:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

PHILIPPIANS 2:6-8

Jesus endured the cross, because God had chosen THIS to be the plan to redeem humanity. Were there other ways this could be accomplished? Certainly! But we are not God. He designed the only way for complete redemption and punishment of sin to be the dying of SELF in the form of Jesus. And Jesus out of love for God and for us, went through with it.

Jesus died a human death by way of Roman crucifixion and was laid in a tomb offered by Joseph of Arimathea. Soldiers had pierced His side, and in another way of fulfilling prophetic Scripture, did not break His legs before retrieving His body from the cross. He breathed His last, an earthquake shook the ground, dead people came out of their graves, the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom, and Jesus died.

If this was truly the Messiah, where is the crushing of the head that was promised? Where is fulfillment of Scripture and redemption for those bound by sins’ chains?

In Matthew 27:62, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate, afraid that Jesus would do something out of the ordinary. They reminded Pilate that Jesus said He would rise again after three days, so they had been given permission to secure the tomb, in fear that it might happen. And even amidst their attempts to keep Jesus dead, the unthinkable happened.

The crescendo of our Lord’s perfect plan begins at dawn of the first day of the week.

As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (followers of Jesus) went to look at the tomb, they arrive to find it open and an angel sitting there! The angel reassures them not to be afraid and states, “He is not here; HE has risen, just as He said!” The women rush off to share this news! He is ALIVE!! He died, but He’s been given breath again! And because He lives, He promises those who believe in Him the same eternal life.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

JOHN 11:25-26

So much of Scripture builds toward this moment.

As the Lord begins His story to us in the Holy Bible and the Torah, by teaching us of our origin and our swift decline into death through sin, He presents an opportunity for us to be restored. He promises a Messiah, a King who will defeat the sin that holds us here on Earth, and promises an end to all decay and death.

At Christmastime, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, because we know God kept His promise to send a Messiah, but friends, don’t miss the significance of Easter!

Without the resurrection, where is our Hope?

Jesus was promised since the beginning of Creation, to be the One who will one day destroy all sin and death. He was promised to CRUSH THE HEAD of the serpent, who will no longer have control over us, will no longer be able to tempt us with thoughts, images or ideas, will no longer be able to lead us down the path to eternal death in Hell. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, He defeated the serpent and crushed its head!!

Though Jesus remained on the Earth after His resurrection, Paul records the following:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:3-8

Before the beginning of the literal church, Jesus commissioned His disciples and was taken to Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of God.

Revelation 1 is the beginning of a prophetic work from John while exiled on Patmos. An angel shows John a vision of a “son of Man” who is clothed in a robe, with a golden sash around his waist, his hair white as snow, his eyes like blazing fire, his feet bronze like a furnace, his voice like rushing waters.

Our Savior, will return to Earth again, and when He does, it will not be like the first time. The next time He comes, will be for judgement of sin on the Earth and its inhabitants, which means you, me and every human being ever created.

Without the shed blood of Jesus covering us, we will be exposed before God with all of our sin and we will have to give an account of every rebellious thought and action. I tremble just thinking of what I deserve. The Day of the Lord is real, and imminent.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

MATTHEW 25:31-46

We will all be judged and it really will boil down to whether we heard the Gospel and believed, or rejected Jesus and want to stand in our accolades. The Scripture above shows the depth Jesus went to save and reverse the curse of sin. All we have to do is believe that God sent the Promise and believe that Jesus is our sacrificial lamb, the One who stood in our place. Because He lives, we have the same gift from God offered to us.

God, Our Creator and Heavenly Father, made a way to live eternally with Him.

Will you choose Him? We all have been given a CHOICE.

Posted in Faith

Life and the ability to reflect on it

The lights above, the beds beside, the smell…oh goodness, the smell.

It was the first time she had ever been admitted to a hospital. She had been there in the past, to visit others – mostly those who were on the verge of parting this life or recovering from a surgery. Never for herself. She was young and healthy.

That is, until three days prior, when the vomiting wouldn’t stop and the fever kept escalating. Denied by her physician’s office due to high volumes of flu patients, and told by the receptionist that her abdominal pain must have been the result of leaning over a bucket and “straining during vomiting”, the pain just kept getting worse until she was doubled over to walk.

Her frustrated mother was insistent that she was seen by her physician. Miraculously, one phone call later, a visit was possible, and after the direct examination by the doctor, and the guttural yell that erupted from her stomach at being palpated, his diagnosis was swift: appendicitis with emergency surgery as the only option.

And here she was. Freaked out because everything happened so fast. Her brother drove her to the hospital, her mom got the message FROM the hospital that she was being admitted, Dad was on his way, and her older sister was going to a holiday party, so a voicemail was the only communication possible. She cried through most of the message, wondering if she’d ever see her sister again. What if she didn’t make it??

She sat in the room (a four-person room, since she currently was self-pay), and listened to the noises from the hallway. Her brother sat with her and kept her calm. Nurses began to come in, wheeling carts, asking personal history questions and having her change into a gown (seriously, open in the back!?).

Having just started a job in medical billing months beforehand, she recognized the questions as those asked during triage, and then she began to realize she was a patient and this would be her home for the next few days. All of that began to make her feel comfortable, however the timing couldn’t have been worse – she had plans for tomorrow!

The next day would be her 21st birthday, and she was set to return to Rockne’s Pub in Brooklyn, Ohio for a proper first official birthday drink with the owner, who had become a dear friend (she had worked for him for three years – starting there at age 16). As the noise of voices and bells rang in from the hallway, she could see those plans drifting away…far, far away. Tears caught in her eyes and she fought the urge to cry.

The pain in her abdomen kept increasing, and finally after two hours, both parents had arrived. Hugs and then rushed updates from the daughter ensured they knew the urgency of the situation. She reached out to her boyfriend to let him know that she was more sick than they had realized (the vomiting had started while visiting him on Thursday – it was now Monday evening!). A week before Christmas…what in the world was happening??

Then came the rapid trip to radiology for a CT scan to determine the severity of the situation. After vomiting one last time in the radiology room, and feeling so embarrassed, a radiologist opened the door to the viewing room and told her that it appeared she didn’t have long to live. To which she responded, “Well someone had better wheel me to surgery then!”

Her father was cracking jokes in the elevator – probably to keep her calm, and to let the nurses and staff know that laughter really IS the best medicine. Heading back up to the room that she would remain in for a week, she allowed the truth of that statement to sink in – she didn’t have long to live. Her appendix was trying to kill her.

The surgeon came in, explained that the procedure would be laparascopic and wouldn’t take long. Someone had gone home to get a few of her personal belongings, because she was allowed to keep her Curious George stuffed animal with her through the surgery and would be out shortly.

She remembered praying with her parents and asking them to bring some Max Lucado books. She had started reading his books and found much comfort in them, so now would be a good time to read – and definitely something positive.

The last thing she remembered was the weights being put on her ankles and feeling the coldness of the surgical table. The surgical staff asked what her plans HAD BEEN for her birthday – clearly she wouldn’t be attending any events the next day. Countdown from 100…99…98…97…

She woke up. Time had passed but she was unable to tell.

Curious George had a Band-Aid across his stomach and she had a rather large bandage across her abdomen as well. When the surgeon came back to her room to update her, he explained she had appendicitis with peritonitis, and her appendix had burst days earlier. Toxic poision had been in her body for a few days and she was very, very sick as a result. She was going to have an NG (naso-gastric) tube placed in the morning to remove the poison and would most likely be in the hospital until Christmas!

“I’m sorry, what?!” she replied.

“We will have to reevaluate you daily, as we know that date would be best spent at home, however we have quite a situation with you and want to ensure you are properly healed before going home.”

Those words became her motivation. If they wanted her home by Christmas, so did she! She asked her parents for a watch (the wall clock was at an angle she couldn’t see), so that she could get up and move around on the regular.

Each day, she would wake up early, and slowly move out of her bed. She would grab for the IV pole and make her way around the floor. The first day it took her 25 minutes to complete the route. And every hour, on the hour, she would walk. The next day, only 20 minutes. She got better, and she got faster.

The surgery that was supposed to have been laparascopic turned out to not be – she ended up with a 3-inch incision scar on her right lower quadrant from where the surgeon stated he “had to get in there”. That was okay with her.

Three other patients shared her room: a woman who was set to have gallbladder surgery who wouldn’t stop screaming, a 95-year old woman who kept losing her bowels in bed, and a quiet lady who kept to herself. Drawing the curtain and praying became the routine, as well as spraying the scented spray the nurses offered to guard against the fecal smell.

A lot happened in that room. With constant beeping and hourly vital checks by nurses, it’s hard to keep your dignity in a place like that. One needs to be focused on something or it becomes mindless and depressing.

