And God Shows Up

God showed up yesterday in the midst of grief…well, He was always there, this I speak with confidence, even though He seemed silent. He was there in the friends who met me for breakfast. He showed His grace through the husband who hugged me and spoke tender words of love. He was present in the tween who threw his arms around my neck and said, “Mama, I love you.” And in the small treasures while I was sitting in my quiet time spot, He reminded me He was there. Oh, and when seven little Eastern bluebirds fluttered into the burning bush outside my window to devour the tiny red berries that graced the leafless branches, He reminded me He was there. 

These past few years have been hard. For days, the God who created me and who promised to always be present has often seemed absent. But He has been here, with me, walking faithfully through the hard things. There are things that I wish I could write, but words seem inadequate. How do I describe in words the bigness of the God who has held me or the depth of the kindness of my Heavenly Father?  He so lovingly arranged my life so that when the memories that I had tried to silence in my heart and mind, the things my body was going to relive, resurfaced and refused to remain silent, I was not alone. I was surrounded by people who would carry me in prayer and not judge the mess that I would eventually become. 

This God who knows all things had prompted my husband to work from home well before I knew that I was going to need him every moment of the day – loving me through the past. God put me in a small prayer group that I would end up spilling my mess to and they would pray me through it. This God whose love overwhelms me, put a pastor in my life that was willing to reach out to a counselor to get me the help he knew I needed. And then, his wife, who met with me when I didn’t know if there was hope.  When I stepped into a twelve step program and found help, God’s love was guiding me.  Looking back, I know that God was present in all the big things and all the little details, preparing me for the miracle of healing that He is doing in my life. 

I have rough days, weeks, months. But today isn’t one of them. Today is one of the days when I know His goodness is at hand, that He is encouraging my heart and reminding me of His promises. Today is a different kind of day.  There is all this joy spilling into my heart. I don’t really know how to explain it.  The truth of His Word is filling me up to overflowing and the promise of His presence is my confidence.  

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened,  and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, ESV) I have been some places in my life and I am so thankful that even when I was frightened or dismayed, I have discovered that the Lord is with me! He is faithful to His Word. 

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Living in the Light

“Mom, without the sun, there’s no color in the world. Imagine living always in the black of night!” my tween says, glancing up from his astronomy book. I smile and wait – knowing there is always more. “Imagine having to play with Legos without color! How boring would that be?” he looks at me incredulously. 

And my smile grows as I answer, “God is good to give us the sun, and the light, and the colors! But many people still live in the dark.” His eyes swell tears as he swallows back the pain. And so we talk about the God who spoke light into the darkness and created all we see.

Trying to imagine we live in the dark of night, without any light, we close our eyes. It is not as dark as before creation. We still have memories and images, reminders of light, streaming through our minds. Those who are without faith in Jesus Christ are blind, can’t see, are unable to recognize the colors of mercy and grace, of joy and hope. of forgiveness and love. Only Christ opens their eyes and is the Light they need to be given restored vision and understanding. 

This Christmas, as we string multi-color lights on the tree and hang pretty ornaments, may we remember that Jesus is the Light of the World. We are celebrating the One who comes as the Light in our darkest night.  Christ, the Living Word, speaks life to the dead. He fills the eyes of our heart with His Light so that we can see the goodness and kindness of God. And as people who are in Christ, we, who were once blind, now have the privilege of carrying the Light of the world to others! 

“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:4-5, NASB)

“But as many received Him (Christ), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor or the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. ” (John 1:12-13)

For more reading on Jesus, I encourage you to read the entire book of John. Jesus. May He be the LIght of your life! 

Grief

The darkness had not yet slid into the gray of the day,  not yet surrendered to the morning light, when my eyes cracked open. The black of the night reflected the pain in my heart. Grief weighs heavily some days. 

This is the season families gather and celebrate, when grown children return to the nest to wrap their arms around the parents that have grown them. Facebook posts of happy family outings, generations gathered together to celebrate just seem to be a knife stabbing the heart. Celebrating the Babe laid in a manger that long ago night who grew to carry the weight of the world, to set captives free. Joyous. And yet, my heart so deeply grieves. 

Grief seems rawest at what are supposed to be the most joyous times. Death and sin tinge joy with sorrow.

A friend suffers deep loss and she grieves. I watch her grieve with all this beautiful grace. I carry her in my prayers, knowing that even though she is doing well, grief interrupts life at the most unwelcome times. We were not made for death! Death was invited to become part of our existence long ago in a garden (see Genesis 3), but when God spoke us into being, He created us for life in communion with Him.

