Posted in Faith

Remembrance

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

This past week, made me do just that.

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

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

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

6.11.94 bg crusade

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCC Dive

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

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

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

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

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

Remember their message.

Reflect on how they pointed me to Jesus.

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

It’s your turn.

Who are the most influential people in your life?

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Posted in Faith

Clear vision

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

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

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

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The last picture of me with prescription glasses on. 🙂

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

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

Thankfully none of those things happened.

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

My husband was fascinated with this:

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

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How wild, right!?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this fair?  Should we even be doing this?

The answers, of course, are NO and NO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 8: 1-17 tells us this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Corinthians 4:4 states:

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

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

That is not the truth.

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

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

Matthew 7:3-5 says the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have one name:

JESUS.

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

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

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

This is blindness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully, there is a verse 10:

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

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

Love is possible.  Unity is possible.

Will you choose to have clear vision today?

Posted in Faith

Restless- a personal story of #FreshVision

It seemed like a regular Tuesday night.  My two stepdaughters were just leaving for the evening.  We had such a nice dinner, laughing and talking like usual, and then we said goodnight.  The only thing I could think of that would make my day complete was to relax with my husband in our hot tub.  Thankfully he had turned the heat up earlier so I just had to put my bathing suit on, and we went outside.

We sat back and relaxed our heads on the headrests, recapped the day, and shared some insights about a family situation we are praying about.  After about twenty minutes, we called it a night and were brushing our teeth side by side in the bathroom.  I took off my glasses, and rubbed my eyes.  Image

I work from home, and after being on the computer all day, I felt like my eyes were sandpaper. I was rushing to finish washing my face just so I could close my tired eyes!  And the only thought on my mind was how glorious it would feel in a few minutes to just rest.

I climbed into bed, locked my legs with Kevin’s and closed my eyes.  Kevin fell right to sleep, and I laid there awake.  I rolled over slightly, and felt completely restless.  I was so exhausted, and it was now time to be falling asleep. So why wasn’t my body cooperating??

I rolled over again toward the dresser and laid there for about five minutes.  “Okay, seriously?? This isn’t right…Lord, please let me go to bed.  I’m so tired…what am I doing UP!?”  His response: Nothing.  For a few minutes…and then…

I rolled over one more time toward Kevin, took his left hand in my right hand and complained to God again. “God, please help me fall asleep.”  When it was clear I was awake for a reason, I prayed again, “Okay, I’m up.  You obviously are keeping me up for something.  I’m listening.”

As I clung to Kevin, I began to drift off, but not to sleep or a wonderfully relaxing dream.  God began walking me through some painful memories.

Okay, WHAT?!

Let me jog back a few months so it makes sense.

Around the month of April, I had heard about a study at our church that the women’s ministry was doing called Captivating.  The study focuses on explaining a woman’s true identity in Christ, and how we are made in the image of God.  It also explains how the deception that Satan used in the garden of Eden against Eve set the framework for how Satan still lies to women today.  Because of this deception, we grow up not understanding how much Jesus really loves us, and we tend to believe lies that Satan tells us, because we believe God is holding out on us.  Because of that disconnect, we have emotional scars, and a skewed image of who God really is.

Needless to say, I was intrigued.  One of my friends in my life group had actually given me the book for Christmas last year, so I already had the book.  And being a divorcee, I wanted to go- obviously I have scars.  But because of my school schedule, I couldn’t take the time to devote to it that I wanted, so I planned to attend another event when it was available.  ImageWhen a time finally arrived where I could go to the study, I did.  It opened my eyes up to so much about myself, God and some issues I knew were there, but I didn’t know how to deal with.

During the actual study, I had prayed to God to reveal to me the root of many of the lies that I had believed.  I had asked God specifically to show me these moments so that I could learn the root cause of my sin, and see the path it set me on, so that I could truly accept His grace.  I wanted to examine each and every time that I had allowed someone else to take God’s place.  And I wanted to know exactly what I was holding onto, because I knew something was blocking me from fully being joyful.

God happily obliged…at 10:30pm on August 6, 2013.

 He spent all night replaying images of past events and times that I had been blinded to His truth.  ImageHe replayed many moments of my weaknesses, times I had felt left out, abandoned, lost. Image He also let me feel the physical and emotional pain of decisions I had made while feeling the above listed emotions.  Image

I remember laying in bed feeling completely frozen, and pinned down.