Something in her shifted. A gradual increase in wisdom and understanding. She aged in a different way, not just from age twenty to twenty-one, but in grasping the concept of life and death.

Something humbled her. It might have been the timing God had wanted for her. She trusted the Lord to bring her through, because there was a peace before the surgery she couldn’t describe. Though she hadn’t been intentionally following Him (yet), she knew about Him and knew that He was what she needed to get through this. And that’s exactly where she turned during her uncertain future time frame.

Reading “Six Hours One Friday” by Max Lucado while laying in a hospital bed, trapped for days and under the watchful eyes of doctors and nurses, she took many words to heart.

Failures are not fatal. It’s not that he loves what you did, but he loves who you are. You are his. The One who has the right to condemn you provided the way to acquit you. You make mistakes. God doesn’t. And he made you.

Max Lucado – Six Hours One Friday

The book, which referenced the time Jesus hung on the cross, spelled out so many simple Biblical truths to her, and she tucked them into her heart. The author had such a simplistic way of arranging sentences that weren’t just groupings of words, but were actual nourishment to her being.

She made it through the week (Christmas Eve morning was a Sunday that year) and only had to wait for her parents to get out of church to be discharged from the hospital. With a JP (Jackson-Pratt) drain finally removed from her side, and her bandages not showing evidence of infection, she would be free to go home. Joy sprung into her heart and the minutes couldn’t pass by fast enough!!

She wouldn’t forget that feeling. Of being trapped somewhere she actually needed to be. What a conundrum. It was the first time her health had been in jeopardy. She was healed and she would remember because there was a physical scar on her side to remind her of the six-day ordeal that saved her life.

But reading about Jesus while she had the time (MADE the time) helped her to learn more about the man she’d heard most about during her lifetime growing up in parochial schools. She learned the most about Him being her Savior during that hospital stay, and though not every truth would take root in that weeks’ time frame, what she had learned would be sewn into her heart to be drawn on later, when adversity hit and trials related to her faith would start.

Every December 18, she looks back and remembers the night she was admitted and the surgery that removed the appendix that was killing her.

Every December 18, she remembers the book that she read to comfort herself, that reminded her of her Savior who stepped in to remove the sin that was also daily killing her.

And every December 18, she never forgets the gift of finite, human life the Lord has granted her, and is yet reminded of her own eternal life – the life that is promised beyond the hospital rooms and beyond the grave.

The life that will have more color and sound, more clarity and closeness, more love and peace than this one has to offer. Because six hours one Friday, her Lord declared her (and EVERYONE READING THIS’s) sins dead by the power of God through the physical death of Jesus Christ. No longer would its poison have a hold on her this side of Heaven. It would still influence her and try to take root, but she, through the power of the Holy Spirit would have a way out. It would lose its power over her.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV

Death would no longer be something she feared, for this life is temporary. The life she longs for, is coming soon, and will be permanent, rooted in the original plan God had in the Garden. Eden will be restored, per Revelation 22. To those who endure, they will see and experience it!

It took some time for her to truly accept the truths of Scripture in her life, but at age 27, she turned her life over to Jesus and accepted by faith, the truth that she is no longer the same as she once was. The Lord sees her now as His daughter, and loves her no matter what. He knows she is surrendered, He knows she thrives in situations where she is able to share her experiences, and longs for everyone she knows to KNOW THE TRUTH!

And now, on the eve of her fortieth birthday, it is again December 18.

Which means she is reflecting and is thankful and is truly grateful for every minute of breath in her lungs, and every happiness she’s been able to possess since knowing she “didn’t have much longer to live.”

May we all live as if tomorrow is the day we’re going HOME.

May we never forget that we are all sick and in need of an antidote, a surgery, a cure.

May we be ever grateful for the LIFE the Lord allows us to lead, regardless of His presence. He never forces a relationship with us. But I can guarantee you, friends, the breath you just took into your lungs was provided by Him. And whether you love Him back or not, He allowed you to exhale it as well.

He will one day come back to claim us all. To those who know Him and accept Jesus as His Son, He calls family and will take us to the place prepared for us to live forever with Him, free from sin and its consequences, pain and injury. To those who rejected Him as a fairy tale, or something people make up to feel better about themselves, He will have to reject, as sin will still consume you. And sin has to be dealt with. Eternal death is the only other option. Please don’t let it be yours.

Jesus took ALL of our sins and took the physical punishment in the form of crucifixion on a cross so that we can be restored to our Heavenly Father. It’s a gruesome, crazy story of redemption, but the basic gist is that YOU AND I are off the hook for EVERYTHING we’ve ever done against God – known or unknown. The only way to be able to stand before God at the end of our physical lives during our judgement, is to have Jesus be our advocate, our liaison. HE will stand before God and declare us righteous by faith in Him. Otherwise, we stand in our rags and filth of sin, to be judged by each event.

I’m so incredibly thankful to my God for putting a plan in place to save me.

I’m thankful to Jesus for following through with His Father’s will to die and rise for me.

And I’m thankful to my parents, my previous churches, my teachers and dear friends/family who shared the truth about God with me, so I could hear the truth and make a choice for my future. As parents, we have the responsibility to teach our kids about eternity and it’s the most important thing you will ever teach them.

And for those wondering who the girl in the story was, it’s ME. Twenty year old me, entering Parma Hospital on Monday, December 18, 2000. I went home on Sunday, December 24th to get a shower and finish wrapping presents for my family that year. What a sweet Christmas we had!

Our God is merciful and loving. Patient and peaceful. I have experienced it and then some. May you know His love that surpasses anything this life has to offer.

I love you, dear friends. Please join me in eternity. Seek Him while He may be found.

Love, Gracie 🙂

Posted in Faith

Ripple effects and warm fuzzies

What’s the best moment in teaching?

Most teachers would probably say the “light bulb moments”. After all, you’re connecting with a student and they are finally “getting it”. Isn’t that what makes the job the most satisfying?

And I would half-agree. Because seeing the “light bulb moments” brings a sense of pride over the one teaching. To know that someone heard and understood something that was said? It’s a victory moment. And these don’t happen necessarily every day: the actual visualization of an a-ha moment, where there’s a head nod, or a student actually says, “Ah” or “oh”. No, these moments are a delight when they take place. Savor them.

I only half-agree with the “light bulb moments” answer because though I do love seeing the comprehension take place as wheels spin behind the eyes, there is another moment that takes the cake.

The best moments in teaching for me, are when I see a drop become a ripple when there is a word or a story from another student and suddenly the wave catches. When I can start a question and see the ripple effect in the room, I have the opportunity to sit back and watch God do what He does:

Spread. Multiply. Fan. Flourish. Engage. Invite. Connect.

I teach Bible study at my home church on Tuesday evenings and as a leader with the spiritual gift of teaching, I know the weight that is on my shoulders. Yes, I have the honor of sharing the truth of the gospel with women in our church once a week, and my hope is always that the participants “catch” the message God has for us to get that night. But I also need to stay true to Scripture, not add or subtract from it, and lead the ladies to read and dig deeper. I am accountable for every word spoken in Jesus’ name.

My goal is to stay humble, read the text, get the conversation rolling and let the Holy Spirit take over. But not every week follows that pattern. And it’s okay. The Holy Spirit is not a sideshow act in a circus. He is the main event as we read and study God’s Word. Each week, we grow and seek Him more and more. I don’t need a sticker at the end of the night or a sign from Heaven to know I’m doing the right things, just an obedient heart to continue to follow my call, and a desire to let Him lead.

But, I’ll admit I get emotional when during a question, someone speaks up and begins to start a dialogue, and I can feel the temperature in the room change. It gets warmer.

Fences come down.

The other ladies lean in closer.

The speaker opens up a little more.

Words spill out and heads start to nod in agreement.

Tears well up, arms reach out and comfort is extended.

Bonding happens so quickly sometimes, and one of the most beautiful things to witness is human compassion. Empathy from one sister to another. When we realize in the course of time we spend together that we’re not in competition, we’re united in Christ. We don’t know all of the answers, but we will find them together. And when someone opens up about something so deep, to have other empathetic women nearby to listen (really listen) and encourage each other, show grace, mercy and love to the speaker, it warms my heart and spreads warm fuzzies like wildfire.

And I think, This is what it’s like when the Holy Spirit is fanned. This is what it’s like when we don’t hold back from our childlike responses. This is what uninhabited love is among believers. This is what it’s like to sense our Lord smiling on us, for loving beyond our own pain, and for reaching out to step into someone else’s.