Grief is born not only from the loss of earthly life, but also from the robbing of earthly hopes and dreams. I was told at a young age that I had a broken womb. Children would not be part of my life, at least not naturally born children. I grieved deeply because of both the harm that caused the brokenness and the empty womb that resulted.

But, with God all things are possible – that broken womb cradled many children, two of whom my arms were privileged to cradle and I have watched grow. Still, there was another ache. The ache of a mother bereft of her unborn children. The inexplicable joy of being a mother tainted by the grief of the children my arms would never hold here on earth. 

These last few years have been years of deepest sorrow and grief. Grief that I was unable to name for so many years because Christian truths were supposed to wash away the heartache.  This pain stemmed from harm I endured years ago, years so far behind me that I thought I had outrun them. Still, heartache and pain when unacknowledged don’t really go away. They stay and take up residence in the heart, hiding in places and making themselves known in unrecognizable ways. 

It is this grief that weighs on me now. Unacceptable grief. Grief the church doesn’t know what to do with other than quote a Scripture at and claim that if I meditate on truth long enough, if I get involved in serving, if I follow the right equation,  the sorrow will resolve. It is messy, debilitating grief at times. It makes me feel incredibly alone. Like Tamar, the sister of Absalom must have felt after being raped by her  half-brother Amnon. Hide away your shame – well, no. Really, hide away yourself. Don’t let others see your heartache. Only her shame didn’t go away – and was never hers to bear anyway. Her shame festered in the heart of her brother Absalom, who eventually killed her rapist Amnon. Grief, unacknowledged, sin unpunished, destroyed more than a woman. It destroyed an entire family. 

My grief and shame are similar to Tamar, and they have ruined an entire family. Only, the shame was never meant for me to carry. And I was not the one who ruined the family. The shame and ruin belong to the men who harmed me and to the one who could have protected me and chose not to.  And holidays always accentuate the grief of a family torn apart by men’s selfish sins in my life.

And for you today: Grief is a part of everyone’s life. So, how do we handle it? How do we walk through grief without losing our faith? 

First, grief is not sin. No matter what we are grieving, the loss of a loved one, the loss of innocence, the wayward path a son has taken, the answer is the same. Run to Abba Father, crawl into His lap and just cry to Him.  He knows this world was not made for death and destruction, for the harm men (and women) do, for the sin that is so rampant. He knows that our hearts grieve. And He holds the brokenhearted.  “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 NIV) I know it may not feel like it, but your Heavenly Father sees your tears and cares. And you know what? He records those tears (see Psalm 56:8). He doesn’t chastise you for your grief, but welcomes you in to His arms of comfort. 

For those of you who have lost a loved one, grief is necessary. The depth of your grief is not evidence of lack of faith, but evidence of the depth of your love for the one you have said a good-bye to. We know we shall see them again, but some days, that doesn’t help the ache in our hearts when we miss them now, to feel their arms hugging us, to hear their voice. In moments of grief, we understand how beautiful heaven is, that we shall never have to say good-bye, that death is defeated! (See I Thessalonians 4:13-18) We do not grieve as the world. We grieve, but we also hope. Because grief causes us to feel lonely, I would recommend connecting with  a GriefShare at a church near you!

Only God can give us the faith to hold on to His promises when our hearts are aching and grief overwhelms. Surround yourself with His people who allow you to grieve freely without trying to fix you. People who love Jesus and aren’t afraid of tears or the messy truth of life in a fallen world.  People who keep the faith for you when you can’t keep it for yourself.

Another suggestion: if social media seems to flaunt all the happy families and accentuates your grief, don’t be afraid to take a break. I have to do that occasionally to keep  my eyes on Jesus and His many gifts instead of on the seemingly perfect families others have.

And finally, if you aren’t in a season of grief,  is there anyone you can support in their grieving process? Great support comes through your prayers and your encouragement. Pray for God given wisdom and words, pray for the person grieving to be able to hold on to the promises she already knows as she walks through this season.  Send her a card that lets her know how loved and valued she is. Be present and listen, without needing to fix it for her. Let her grieve. Let her cry. Listen to memories of her loved one or listen to her lament over the things done to her. Her pain needs to be seen and validated without a lecture or without someone trying to fix it. She needs truth, but she needs love first. 

