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

Grief, life and the in-between

We tend to think of grief when there is a mortal death. A family member or close friend, a pet even, leaves this life and we have to learn how to move on without them. Why? Simply because our lungs still have breath.

Anyone fresh in this period will tell you the heartache is real and the loss unbearable at times. So it makes sense to associate grief with death of life. Physical loss is evidence of a physical presence no longer existing and we hate waking up to that reminder.

But what about when we lose a relationship? Someone we deeply loved, or a dear friend who seems more distant. What about when a job ends unexpectedly or someone rejects us without reason? When those doors close and that pain is felt, it also is a death of life – just not physical. And unfortunately, we are not afforded the same time to grieve, as one would have for bereavement. So we walk around at our jobs, at the grocery store, in church, at gatherings, etc. carrying the hurt with us.

We all know other people around us and even ourselves if we’re bold enough to admit, who are grieving millions of little griefs daily.

And I’m writing about grief because I think it deserves to be talked about. I can say personally in the past I’ve struggled with grief and loss, but most recently have learned to address and work through grief more quickly for my own mental health. Taking care of our minds truly does wonders for our physical health.

Recently I took a personal trip to a small cottage and began praying for God to help me recognize where I was “stuck”. I had noticed some things in my speech and behavior that were evident of being bitter and resentful, and I wasn’t okay with it. Being a writer, I began to journal. And I didn’t necessarily need to leave my home to do this, but the change of scenery was helpful.

I went through my life and memories chronologically as best as I could and began to see a pattern in relationships, in events surrounding certain memories and in my responses to them. And many times, I reacted irrationally or in unhealthy ways. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

What it revealed was that I hadn’t worked through old hurts and therefore was hurting others as a result.

Newsflash: Hurting people hurt people.

Let that sink in for a second.

WOW! What an opportunity to give grace to each other.

Most commonly in counseling, five stages of grief are recognized, known as the Kubler-Ross model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance.

The first stage of grief is denial. We end up in shock at received news. Our minds cannot comprehend what we’ve been told, read or experienced, and we make a choice not to believe it. It doesn’t make the event less true. We just tend to not want to accept this new reality, so we live around it as best we can.

It’s the ostrich effect in FULL EFFECT.

Then, when there is no getting around it, we get angry and many times rush to bargaining. We get upset at the inability to have had a choice made for us, and now we have to live with the resulting consequences or circumstances and we are mad, raging and frustrated! And sadly, anger is a comfy chair.

This stage especially frustrates us because we have to admit we had no control over the situation. And I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but life is great at proving over and over again just how out of control we really are. We don’t like being reminded of that.

A clue to know if you are “stuck” in this area is to ask yourself how often you talk about said event, circumstance or situation. Are you seeking validation from others when you share your story? Do you ruminate over and over? Do you stay angry and feel justified doing so?

This is a healthy stage, especially because you’re no longer denying, but not where one should camp out. Walk through this, give yourself time to get upset and seek a counselor. I cannot stress enough the value of having an unbiased, neutral person who can assess your emotions from a distance.

Once anger is processed in a healthy way, we move into depression. That doesn’t sound right, but it is. In a way, we begin to accept the outcome and in this stage have to actually process the loss. Reality begins to set in. There is simply no way around it. And it will be painful in a new way, but in a way that leads to acceptance and freedom to move forward.

Getting to the point of acceptance takes time. It takes patience in ourselves and in others. When we’re hurting, our fuse tends to be a little shorter. We don’t walk around with badges on our shirts or signage of what we’re dealing with or walking through. It would be great to have porcupine quills that would allow us to show others when we’re approachable or not. Strangers have no idea what we’re facing or processing. Sometimes we even keep this from family members and those closest to us. And yet we operate out of hardened hearts that haven’t completely processed a moment – DAILY.

There are many reasons for “deaths” and each one has to be dealt with. Each time we die a little death, we need to process the timing, circumstances, people involved, situation, our emotions, responses, etc. There is so much to loss that we don’t think of our lives as “deaths” and yet they are. We just don’t have a memorial for each and every time.

Physical distance from people can create distance in relationship – it’s just normal to lose friends to proximity. And yet it still hurts and is still painful. When someone moves, they tend to move on. Choosing to stay connected to the past requires a choice and definitely more effort so the past can stay the present.

We may have differences of opinion on certain topics, and all of a sudden, we drop a friend or family member with whom we can’t seem to agree. We are a disposable society – something gets old or doesn’t excite us anymore, we drop it and buy/get new. And so our friends and family fall into the same areas.

We have little mini-computers in our palms daily and can connect to the world around us, yet lose touch with those closest to us. We are backwards in our approach to intimacy and community. We don’t like being vulnerable. We don’t like sharing because we don’t know whom to trust. And we continue to live without actually living.

Pain in grief is also described as suffering. And I can admit that I don’t want to admit that I suffered for a long time without realizing I had/have the power to let go and move on. It’s all within my reach and will. But it would require effort.

Kara Tippetts, a young mother of four, blogger of “Mundane Faithfulness” and breast cancer victim, died two years after her diagnosis of cancer. Most would question God’s goodness, she stated, because of her years of life (she was 38 when she passed in 2015) and her diagnosis. But in her own personal grief and processing of her own mortal life pre-death, she shared some wise words:

“Suffering has a way of exposing our theology, where what we believe about God collides with where we live.”

Kara Tippetts, And it was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Goodbye

What if God allows things so we could turn to Him for solace and comfort? Because at the end of the day, God is somehow the One we turn to for answers, believer or not. We either blame Him or question Him, right?

One of our pastors, Bob Bauer, wisely said once,

“What if we keep praying away the one thing God is using to bring us closer to Him?”

After hearing that, it truly became a step of deeper faith for me. What if every time I’m uncomfortable, I ask God to remove the pain and hurt and He doesn’t? Does that make Him any less good? Or does it just make me the lukewarm Christian who wants the easy life and loves God when things are good, but can’t stand when things take me out of my comfort zone?

Another newsflash: He’s not a genie. He’s our Heavenly Father.

What if we took the time to process grief? What if we MADE TIME to process grief? Everyone I know says that their lives are busy. Too much to do, not enough time, yada yada yada. Busy-ness can be a distraction from dealing with reality. It actually can keep one locked into denial because they don’t have to face the painful loss. And why don’t we want to go there? Because it IS painful.

It requires admitting pain was experienced and in order to move forward, we have to accept circumstances we may not have had an opportunity to make a choice in. Perhaps someone else made the choice for us and we’re now living/operating in the fallout of that choice.