It is so incredibly beautiful to witness, and I find almost every week, that there are precious moments tucked in each encounter during teaching. They might not be as glaring as tonight’s event was, but each moment of connection and compassion gets me excited about what it will be like to be in the presence of Jesus – unhindered from performance, comparison, expectations or perception.

Raw beauty is not an image in a magazine. It is seen in the vulnerable hearts of women who are able to offer something out of their own deficit, simply because they know and believe that Jesus wants them to give. It’s recognizing that the Lord is so present when we are gathered together and loves when we are united.

Jesus prayed for our unity in the garden before He was killed.

Found in John 17: 20-23 
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Imagine, the King of Kings humbly asking His Heavenly Father for unity for those who would follow Him and bear His name. It matters that much! And in this time of my life, in our society where everyone is offended so easily or so quick to judge others without hearing someone’s story, I love the teaching moments where I get to witness women breathe life into other women.

We all need it. We all have lies we fight every day from the enemy:

I’m not good enough.

I don’t matter.

I have nothing to say.

God won’t come through for me.

I’m worthless.

I’m not worth fighting for.

Etc.

Women have a gift of nurturing that is unmatched, when walls come down. And it’s such a remarkable way of God showing us through each other that we can see beauty in each other, even amidst pain and heartache.

Tonight, we started a new study. I had a few veterans and some new blood in the room. And before I left my home, I prayed as I always do: to let the Lord bring whomever needed to be there, and to help me help them find Him. “Keep me humble, so they can see You, Lord, and teach us what You want us to know.”

Would you believe: He always comes through on His end? He’s so faithful!

And yet, tonight, there was a different spark in our room. I got the sense that the room was uninhibited from the beginning of our class. I went over the logistics of our inductive study, read about John Mark, prayed and went to my planned setup. And when I sensed the Holy Spirit taking over, I relented.

Those are the best teaching moments.

All Glory to God!!

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. 😉

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

Remembrance

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

This past week, made me do just that.

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

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

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

6.11.94 bg crusade

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCC Dive

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

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

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

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

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

Remember their message.

Reflect on how they pointed me to Jesus.

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

It’s your turn.

Who are the most influential people in your life?

Posted in Faith

It’s Christmas!

Bethlehem.gif

This season, we celebrate Jesus’ birth! 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to God in the Highest INDEED!

Posted in Faith

Forgiveness

forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JESUS WAS SINLESS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonya Godwin-Baines says this to the accused murderer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is forgiveness?  Personally, I love this definition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Gracie 🙂

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, “I love God,” 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 🙂

Posted in Faith

Reachable

Almost ten years ago to the day, I began to believe a lie that I was worthless, a mess, unwanted, rejected and outside of the grace of God.

I believed that I had made a choice that would solidify my destiny, and that I was unreachable.

And I began to live a life of lies, of masks, of walls.

The lies grew and grew between the enemy and me, and though I was acting on the outside like they didn’t bother me, my spirit and flesh were at war. I wanted to believe that I was significant, that I mattered, but everything else seemed to be against me.

“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.” -Ephesians 6:12

My heart hardened.

Those who did love me, who tried to reach out, would be blocked by my harsh, hurtful, lashed out words. Those who enticed me, got what they wanted, and I kept sinking further and further into the lies. What was dangerous and scary became fun and challenging. I was in complete darkness.


One thing I can say with grave certainty, is that the voice of the Lord is louder than the voice of the enemy.

One must be still to hear it.

A heart grieving what they believed to be true must admit there may be a possibility they were wrong. A person full of guilt and shame still wants to know they are loved. Even in a hateful, judgmental world. And every hurting person, no matter how much they’ve done wrong, deserves to hear the truth.

In my quiet surrender, in my lonely apartment that became a home, in my repentant heart that was aching so badly for what, I didn’t know…

I heard the Lord. I heard Him, not in an audible way, but in my spirit…

That He just wanted ME.

Me: full of guilt, sadness, shame, blame, accusations, anger, lust, envy, etc., was all, He wanted in that moment.

He didn’t turn His back on me. He didn’t blame me or tell me what I had done wrong.

He stepped into my quietness, in the middle of sobs and declared that:

I was HIS if I would let go of ME.

“Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer, and give up your sins—
even those you do in secret. Then you won’t be ashamed;
you will be confident and fearless.” -Job 11:13-15


I have learned much in the last decade about myself, about those who love me, and about those who don’t.

Some people are strangers because they choose to be. They don’t want to go down the road of risking their heart to love someone that someone else rejected. They don’t want to admit they have too, judged and deemed me unworthy. They stand along the sidelines and just watch. Unsure of what to say, they say nothing. It’s okay. We’ve all done it.

I am not accusing or upset with those who didn’t know how to respond. I’m just aware that we all have moments of uncertainty about how to react when we see someone hurting.

Some people genuinely don’t care what you’ve done or who you were. They see you now. They know that something happened. They just choose not to address it, and love you beyond it. These are examples of grace and mercy. These are direct representations of Jesus.

These people are those who loved enough to risk. They stepped into my world, told me the truth about who God is, who Jesus is and what He did for me, and reassured me that I matter, that we ALL matter, and that every decision I’ve ever made in my life paled in comparison to the one that I made about my future. My ETERNAL future.

Out of obedience, they (and they know who they are) accepted the prodding of the Holy Spirit to not reject me, but love on me. Talk with me. Lovingly share the truth so I could see how I fit into the story of humanity and God’s redemption. They didn’t accuse me. (They didn’t need to- my own flesh/conscience had done that.) They didn’t tell me what the Bible says about the things I’d done wrong. (Again they didn’t have to, I had a Bible in my possession, and when I was ready, I sought the Lord myself.)

They pointed me back to the ONE who spoke into my heart.


There is an ache in all of us for more…more what, we’re not sure of. We keep trying and reaching, running and struggling, but we were never meant to fill the ache with ourselves or others.

There is ONE GOD who hears us. ONE GOD who knows the struggles we go through. ONE GOD who doesn’t reject us, or tell us we don’t measure up, or give us prayers to pray or words to say so we can be acceptable again. He pointed out sin from the moment it began in the garden and still offers an opportunity for repentance. He is so incredibly patient.

The Lord Jesus Christ already LOVES you…from conception to physical death. PERIOD.

The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost. The day of the Lord’s return will surprise us like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a loud noise, and the heat will melt the whole universe. Then the earth and everything on it will be seen for what they are.” – 2 Peter 3:9-10

God wants all of us to be saved. He is patient. It says it right above. He is waiting because everyone needs a chance to hear about Him. He sent his Son to die and rise again (John 3:16) so HE could limit death and reject the power it has over us. He wants you to know how much He loves you and that you can stop running to find out what is missing in your life.

Let Go.

There is NOTHING you’ve done that can keep you from His love. There is NO PLACE you’ve run that He can’t reach you. There is a loving God who is our loving Father who sacrificed His Son and shed blood for our restitution.

You are redeemable.

You are reachable.


I give you this song that warms my heart.

It reminds me of how the Lord stepped into my sadness all those years ago, fought the lies of the enemy in my heart with HIS truth and sought me out so I could see His love as it has always been.

Listen and BELIEVE. You are never unreachable. NEVER!

Love, Gracie 🙂

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. 🙂

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! 🙂

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—this 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:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. 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, 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.

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. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

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—but 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, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs 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:

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:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s 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:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:[a] sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.[b] In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.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

Hope in the wake of tragedy

If you are an American, you have a target on your back.  That is not a threat, it is a new realization that we are not safe.  There are other countries who hate us, and terrorist groups that would love to take us out.  Sadly, it’s become commonplace to hear of school shootings and mass murders by mentally ill people (clearly) and then the rest of us are just left to deal with the aftermath.  But what does that really look like?

Just a week ago, this happened.

“Christina Grimmie, the American singer best known for starring on The Voice, was shot and killed after a concert in Florida on Friday night. Police said her killer appeared to be a deranged fan who had travelled to the venue in Orlando from another city planning to kill her.”  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/11/voice-star-christina-grimmie-dies-after-shooting-at-florida-conc/).

Though this wasn’t a terrorist attack, it was a case of a fan who became obsessive, to the point of having surgery to look like someone she might date, and then he believed they were getting married.  Somewhere a switch flipped, he got his hands on a gun and shot her in the face.  This is not normal, people.  I don’t care how many news reports we read, this is not a situation where we should go, “Oh geez, another crazy fan…”.  Tell that to the brother that tackled him and the family/friends/fans who are left to wonder how something like this could happen.

Then during the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, a gunman goes into Pulse Nightclub in Orlando (same city) and using a semiautomatic rifle, takes out almost 50 people with bullets, and was known to struggle with his sexuality and faith beliefs.  I’m sorry, but this is another case of mental illness at its worst.  There are thousands of families who are dealing with the aftermath of someone who took a permanent route to a temporary emotion.