Father, Thank You that when we grieve You are the great Comforter. I pray for the grieving today. Father, give them a friend to walk with them, an arm to lean on, a sister to share her tears. For those walking through grief with others, Father, will you just grant them wisdom and grace, an abundance of love and insight. Help them discern when to speak and when to remain silent. In Jesus’s Name. Amen. 

My True Love

My favorite movie The Princess Bride was playing on television while I was laying on the sofa struggling through a back injury. Nearing the middle of the movie, Buttercup has a dream in which she is introduced as the princess. An older woman in the crowd boos her and accuses her, “… you had true love in your hands and you gave it up.” And then, “Your true love lives. And you marry another. True love saved her …”and my heart cringes. 

Oh, perhaps this movie contains truths I would rather not face in myself. My true love Jesus lives, yet I tethered myself to drugs and alcohol when the  past came back to haunt me – as if they could save me. Jesus saved me in my youth from death and destruction. He stepped into a life marked by brokenness, drunkenness, and immorality to invite me to live a life of grace, hope and love – a life of sobriety and purity – through a relationship with Him. I responded without fear or hesitation. Love. True love saved me – it is what I found in Jesus’s presence. Love that did not wish me harm or abuse me. Jesus’s love is true and pure, protects and gives good gifts. 

When Jesus called me, I wasn’t afraid of what He might ask me to give up or what church said was necessary to live a righteous life. I wasn’t afraid that He would bring me harm. For the first time in my life I understood what it meant to be loved and accepted, to have an Advocate, Someone on my side. Jesus gave me love when I did not deserve it. He surrounded me with people who accepted me for who I was and who taught me to seek truth in Jesus. And His Word became my delight. I spent hours just devouring the Bible, reading, meditating and praying through it. I was a thirsty woman led to Living Water who drank deeply and discovered that true joy is in Jesus. 

My true love Jesus lives! Praise God!

But even so, after knowing His joy and dwelling in His safety for more than two decades, I turned to something else to save me…to give me freedom from night terrors and panic attacks. I swallowed pills, injected poison, and spilled alcohol down my throat. My heart is deeply grieved over the foolish mistakes that I have made, but in the midst of it, I have a true love who did not give up on me. Just like Westley pursued Buttercup when she was being carried away by an enemy bent on her destruction, Jesus pursued me. He followed me into the miry pit of addiction and did not give up on me.  Instead, He relentlessly followed me, called to me, and sought me.  Jesus. Jesus has not given up on me – even when I nearly gave up on myself.

As Westley led Buttercup through the dangers of the fire swamp, saving her from the fire, rescuing her when she steps into the lightning sand, and bearing the injuries from the rodents of unusual size, Jesus is leading me.  Seems kind of strange that Westley led his true love into danger to keep her from harm, but he did. In some ways, Jesus has done that for me. He has led me through the bitter circumstances of my past to keep me from the destruction of living with a gaping  and infected wound.   I am not facing flames or quicksand. Nor am I being attacked by rodents, but there are dangers in my life. The dangers come in whispered temptations to my heart. In the fire swamp, Westley taught Buttercup what to avoid, taught her the warning signs. Jesus has taught me and is continuing to teach me what the dangers are, and how to avoid them. He is constantly sweeping me off my feet and holding me in the safety of His arms. He is my refuge. 

And just like Princess Buttercup, who realizes she is making a mistake and turns away from marrying the evil prince who really intends to kill her, I realized that I had turned to a false love that intended to destroy me. Immediately, I fled back to the arms of my Savior and asked Him to forgive my folly and sin, to wash away my unrighteousness. Of course, I received grace!  He was with me all along, urging me to return to Him. 

For you today: Is there anything that you are turning to for relief from physical, emotional or spiritual pain? If there is, I urge you to turn to Jesus. No matter what you are struggling with, He is the only One able to completely understand and to help you in your distress. Popping pills will only help you to numb the pain or to feel good for a little while. Shooting poison into your veins will only bring psuedo-peace that doesn’t last. Sex will only feel good for a moment. Food will only squash the pain for an instant. Getting lost in a television show will only distract from the pain for a little while. And in the end, these things will begin to destroy you, leave you feeling empty and betrayed. Lasting peace and joy  are found only in Jesus.  

The God who created you loves you and desires good for you. Whatever trial or struggle you are going through, may He give you eyes to see His goodness in the midst of it. May He cause your  mind to call to mind all the ways He has displayed His mercies and compassions to you in the past! I know the road is broken and can be extremely painful, but you are never alone. Your True Love has saved you and is in your fire swamp with you! Listen to His voice and wait for Him to rescue you. 

