Forgiving (Part 2)

“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 10:22) (New American Standard 1977)

I told you I’d let you know how I progressed with forgiving the woman who swindled me by advertising herself as a doula, taking my payment and then not attending the birth of my son.

Every time she crossed my mind for a few weeks after my post, I prayed for her. It was awkward. My prayers were short. Then one day I transitioned from asking for God give me His forgiveness for her to praying that HE would forgive her. (Like Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him while he hung on the cross). This was a breakthrough for me. I am confident that the Holy Spirit put the idea into my head.

I found a tremendous relief and freedom when I prayed this way. Somehow when I asked God to forgive her, I felt love for her. My heart softened and changed.  I also received a strong impression in my heart that this woman had gone through something awful at a young age.  I am able to pray for her now without hesitation to be forgiven and healed, redeemed, and restored.

Of course, I would not seek her out for doula care again or recommend her to others. But I do hope she finds healing for her wounds, whatever they are. I like to imagine meeting her in heaven someday and embracing her joyfully. That might sound a little crazy but it is absolutely the truth.

Can you believe it? Such a beautiful change in my heart. What wild, crazy, scandalous love God has filled us with! What amazing things we are empowered to do through Christ! God enables His children to forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable, and hope for the unimaginable.

 

(Tree in a mud puddle–Beauty is everywhere.)

Shifting

“Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.” (Ps. 127:3) (NIV)

From the moment I found out I was pregnant I started moving things around. I was shifting my medications, changing my way of thinking, changing what I was eating. Shortly after all that, I began sorting through the attic to remove unneeded items and clothes.  I must have toted 25 huge trash bags to the curb.  I think I donated three lawn and leaf sacks full of clothes and shoes.

Next the contents of the soon-not-to-be-spare bedroom were shifted, sorted, redistributed and rearranged, repeatedly.  As it slowly, no, make that painfully slowly, was transformed into a nursery.  I shifted out of our house as much stuff as I could bear to part with and then, after the baby showers, I began the process of shifting our remaining things around to make room for the new things.

Babies take up space. The space they take up is shocking.  Such a little person taking up so much room! First in the womb (talk about a tight fit!), then in our hearts, homes, arms, and our minds. (Oh! And we mustn’t forget the photo/video storage space on our phones.)   In our culture we believe that babies require a large amount of baby gear.  Cribs, swings, changing tables, diaper bags, diaper pails, swings, high chairs, play yards, toys, clothes, diapers, blankets, bottles, baby food, sleep monitors, wipe warmers, tiny thrill rides that jiggle them around as if they were riding in car…the list continues ad nauseum.

( The bookcase I used to use for storing books is now anchored to the wall. The bottom shelves are held in place with drywall screws.  My knick knacks have been shifted upward twice.)

My little house is bursting at the seems!  There were times when Ethan was tiny that I felt like I had no room to walk around.  Every time I could discontinue the use of a baby item and shift it to the attic I rejoiced.  Goodbye, Bassinet! See you later, Baby swing!

Strangely, the amount of stuff never seems to decrease.  My attic is fuller now than it was before I started cleaning it out.  For every tote of my old clothes I removed there is now a replacement tote of Ethan’s old clothes.  I can walk around my house nowadays, as long as I dodge the laundry baskets and toys, but the attic is slowly being closed off to traffic…

The bassinet and baby swing that I gleefully packed away immediately gave way to ride on toys, a playpen, baby gates and a toy box. The pumping supplies and bottles were replaced with tiny bowls and sippy cups.  Infant toys have been replaced by twice as many toddler toys.  (I think the toys are being fruitful and multiplying…)

I have come to a place where I am not necessarily in a hurry to discontinue use of the current equipment, but I know soon my strong and intelligent kid will overcome all my containment strategies. I deeply hope when that time comes he will choose to bother me in the bathroom in liew of more dangerous pursuits.

There has definitely been a huge amount of internal shifting in me since I have become a mother, and I know there have been big shifts in my marriage.  But effort of making room for Ethan has been exponentially rewarding.  Our house truly is bursting at the seams. I cannot add one single piece of furniture without first removing something to make room.  But since Ethan moved in, our house is also bursting at the seems with love.  He has filled our lives with so much joy. He shines so brightly for me that I call him my “baby sun”.

(My “Speghetti Night” Ethan)

Every night before I put Ethan to bed we pray. (I mostly do the praying but he is learning.) Every night I thank God for him and for the time I got to spend with him that day.  Even when the day was difficult, even when Ethan himself may have been difficult to manage, I mean it from the deepest part of my innermost being.

Thank you, Father, for Ethan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering

A few years ago my heart was breaking. I was struggling so painfully trying to make sense out of a senseless situation. God seemed far away and no one I knew could comfort me. Today I want to tell you the story of how I found peace.