I’m not a political writer, and I don’t even know exactly where I stand on the gun issue.  It’s still something I’m getting information on.  I see/hear pros/cons for both sides.  Growing up in a nation where rights and freedoms were freely given compared to other nations that had none, it’s easy to see that everyone should be able to do what they want to do.  However, that is why we are now at the place we are in.  At some point, what one person wants may conflict with what someone else wants.  Who is right?  What is our compass?  How do we know which direction to turn?

Earlier this week, a friend of mine asked his Facebook community for some silent prayers. Many people were quick to reply that they had prayed, were praying or would pray.  We do that so quickly because we want our friends to know that we stand beside them.  Who wants to feel alone in the midst of stress/tragedy/loss/whatever it is they’re going through?

Then a few days later, the same friend posted a video from Samantha Bee and her almost eight-minute late night rant against guns and the issues with them.  He stated how he was in love with this woman because of her views.  I’m including it here, and be advised of strong language, but many valid points.

I do agree with many of her points.  We are allowed to be frustrated with the deaths caused by guns in this nation, and I fully applaud her justified anger.  I don’t disagree with much of what she has to say.  There have to be changes made, somehow, someway.

What I take issue with, and I want to be clear, is her thinking about prayer.  And as a believer who practices prayer, I’m allowed to speak on the subject.

Around 4:40, she makes mention that the governor of Florida should comment on what could be done to prevent this from happening in the future.  The screen shifts to CNN interviewing Governor Rick Scott from Florida, who becomes evasive with no set plan.  Samantha Bee wants to see something done (as we all do), but she gets further upset at 5:40 when CNN gets the governor on the phone and asks the same question, and his response is to “pray, pray for the victims, pray for their families, pray that this never happens again.”

Her comment about prayer being an act of “sit[ting] quietly in a room with your eyes closed, talking to nobody” struck a nerve.  I agree with her James 2:17 reference as faith without works IS DEAD, but don’t count out prayer.

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What the world doesn’t realize is that prayer: something Jesus practiced, talked about, modeled and taught us, is a means for intercession with our holy GOD.  Prayer is NOT talking to nobody (and I meant that to be a double negative).  There is our Heavenly Father on the other end of that connection.  He is available 24/7, and listens to prayers/needs/selfishness/whining/complaining/etc.  AND HE NEVER COMPLAINS in return.  To say that we’re talking to ourselves is a slap in His face.  He listens to believers AND UNBELIEVERS who love/praise/question/reject/spit in his face/accuse/argue/judge Him and HE STILL LOVES.  Because that is who HE is.

In no way, shape or form was the governor saying we should just sit in a room with our eyes closed, talking to nobody.  He was saying that we should be going to the Lord with our requests, which is something we are to do in the face of adversity, trial, fear, lack of hope, distrust, hate, anger, and judgement.  Prayer affects much, as James 5:13-20 states, ”

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

We are quick to say that the Lord isn’t hearing us when He’s not responding quickly enough, or when things aren’t going the way we want them to.  I agree that it’s hard to sit and wait for Him to come through, or not, due to His will.  But I know He hears us.  He tells us to come to Him. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are taught to not be anxious, but to present our requests to God.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The Hope of the World, Jesus, gives peace like none other.  It does transcend all understanding and it provides safety and security.  It’s funny how even as we shout for gun control and better policies, what we’re really asking for is some security and safety.  That can only be provided by our Lord.  We are unsafe.  We live in a nation that is under attack, and these are only the birth pains.  Other countries have come to live with terrorism, hate crimes, mass murders and executions as day to day activities.

Prayer does something to us.  To the outside world, we’re putting our heads down and talking to ourselves.  But to the Lord, we are in a position of surrender, sharing our hearts with Him in connection, for the purpose of understanding Him, His ways, and His intentions.  We are meant to be connected to Him.

This article by NPR suggests that we are changed by doing so.

Scientists are making the first attempts to understand spiritual experience — and what happens in the brainsand bodies of people who believe they connect with the divine.

The field is called “neurotheology,” and although it is new, it’s drawing prominent researchers in the U.S. and Canada. Scientists have found that the brains of people who spend untold hours in prayer and meditation are different.

There is a scientific and spiritual connection that happens in the act of prayer.  God designed us that way, and it is because of His grace that He allows us to come to Him.  Prayer is also designed as a way of communication for nation leaders to go to God for direction, His wisdom and insight when making decisions that affect that nations’ population.  King Solomon, King David, King Hezekiah all prayed.  They had a relationship with the Father, and knew to go to Him during times of trials and hardships.

And likewise, it is our duty to do the same.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  1 Timothy 2:1-4

When our country seems divided by opinions, beliefs and trials, we ALL can go to the same God to ask what He desires of us, how He wants us to live, how we can love others for His name, what we can do about gun control, how we can respond in the face of fear.  Prayer is not hiding out, nor is it talking to the walls.  It is having a two-way conversation with the One who created us to have a relationships with Him, and presenting our requests, fears, hurts, anger, complaints, etc.  It is also complete TRUST that He hears us, loves us, has the answers, and will implement them in His time.  We are to follow Him and be obedient.

By praying for our leaders, who’s to say that we’ve not changed a heart that was malicious, to be soft and follow the word of the Lord?  Who’s to say we’ve not stopped wars or ended a conflict before it escalated?  Only God knows the outcomes that have changed as a result of His people going to Him.  Prayer affects much.  It is not in our power that things change, but that the Lord moves.

In my devotion this morning, I read the following sentence, “Jesus did not come to this world to make us better.  He came to make us NEW.”  We are awful.  Humans have ultimate selfishness and hateful hearts at our core.  You may deny it, but without Jesus, you are going to look out for your own agenda, and do whatever it takes to make it happen. The truth is that none of us can do ANYTHING apart from Him.  We can build our mountains to ourselves and worship US because we are capable of much, but the truth is that everything comes from God.

“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever!”  Romans 11:36

We don’t need to be changed.  We need to die.  Die to ourselves and our agendas that conflict with the Lord’s agenda.  In our promotion for Man, we have squashed the Holy Spirit, but according to the Bible, our world is doing exactly as predicted over 2000 years ago.  We are living in the times of distrust, corruption, godlessness, and we are in need of a Savior who can save us from all of it.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came from Heaven and died on Earth, carrying the sins of every person, so that we could be reunited with the Father, and have eternal life.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  John 1:12

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10:9

God is capable of sharing with our leaders the knowledge and wisdom they need to effectively lead us.  Whether they adhere and implement is between them and God, but situations have changed as a result of God’s people going to Him in prayer.  I encourage you to “sit quietly in a room” and talk with your Father.  Policies and laws will come later and will benefit those who they are meant for.

Don’t count out prayer.  It is vital for the good of all of us.

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:

image

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. 😉

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. 😉  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? 😉

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. 😉  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… 😉  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

In the wait… and other ramblings

Change.

What type of emotion does that word evoke in you when you read it?

I know many of us can read that word and feel a sense of hope if we are looking for a way out of a particular job, situation or life event.

Or we may feel the opposite.

What if we are content where we are? Then out of nowhere, a boss, spouse or friend uses this word in a discussion and we know there will be some effort on our part to adapt.

Deep breath…

Many times in my life, I can say I’ve felt the effects, both positive and negative, of that word.  Some of the changes in my life were brought on by something I decided to do on my own, and others were done as a result of prayer or wise counsel that led me to take a step.  The reason I bring it up is that I am in a season with the Lord where I am waiting on Him. I’ve been spending much time in prayer about something, and where I’m hopeful and expecting a change, I’m afraid He may ask me to stay where I am.

Have you ever felt that way?  Does your prayer life ebb and flow?

What does that say about our spiritual lives?  We say we are willing to follow Jesus and put our trust in Him, but if He decides to change our circumstances, life situations, physical living locations, etc., are we willing to obey?

I’m a woman.  Being told to wait usually doesn’t sit well with me.  In my assessment of where I’m at, I’ve pretty much figured out all of the details on my next step, if He would just hurry up and approve my decisions already…

Ah, but you know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

If you know me personally, you know that I took a step of faith in a direction for school, only to have the Lord lovingly rebuke me in February of this year, tell me to withdraw and focus on my family.  I had rushed through a prayer time with Him and taken what I thought was a clear step for me, and in retrospect, it was covered with red flags relationally with my husband.  Where I wanted to excel (my GPA was right where I wanted it, my grades were significantly high, the material easy to understand, the schedule overwhelming, but all students have problems with that, right?), God wanted me to sloooooooooooow down.  This relationship with Him is sure breaking down who I was…

Do you want to know the truth?  