When I think of grief, I think of the sister word “lament”. To lament is to express the grief or sorrow. Biblically, we see this best in the Psalms.

Psalms are a great way to read about loss, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know, I can hear you, “Seriously, Grace? When I’m hurting, the last thing I want to do is read about other people going through hurt.”

I get it. Truly. I’ve been there too. Hear me out…

Each of the writers of Psalms have demonstrated the ability to relate to us in this area. I was taught to read this book of the Bible early in my life to assist in “pain management”, if you will. And the truth is that I was pleasantly surprised to see myself in them at times of hurt. I could identify and I would read about the emotions these writers experienced. I could validate their hurt and frustration. I could see them shaking their fists at God and questioning His all-sufficient sovereignty. And when I would take the time to read all the way through a Psalm, I learned they usually end in praise.

Wait, what?

Yes, dear one. Praise.

Each time grief and loss is dealt with, it results in acceptance, just as a believer in Christ recognizes the truth that we are indeed “out of control” and technically never had it in the first place. So we extend praise to the One who IS in control.

We accept that God has reasons for what He allows and why He doesn’t allow other things, and though it hurts like hell sometimes, we cannot change the outcome.

We realize human beings are selfish by nature and sometimes hurt other people.

We recognize our own ability to wound and inflict pain on others, and should the Lord prompt us to deal with our own failings, we need to extend our apologies to those we’ve hurt. The Bible gives an outline of how to do so.

Scripture instructs that whether we are the offender or the offended, the onus is on us to seek restoration in our relationships.

In Matthew 5:23 – 24, we are instructed: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift” . In the next chapter of Matthew, we are told: “If you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6: 14 – 15 Today’s NIV).

Jennifer Thomas, https://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2007/july/apologies-that-work.html

We, as believers, give grace and do not have to be doormats to pain, but can create healthy boundaries where we can forgive and love from a distance, thus still honoring our Lord and His commandment to love Him first and our neighbors as we love ourselves.

We can grieve and literally cry over events and not believe that we are weak in doing so. Cleansing ones’ soul due to pain and hurt is something we can only do this side of Heaven. There, God will dry our tears and we will never have to deal with sin again.

We can go to those we trust to pray with us, to share the stories that need to be told, and to help us mourn. Our friends carry burdens and these are some of those.

We also do not grieve earthly lives as the world does. See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Physical death takes us into the presence of God and if we’ve made Jesus our Lord, our future is secure. Our bodies will be changed to heavenly bodies and our sin will be eradicated. We are no longer separated by death/life. We get to LIVE ETERNALLY with Him and therefore rejoice when one we love dies. It makes us ache more for Home since we are foreigners here. There will be reunions of believers when we take our last breath here.

Healing is acceptance. Acceptance is healing. These are interchangeable.

And it’s mandatory to be able to function in healthy ways without being stuck in unhealthy grief patterns.

Scripture shares this story about Isaiah and Hezekiah:

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 

2 Kings 20:1-5

When grieving, we have a Heavenly Father who is aware, still loves us, and gives us the ability and direction to go to Him with EVERY and ALL HURT.

He is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. He picks up our Humpty Dumpty selves and puts us back together like mosaic in the best way. Why? Because He is the Potter. We are the clay. And He gets to restore what was once broken with something that is made beautiful.

God will end all suffering, pain and eventually death. There will be a time when it will all end and we won’t have to deal with all of the weight of this anymore. Jesus already took onto Himself the pain of every hurt ever dished out, and God punished Him for what we are guilty of. This brings hope and forgiveness even to ourselves. The cross is our example of the lengths He would go to show us how valuable we are, even when we mess up. He is the ULTIMATE RESTORER and gets All Glory!

Heavenly Father, give us the ability to trust You when life hurts. Please allow us to say no to things that hinder our proper healing and time to grieve. We know You know what grief is like and you get the ultimate glory when you get to restore us. Give us the patience for ourselves and the grace for others daily, who struggle with things we know nothing about. May we love with Your love, give grace that can only come from You and share the love of Jesus no matter the rejection. We know You love us, and walk with us through every moment. May we remember to turn to You and seek Your face, knowing You will provide the right answers and peace during the trials. It is not up to us to fear, but to follow You. We love You, Lord.

In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

Here are some helpful resources for dealing with grief:

When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The God of All Comfort by Dee Brestin
And It was Beautiful by Kara Tippetts

https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/mental-health-resources/grief-and-loss-resources

How To Grieve Like a Christian

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

http://www.hopefortheheart.org/grief-recovery/

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, Stepfamily

Grief, forgiveness and new beginnings

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

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

grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

castle

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

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

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

armor of God

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

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

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

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

1

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

7

6

 2

3

10

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

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

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

facepalm

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

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

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

running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

holding hands

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

The words of Jesus: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-38

If that’s not division, and a call from Jesus to serve Him no matter the cost, I don’t know what is.  I think we have to recognize that it can be completely unhealthy to uplift our family, friendships, relationships (or insert vice/idol here) above Jesus, because it means we aren’t willing to fully follow Christ. Because the cost of Christ is truly losing things, and not having the rosy relationships we desire.  Sure, we may be blessed along the way with wonderful moments and happy times, dear friends who get it and are still encouraging- but we are in a battle.  And the goal of this present age is loving others to Jesus, not being so self-focused that we focus on the grief we haven’t moved through.  We have to be others-focused.  We have relationships that may never change this side of Heaven.  And THAT’S OKAY.I’ve come to realize that forgiveness does indeed take time, but it is mandated by Christ in Scripture because it is evidence of a life changed by Him.  When we hold onto grudges, or justified anger (righteous or not), it’s not beneficial to the Kingdom if it creates disunity.  Forgive, have the conversation if it’s necessary and move on.  Vengeance is HIS anyway.  He sees their treatment of us.  He doesn’t need us to seek revenge and hurt others more.  We have to step back and let HIM fight for us.  We can ask the Lord for help in accepting the boundaries where they are, focus on the lost who need His truth, and continue to carry the light into the world.  If you have family who are walking alongside you in this, fantastic!  If you don’t, be encouraged that the goal of your faith is the salvation of your soul.  And you’re never alone.  Let this be your new beginning.  🙂

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.  1 Peter 1:3-10 

Posted in Faith

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

three crosses

How could today be a good Friday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a blessed Easter, dear ones! 🙂

Posted in Faith

Remembrance

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

This past week, made me do just that.

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

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

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

6.11.94 bg crusade

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCC Dive

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

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

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

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

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

Remember their message.