Images flashed in my mind of being young and in grade school.  I saw the faces of those who made fun of me, my appearance, my height, my awkwardness.  I saw images of being in high school and the faces of those who laughed at me for dressing differently.  I saw coworkers from a previous restaurant job picking on me, for choosing to “date” the guy who just got his ex-girlfriend pregnant.  I saw the younger version of me getting into a car of an airline pilot who wanted to take me out to a steak dinner, just so he could show me his boat later that evening, and try to get me drunk.  I saw someone who was supposed to be part of my new family making fun of me with someone I trusted, and I felt the humiliation when a certain ex-wife felt the need to get her girlfriends involved in my life, but I couldn’t say anything in retaliation for fear of what my stepdaughters might think about me.  And when I finally did snap, I saw the way certain family members turned things around to make everything my fault.

I saw my weakness in not being able to say no, I saw my hatred for those who made fun of me and tried to use me, I saw my disgust at my own actions, and I saw my shame.

God replayed the period of time that I was dating my first husband, and I visually reviewed in my mind the times that comments would fly out of my ex’s mouth about me while we were dating…comments that should have sent me walking, but in my desperation to not lose him, I let him say whatever he wanted, because later we would be intimate, and I believed that he loved me anyway.

I trusted people that should never have been trusted, and I tried to believe that they had good intentions, but I learned the hard way that adults can still play games just like high-schoolers.  I learned that no matter how badly I wanted to see the good in people, I needed to realize that some people are just bad, and you have to accept it.

Slowly but progressively, every incident began to deteriorate me.  Any self-image I had, was gone.  Any self-esteem I had, was depleted, and any belief I had that I could do better, was non-existent.

He brought to my mind how often I had tried to replace Him, with alcohol, men, busyness, all because I was seeking someone to let me know that I was loved and when God tried to answer it, I didn’t want to hear it.  I had married my first husband, knowing my heart wasn’t completely into it, but thinking if I was with him (my ex) long enough, he would change and things would get better. My heartache and drinking had only intensified when I realized what a fool I had been.

I became self-destructive during my first marriage because I knew I had made a mistake and didn’t want to own up to it.  And instead of asking God for help, I closed the door to Him and allowed Satan to let men try to answer the question of who I was.

Through the images, God kept repeating how He had loved me the whole time, but I kept drowning Him out.  As much as He would provide a sunrise, or a song on the radio with lyrics meant for my heart, I would avert my gaze, or change the radio station.  I was disgusted with God trying to love me when I felt unloved.

I felt helpless and weak reviewing these moments, but I had asked for them.  And as the tape replayed in my mind of these hurtful moments, I could see how I wasn’t willing to see God in the picture of my life.  I had always pushed Him away, because I wanted to be able to take care of myself, but my choices had cost me a marriage, and trust with any man.

And surprisingly at one point, he brought to my mind a conversation that another woman had posted about in the Proverbs 31 Online bible study website for the first week of “What Happens When Women Say Yes to God”.  This particular woman had brought up the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well.  In the story, found in John 4: 5-26, Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman (which is clearly forbidden in that time, as He was a Jew) at a public well, and in His brief, yet powerful encounter, He tells her to go get her husband.  The woman replies that she has no husband, and Jesus replied that He already knew that, and that the man she was with then, wasn’t even her husband.

God clearly explained to me that in that story, the Samaritan woman had never had a wedding ceremony.  The truth is that she was never married.  She was being rebuked by the Lord of the Universe for sleeping around!  He knew she wasn’t legally married, but that she gave herself away over and over again to men who would take her.

And even more bizarre, God took me back to room 100A at Lutheran West High School and a moment in time in Mr. Jim Fenske’s Christian Ethics class.  I could picture Mr. Fenske standing in front of his chalkboard, stating that anytime we sleep with someone, we give ourselves away.  Mr. Fenske wanted us to understand that when we make a choice for sex, it needed to be within the boundaries God provided.  That is where the blessing is.

God revealed to me that He designed marriage and He has made it clear, about the connection/bond/union that happens when two bodies consummate and become one.  His point was that we don’t have to marry someone in the legal court system for God to see us as married.  NOTHING GETS PAST HIM.  He sees everything.  And any time we give ourselves away to someone else during sexual acts, we are “marrying” them.  We become part of that other person, hence why the physical act of sex is reserved for marriage, because God explains that the unity of a man and a woman is beautiful and not distorted when it is preserved for just one person.  God blesses us when we don’t misuse this gift of our body.

What He was telling me was that we don’t have to be legally married to be considered an adulterer or adulteress in God’s eyes.  The second we sleep with someone other than our spouse (which means if you’re not married, you’re in a very bad spiritual position!), we are committing adultery.

I was blown away!!  I was scared, and moved to repentance for years already past, but boy did that insight answer a lot of questions for me!  He also reminded me of the verse about lusting after someone with our eyes.  Our heart has already sinned by doing so.  I believe God wanted me to really understand how serious my past had dragged me away from Him.  He needed me to understand how I had misused a gift from Him and how it had separated me from His true love.