The deepest part of me wants to be told to slow down.

I know that when I get so focused on something, it’s easy to push everyone away and just DO IT.

I don’t need anyone, and I’VE. GOT. THIS. becomes my mantra.

But there’s something that has happened in the last eight years.  I have realized many things about myself that I believe all women need to understand.  Face it, though we are all uniquely created in the image of God, we struggle with the same things when it comes to value.  Trust me, we could talk for hours about our issues, and we would all come up with the same answer: WE ARE BROKEN AND IN NEED OF SOMEONE TO RESCUE US.

Remember as a child, when you got into trouble, and were told to go to your room or were placed in a corner for a timeout?  Some days, I wish someone would tell me to go take a nap and come back when I feel better.  As adults, we are deprived of such direction.  We are over the age of twenty-0ne, so we should know how to do these things by ourselves, yet we just keep adding to the schedule and figure at some point over the weekend, we’ll end up in blankets on the couch watching reruns of Person of Interest instead of looking at the clock and realizing Monday morning is just hours away and the cycle of waiting begins again.

If you’re like me, I’d like to give you some hope.

During this season with the Lord, I have read sections of the Bible I’ve never even thought to look at.  I’ve had verses come to mind that I learned years ago that have carried me through.  The Holy Spirit has brought peace into otherwise anxious situations, all because He can and because I’m learning to trust Him with those times.  I’ve seen miracle after miracle in my reactions to those who have previously hurt me and I am thankful.  I can forgive, love and move on without hesitation.  I have grace as my first response, which is so unlike me, and it just confirms that God is at work in my life.

And do you want to know something cool?  The Bible says that this is considered holiness.

1 Peter 1:13-16 shares the following truth, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”  He is speaking to believers.  This passage is PACKED with hope and newness for us.  What does this mean?

It means that while we are in our human physical form, after we accept Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit who helps to transform us into the likeness of Jesus.  I want to be clear.  We aren’t perfect as believers.  We aren’t above anyone.  We will never be.  Jesus actually expects us to put others first ALL OF THE TIME.  And if you struggle with selfishness, take that to God in prayer.  He may be requiring you to repent and surrender that part of yourself.

When you became a believer, you were changed from death to life, not a bad person to a good person.  The work of the Holy Spirit is something the Lord does for us as we surrender.  But before I get off on a tangent, being holy means that we begin to manifest Christlike attributes that are contrary to our human nature.  They are supernatural and can be seen by everyone, believer and unbeliever alike.  God wanted us to be different so that those who are lost can see the difference and desire to know more.  This is not done by picketing events we’ve judged, or ranting on social media when someone who is lost ACTS like a lost person…we are to love as Christ loved.  See Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus commands us to love God first and others as we love ourselves.

I’m still not looking forward to staying put right now, but I have seen Christ in action in my life, and want to continue to walk in His holiness as I learn how to be more like Christ.  I know that He must be preparing me for something I’m not ready for yet, and He still has work to do.  The knowledge that He has my best interest at heart is reassuring.  But it also means that since I’ve agreed to follow Jesus, the plans I have laid out for myself, may have NOTHING to do with God’s will for my life.  So I have to be obedient and continue to trust in the wait.  Many other people throughout God’s Word were told to wait and also benefited from having a deeper relationship with Him as a result.

Do I have hopes and dreams and desires that I know would benefit the Kingdom of God?  YOU BETCHA…but I also don’t want to supersede His will like I’ve done in the past.  I want to continue to trust His will and surrender the part of me that is following my womanhood.  I know He knows the outcome of my life, and I am willing to wait.

Posted in Faith

Newness- the ultimate gift of Christ

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to share a smidge of my testimony at our church’s women’s breakfast.  Every woman who showed up, I have encountered at some point in my seven-year time frame of attending.  Some of them were acquaintances, and some have become dearly loved soul sisters.  All of them I consider to be friends.

Before the breakfast, as women often do, we stood around talking.  The dynamic, however was beautiful.  Instead of just certain clusters of chatty Cathys with some oddballs hanging out, there were intimate groups of two or three women talking, and then gradually one woman would step out of that small group and encounter another woman and start another two- or three-person cluster.  Each conversation was deep and personal, and as another woman came through the door, she was greeted with hugs, laughter and “so glad you’re here!”  It was beautiful that not one woman would be left standing awkwardly.  We all sensed the need to be greeted and hugged and whoever saw it first, just jumped to meet the need.  

Can I just say that I see Jesus in those moments?  Are we not all waiting for that greeting when we will be hugged by our Father, and our tears will be wiped away?  What a gift in our humanness, to do that for each other now, while we wait… 

Our focus verse for the breakfast was 2 Corinthians 5:17: 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

 

This Scripture verse spoke to my heart in an intense way when I was coming back to my faith in Jesus at age 27.  Leaving my first husband and being alone for the first time in my life scared me immensely and I did much to NOT BE ALONE.  And more than anything, my shame and sin covered me so thickly.  I got to a point of thinking I wasn’t redeemable, wasn’t lovable, and wasn’t worthy of anything, let alone anyone.  

Reading and rereading our focus verse brought back so many memories from my first apartment, and my fallen nature, that I cried fresh tears of thankfulness to God.  And I was asked to share some of those memories with my dear, precious sisters on Saturday.

We gathered at our tables with our breakfast and coffee, snuggled in and put our focus on our leader.  She lovingly mentioned that I had offered to share part of my story with the group, about being a new creation.  And before I began, a dear friend of mine said that she would like to say some words about me.  The picture on the front of our bookmarks were of a closed tulip.  ImageThis woman said that when she first met me, she saw me as this tulip, protective and closed. But as she got to know me, she also was present through some healing that God had been doing in my life, and saw that as I continued to surrender to Christ, that He was changing me into a much more open person, and my guard was coming down.  

I was completely blessed by her words.  

In the past when I have been asked to do something out of my comfort zone, Satan loves to get me anxious and nervous, and each time I have to talk myself off the ledge, stating that I know who I am in Christ, that I was asked to do A, B, or C because God will make me capable, and that somewhere throughout my day, someone will be blessed by what I have to say.  

Saturday morning was no different.  My armpits were on overdrive as I was anticipating my introduction.  Ugh…how I wish those parts of our body weren’t glands…

And yet, as my dear friend spoke, I felt God melting me, reminding me, showing me that I had indeed progressed imperfectly (thanks Lysa Terkeurst) closer to my Lord in obedience.  Another of my girlfriends said that she had seen the same things with me, that I was protective, and quiet, but I have changed.  And my guard came down.  

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A beautiful part of that morning was that sharing my story came so naturally.  Though I felt myself fumbling over some of the timing and details, I shared when I had left my ex-husband and went through some darkness and how I answered Christ’s call on my life by surrendering myself to Him and giving up the parts of me that I knew just kept repeating failure after failure.  I saw tears in the eyes of my friends.  Sorrow tears as they walked through some of my past pain, and joy tears when I proclaimed that I was new, that I no longer was defined by old Grace.  

There is such joy in redemption.  We just celebrated the resurrection of our Lord a week ago Sunday.  But the benefits of His life, death and resurrection are limitless to all of us now.  They don’t stop on a random Sunday when we shout ALLELUIA…we are taught through Scripture that, “The steadfast love of the Lord NEVER CEASES, His mercies are new EVERY MORNING” (Lamentations 3:22-23).  And it is because of the LOVE of God, that we can even have HOPE in our hearts.  

Failures turn to victories…struggles become stepping stones…and GOD’S GRACE MAKES ALL OF US NEW!  Let’s appreciate the tulips (or any flowers for that matter) that remind us of a time that we were different, closed, protective, and embrace the SONlight of Jesus, who opens our petals and brings life to the parts of us that have died, not to be alive as the old parts, but as the new creations He is making us!  

 

 

 

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

Image

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

Five years

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It’s been five years since a very significant change occurred in my life.  On the night of September 18, 2008, I had an encounter with the North Ridgeville police department…and our Heavenly Father.  I was pulled over for the second time while driving under the influence of alcohol.  I blew a .012, which wasn’t nearly as bad as the first offense, but it was enough to get me SOBER rather quickly!  It was my second offense in less than two years.  I had a serious problem.

That night, sitting on the bench, waiting for the second officer to return so I could get my impound information, I made the conscious decision to stop smoking (which was something I felt empowered by), a decision to stop driving drunk, and a decision to live for Christ.