Reflect on how they pointed me to Jesus.

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

It’s your turn.

Who are the most influential people in your life?

Posted in Faith

It’s Christmas!

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

Darkness

Darkness settled in.

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

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

Such weight.

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

For a full day, the darkness consumes me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mirror shifts to me.  I am David.

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

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

The darkness is still here.

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

I open to book of Psalms.

.

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

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

Verse 14 begins to bring me comfort.

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

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

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

And then verse 18 happened:

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

He heard me.

In the darkness, He heard me.

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

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

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

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

The daughter of the King.

The one He died for.

The one He rose again for.

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

The one that He loves.

The one He watches over constantly.

The one He never forsakes.

I accept the TRUTH.

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES.

Darkness has no place in the light.

Posted in Faith

Forgiveness

forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JESUS WAS SINLESS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonya Godwin-Baines says this to the accused murderer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is forgiveness?  Personally, I love this definition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Gracie 🙂

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

Living Intentionally

gentle breeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Faith

Clear vision

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

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

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

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The last picture of me with prescription glasses on. 🙂

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.

prayer

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:

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This, to me, is a picture of selflessness.

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

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

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

Posted in Faith

Walking with the Lord…new steps

Who wouldn't gladly follow Jesus here?
Who wouldn’t gladly follow Jesus here?

It is often said that the life of a Christian is a “walk with God”.  Once you step (fall, stumble, tiptoe, lean, leap) over the fence of unbelief, it becomes a journey.  And a journey typically includes having a map because there is a destination.

Those of us who walk with the Lord certainly have a map with a destination, but the ways we get there are incredibly different.  The path isn’t always gorgeously laid out with flowers and greenery on either side.  Sometimes it looks like this

Where do you even begin to cut back on these things?
Where do you even begin to cut back on these things?

Or this

Stone path leading up a hill.

Or (yikes!) even this

Where do I even start?
Where do I even start?

Why?  Why, when we are going through life difficulties, do we have to have paths that have thorns, or that go upward (where I have to exert energy…ugh), or that don’t even have a semblance of a path?  Why would we follow someone blindly through a desert?  Why would we take the road less traveled to get to someplace others tell us doesn’t even exist?  Why put ourselves through emotional and physical turmoil like that?

I have an answer.

Because the God of the universe who did create everything (Colossians 1:16) and who does have crazy paths to follow (2 Corinthians 5:7) LOVES you incredibly.  Do you believe that?

He loves you so much He sent His son to die (John 3:16), but also because He knows there are changing terrains (Deuteronomy 5:33), paths that look daunting, days that are overwhelming, kids that are screaming, conversations that are worth having, lies that are worth rebuking, people worth loving, and hearts worth stretching.  Psalm 119:133 is a cry to keep our steps steady.  Why?  Because the Lord knows that LIFE will overwhelm us and create a path that is unstable.

I do believe that God does not change (Scripture confirms this in Malachi 3:6 when He is speaking about his nature).  However, since I’ve been walking with Him, learning His ways and have felt Him softening my heart, I’ve learned that He is extremely creative and ultimately lovely.  His character doesn’t change, but His methods for seeking me (us) will and does.

One aspect of the Father that I can resonate with (and have incredible admiration for) is an adventuresome, loving Father who is constantly looking back to take my hand and show me something wonderful.

My earthly father did that a lot when I was younger.  My dad would pack us in the little red Chevette (all five of us, Mom too) red chevetteand my two siblings and I would do creek walks, flip over rocks to look for crayfish and go on hikes until our legs burned with pain.  All because Dad wanted to show us something amazing!  Sure, Dad could’ve gone and jogged the trail ahead of us, and came home and told us the story about what he saw/experienced, but it was worth more to him to have us experience it with him!  And I’ve learned our Heavenly Father is like that too.

Walking alongside someone also gives time to have conversations.  Have you ever gone on a walk with someone else and remained silent the entire time?  Doing physical activity together like walking, is a way of sharing hearts and opening up about something in life or an opinion.  Many of the times that I spent walking with my parents gave them opportunities to talk and share things with me, and I in turn would share my opinion with where I was at that time.  It is a relational activity.  So walking provides the Lord a place of communication with us.  When we communicate how much we hate anything that goes uphill to Him, it allows Him the opportunity to reach a hand out to help us up.  It builds dependence.

reaching outTrusting in Jesus, who is unseen, is a step of faith altogether.  We choose to believe in Someone who chooses to remain hidden to the outside world.  He manifests Himself in many things to affirm He is with us, and He reveals Himself in ways that are not tangible.  Since Jesus ascended to Heaven, He has sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, to guide us, to lead us, to be our “true north” and it is up to us to seek Him out. When we accepted Jesus and made Him Lord of our lives, we accepted the call to be Jesus’ hands and feet and show the world who HE really is.

My journey with the Lord has changed, grown, stretched incredibly over the last year, and my walk has mirrored each of the paths above.

I’ve learned He is faithful.

I’ve learned He is silent for a time.

I’ve learned He is loving during the wait.

I’ve learned He has a plan that is the best for me, and it’s worth waiting for.

I’ve learned I can’t do everything on my own, which is what sent me to Him in the first place.

I’ve learned that sometimes He speaks and I need to drown everything out to hear Him because I’ve let too much of the world in.

I’ve learned He is hope.

He created me (and you) with unique, special gifting and He will share with me (and you) when the time is right to reveal them.  He longs to be close to us.  He desires the relationship.  He loves when you pray because He hears from your mouth and heart where you are, even though He already knows. He created you with a desire to be known, and He knows you best!

He continues to reach out His hand to help us up those tough hills.  He continues to wrap Himself around us through the thorny paths.  He makes a way when the path isn’t even a path.  He CAN be trusted.

My journey is changing, and my new path is being revealed.  I will share more as I am able.  But it’s worth the wait, as long as I am holding His hand, walking alongside Him and trusting what He is doing.  Stay steadfast, dear ones!

walk Love, G 🙂

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

Encounter- Being Romanced

In the woods of Du Bois, Pennsylvania, I encountered God in a way I’ve never encountered Him before.

Panoramic shot taken by Grace Hejnal, October 27, 2013 in DuBois, PA
Panoramic shot taken by Grace Hejnal, October 27, 2013 in DuBois, PA

Leaves were changing and the air was becoming cooler.  It was fall 2013, and I had been given the gift of time and money from my husband to leave home from October 24-29, to go through an intense personal spiritual journey with four other women from my home church, and get away to a secluded place to spend time with God.  We studied, cried, laughed, studied some more, answered deep questions, studied more and took personal time.  In between, we drank coffee, shared personal stories, cooked for each other, sat around in our pajamas, and gave each other personal space.