During this evening with God, He was letting me know His reason for being upset with my previous decisions.  I hadn’t realized that something I had done as a teenager was blurring my understanding of Scripture.  I didn’t realize my view of love was messed up because I had tried to view sex and love, marriage and devotion through tainted lenses.  I was ashamed and repentant, overwhelmed and amazed.

Needless to say, I was emotionally drained after the events and these revelations going through my mind.  I felt completely exhausted and I remember coming back to consciousness with tears just all over my face.  Kevin’s alarm for work was going off…great, it was 4:30am!  I was planning on starting work at 5am.  I had no idea if I had even slept, or just gone through visual memory hell!  I prayed and told God that I understood what He had shared with me, and that I wanted Him to keep revealing things since it made me feel so close to Him.  I wanted to heal.

As Kevin got up and started brushing his teeth, completely unknowing that I had gone on the largest spiritual journey of my entire life, I prayed, “Lord, I’m so tired, and I want to start work…”

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He answered, “I got you through the night, I’ll get you through the day.”

Kevin came back into the bedroom and held me.  I didn’t say a word, I knew I had to get up and start working and I didn’t want to make Kevin late for work.  So I hugged him back, kissed him and told him that I hoped his day was quick.  He left the house, and I walked into the office and turned on the computer.

I began shaking my head.  I was in awe of what had happened.  I couldn’t believe that God had come through, that He had heard me and wanted to heal me, but that He was waiting for obedience…radical obedience from me first.

I have recently joined an online study that I’ve spoken about previously.  The whole premise is opening up to God and letting Him use us as we are, so that He can change us, teach us, lead us and grow us for His purposes.  We have to be willing to step out of the box.  When I had signed up for the study, I didn’t know when I was going to fit it in, or if I could even do it, but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to be part of a Christian community, devoted to letting go and surrendering to God.

Because I chose to say Yes to Him for this study, God chose the first week of this study to be the time that He overwhelmed me with some answers that would help me heal.  Because of radical obedience, He came through.  I knew He had heard me, but was just wondering when He was going to answer.

And out of everything He shared with me that Tuesday night, He reminded me of Jesus and His death, the cost of my sin, and the debt that is gone.  Every moment that had replayed has been forgiven by Him, and has been forgiven by me.  He needed me to see what He was healing me from, and how His love covered the shame and disgust I felt toward myself.

When I sat at the computer on the morning of August 7, I had a peace I cannot explain inside of me.  My focus for work was on target, my heart was at rest, and anything that I heard about during the day that normally would trigger heartache, anger or pain, didn’t have the same effect.  My view on life has changed so dramatically.  I’m writing this a week after the fact, just to confirm that the peace is still here.

On the night of August 6, God cleansed me from years of hurt and disobedience to Him, He showed me His truths that overruled years of lies, and He gave me peace that has proven to last over time.  I believe God forgave me years ago, on the cross THOUSANDS of years ago, to be exact.  But He met me at 10:30pm on a night when all I wanted to do was sleep.  He took me out of my comfort zone, and messed up my body clock just so He could tell me that He loved me and has always loved me, and that my life will never be what it was.  And I know that to be true.

I see now how my husband is one of my biggest blessings from God.  Kevin is so undeserved, yet so faithful!  I have someone who knows every intimate detail of my life story, and treats me the way God showed me that night- with undeserved mercy and love.  My husband reaffirms me every day, tells me audibly that I am beautiful, and reassures me that he isn’t the same man he once was.

God, the God of the Bible, is longing to share with every broken human heart that there is NOTHING that we can do that would be so bad that He won’t forgive us.  He needs us to ask Him for help to see sin in our lives.  When we live every day as if what we say/do doesn’t matter, we mask the need for Christ and we believe lies from Satan that we don’t need God.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Any time apart from Him is not truly living.

Jesus came to give life, but we have to seek Him out to find it.  Work is necessary on our part to turn to Him.  Jeremiah 29:13 is a promise from God that we will find Him when we seek Him with our whole heart.  If anything in life is distracting you from Him, He can’t be found.  But you can find Him when you make time in your schedule, when you call on Him first thing in the morning, when you are driving to work and need reassurance of His grace, when you royally mess up and you need His forgiveness, when you ask for truth and painful memories.  He will show up.  He will answer your deepest, darkest questions, and He will restore you like He did with me.  He will provide peace you can’t even comprehend (Philippians 4:7), and strength for the day when you haven’t slept a wink.

Will you choose to be radically obedient today?  Step out of your comfort zone and ask Him to show you what is holding you back from a peaceful time with Him, and an understanding of His true love?  If you know of something in your life that is preventing you from experiencing God truly, you need to repent and let Him love on you.  It’s overwhelming, but incredibly necessary.  God will provide #FreshVision for you when you ask Him.

May you have a “restless” night, and may our Lord’s peace be on you. 🙂

Posted in Faith

Committed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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