All I could do while looking at the walls was pray.  I would shake my head at my ability to get caught again.  I would tell God that I knew I screwed up but that He had to help me this time!  And I would pray that I would have words to tell Mom and Dad what I had done.  I was so remorseful.  Sadly, and now laughably, I remember telling the one officer how sorry I was for making him do all this paperwork at 1am in the morning.  He just smiled and said it was okay.  Really???  And I consciously remember asking rhetorically, “How could this happen again?  I thought I was past this”, only to have God respond in my spirit, “It’s ALL or nothing, Grace…all or nothing.”

That was all I needed to hear.

Prior to that day, I had been living a life that is not worthy of sharing (and since I’m forgiven, I’m not going to provide the details-that Grace is gone!).  But God didn’t care as much about where I had been, compared to where I was going.  He was telling me He forgave me, but I had to stop pushing Him away and going the other direction.  It was either align myself with Him or these things would continue.

I was so sick to my stomach.  I was ashamed.  My parents had raised me better and I was misrepresenting them.  They taught me God was forgiving and loving, but that we also had to deal with consequences of sin.  I knew better than to deal with life the way I had been.

That night, I said yes to God.  It wasn’t the first time, but it definitely had significant meaning.  After my breathalyzer reading was recorded, I was sent home with a court date and no car keys.  A friend picked me up and dropped me off, never to hang out again.  It appeared to be the death sentence of my social life.

I had to tell my parents the next day.  I didn’t know how.  I had to call off of work and think, and after sixteen hours of straight thinking, I was DONE thinking!  I was twenty-eight years old, and had no car to get to work. When I did tell my parents, disappointment reigned, and I was told I could move back home.  My stubbornness kept me from doing that, so I agreed to have my mom pick me up from work, take me to my apartment so I could code charts in the evening after work, and then she would pick me up from there to sleep at their house so she could take me to work the following day.  What a toll emotionally and physically it put on my parents, for seven full weeks!  I will never forget Mom’s sacrifice as we both trudged back and forth from Cleveland to Brecksville to North Olmsted and back.  Dad and my sister provided rides when they could.  It was so appreciated!

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I thank God for His intervention and that I finally listened to the prodding in my spirit.  I thank Him for His provision, and for getting me through the court dates, lack of license, lawyer fees, hotel expenses for my “dry-out” weekends, and impound costs.  I also thank Him for my loving family who helped me see my need for change, never stopped loving me and who prayed for me during my struggle to let go of the flesh.  And mostly, for my now-husband, Kevin, who was my best friend during my struggle.  He didn’t leave my side, but believed in me, and urged me to stay the course, even when neither he or I would know what that meant.  I had to make some serious lifestyle changes.

If you know someone who struggles with alcohol and isn’t able to say no, please listen to their cry.  I had gone through my divorce during my first DUI offense, and knew it was because I was numbing myself.  The second time I got caught, was just me not knowing how to say no to what allowed me to disconnect.  Both times I was caught, I was relieved.

I will be clear: I am not against drinking by any means.  I still have a social life, and a full one!  I love to be social, share a glass/bottle of wine in celebration, or meet for a few drinks after work to connect with someone. However, when alcohol determines your calendar and life choices, it becomes a problem.  My previous struggle has been given to God and it now isn’t an issue for me if I don’t have alcohol.  I can take it or leave it.  But for some people, that is not an option.  I realize it MAY be an issue if I let it, so I have to be careful. We all have a tendency to do something in excess, but when it starts costing you jobs, relationships and money, it is NOT worth it.

And friends, I am not judging any of you.  This is not an “I’m better than all of you” post by any means.  I just wanted to share my personal account because milestones are huge to those of us who overcome things.  This was a huge struggle for me to overcome given my reasons for starting drinking in the first place.  For a time, it defined me.  But now God defines me.

I guess you could say this is my public service announcement for drinking responsibly, putting others first and surrendering the parts of ourselves that prohibit us from having right relationships with God and others. Where some may think this was all just a conscious part of my being able to stop bad habits, I know in my heart, it truly is a gift of God to stop sin from taking over me again in that way.  True surrender means letting go and giving it to God.  And He definitely took it.  🙂

Posted in Faith

New Year…New perspective (again)…

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HAPPY NEW YEAR, dear ones!  God’s richest blessings to all of you.

Typically each new year, I would try to think of a resolution (or more than one) to work on throughout the year.  Last year, I wrote about not letting what others think about me, affect me.  I’m sad to say that I failed miserably.  If I look back over the past year, I can pinpoint certain areas where God was trying to get my attention, and yet, I was too busy pointing fingers at others, so I missed many of His teaching opportunities and glorified myself instead…ugh…

For future notice, however, I’m changing the course.  This year, I’m not going to list things I’d like to change.  Instead, I’m going to meditate on a passage of Scripture that caught my eye, has resonated in my heart, and has become this year’s newest desire…to follow the one command, and it’s one that I’m pretty sure I can’t screw up…

Second Corinthians 13:5 states the following:

 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

This statement is clearly a command; to test oneself, and check our genuine faith in Christ.  It’s a statement (for those who claim to be Christians) to be aware that it’s very easy to fall back into old ways of thinking and acting.  Notice there’s not one hint of comparing oneself to someone else or judging others.  We are to simply test ourselves to be sure we haven’t been swayed, that our actions follow His.  It’s a self-evaluation of our hearts.  That’s it.  And honestly, it’s simple.  

In the book of Galatians, beginning at chapter five, Paul wrote a letter to the churches in Galatia, mainly to the Gentiles there who were being swayed by others who were pushing legalism.  His goal for the letter was to bring the gospel message forefront once again.

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Paul preaching in Athens

At verse 13, Paul addresses the church’s issues with legalism and explains how all believers are free, however freedom isn’t meant to be used for fleshly purposes.  Paul wanted the church to understand that the freedom given by Christ was meant to serve each other in the Spirit, not continue to be led by the law.

If you, dear reader, are new to the concept of being a Christian, flesh is defined as human nature and the parts of ourselves that are still vulnerable to Satan and his advances (natural instincts, sinful tendencies, anything that gratifies US literally and emotionally).  In the context of Scripture, the flesh is always fighting with the Holy Spirit who comes upon believers at the moment they surrender their lives to Christ.

The Bible says only one of them wins.

If the flesh wins, we give into sin and selfish desires that separate us from God.  

If the Holy Spirit wins, flesh is left at the base of the cross, as Christ was crucified, and we give God Lordship of our lives.

The two can coexist, but they are constantly at war.

The command to test ourselves means that we need to constantly be checking our behaviors and attitudes, thoughts and desires, to make sure that they are in line with the Holy Spirit whom we represent.  This means DAILY.  Here are the differences.

Galatians 5:19-21 states the FLESH problems: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

not Kingdom worthy
not Kingdom worthy

Clearly the things listed here are direct, listed for our attention and should not be skipped over.  Any one of these things is in direct contrast to the will of God in our lives, and separates us from Him.  The warning at the end solidifies the destination of those who partake of these behaviors.

On the contrary, the rest of the passage defines the FRUIT of the SPIRIT: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Spirit-producing
Spirit-producing

At any time, if we don’t see “fruit” being produced in our own lives by the items listed above, we can be sure that there is a “glitch in the Matrix” so-to-speak, and we need to realign ourselves through repentance and connection with God.  It’s that simple.

The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity of God.  He is GOD dwelt in us.  Believers, though surrendered, are still vulnerable to sin.  Because of the blood of Jesus, however, the Holy Spirit comes to rest in us and helps to transform us into the image of Christ.  Each day will present new opportunities to follow the legalistic rule of the world, to point fingers and judge, to fulfill a narcissistic way of thinking that glorifies ourselves, but that is not the mark of those who walk with Christ.  Only those who have surrendered their lives and are being led by the Holy Spirit will have fruit that is visible to the world around us.

not physical fruit, but our actions that lead the hurting world to Jesus
not physical fruit, but our actions that can lead the hurting world to Jesus

The life of a believer is constantly yielding to the direction of the One who is in us, who is in the process of creating, transforming, changing, revealing and perfecting.  We will not be perfect here, but we can learn to be less of ourselves, for the glory of the Lord.  We can’t even boast that it’s because of ourselves, because apart from God, we all go back to our old ways.

So, instead of trying to keep a list of things I need to change and trying to work on them this year, I’m going to instead focus on testing myself (yes, just myself).

Am I showing love to everyone, even those who hurt me?  Am I aware of the consequences if certain words pass my lips?  Do I put others before myself?  Am I patient?  Do I hold grudges?  Am I not listening?  All of these things, as small as they might seem, become a slow fade into old Grace, and that’s not who I am any longer.  I am redeemed and capable of producing fruit for the glory of God.  My new year’s prayer is that you too can walk with the Holy Spirit and shed the flesh that holds you back from being all that you are meant to be in Christ.