On Sunday morning, October 27, in lieu of church, our leader requested that we go to a place on the grounds of Treasure Lake that could allow us to have our quiet time with God, and to ask some deep questions our hearts had, because she was sure that He would answer them for us.  I had been on retreats before, so my personal “go-to” was my Bible and a journal in hand, but this time, I felt like I just wanted music.  I decided on a walk.  To where, I had no idea, but I knew I had an hour and a half to kill for my own personal “church”, so I figured I would just start walking and end up wherever the road took me.

Our leader took her earbuds and music, and headed left from our front door.  Another woman took her journal and went in another direction.  I put on my tennis shoes, coat and grabbed my iPod touch.  I checked my phone for the time, and headed out of the cabin.

Starting my journey, I prayed, “Lord, I want to experience you.  I love being outside, and I want to see you in a new way.   Thank you for this time with you this morning.”  

Going left, the road wound to the left, then right, then down, and I thought, “This will be interesting to just follow the road.”

I hit Play on my “Power in the Blood” playlist and then selected Shuffle.

Music filled my ears, and I tuned out the cold, brisk air that was hitting my face, and started walking.  I followed the curvy road for about five minutes, listening to Chris Tomlin, and then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something to the left of me.  I had passed a dumpster which was located in the back of one of the cabins, and when I had passed it, there was nothing there.  But when I turned back to see what my peripheral vision had caught, I saw the back part of a deer.  It had its nose to the grass and after sniffing slightly, it started to move forward, on the opposite side of the building I was on.

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My interest was piqued.  I grabbed my phone from my pocket and made sure all sounds were off, then turned the camera on.

So I began to modify my journey and I walked back around the building, careful to walk slowly.  The grass still had dew from the morning, and it had covered my tennis shoes already.  I wanted to be quiet, as not to startle the deer, and I wanted to know where the deer was going.

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He led me down a path that was not a path.  It was the center of the grass, in between the townhomes located on the property and he didn’t go in a straight line either.  I still listened to my praise music, but I had the volume low in my ears in case something scared the deer and I would have to reroute.  I followed slowly and tried not to step hard.  I was about twenty feet behind him.  And the whole time, I kept praying, “This is so cool, Lord, I wonder where he’s going…”

When we reached the bottom of the hill, the deer started to walk left a bit, and I must have made a noise in the grass.

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He stopped and looked back directly at me.  I held my breath, and didn’t move.  This shot was taken from my mid-abdomen and I was able to catch him looking directly at me, without having him get startled.  After about a full minute, he began his journey to the woods again.

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Another silent prayer: “Lord, is this you?  You knew that I would follow a deer, because I love your animals.  And you know I am curious.  Did you send him for me?  Is he taking me someplace special?”

Silence.  And stillness.

About this time, I was about twenty-five feet away from him, and walking even slower as the grass was super wet.  I didn’t want him to catch me, but I stayed behind him.  He was walking to the entrance of a wooded area.  The deer made it to the entrance and then it appeared that he went downward.

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I quickened my steps, checked my watch (I had been following him for a half hour already, and the townhomes were no longer in sight), and continued forward to the entrance.  Stepping over the log that was laying on the ground at the entrance, I scanned left and right.  The deer was not to be seen.  I tried to comprehend what I could remember.  When he was at the entrance, it looked as though he went over the log and down, but stepping over the log, the height of the ground did not change.  Where did he go?  The deer had completely disappeared.

“Lord, you led me here, didn’t you?”

Peace.

“Wow, what is this place?”

“Sanctuary.”

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Stepping into the wooded area, the bright orange, yellow and brown leaves were still clinging to the trees that canopied the entire area.  I took a few pictures with my phone, and then began walking.  The area I was in, was surrounded by trees, hills, and ledges, and they were covered with fallen leaves like a beautiful fall carpet.  It was a sanctuary.  There was a rock seat that I sat on, and prayed.

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I thanked God for the time to get away, relax and have my perspective changed about the women who had come.  We didn’t previously know each other very well, and had only had small encounters with each other at church and in small group studies on Wednesday evenings.

Over the course of our time together during that retreat, we admitted our fear at coming to an unknown place and spending so much time with people we didn’t know, and God changed all of that.  I thanked Him for the time to be still, to see the deer, and to be led by it.

He told me to explore, so I did.  I climbed some of the hills, took pictures, climbed down and walked further into the woods, sat and took pictures, and then at one point, after I said again that I wanted to experience Him, the following happened.

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I was walking forward down a small path inside of the wooded area, and I heard in my spirit, “Get low”, so as I was standing, I bent my knees.  He said, “Lower”, so I bent my knees even lower.

Then, the previously still, soundless wooded area seemed to come to life.  

To the right of me, I heard wind starting, and I turned my head, keeping my knees bent as requested.  I saw leaves dance on the trees with the wind’s movement, and slowly they cascaded to the left of me.  I felt the rush of wind go over me, and I closed my eyes as I felt the air pass.  And then the leaves continued to dance.  It was like a heavenly hug.

I will never forget that.

The feeling of the wind passing over me, the sound of the wind, the movement of color.  And then as my eyes watched the leaves to the left of me, where the wind seemed to stop, a deer began walking.  How long he had been there, I had no idea.  He looked smaller than the one God had used to lure me to the sanctuary.

 “Be still.”  

So, I stood, holding my breath again, and this time, the deer passed five feet in front of me, from the left to the right.  He didn’t stop to smell me, or get startled, he just slowly walked.  I have no idea how he didn’t sense me.

I was in awe, and wanted to shout from the treetops, but didn’t want to lose this precious moment.

The study over the course of the retreat that we had been working on, is called Captivating by Stasi Eldredge.  In her book, she explains that God has placed desires in our hearts as women: to be seen as beautiful, to have an irreplaceable role, and to be romanced.  These core desires are because God Himself has these desires, and since we are created in His image, we have these desires.

Praying while in the sanctuary, I learned that God is beautiful.  The leaves, the hills, the deer, the brook, the trails, the unbeaten paths, all of it is from Him.  We assume beauty is something of femininity, but it is of God.  Beauty is not just women.  It is the desire to produce something that can be delighted in, and appreciated.  Even when men work on cars or airplanes, they name them female names, because the objects are delighted in and appreciated.  Beauty is something we are all capable of producing.