To begin this story I need to back up and begin over 20 years ago…because it took me a long time to figure out the things that made me able to find that peace.
 

When I was 17, I decided that either God was not good or He was not all
powerful. I was angry at many things in my life but mainly I was angry at God. 
My mother tried to woo me back to faith by expressing God’s love for me.
“Why would you care if someone loves you if you think they are a jerk?” That was my response. (I weakened my language out of respect for my Mom.)

I believed in God, that He existed. (Despite great effort I could not bring
myself to believe God was not real. Please believe that I tried. Atheism would have been a sweet relief for my tortured soul.) I still believed in Jesus and sin and our need for forgiveness in order for us to enter Heaven. I still believed in hell. But I did not believe that God was good. 

How could a good God condemn people to hell for eternity? Eternity–we can’t
even wrap our little minds around what that means. Eternal punishment for
temporal sins, committed by people hurt and beat down by life, twisted by their
pain who can’t even conceive of eternity.  How is that good?

How could a good God allow the incredible suffering that is not caused directly by sin? Disease. Famine. Natural disasters. Only He has control over these
things. They are not caused by any human using their free will to hurt another.

How could He promise healing to His people of their afflictions but then not
heal them when they go through all the steps the Bible lays out to receive
healing. For example, innocent children dying from cancer while their parents
cry out in anguish to a silent sky.

What kind of God offers salvation from hell, only to in the next breath demand
that we live in complete obedience and must confess and repent of any sin to
maintain our promise of heaven? (When I was a little girl, every night I would
pray for God to forgive any sin that I might not know or remember I committed. I was afraid if I died unconfessed of my sins in my sleep I might go to hell.) I was taught that God wanted us to become perfect, but I could never seem to find the power to change, no matter how much I begged, cried, studied the scriptures or had others lay on hands and pray for me. 

I refused to fake it. I sat sullen in church. I refused to lay down when the
speaker laid hands on me. If I became offended during church I stood up, walked out of the sanctuary, and sat in the bathroom until the service ended.  

I noticed that my church was full of people faking it. You see a lot when you
stop closing your eyes to pray. They were good people. They wanted to be holy,
their hearts were sincere, but they only seemed to really pull it off while they were at church.

I remember one service where two people came to pray for me. The one on the left prayed compassionately that “a bruised reed He will not break.”
The person on my right seconds later prayed warningly that those who fall
“on that stone [Christ] will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls
will be crushed.” I almost laughed out loud in my frustration. Everyone
who prayed for me prayed that I would cease to be confused.  I was not
feeling confused. I felt like I was waking up.

This church preached heavily against the evils of legalism, but dictated petty rules. For instance, anyone over age 12 could not wear shorts to services and a teenager could not attend the adult Bible study until they were both 18 and graduated from high school. It didn’t matter if the teenager was bored to tears in youth group or that all her (slightly older) friends had moved out to
be with the adults. Rules were rules. I think they were confused about what legalism is. It infuriated me. But it wasn’t my frustration with that specific church that broke my faith. It was the burden of Lordship Salvation that I had carried since childhood.
 

For years I heard messages like: “If you are not hearing from God then there is
sin in your life.” and “If Christ is not the Lord of your life and if you are not obedient in all things you are not saved.” I tried. I tried so hard but I always seemed to fall short. Finally I came to the place where I was a senior in high school and begging God to tell me where to go to college. I did this for months and heard nothing. I finally just decided to go
where I wanted to go.  I quit even trying to hear from God. I decided that I would screw up my life on my own without first wasting my time and energy trying to get guidance from a God who never answered me.

I didn’t stop believing but I stopped trying. I stopped following. I sat down
in my Christian walk and refused to continue onward. I stopped going to my
family’s church. I went to chapel when I was at my Christian college because it
was required. I even went to a Sunday service elsewhere a few times for a
variety of reasons.  But I was always guarded and I never found what I was
looking for. My parents even managed to get me to a service at the Jacksonville
(Florida) Revival that was happening in 1998. I was unmoved in my resolve. I
would have answers or I would not have a relationship with this God. I knew that I could never go back to my old life of trying to stay saved. Obviously, I did not have what it takes to succeed. It seemed to me that if God sent Jesus to save us because we could never be good enough to save ourselves–why was my salvation still dependant on my behavior?  

Until I was about 23 I pushed God away from me as hard as I could. I casually
looked for answers, real answers to my hard questions, but no one who tried to
“save” me could ever explain. I learned to swear like a sailor. I did what I wanted. When it suited my purposes, I dropped my morals like a hot potato.  I stopped calling myself a Christian because I knew my behavior would only hurt and confuse young believers and reinforce the opinions of people already suspicious of Christianity.  I openly expressed my anger at God to whoever wanted to talk to me about such things. I remember one time a Christian lady I was speaking to actually became afraid that God would strike me dead for my extreme irreverence. 