This year, instead of focusing on how I’ll fail by February, I’m going to focus on the presence of God in my life.  I’m going to self-evaluate my behavior, actions, thoughts, and stay in constant communication with God.  I know that He is walking with me daily, and that through my obedience and surrender, He is able to produce fruit that shines into a dark world.  To Him be all glory.

Posted in Faith

Back to School

I know many of you just reread the title because it’s mid-June and the majority of students have been out of school for two weeks now, so to be writing about going back to school is either extremely late, or a little premature for the fall school year.

I’ll explain.  I’m just now back in school at age 32.  I started my undergraduate degree just this past January and am in my second semester (summer-what was I thinking?) at Liberty University maintaining a 4.0 GPA (raise the roof!).  When contemplating achieving my degree, my goal is to get it done in the shortest amount of time.  Naturally, I felt that taking a summer off would make me remiss, as I didn’t start in the fall.  I’d only started in the spring, so how could I give myself a break already?  And after taking six credits my first semester, I thought it would be a breeze.  My two first classes were easy to keep up with and maintain.

So, jumping in with both feet, I chose to take nine credits in the summer, not accounting for the amount of work involved, or the crazy heat we’ve been enjoying in northeast Ohio!  I’m working a full-time job at a local hospital, and then splitting my evenings/weekends between school work, being a supportive wife and stepmother, daughter, friend, etc. and trying to keep track of what has to be read, posted and written when, and then making sure that the internet connection is strong, and Blackboard (the virtual classroom) is up and running.  Was that a run-on sentence?  I’m too exhausted to even correct it!  I’m already marking down in my 2013 calendar to take the summer semester off!

But I will say that the experience itself of organizing a schedule, buying binders, notebooks, school books, day planners, school supplies, etc. has made me very determined and motivated to push forward.  I’ve always loved the first day of school, the newness of classes, seeing a fresh syllabus, and opening a brand new book where the binding hasn’t even been broken.  You can insert your “cough-nerd-cough” here.

In thinking about moving forward, I was reminded of a passage of Scripture that has been very influential in my faith walk.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in
Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:12-14]

You may be thinking, “What a cool verse regarding getting the goal accomplished- that’s totally fitting for school!”  But let’s keep the passage in context.  Paul, earlier in chapter three, is encouraging the church in Philippi to earnestly reject all that is behind them, and live in the newness of the resurrected Christ.  I’m sure this passage gets dissected often and there are many interpretations.  I don’t believe this passage is about going back to school,  even though it is now in my back to school thread.

The church in Philippi was commanded to hold fast to the truths they were learning as new believers in Christ.  Even though this passage is especially motivational, it reminds me that my desire to complete a degree in Christian counseling is definitely in line with God’s will for my life.  Two thousand years after Jesus walked this earth, I am reminded that there is still a world that doesn’t know the truth of the gospel or the reality of the Messiah who has already come, and it’s up to followers of Jesus to spread the news and exemplify Jesus to the hurting world around us.

I believe getting into the Christian counseling arena will bring many rewards.  I cannot wait to see the faces and meet the needs of those who I’ll be helping (whom I’m sure will be helping me as well).  I know that in every session, God will be alongside me, helping me as I listen and giving me insight to help his hurting children.

I know it will be humbling and I’m excited about the opportunity to serve Him in that way.  For me, learning about how many of us deal with issues is incredibly interesting, and has always been.  I know we’re all broken.  We are molded by experiences and encounters with other people on a daily basis, many times without even realizing it.  Sadly, I’ve also come to realize that some experiences can set us up for failure later in life, and we can perceive things in ways that are unrealistic, or we can respond to something in an unhealthy manner.

As shared in a previous post, there was a thought of suicide once in my life, and had I not had my faith or a small interest in God at that time, I may not have been here to write on WordPress.  But because I had the knowledge of God, at that sad moment, I was able to hear the voice of God and instead inquired about His plan for me.  After all, what human doesn’t question their existence, their skills, their purpose?  No matter what worldview you have, we all have an origin and at some point, you’ll want to explore the inner parts of yourself. 

Pauls’ words are that Jesus took hold of his life and it is up to Paul to continue running the race that will get him to his ultimate goal- the presence of Christ.

I can identify with Paul.  I long for the day that I can see Jesus and rid myself of the sin that pervades my life.  I am saved by grace, but memories haunt me of “old Grace” and what I’ve been saved from.  It is a daily struggle to move forward and choose to stay on the right path.  Satan knows just how to ruffle my feathers, and I am still in the process of claiming my victory in Christ.  I know the battle is the Lord’s, but for some reason, I keep grabbing my sword ( my mouth-UGH!).  I’m extremely grateful for His mercy.

So far in my college career, I’ve taken an Apologetics class, an intro to Christian Counseling, and now a Bible/Math/Philosophy combo before the end of August.  My mind has expanded in so many ways, and my eyes have been opened to many different ideas.  Satan, ever present and wanting to rip apart my foundation in Christ has tried numerous times this semester to have me question old truths and new ones I’ve tucked away into my heart.  He is so devious, but he has miscalculated my Lord.  And as I continue to feel the call to listen, help, pray for and minister to individuals who need godly counsel, I realize the need for it in my own life.  We all have reasons to run and hide from reality sometimes, but God calls us to fight the good faith (1 Timothy 6:2) and put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) so that we can be prepared to defend and stand victoriously. 

A verse that shapes the idea of how to gradually grow in Christ, is Second Corinthians 10:5 where it says we should, “…take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  It means there is a standard, that we are required to be obedient, and that our thought lives have influence on us.  If we take every thought captive and give it to God, very quickly our negative thoughts and actions will be changed and reflect more godly thinking so that we can be obedient to Him.

A friend of mine has recently shared with me the idea of being “emotionally hijacked” when someone/something causes an emotional response in us that is not usually a positive one.  She and I have been praying for quite some time to be aware of these moments when they happen, and to seek God when we are ready to reply with our explosive reaction.  By noticing the causes ahead of time, we can pray and stop our effects.  And as Christians, we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit readily available to assist us.

God doesn’t long for us to struggle.  He longs for us to realize our insane need for Him and run to Him as children who run to their parent.  He is our heavenly Father, which means He is able to provide and always available.  If your earthly father lacked these values in some way, pray to forgive him and instead run to the one who won’t leave you hanging.  God is capable of completing everything He’s ever begun, because it is His creation that glorifies Him.

God has a unique plan for all of us.  Even if you’re not in school, have no desire to go back, or are maybe contemplating the idea, I invite you to talk to God about your own journey.  Many people are living lives meant for others, and that is unnecessary.  We each have our own individual, significant lives.  Each one of us has been made in the image of God, in some way, and we mirror some of His greatest qualities.  I believe there is A LOT of unused potential out there, to bring about some great ideas, and to exemplify Christ and His message of hope and love.

The Bible states that, “He who doesn’t love, doesn’t know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).  I invite you to have love…have GOD.  Not the artificial kind (we’re all aware of the superficial, artificial kind), but the kind that is freeing from the inside out, genuine, selfless, other-first love…there’s no risk in adding Him to your life.  He’s desired that from day one!

We could all go back to school on letting go of that which holds us.  If we set our sights on things above, God’s love can prevail!

Was that the starting gun?  Gotta run!

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

Committed

I recently heard a Christian song on the radio that mentioned how God is committed to changing us to be more like Him.  Wait…reread that statement.  “God is committed…”  Did you see it too?  Yeah, the word COMMITTED stood out.  I tilted my head (as I often do when a very interesting thought captures my attention) and then I turned down the radio and started to talk with God about it.  I continued driving down the freeway and I reviewed what the word commitment means.

Commitment is a term that shows loyalty.  Whoa…God is committed??  To us?  To me?  When do we ever think of God like that?  We tend to view our commitment as believers through attending church, loving others, reading our Bibles and spending time in prayer with God.  I don’t believe I’ve ever considered how committed God is to me.  I’m sure it’s inferred in the life of a Christian, and yet expounding on the idea was intriguing to me.

Being committed means to be “wholeheartedly dedicated”.   It also entails being determined to see an end result.  Does that mean that God never gives up on us?  Sounds like it.  Let’s research this grand idea even further.

Godly marriages are the best example of people who are in committed relationships.  I say godly marriages because many people can get married today and yet, God came up with the idea of marriage and He designed the institution to represent the complete picture of a union acceptable to Himself.  I’m not inviting a debate on the tolerance of America’s idea of marriage.  I’m simply going by the truth of Scripture.  We’ve obviously seen in today’s society a lot of marriages fall apart who didn’t have God at the core of their union.  In a marriage where God is reigning along with the husband and the wife, there is a picture of leadership and submission, trust, love and true completeness.  The husband and wife devote themselves to each other and are wholeheartedly dedicated.  Of course there are temptations and Satan desires to destroy these unions, but because God is at the center, all of his advances are thwarted.  These are the marriages that represent what God designed.