God knows that I love adventures.  As a child, I never hesitated to explore the woods, ride my bike to new paths, and get away from the city streets.  I loved the woods, nature and quiet.  There was an area at the end of my street that would run behind some homes.  And at the end of it was a creek with trees all around.  I dubbed it, “My Walden” and would write and journal there as a teenager.  That has never left. me.  And He has used that desire within me to continue to go on adventures, with my husband in our marriage, in our faith, in our lives.

And the gift from the Sunday morning of my retreat was that God romances us.  Think of the many times in a fairy tale that a woman waits for someone to romance her, to be seen from across the room and make eye contact.  Many women want that feeling of being desired.

God drew me toward Him.  He answered my prayer for an encounter, to see Him in a new way.

He knew I would follow an animal.  And to follow that deer to the entrance of the place that God wanted to have “church” with me that morning was solely His doing.  He took me to a place that had a tree seat (not man made) and I was able to sit, listen to my music in there, be quiet, explore the many areas within the wooded area, and then to witness another deer pass directly in front of me.

I would never have been able to see that part of Him, had I not stepped away from the city, my crazy schedule, or my life.  I needed to get away, have a new perspective of Him, and He was willing to meet me in that place.  He wanted me to see how much He loves me, that He knows color excites me, and that He knew what it would take to get me to a place where He could romance my heart, and reassure me that He is real and loving, good and true, and aching to step into the empty places in our hearts that other desires have left bankrupt.

He desires that for all of us.  He wants to meet us in the places of our hearts that are so empty and alone.  He wants to heal the wounds that have left scars, and drained us emotionally, and tested our faith in Him.  But He wants us to take the first step.  It has to be because we desire to let the great Healer do the work.  He is our Jehovah-Rapha, “the God who heals”.

He won’t force us to do anything we don’t want to, because He has given all of us the ability to make our own choices.  But He will call you again and again and again and again, because He has a relentless pursuit for your heart.  The love that He has is incomparable to anything humans provide for each other.  We get just a small taste of the romancing that is offered to us by our King.  Human love is beautiful and adventurous, and it is because of our Father that we love and desire those things.  But the ultimate healing of our humanity is through what God did through the work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection to make sure we know it.

I pray that all of you are able to have an encounter with Jesus.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be on a hilltop in Pennsylvania, with no other distractions (although I highly recommend shutting off the smartphone with notifications to hear Him more clearly).  It needs to be a sincere question to our Heavenly Father.  “May I encounter you?  May I see you?”  He will gladly answer yes.

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Posted in Faith

Comfort

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The precious dog above, is my lab/greyhound mix rescue named Bella.  Her third birthday is today and unfortunately, I also scheduled her annual vet visit (complete with vaccinations) this morning.  I tend to do that for myself, just so my birthday becomes a health reminder as well.

Our morning ride to see Dr. Taylor was calm, however as we got to the parking lot of Landings Animal Hospital here in Avon Lake, Bella looked out the window and observed another dog in the backseat of the car next to ours, and she began to whimper.  I’m assuming she wanted to play because her tail went crazy and she began to whine expectantly.  The owner of the dog next to us, just grabbed the pets’ leash, let the dog out of the backseat, shut their car door and went inside the building.  I kept Bella in the car for five more minutes so she could calm down and so that when we did go into the vet, the other dog would be comfortably in their exam room.

When we finally entered the building, Bella and I were placed in an exam room immediately, she was weighed and we were left to wait for Dr. Taylor with a small treat.  She began to whine, sniff the floor, pace, and whine more…higher than I’d ever heard her whine.  I couldn’t seem to console her, and she kept going to the door to smell underneath.  I’m sure she knew there were other pooches/animals in the building.

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When Dr. Taylor finally arrived, Bella got a little more antsy, but he easily hooked the slip collar over her neck and led her back to the weighing table.  She went up on the table, and shook.  I would LOVE to know what goes through their poor little minds when we take our animals to the vet.  These are not torture chambers, we swear!!

He examined Bella, felt for any nodules/fatty pockets/lumps/bumps/etc. and checked her gums.  His once-over gave me comfort, as he stated that Bella was right where she should be, weight-wise, and her gums/teeth looked perfectly healthy.  He asked if there were any issues, and I told him of one that we had been treating her for in the past, that finally seems to be resolving.  Then he prepared to give her the vaccinations we came to get.

Bella just stared at the table she was on, looking so uncomfortable.  He took the stethoscope and placed in on Bella’s chest.  In an effort to calm her, I reached out and put my hand on her little head and said, “Bella, you’re my strong girl.”  Dr. Taylor leaned back, pulled the stethoscope off of her, and looked at me.

“When I put the stethoscope on her chest, her heart was beating a mile a minute, ” he said. “But when you reached out to touch her head, her heart immediately slowed down…amazing.”

I thanked him, and it made me realize something.

A touch means so much.  It’s no secret that in our home, Bella for whatever reason has bonded strongly with me.  When she is frightened by storms, or frantic when her tummy is upset, she runs to me.  She will wake me up out of a deep sleep, dig her head into my chest and lay there until she is calmed.  I love that, because I love her closeness, and I know when she is uneasy, I am able to give her some peace.

I’m sure you know where this is going.  😉

As a child of God, when I am anxious or when something doesn’t make sense, I seek out my Lord.  After pushing away other worldly attempts to become calm, I have found that only Jesus and His Word and Presence are able to relax me.

Yesterday, if you had put a stethoscope on my heart while listening to the radio and the tragic news of yesterday’s loss in Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary, you would’ve heard my heart beating a mile a minute.  Instead of feeding on the details of the massacre that has a nation searching for God in this, I turned on WCRF (103.3FM, a local Christian radio station) and listened to Chris Fabry explain that he would be veering off of his normal programming to address concerns from listeners and to pray for those affected by the evil that touched Newtown, CT.

He stated how easy it is to listen to the grisly details and focus on the intensity of the situation, but ultimately, this boils down to evil.  And instead of questioning and shutting out God, we need to open up our hearts to Him and become the hands/feet of Jesus and reach out to those who are hurt/lost so that they can see/feel the light of Christ within us.

WE…yes WE believers…are the light that Jesus left behind to shine in His world.  God’s Son was made manifest into the being of a human, to carry the weight of all sin, even the sin of yesterday, so that hope could renew those who are hurting.  We are the ones who the lost will turn to, maybe to blame and throw out hatred since they can’t see God in the chaos.  But nonetheless, we are the ones who can share a comforting word that isn’t empty, provide hope where there doesn’t seem to be any, and offer a listening ear to a person who is hurting.  Service to others, is the very nature of Christ, and honors our Lord when we take the focus off of blame and intensifying hatred, and direct it to the one who is the great Healer.

