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! 🙂

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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

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.

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

Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that the starting gun?  Gotta run!

Posted in Faith, Family

Choices (part 1)

Our pastor made an interesting statement in a sermon last week that my mind has replayed, so I’m going to share it today.  At Church of the Open Door in Elyria, we’re in a sermon series about “Arrested Development” which basically is awakening ourselves to when our spiritual life is at a halt, and then doing something about it.

Pastor Jim’s statement was, “We are where we are today because of the choices we’ve made…”

Maybe you’ve heard someone make that claim before, or have even said it yourself.  It’s acceptance of reality, at this point in time.  In any self-analysis, we are evaluating ourselves completely naked (and Christ-followers are called to do it quite often).  And though it almost seems redundant or obvious to say that we are who we are because of what we’ve done or chosen to do, it is a fact that we ARE a product of our choices.

Figurative forks in the road are common (if you see literal forks, I’d love an SMS text of said event).  Choices occur daily, whether it’s standing in the closet determining what sweater will keep you the warmest today, standing in the line at a coffee shop debating between a chai latte or a cafe mocha, or driving to work and questioning whether to take a shortcut since traffic is at a slow crawl.

We make choices by the minute, and though the statement itself doesn’t seem to draw any dramatic conclusion, let’s walk through a self-evaluation I did recently.

Five years ago, I was bartending as a result of a layoff and working days/nights/whenever-I-could to get cash to pay bills.  My divorce wasn’t yet finalized, but my ex-husband and myself were living in two separate locations.  I was torn between two worlds.  I was praying about where to attend church because I missed the stability that had brought my life in the past, yet also drinking so heavily that I would pass out almost every night. I was a real mess and to be honest, my choices were based on the moment.  I was selfish and solely focused on Grace (my actual first name), not the grace of God that I so desperately needed.

Fast forward to NOW.  Present day, I’m newly married, have two amazing stepdaughters, two supportive families, loving and hilarious friends and a husband who is a gift!  He truly balances who I am.

I am now attending church regularly and feeding on the Word of God during the week without prompting.  I am aware of my sin, my need for grace and forgiveness, and write when the ideas come.  I am a student who in four years will have the skills to counsel others, with more knowledge than God has already given me.  Things have definitely rebounded.  But how did I get here?

Simply?  My response was surrender.  I chose to give up.  Five years ago, I was focused on myself and getting by.  I now know that I have obligations to myself, my Lord, my husband and my family.  Jesus has transformed my priorities.  And it’s a daily process of shredding my flesh and walking in the Spirit.  I still CHOOSE to give up.

I surrender daily to God to show a surrendered life, and to represent Christ to a hurting world.  I can’t do that if I’m drinking myself into oblivion, or disregarding my sin.  Where I used to drive straight to the bar to meet up with my “chosen family”, I now patiently sit in the Avon High School parking lot to pick up my stepdaughter.  Just seeing her emerge from the building brings me more joy than a cold beer ever did after a long work day.  And don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian, who like Donald Miller, still loves a cold beer, but my focus has shifted.

No longer is my life about drowning in sadness and self-pity.  It’s now serving others, because by doing so, my heart begins to overflow.

One of my greatest achievements is becoming a stepmom.  When I was younger, I chose to marry someone to have a family with them.  That didn’t work out, and it wasn’t for lack of trying.  We weren’t compatible and certainly chose to look past the warning signs (another choice that led to where I am now).

In marrying my current husband, I’ve acquired two teenage daughters.  He and I talked at length about having a family of our own, and decided we are content with our life where we’re at (another choice).  In time, when the girls are older, we’d like to serve in missions (another choice) and having a child at this point will change that dream.  Unless God has other plans, we’re fine with helping the girls decide on their future (yet another choice…see the pattern?) and then we’ll see where God moves us.

My greatest joy is helping to shape these young womens’ lives.  It’s a high calling.  Because of Kevin’s life choice, we (the girls and I) are now a part of each others’ lives.  I know when my husband asked me to marry him, there was no hesitation on my end.  I knew this guy was the top of the line and I felt peace in just being in his presence!

But accepting a marriage proposal from someone who already has an established family can be scary at first.  In the past, I never saw myself loving someone else’s kids.  I’ve heard before that, “No young woman ever wakes up and says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a stepmom’.”  And truly, that had never been a consideration of mine until I was divorced and actively dating.  I didn’t know of anyone who was happy in their step-situation.  I had heard horror stories from friends who had divorced parents, and never gave much thought to the heartache and anxiety that divorce produces.  If anything, when I said yes to Kevin, I thought I had signed up for heartache for the rest of my life.  But that hasn’t been the case, a relief to all sides!  I chose to commit to the girls too.

The reality is that I didn’t give birth to them.  I didn’t change their diapers or dress them, teach them how to eat/drink/talk/write, etc.  But I have influence in their lives now.  That is a choice I am most proud of.  Of course, I could decide to be selfish and live for myself…after all, they’re not my blood children.  But I simply can’t live like that.  Because of my marriage and my commitment to God and my husband, they ARE my children.  I have just as much of a commitment to them, as I do their father.  I have acquired them by marriage, but will never abandon them.  They ARE my life now.

Children, no matter what age, watch and absorb everything.  They read body language, listen to conversations in the household, can sense emotions spoken and non-spoken, and internalize what they feel.  I’m aware of the girls’ hurt and pray constantly and am actively seeking to stay in their world because I don’t ever want to cause pain for them that is in excess of what they’re already dealing with.  They’re amazing young women with many gifts/skills/abilities.  They teach me daily, and I love that they incorporate me into what they like to listen to and what they’re learning.  Their perspectives are so unique, yet beautiful.

The choice to remarry was a huge one, as well as to marry someone with children.  There is an ex-wife still present and I had to accept that this woman will be in my life for the rest of my life.  I had to accept that this was already an existing family and I could be rejected.  And for a time, I was/am.

But God has been working in the intimate small moments of our lives, and slowly turning hearts toward Him.  The reactions and changes have been dramatic, yet heartwarming.  And they’re worth it.  The step in faith, was a choice, for love, for the future, for surrendering to God to see what He could do in my life.  And I’m pretty amazed when I step back and analyze where I’ve come from.  I’m blessed….simply blessed because of my decision for Christ.

Things aren’t always rosy, but as a family, we definitely pull through the storms, respect and understand each other, and love shoots up and grows where thorns had once laid claim.

We are where we are today because of the choices we’ve made.  And I’m grateful!!