Pebbles of Forgiveness

No ones knows the heartache
or the heavy burdens a child was forced to bear.
No one sees the daily struggles with which the past has cursed my present.
Yet there is a God who commands me:

Forgive.
Forgive.
Forgive.

The harms done.
The love spurned.
The abuse endured.

My Rock drops pebbles of forgiveness
to toss into the past
To sprinkle like refreshing rain
On those who were knowingly to blame,
Creating ripples of hope in their seas of shame,
And beginning to ease my memories and pain.

Beauty in the Broken

A beauty of incomparable proportions greeted my eyes this morning. The world has become a shimmering icy landscape. The tiny red berries that grace the leafless burning bush outside my window hang heavy with the weight of their crystal covering. The ground shines with the reflection of the light from across the street.

Oh, nature is paying a great price to be arrayed with such beauty. Limbs and twigs lay scattered across the lawn. Trees once holding their hands high now bend and sag under the weight of the ice. Creaking in the wind, they beg for relief from the load they have been forced to bear. With every strong gust of wind, more small limbs become casualties of this storm. How can such beauty be the result of something so destructive? And yet, it is.

As I sit in my quiet time spot, a squirrel hops onto the porch rail and begins a slippery attempt to make it to the feeder. A smile spreads across my face. He pauses, clutching the rail while staring through the window – is he reprimanding me for taking delight in his slippery predicament? He chatters as I chuckle. Eventually, he lets go of the slippery rail and hops to the ground without the seed he was longing for.

Here, in the midst of this beauty, I meet with the Creator of all things good and beautiful. I whisper prayers of worship and of heartache, of joys and of concerns to the One who spoke the world into existence. How I want my life to reflect the beauty, even amidst the destruction, just like the world around me is glittering beauty amidst the destructive ice. I long to proclaim the goodness and mercies of my Savior in the midst of this current trial.

I must confess it is hard on days like today. Last night, the nightmares came to torment me. I want to say that I don’t know what triggered them, but I do. So, I run. I run into the arms of my Savior, crying out to Him to steady the ache in my heart, the pain in my body from having relived the memories in my sleep. Sin is crouching at the door and I know it – I am choosing to run to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when the ache in my heart and the pain in body are crying to be numbed with the prick of the needle and the rush of poison that will aid forgetfulness.

Sitting in His presence, I read about a man who was instructed to build a tabernacle, a place of meeting, where God would dwell among his people. Moses and all of Israel obeyed. As I read, I am captivated by the God who chose to put the stone tablets where his very hand carved the commandments into the arc of the covenant or testimony. These commandments I have broken – all of them at some point or other, I am sure, if I could see as God sees.

Even while this storm is raging inside of me for poison and its empty promise of peace, God reveals his love. To cover the commandments, the men are instructed to build a covering…the mercy seat. On the mercy seat, blood of the sacrifice will be sprinkled. Tears coursing down my tired cheeks, the realization settles in my aching heart that this God who loves me always planned mercy for me and for you. From the beginning of time, He knew that we feeble humans were incapable of living holy and perfect lives. So, he provided the mercy seat.

Mercy. He chose mercy long ago for the way he would deal with sinful man. Covering the commandments, was the mercy seat, not the judgment seat.

But what is mercy? And how do I receive this mercy? The Mirraim-Webster Dictionary online defines mercy as “compassion or forbearance”; as “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion.” This is how God covered the commandments he knew we would break. He does not say we were not guilty – that would go against his holiness. Instead, he declares our guilt, but offers His Son Jesus as payment for our sins.

Someone once told me that mercy was God not giving me what I fully deserved. I fully deserve death and hell. I have broken the commandments of a holy and righteous God. “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a) “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Sin is falling short of perfection – and so that makes us all equal in one thing – we are all sinners because not one of us except Jesus Christ has lived a perfect life. Not many people like that word now a days because they find it offensive. But you know what? That doesn’t make it any less true.

So here is this hard, ugly, broken, beautiful redemption. Jesus Christ came. He lived a perfect life, was broken and died the death I deserved so that I could experience the mercy and grace of God. Just like the beauty of my ice storm. He ransomed me through His death on a cross – He paid God the price and bore God’s righteous anger so that I could be acceptable to God. My guilt and shame, my sin and failures, my falling to drugs and my unforgiveness. Jesus, in love and mercy, carried the punishment for that to the cross. It is a costly mercy and grace that He offers me, but through Him, God gives me hope of eternity in fellowship with him. My sins broke His body. My addictions and failures and stumblings nailed His hands and feet to the cross.

Jesus paid with His life to redeem my life, but He loved me that much. And here is the beauty of the broken: “Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 12:2.

Friend, if you don’t know what it means to be a sinner saved by grace, can I just ask you today to consider the beauty of a love for you that is so grand, so overwhelming, that it showed itself when Jesus spread His arms out willingly on the cross so that you might come to God?

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