Comfort seems to come in many ways, but the only comfort that can truly bring us to a place of peace, is through Christ Jesus.  When I cried yesterday listening to the news and saying, “Lord, this is a time when people may reject You.  How can we show them that you aren’t to blame?”  He responded with, “GO…”.  And however that is seen as a necessity in your interpretation, Go…

Don’t be afraid to answer questions from unbelievers.  Don’t be afraid when someone hates you because you represent the God they think abandoned them.  Don’t turn and take the hate personally.  Open up your heart and mind to the mind of Christ, and offer the words He puts on your lips to comfort.  When someone’s heart is beating a mile a minute, your touch could bring the calm they need…and point them in the direction of their loving Savior’s arms.

May all of those affected by yesterday’s senseless tragedy, find comfort in the arms of Christian believers who can offer hope.  May they find renewed hope in the news of Jesus and the grace and mercy He provides.  Lord, please give peace to those seeking answers. Please let the hands/feet of Jesus in that neighboring community reflect the light of Christ and encourage those who have questions/lack of understanding/lack of hope.  And if there’s anything we can do here, let us see your will and do it.

God bless everyone who reads this and may they take Your blessing and run with it.

Posted in Faith

On understanding forgiveness

Forgiveness is not easy.

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

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

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

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

Source: gatheringlex.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: trulyrichmom.com

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

 

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

In this context, I feel a real urgency.

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

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

So, what does this have to do with forgiveness?

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells all believers to go against their instincts of hate and rejection.  We are told to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Simple enough?  No way!  That’s easier said than done.  If you’re like me, you’re thinking, ‘Why should I be praying for them?  They’re jerks!’

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

Source: betsyfromtennessee.blogspot.com

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

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

Their enemy status is not just against us.

It’s against Him.

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

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

It’s not me they’re hurting the most.

Heck, it’s not even about me.

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

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

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

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

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

Source: heritage-christian-university.blogspot.com

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

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

Posted in Faith, Family

Choices (part 2)

Today, May 2nd, is an anniversary for me, and a sad one.  It is the day that the Cuyahoga County court gave my ex-husband and me, the divorce we wanted, five years ago.

Though I was the one to physically leave the home in November of 2006, my ex-husband was the one to file paperwork in January of  2007.  I had no idea what I was doing or how to go about the divorce/disillusionment.  I just wanted out.  He and I quickly agreed to terms (I let him keep the house because he had my dog, and I had moved to an apartment where I couldn’t have an animal), we split everything down the middle for the most part, I read through the first draft he gave me, questioned if there was any hope for us, and waited for the end date to come.  While I waited, I drank Miller Lite like it was going out of style.

When the day finally arrived, it was a Tuesday.  Thankfully I wasn’t present at the courthouse.  We were told only one of us had to go, and my ex volunteered.  I remember the day very well.  I was scheduled to tend bar that evening and had woken up late that day around 9am.  I didn’t even want to get out of bed.  I felt so anxious.

Finally my phone sang on the coffee table at the rental I was sharing with a roommate.  I don’t remember the exact time, but the words were in black and white.

The text read, “You’re free, have a nice life.”

 

 

I think that’s when I started shaking.  I, who had gotten sick of his verbal abuse and finally stood up to him, now all of a sudden had a shocking realization: I WAS COMPLETELY ALONE.

I had gone through moments since I’d moved out of the house, battling the confusion I had in my mind: thinking maybe we’d work things out, maybe I’d still have to chase him to bars, maybe we’d do counseling, maybe we’d have kids and they’d never know their father because he chose not to be home with me, maybe we’d learn to love each other again even though I was completely numb.  I believed anything was possible with God.  After all, I’d returned to church and felt renewed in my faith.

Yet, when the text came that alerted me to the freedom I’d prayed for so much, I shook with fear, thankfulness, timidity, joy, and anger.

At that moment, I freaked out.  Had I done the right thing?  Had I really disliked his behavior so much that I went against the commitment I had stated in front of God, family, friends??  Was this even allowed?  What if my selfishness at wanting to be away from him kept me from Heaven?  Doubt and fear consumed me, and I had never felt so scared in my life.  The battle in my mind continued for months.  And my behavior declined as I began to self-destruct.  

That is one time that Satan really had a hold on me.  I began doing drugs with the people who would come into the bar.  A lot of the patrons were not shy about their extracurricular activities, and I finally felt “FREE” so I had no one to answer to, but myself (or did I?).

I lied to almost everyone I met.  It became such a pattern, I couldn’t even keep the lies straight.  I called off of work just because I didn’t want to get out of bed.  When I did go to work, I went to my day job still hung over from the night before.  I was working two jobs to pay my bills, and more than anything, I just wanted to die.  I eventually got to a place where I was okay with my marital choice, but the shame I had caused in myself had overwhelmed me.

I met a man who I got along with really well.  We talked a lot, but I even lied to him, because I began drinking so much, that my life revolved around the bar scene and I couldn’t keep my days straight, my details, my lies, etc.  I was a wreck!!
I almost lost him.  My heart hurts as I remember the shock and heartache at him leaving.
I remember one morning that changed everything.  He and I would go to a place by the lake that only the two of us knew about.  We would go there to talk and listen to one another.  Our friendship had grown over a period of eight months, and we trusted each other (or so we thought).  When he showed up at my rental unannounced, and assumed something had happened (which hadn’t, but with my track record of lies, I’m not sure I would’ve believed me), he sped off.
I called off work (again) and took off in my car.  I went to the lake, and sure enough, found his car there.  I walked to our spot, and he was just sitting there, fuming.  I don’t think we talked for some time.  We just both stared at the water.  We didn’t sit near each other.

Eventually, we had to be real with each other.  We had become best friends, so we had to say something.  And finally we did.

We screamed, we argued, we cried, we laughed, we yelled some more.  But eventually, we broke.  We sat there holding each other, realizing our lives were both complete messes and we had to make some serious decisions if we were going to take our relationship further.

We made a verbal commitment to each other to get rid of all the things in our lives that made us less of who we were meant to be.

We vowed to never do drugs again (and I can proudly say I haven’t SINCE), and we promised each other that we would contact one another if we ended up in a sticky situation that could turn ugly.

We became accountable to each other, and love blossomed where disgusting darkness once lived.  Where I felt Satan holding on tightly to my disobedience to God, his grip began to loosen as I began to stare into the darkness without fear.