But the Spirit never stopped drawing me to God. I was in constant turmoil under
my anger. Finally, one day as I was driving home I cried out to God,
“I cannot believe that You are who I have been taught You are. Show me
who You really are!”

After that I went on a quest for my answers, a quest for truth. I read some
books, like The Case for Faith (by Lee Strobel) and Mere Christianity (by C.S.
Lewis).  I read dozens of articles on free grace and eternal security. I attended a house church intermittently for a while, the relaxed atmosphere helped me feel safe. Nobody was trying to impress anybody else there. Most importantly I reread the scriptures like a woman obsessed. I wanted to know what they really said versus what had I been taught and blindly accepted as true. I spent sometimes hours a day studying.
I should have been doing this from a much younger age. My blind, lazy trust in the opinions and teachings of others had caused my faith to be weak. My advice to every young Christian is this: “Know why you believe what you believe. You should be able to defend every doctrine you subscribe to with scripture.  Surface faith won’t hold up to real life; platitudes and anecdotes turn to dust. You need to go deep.”

I didn’t find every answer but I found enough to firmly establish in my heart that God is GOOD. I was able to stop living in terror of losing my salvation. I was also able to pray and sing praise and pursue a relationship with God again. It was not perfect, in fact it was very touch and go for a few years. There were things I was doing in my life that I believed were wrong but that I refused to give up. I no longer believed that I would go to hell because of this, but it was a hard place to be. It felt like my soul was burning my insides at times. Even through my inner war I was constantly pulled toward God.

I eventually stumbled upon a book called Truefaced. It helped me tremendously. I was able to start shifting my perspective on what God really wants from me and how the Church is actually supposed to function. (Truefaced was written by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John S. Lynch. )

I also read a wonderful book called the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Somewhere around this time I was able to really start to believe that not only is God good, but He REALLY does love me. He sees all my sin and all my darkness that I try to hide and He still loves me every bit as much as He would if I were perfect.

After I got married, my conscience started resting more easily.  I felt like I was no longer blatantly sinning in any way. I still had guilt issues over my past behaviors, especially during my years of anger. I carry my share of regrets. But then I hit a snag, and I entered into the period of suffering I mentioned at the beginning.
 

 ( A wedding gift that I once found very ironic in the context of our many unanswered prayers.)

My husband is disabled. He has suffered from increasingly debilitating chronic
pain since he was 15 years old. Everything medical has been tried, most things multiple times. Heaven has been silent to the prayers of his parents, pastors, traveling evangelists, people with gifts of healing, and myself. The laying on of hands, the application of anointing oil and the prayers of the elders have failed. Prayer cloths have failed. There is no explanation and seems to be no hope of recovery. He has continued to get worse and our community of faith is baffled.

As I watched my husband’s quality of life steadily diminish, I started to
struggle again with believing that God cared. At first it was a little struggle
I would try to shrug off, but eventually it began to consume me. It was
excruciatingly painful. And you have to acknowledge that it really looks like
God has abandoned us. It looks bad.  The whys that have been asked are
stacked up all the way to Heaven’s gates. The tears that have been cried fill
many bottles. 

As I wrestled with this gap between God’s promises and my reality, I prayed for grace, for understanding, and for help. I didn’t know what to do. I spent
a good deal of my time crying. Finally I realized very suddenly that I had to make a decision. I was driving to work when it became clear to me.  The situation with my husband being in pain all the time and God not seeming to help him or heal him looks terrible to my eyes and feels even worse than it looks. I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it. It seems to my human mind to run contrary to the promises of God.  


Throughout the scriptures God says repeatedly that He loves my husband. And God says He is good, kind, merciful, compassionate and faithful. So, I had to
decide. Do I believe my eyes? Do I believe my heart and its pain? Or do I doubt
how things look to me, doubt how I feel and choose to believe what God says
about Himself is true?

The scriptures tell us that faith is believing God, not believing IN God. Going beyond just believing He exists–to believing what He says: about Himself, about the world, about us. You see, things look pretty awful to me but the God who spoke the universe into existence testifies that He is good and His heart toward us is full of love. Who has the more trustworthy perspective?

So, by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace, I chose and choose to
believe God. After I decided this, I was given a supernatural peace about the
situation. Years of strife and turmoil have evaporated out of my heart. I do not believe that I would have been able to reach this place if I had not alreay cemented in my heart that God is good and that He loves me. My next natural step was to start TRUSTING God, and He graciously enabled me to begin doing that.

Please, don’t misunderstand me. My husband’s suffering and disability has not stopped being hard to live with.
Especially since the birth of our son, my heart breaks that my husband and my
son cannot have a better life.  My husband and my son will probably never
do many things that fathers and sons who adore each other the way they do often enjoy doing. Hunting trips, wrestling, playing catch in the yard–it all seems so out of reach.
 