“I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
 So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”         
                                                                                                                 Lamentations 3:19-24   (emphasis mine)        

                   

Forgiveness

Life is hard. Getting everything right is impossible. I hate when I make mistakes. I hate causing other people pain. I hate failing and I hate that I break God’s law (sin).

Yet, I feel like I have hit the self-destruct button in recent days. I have failed in so many ways. I have messed up a lot lately, backed out of commitments, spoken harshly, made huge mistakes that have affected others, battled for sobriety harder than anyone but a fellow struggler could understand. In the end, I have collected consequences of my own bad choices. I have repeatedly responded out of the anxiety and pain in my heart rather than out of faith in God. Instead of trusting that even though I was afraid and hurting, even though everything seemed to be spinning out of control, God remains in control. So, I chose to try to keep myself safe. Entrusting myself to God’s care is another of the things faith chooses (and that my 12 step program teaches). Through God’s Word, I know how important it is to acknowledge my sin before Him, repent, and ask for forgiveness.  And through the twelve step program I have been involved in, I have learned the necessity of acknowledging to the ones I have hurt the damage I have done and to make amends.

And so I have. Four times in the last four days I have gone to four different people and acknowledged my shortfalls (my sins), acknowledged the hurt that I caused them both unintentionally and intentionally. I have humbly asked forgiveness from each of them. I am thankful for the one who has responded by extending forgiveness.

Not receiving forgiveness from the three others makes me feel insecure and question whether I have offended beyond their ability to forgive. Hurting others has deeply grieved my heart. The broken relationships deeply grieves my heart. Questions keep playing over in my mind. Have I so destroyed the relationships with my mess-ups that they can’t be restored? Will the damage I did to the person be a scar she carries or will she heal? Please Jesus, help her heal.

At the same time, I am ever aware that not one person I have hurt is required to forgive me – they have the freedom and the right to deny me forgiveness. It hurts. It is humbling, but the truth is, her hurt matters. I am the one in the wrong. Just because I am ready to recognize my sin, ask her forgiveness, and continue in relationship does not mean she is required or ready to forgive. And truth? She may never be ready to forgive me or trust me again. That is her choice and her right. I have to accept where she is at.

And you may be thinking this all sounds hopeless, so why even bother? What if I am not forgiven by the ones I hurt? What if I am never reconciled to the ones that I have offended? The hard part of making amends isn’t confessing the harm to others (let’s face it- they already know) or asking for forgiveness. Being rejected and having a deaf ear turned to the request for forgiveness is the hard part. Knowing that the harm caused runs so deep that the offended party is unable to forgive is the most difficult thing – and something I deeply grieve. Yet, maybe God can somehow use my confession of hurt I’ve caused and the request for forgiveness to spur the other party’s healing forward, to bring her some kind of peace. So, no matter the cost or the humiliation I may experience, I am compelled to confess my wrongdoing and to seek forgiveness with the ultimate goal of reconciliation (if possible). All along, I pray that even if forgiveness is beyond her ability, that God will use my words to move her to healing.

All this talk of not being forgiven, I want to end with the best news: God forgives. Every one of my sins (and yours) is ultimately against Him (Psalm 51:4). And praise God! He promises that if I confess my sin, He will forgive and if you confess your sin, He will forgive. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9) Whether or not others choose to forgive me, I am forgiven by the One who every one of my sins has been against. Not only am I forgiven, but He washes away the filth of my sin.

Before God, I don’t have to wonder if I am okay. I don’t have to question if my sin was too big or the harm I caused too much for Him to forgive. The minute I turn to Him, confess that I have messed up, that I have failed to hold on to His truth, He forgives me. He welcomes me back into fellowship. Through Christ, I have peace with God! This is part of the gift God has given me through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus.

Oh, it doesn’t take away the consequences. And really? God forgives me, but the ones that I have hurt are still hurting. That will grieve my heart as I pray for each one to know the peace of God in the hurt and as I plead with Him to write healing in their hearts as He has in mine. Thankfully, I can hold on to the promise that one day, He will make all things right. One day, when Jesus comes, all relationships will be healed and He will wipe away every tear. In the meantime, I am learning to walk in the forgiveness that I have in Christ, while praying for the ones that I have hurt  to be brought to healing.