I dove into Bible study.  I slowly pulled away from the bar scene.  I had already quit my job as a bartender, I just had to stop going to the bar on the days that I felt bored.  I prayed that God would transform my mind, as I believed Scripture says in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I became more aware of my decisions and my choices.

I realized that just because a peer wanted to do something, didn’t mean it was right, and I was free to say NO if I wanted.

I also attended a bible study at my church which was based on the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  

The truths that were provided in that book helped me realize that I did have a voice, I could make my own decisions, and not everything I did had to end in shame/regret.

I began to protect my body, my mind and my heart.  I recommitted my life to Jesus Christ and walked away from a lot of the temptations that used to have a hold on me.  I’m still a work in progress, but where sexual sin used to abound, it no longer even entices me.  Satan lost the battle on that one.

My best friend stayed close to me, believed in me, and began to go to my church with me.  His eyes were opened to the truth of the gospel too, and he recommitted his life to God as well.  He changed his harmful behavior and let the Lord open up his heart to the idea of loving again, knowing this time it would be reciprocated.  We made choices that benefited our own lives, but also each others’ lives.  We gave God complete control of our lives, and learned to step back and wait for His response in certain situations.  The love that blossomed from the ugliness of our pasts grew into a full-blown relationship, dating season, engagement and now a new marriage.

I trust no other man as much as I trust my husband. He has seen me at my worst, and never rejected me. He loved me when I felt unworthy. He endured watching me let go of “old Grace” and rejoiced with me when I was able to get my license back, name cleared, a new job, new car and a new home. He stood by me when I thought all hope was lost, and he provided constant attention and encouragement. He is such a remarkable human being.

I catch myself staring at my husband every day and in my mind, I let myself go back to one of my old memories. When he asks me what I’m thinking about, I just reply, “You” and we both smile.

I wish every wife would take a moment to look deep into the eyes of the man they married, and remember the newness of meeting him, getting to know him, and falling in love with him. Initial feelings of lust do subside, but the longevity of love, trust and commitment can withstand time. With time, comes familiarity and a closeness that bonds us together so incredibly. And with Jesus at the helm, we are accomplishing much.

Though I divorced my first husband and felt guilt at leaving a then-hopeless marriage, could it have been saved?  Knowing what I know now about the power of God, my answer is yes.  Yet, I live in the present.  That time is gone.

I did have to forgive myself for not believing God could restore what my ex and I had broken.  I had to learn to love myself again and see myself the way God does, covered in the robes of Jesus’ righteousness.  I will not rejoice that my first marriage is over, but will continue to pray for my ex-husband that he sees the need for God in his life, that he surrenders to him, so that maybe we can see each other again when this life is over (who knows, maybe even before).

And for now, I’ll be happy with the choices that brought me Kevin’s love, and the desire to know my Lord more.

Every disgusting memory I had in my old life is blurry, every unfathomable scene that haunted my mind in fear of losing God’s grace is gone, every lie that Satan told me has been conquered with the truth of the gospel.  

I’m not indestructible.  I’d like to say that I conquered sin, but that was Jesus’ job, not mine.  I know now to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) to fend off the darkness that consumes us even though we can’t see it.  We are at war with the unseen, in a struggle for power over our souls, and I am not letting Satan have me.  God claimed me long ago, and I am now strong enough to stand under His protection.  My choices now are to accept my past faults that led me to a new life in Christ, accept the forgiveness for my sin and the redemption of my life from my Heavenly Father who fought for me, and accept the outpouring of love from a man who overwhelms me with his adoration.

Posted in Faith

Seeing purpose through pain

Fellow Bible readers: How many times do we read passages in the Bible over and over, but just once we seem to read it differently and where there once were just words, suddenly there are intricate jewels that are aimed directly at our hearts?

Gleaning wisdom

While reading a passage from Scripture this morning, my eyes were opened to an incredible characteristic about our Father.

In 2 Peter 3:9, the passage begins, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is PATIENT toward you…”.  I couldn’t even read on. The light bulb went on!

spiritual connection

I want to share with you two revelations I had.

My first thought was the countless times I perceived God as being slow.  Many times in self-righteous anger I had cried out, “What is taking so long?!”  I was also reminded of other times when Christian friends talked about making a difficult decision, but were still undecided because they felt God wasn’t answering their prayer.

We’ve all been there.  Don’t we initially blame God when things don’t happen the way we want them?  But oh when they do–to our unbelieving friends, we proclaim the goodness of God and miracles, answered prayers, yada yada yada…it seems we’re ready to parade Him when the outcome is what we want, not so much when we are told to wait.  We really need to check our hearts and be careful of how we “sell” Jesus.  That is certainly not His intended goal.

Let’s take a look at something about God we may have never noticed before.  In the above passage, it begins with the Lord.  God wrote the Bible using humans. He took the time to speak to all of us and state that He is very aware of our desire for him to “speed things up”.  How do we know this?  He stated how some count His being slow as slowness.  He is not a fool.  We are the created beings.

However, He also clues us into something more detailed about Himself.  He elaborates to say where we consider Him to be slow, it’s not that He’s taking his sweet, old-time delighting in our agony.  He is actually being patient.

So what is so significant about this revelation?  Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s break that down.  What does patience mean?  We’re usually waiting for someone or something, right?  So where we’re becoming impatient and restless, God is being patient…for who?  US!  He isn’t moving or fulfilling requests like a genie because He has a well-developed and thought out plan!  Imagine that!

Are you feeling as humbled as I am now? I can remember so many times that I’ve doubted God heard my cry, but maybe, just maybe He was waiting for ME to do something.  This reminded me of a time that I didn’t understand where my life was headed, and I was getting tired of waiting.

I was twenty-one years old and hating life because I had found out that my boyfriend of two years had allegedly cheated on me with a married friend of ours.  The pain I felt inside was pure anguish.  I uplifted this guy and thought so highly of him.  Maybe it was the “idea” of him, and not his true self that I was worshipping, but nonetheless, the hurt was unbearable.

I was working at an office in Broadview Heights then and I was on a break all by myself in the back of the office, facing the woods. It was snowing outside and I was freezing, but at the time I was a smoker.

I hadn’t had a serious relationship before this man, and in my fear of being alone, I didn’t want to leave him, though I knew I deserved better.  I was scared, because he was five years older than me, and I didn’t have the best self-image.  I figured it would be best to talk it out with him, forgive him and move forward, but the anger of betrayal kept eating at me, and I was afraid I would never be able to trust him again.

Somehow in the midst of trying to think about how to solve my relational conflict, a voice inside me said, “Maybe you should just end it.”  And I knew the voice wasn’t talking about my relationship, but more severely ALL of them….as in, my death.