Without getting off on a tangent (stick with me), I believe the true intimacy and devotion that marriage affords is a gift from God and the best marriages are those in which both parties of the covenant understand and agree to work at their union together with God’s help.  They realize they cannot complete the faithfulness factor apart from God.  Commitment realizes that errors are made, but forgiveness reigns.  Forgiveness…ah, there’s one of those church words.  What does that mean?  True forgiveness is dismissing a wrong for the sake of healing and letting the Holy Spirit work in our lives to restore relationships; first with God (Mark 11:25) and with each other (Matthew 18:15-20) .  It doesn’t mean the error is completely forgotten.  It means it is dismissed for the sake of letting God restore and letting healing take place.  Over time, the error is simply forgotten about and love replaces the anger.  If you struggle with forgiveness, you are not alone.  But may I suggest a relationship with the God of the universe?  He is the ONLY ONE who can work out the act of forgiveness in all of our lives.  Don’t believe me?  Try to do it without Him.  Yeah, He’s a very vital piece.

Anyway, back to my original thoughts on commitment: God in His perfection is committed at changing us to be more like Him.  Let’s think about that.  Didn’t He create us and allow sin to enter the world?  How is it our fault that we’re broken then?  Let me share with you my understanding.

God, in His great and infinite wisdom, and righteous and justified love, knew that He had to redeem us from our fallen nature and He designed the timeline for that to happen (i.e. By sending Jesus at just the right time in history with King Herod Antipas as king over Judea, by choosing the time period for Jesus when crucifixion was the method of torture and death in the Roman world, and by deciding to allow humanity to either accept or reject the truth of Jesus’s death and resurrection).

But why is He determined to change us?  We’re all good people, right?  We take care of each other, laugh and have fun with friends, go to work or school, obey our bosses and parents, serve on teams and committees, etc.  I’m sure a few of us have helped a few old ladies across the street.  So, why are we in need of being changed?

The answer is simply because of our fallen nature.  We are full of sin.  We cannot escape it.  It is a part of our heritage and is passed down from parent to child without change.  See Romans 5:12-13 and 5:18 for clarification on the Adam/Jesus parallel.  Through one man (ADAM), sin is carried through the blood lines of each person until death.  It’s part of our curse.  And just the same, through one man (JESUS), salvation became available to all who hear and accept the word of God (in the work of Jesus on the cross).  Condemnation becomes redemption…amazing!

I understand the fall, the curse and how Jesus’ death and resurrection have saved all believers.  But the more I talked with God, I became aware of the thoughts of those who don’t want to be changed by God.  Believe it or not, there are humans who don’t want God to be committed to them.

“But that’s insane,” a fellow imaginary believer cries out, “we need His intervention in our lives.”

And believe me, I’m with you in that thought process.

The reason these people don’t want His commitment is because commitment always requires WORK.  The people who wish to overlook their fallen state look at their monetarily successful lives and see nothing wrong.  They are happy and allegedly content with the things they’ve bought, the hours they put in at their childrens’ schools to look good, their comments at business meetings and church gatherings, and all the charity work they do because they want to be seen as leaders in their community, and they honestly see nothing wrong with how they’re living.

Second Corinthians 4:4 talks about how the minds of unbelievers have been blinded so they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.  From that perspective, why shouldn’t God want to change them?

And this was God’s rationalization to me.  The truth is that whether we are living for ourselves or living for Him, our lives mirror what we worship.  We do it on a daily basis, sometimes completely unaware.  Every day your behavior tells a story.  And the truth of the matter is that God wants to be included and to be part of your decisions and solutions.  To say that you don’t want to be changed because your life is going along swimmingly the way you’re running it, is to say that God is irrelevant and unnecessary.  You may think you don’t need God because you’re doing just fine, but that is a very deadly mindset, my friend.

And even as I write this, I will admit my struggle with some of the things that I’ve allowed to take up my time lately: anger at certain situations outside of my control, bitterness toward a certain person I will have to deal with my entire life, struggles with differences of opinion and my stubbornness, to name a few.  I am a beloved daughter of God, freely accepting the grace being offered to me, and yet I still act like a child whose favorite toy was taken away.  This is completely unacceptable behavior.  Could my life truly be an example of a life in need of His grace?  I would say so.

I accept my fallen state and that my heart is dark even as I continue to grow in the Spirit.  I am coming into the light.  There is a part of me that is very aware that I will struggle with sin every day of my life.

But the one thing that allows me to turn from all the pain, anger, bitterness and heartache is the truth that my Lord and Savior invites me to accept the fact that He is COMMITTED to restoring me.

He knows my desire to change, He knows my heartache, He knows my sin and still wants me to walk in the grace and truth I accepted from Him eleven years ago.  He is telling me that it is a process, not an overnight ordeal, and that He is willing to take as long as necessary to change me from within.

The beauty though, is that I’m not working to achieve salvation.  I have received that gift years ago and am reassured in Scripture that nothing can separate me from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39) and no one can ever take me from His hand (John 10:28).  Though I will always deal with sin, I am not alone.  God resides inside of me, and He will continue to work through me, but my eternal life started the moment I accepted Jesus’s truth.

The life of a Christian is a journey.  Many of us call it a “walk” because every day is another step toward furthering His Kingdom.  Every person on earth is seeking answers and determining their place in this world-that goes without saying.

But to know that the Creator of the world wants to intimately know you better and that He is committed to changing you from the inside out should not scare you, but give you the love you wish.  You are His child whom He loves and whom He wants to make into what you were meant to be!  Apart from Him, we’ll never be acceptable to God.  The sad truth is that if you do desire to be alone and to do things on your own, He will respect your wishes.  Please don’t turn from Him.  You are empty because you are supposed to be.  Only God can complete what He originally started.  Without Him, you will always feel that void.

My prayer is that you will not be a commitment phobe, but that you will take a step of faith and understand that your life is precious to God.  You may already be on the path to changing other people’s lives for His glory, but you still feel empty.  Accept that He does love you the way you are, but wants to make you even more.  Will you let God be committed to you?

I can’t think of another way to thank Him for what He did for me at the cross, than to let Him be committed to restoring me and for me to fully give myself back to Him.

Posted in Faith, Family

Does God take things away so we can be closer to Him?

Today I listened to Midday Connection on Moody Radio in Cleveland (WCRF 103.3FM) and the discussion was with author Dee Brestin, and her book, “The God of All Comfort.” I read through some comments on Facebook that had been posted and one of them caught my attention, enough to respond.

From Dakota Atkinson:
Question – I’ve heard that God will take away sometimes to get our attention. Do you think God would allow someone to be taken away by death in order for us to come closer to Him?

My response:
@Dakota, I don’t see why not. Death is not an end, but a beginning in Him. Ultimately, for believers, death is our way HOME. I’m not afraid of it, I welcome it, because we all must die to get into His presence. If our focus is on ourselves, then we tend to question how He could take something away from us, but if our focus is on HIM, then we need Him to heal our hurt and carry us through the grief. See Job’s response when God allowed Satan to take away everything Job had…he lost his wife, kids, belongings and STILL WORSHIPPED. I believe it questions our attachments. Do we really follow His call to leave everything and follow Him? Or do we attach ourselves to others, and grieve, not realizing that our true lover (GOD) is the one with a broken heart? Our relationships here must end at some point, and though that is heartbreaking, with time, we move on. Everything in the Christian life revolves around God and who He is. Blessings in the form of a spouse, children, family, etc. are from God, but ultimately the best gift is that of eternal life. If we lose everything, once we accept Him, that is the one thing we can still claim with confidence.

Thankfully, after feeling the Spirit move in me as I typed the words, I said a prayer that it would be received well, and went back to working.

Coming home this evening, I was relieved to see another person’s response to what I had said.

From Michelle Oliva:
@Dakota, I think Grace is on the right track here. I experienced several losses last year, and boy was I clinging on to God like I hadn’t in a while. Not only did I reach out to Him, but I began to step back and pray and ask about my God given purpose. It was only through God’s strength and comfort that I was able to grieve and come out on the other side, still faithful and hopeful. Best of all, I have a clearer understanding of my God give purpose right now and I have a real thirst for His words and presence in my life. I think if not for all the losses, I would still be on the same train…Grace, I might use some of what you said for my dad’s one year memorial ceremony.

May you be encouraged in trials, and not question out of lack of faith, but for reassurance of what He is doing, even when we can’t understand it.  Faith ALWAYS beats FEAR.