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

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

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. 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

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!!