Then I began to think about it…car accident, slit wrists, etc.  How would I do it?  I can’t even believe that I was entertaining details about how to die, because I knew I could never do it, however facing my boyfriend and our mutual friend was the hardest thing I’d ever faced, and I knew mentally I wasn’t ready for it.  Instead of dealing with the hurt, I wanted OUT.

Bear in mind, I realize the selfishness of these thoughts left no room to consider my parents, siblings, friends, etc.  I wasn’t worried about how my death would affect anyone else. I  just didn’t want to deal with my relationship.  Looking back, it’s absolutely absurd.

And as I was contemplating all of these crazy ideas that I’m certain now was one of Satan’s deliberate attacks on my soul, it began to snow slowly.  I was still standing outside, half of a cigarette to go, watching the snowflakes land on cars, trees and eventually my coat sleeve.

I began to cry, because I didn’t know what to do, and my feeling of being helpless was overwhelming.  I took another hit off the cigarette and then looked down at my brown Carhartt coat.

All of the snowflakes were beautiful.

I laughed to myself.  How could I find beauty in these flakes?  And inside my soul, I heard another voice, again-not my own, say, “I make each of these different for a reason.”

I almost choked.  I coughed a few times.

And I took a few minutes to see the designs and patterns of these crazy, beautiful snowflakes before they were absorbed into my coat.  I put out my cigarette and just let out the cry that was at the corner of my eyes.

I knew it was God telling me that He knew my problem seemed so enormous at that moment, and I was unprepared, but in the scope of my life, that one moment learning about the betrayal would not define me.

My Lord did.

He designs snowflakes so distinctly and unique from each other.  I am not sure if I ever took the time to pay attention to that fact, but God sure had my attention that day.

I was a new believer.  I had just given my life to God when I was twenty, and was still not fully surrendering all parts of my life to Him.  But I knew of His presence and I definitely knew His voice.  That day, I stopped the thoughts of suicide in their tracks.  That is the only time I ever considered something like that, and am thankful that God made it snow.  He took a situation that I deemed overwhelming and unbearable and gave me purpose.

I went home, talked with my boyfriend, forgave him and told him that we had to cut ties with those “friends” if we were going to stay together.  I also told him that I had trust issues and was scared.  Forgiving him and starting over at that point didn’t save us from a divorce six years later, but it definitely started a course of action in my heart that I would depend on God and choose to see the designs and intricate patterns of His creation–including myself.

The second revelation I noticed in the passage listed above is the purpose of that passage.  Second Peter chapter three talks about the end of days, or the day that the Lord returns.  To state in verse nine, that God is “not slow to fulfill His promise” means that He will not return until everyone has had a chance to hear of His love and mercy.

He is being patient in not wanting anyone to perish, but for everyone to have an opportunity to see Him through general revelation and meet with Him through special revelation.  He has revealed Himself, as Romans 1:20 tells us.  He definitely has constructed a well-maintained world that He is a part of, and He still interacts with.  However, He is promising that the reason He hasn’t come back yet is because there is still work to be done on our parts.  We are to continue to spread the message (Matthew 28:16-20) and when everyone has heard, through God’s patience, He will return to collect His children.

God does indeed love all of us.  John 3:16 tells us that He loves us so much that He gave His only Son Jesus Christ, a part of Himself, yet completely separate, to come to the Earth and die for us.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a picture of the Milky Way, but it’s where we live.  For some reason unbeknownst to us little Earthlings, God chose this planet and our people (red, yellow, black and white), to be saved from the lives we didn’t choose through sin.

This amazing God who created the universe, the stars, planets, people, species, water, atmosphere, etc.  is the same God who is calling you to know Him.  He wants you to see what He’s doing, He wants you to see love in His people and come to know the truth about true love.  I live in the United States and unfortunately here, a lot of us are blessed beyond measure but we take it for granted.  We have so much, and yet still want more.

Jesus didn’t die for us to have happy lives and live until we die with no use for anyone else.  He died and rose so that we could see the power of God through the defeat of death!  Without death to fear, WHAT IS THERE TO FEAR!?  NOTHING!  May you know Him and the power of His love.  Remember that He isn’t slow in anything, but He may be patient because He has a purpose…one that includes YOU.

Posted in Faith

Letter to the empty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Gracie

Posted in Faith

HE IS RISEN!! ALLELUIA!

I woke up this morning and the tears just fell…I know it’s Easter morning and my spirit is rejoicing today because I know I’m free!! One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Matthew 28: 1-10,

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”  So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Jesus did just as He said He would. And in Luke’s account, He states how two of the disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus and were actually discussing with Jesus (though they didn’t know it at the time it was Him) and their understanding of His death. They were questioning where His body was and Jesus rebuked them saying they were foolish.  Didn’t they know that Christ had to suffer those things to bring His Father glory? My Quest Study Bible says in the sidebar that the reason Jesus called them foolish was because they were so caught up in their dreams of the Messiah establishing an earthly, political government that they missed His true intent: to rule the world through Spiritual power.

Continuing on in the story, Jesus then went to their house with them and after breaking bread with them, revealed to them who He was. God opened their eyes and they knew He was among them! (Luke 24:13-35)

My heart has been singing for the last hour because I know I’m free. The Bible also states that each believer should, “…Set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

I know the reason for the hope that I have. I was lost and am now found. I was blind, but now I see. Those words from the hymn “Amazing Grace” resonate within me so deeply because I know who I could’ve become if I’d stayed who I was, but now my life has meaning to it. I have a purpose and God has a plan for me. He disciplines those He loves, and I welcome those healthy boundaries so I can be under His protection. I delight in Him and am honored to be His child. Jesus rose from the dead to provide a way for me to go to the Father. Before I would’ve been TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE in my rags of sin and cloths of shame. But He dressed me in Himself and presented me to God to say, “She is mine.”

Good Friday was good because Jesus became human and died a human death to conquer death. He fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament and rose three days later to prove that He was (is) who He said He was. Nothing else is required by Him or us. The door is open to God and we can go to Him directly. We are free indeed! My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!

May you go forward and live as people of light. We are no longer restricted by the darkness, but are free in Christ!! That is certainly cause for celebration! If you were walking in darkness (1 John 1:6), I pray for you today, that you may walk in the light and be transformed! YOU ARE NOW ACCEPTABLE TO CHRIST!!

May He dwell in you richly! I love you.
God be with you and may He bless you!

Posted in Faith

Hey there…how are ya?

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

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

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

I’m glad I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, and be blessed!