And for you today? Have you hurt someone – intentionally or unintentionally? Are you ready to make amends and seek forgiveness for your failures and sins? If you are, I encourage you to pray today, seek God, asking Him to prepare not only your heart, but also the heart of the person you have wronged. Then, step out in faith and courage, confident that the One who has called you is with you. Confess your shortfall (sin) to the other person and ask forgiveness…without expectation of receiving an apology for the part they may have played in the situation…without expectation of receiving forgiveness. The other person may not forgive – you can’t change that. But by acknowledging the harm that you have done (without excuse) and asking forgiveness, you are giving value to the other person. You are also choosing to live peaceably as much as you are able.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  ~ Romans 12:18

Who Am I Really?

I sat this morning asking Jesus who I really am, begging Him to show me. I sat a long time with that question before Him. I don’t know about you, but I struggle. I am in recovery for addiction. I am a survivor of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. I am a failure at everything that matters in life – my faith failed when Jesus would have held me firm. I have a laundry list of negative labels that I have worn. Shame that I have carried.

Maybe you have some things that are stumbling blocks, sins, struggles. Maybe you identify yourself, like I have identified myself,  by the things that trip you up: addict, liar, thief, cheater, failure, felon, abuser, glutton, fool, sluggard, slacker, scoffer, murderer, prodigal, prostitute, adulterer, orphan, and so goes the list of self-condemning truths.  Maybe all your failure adds up and paralyzes you, like mine has me in the past.

Or maybe, you have carried the label of the things that have harmed you: divorcee, victim, abuse survivor, hated, rejected, sex traffic survivor. Or maybe there are those life situations that you have been through that made you feel like you were less than: unemployment, poverty, infertility, physical disability, mental illness.

I am sure that there are more than I have listed. But really, in Christ, none of my failures (or successes) or sins or my addictions or the things done to me or the things I’ve done right are my identity. God has promised that I am someone new.  In 2 Corinthians 5:16-18(ESV), Paul instructs us not to think of anyone according to the flesh. That laundry list of labels that I have worn like a millstone around my neck, letting it weigh me down,  is not who I am in Christ.

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From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.    ~ 2 Corinthians 5:16-18

In Christ, I am a new creation. In Christ, you are a new creation. The moment I turned to Christ, the old things passed away. The moment you turned to Christ the old things passed away – they are dead. That drug addict I once was is dead – even if I have given in to the temptation, I have sinned, but it is not my identity. In Christ, I am a new creation. That woman who had an abortion, in Christ, she is forgiven and has nothing held against her. That woman whose husband left her because, according to him, she just wasn’t wife material, her husband’s failure to see her value is heartbreaking, but it is not who she is. The one who was just released from prison because she siphoned money out of the company bank account, in Christ is blameless.

No longer. I am no longer a victim. I am no longer a survivor. I am no longer a denier of the truth. In Christ, I am a new creation. In Christ, I have a new identity. That laundry list of failures and accusing identities was removed and cast into the sea without me.  Thank you, Jesus! Now, I am something new. In Christ, the same is true for you as well.

And so, if today finds you asking, “Who am I really?” Let me answer. If you have surrendered your life to Christ, you have been adopted. If you were an orphan, you are now a member of a family – God’s family. He is your father and you are His beloved daughter. (Galatians 3:26). If you are in Christ, you are now an heir according to God’s promise. You are God’s chosen one, holy and beloved, forgiven (Colossians 3:12-13). All the identities you once wore, no longer belong to you (Colossians 3:11). Instead, you belong to Christ and all the things that once identified you are dead. No longer a slave to drugs or alcohol, no longer controlled by pornography or sex, no longer a servant of the flesh  – so when the body cries for heroin or alcohol or marijuana or sex or food or some other worldly desire, you no longer have to answer the call. Jesus has overcome the flesh (didn’t he die and raise from the dead?). In Christ, when you turn your eyes to Him, is victory.

Jesus Christ has wrapped you in His identity. So, the more important question isn’t who are you, really, but who is He?

 

In the Potter’s Hand

Cold hard lump of terra cotta colored clay warms and

begins to bend to the command of his hand.

He rolls, pinches, squeezes, entices it to form to his will

until his heart is satisfied and his hand falls still.

He looks lovingly at the clay his hand has urged,

from a useless lump a beautiful masterpiece emerged.

The worthless forever formed by his hand into priceless treasure

as it responded and obeyed the potter’s will and pleasure.

He fires it hot to ensure that it will hold fast its form

through sunshine, rain or violent storm.

 

But now, Oh Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay and you are our potter; and all of us are the work of your hand.       ~Isaiah 64:8