Of course, there are times that I feel sorry for myself too. I’m human, my situation is difficult, and it does happen. I work, and care for our child, and the house, I pay the bills, I do the shopping, I care for my husband and try to take care of myself. It’s a lot, and sometimes it is too much for me. Something is always
left undone.

But, those times when it is too much, help always shows up in some form.
Sometimes when I have a bad day my husband has one of his better days and can give me extra emotional support or watch TV with our son while I decompress. I am able to lean on my mom, my sister, or my mother-in-law and they have a kind word or even physical help to offer. Whenever I feel ready to break, God by His grace provides for me and I am not broken.

I am not sure why Christians are surprised by the pain and suffering we
encounter in this life.  God has been honest about how it’s going to be.
Pain, suffering, tribulation, persecution, injustice and loss will come into
our lives. Sometimes they stay a long time, sometimes they leave for a while
only to come back to visit again. Jesus was perfect, beloved of the Father,
sinless and He suffered greatly anyway. He was hated, chased, plotted against, betrayed, eventually unfairly tried and condemned to an agonizing death. The lives of the Apostles were also far from being free of suffering.

 The Bible is full of stories of human pain and suffering from the first chapters of Genesis to almost the end of Revelation. Yet we are shocked, surprised, horrified, angry, convinced that a great injustice has taken place every time we hurt. EVERY TIME.


Good old King David went through some really soul crushing low points in his
life. Some of them he brought upon himself and some were completely unjust. In those difficult times, and they will come for us all, David offers a sound
example of how to hold on:  

       “I believe that I shall look upon the
goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong,
and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”(Psalms 27:13-14) (English Standard Version)


I have chosen to wait on God. I choose to trust Him. I believe God will set
every wrong thing right perfectly and at the perfect time. What isn’t set
right in this life will be set right in the next beyond what we can even imagine.
This imperfect world filled with suffering and pain is all we know, but God has
told us this world is not forever.  Believing God gives me strength,
courage, and peace. Because of this even though my circumstances are difficult
I am not miserable, hopeless or bitter. It is as Jesus said: 

“I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
 

(My engagement and wedding rings)

Marching

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”(Philippians 4:8) (KJV2000)

On the first of March I woke up to the sound of buckets of rain being poured over my house and couldn’t go back to sleep. By five thirty in the morning there was a seemingly endless parade of thoughts, to do lists and concerns marching through my mind. I was also listening, on edge, to the rain and the thunder because we were under a tornado watch from late evening until seven a.m. I was running scenarios on how best to get Ethan safely to the basement if the siren went off and what I should or shouldn’t grab on the way. I had left the carseat in the car when I came home sick from work on the 27th of February, so I couldn’t  very well grab that.  (Who has tornado watches in February? Honestly? It doesn’t seem fair.) I was also listening for the sound of an approaching train. I have heard that tornados sound like trains. I was also running scenarios of keeping Ethan safe if there was no siren. I was also thinking about ways to rebuild the house if it got flattened and wondering if there is any way to protect a physical possession–like an old family photo album from wind, flood and fire.

All this was marching through my mind at 5:30 a.m.  (And I wonder why I am tired.) In a few minutes the morning rush would begin again. The child asleep on my chest would wake up and need to be snuggled, dressed and fed. All my morning tasks awaited. I knew that I was weak and I hoped I could complete them as quickly as I normally did. I decided I should take soup for lunch. (After so recently battling a violent stomach virus, I didn’t think my stomach was ready for broccoli.)

The day passed and on the way home from work I took the back roads. It was a gray day, very damp and blustery. I was feeling rather dismal as the wind grew chillier and occasionally smattered my windshield with tiny almost raindrops. My world was bleak. And then on my right appeared acres and acres of beautiful emerald green! It was so beautiful that I actually made an involuntary exclamation. Oh! It was so unexpected I felt like something had physically jarred me.  

(This was taken on a slightly brighter day, but it is the same field.)

Thank God for winter wheat! Where I live, it is the first big green of Spring. In March the little greens will appear, tiny sprouts of daffodils or tulips, but the grass is pale and the deciduous trees are bare.  The beginning of Spring around here usually looks like gray skies and mud until about April. But if I can find a field of winter wheat–my winter weary soul can find new hope.  Winter wheat reminds me Spring is waiting in the wings, the green is spreading, it cannot be delayed forever!

What a difference it makes when we shift our focus from worry to hope. The exact same circumstances can take on a whole new meaning in a moment. My whole experience of March is completely reflective of what I choose to focus on. Around me the sky is gray, the ground is muddy, the wind is cold and mean. Also, around me, the trees are budding, the wheat is growing, and the smell of Spring is swirling. Where will I place my attention? 

Winter is not over but Spring is coming will not be stopped, no matter how many more times it snows. When I focus on the coming of Spring, I feel uplifted and hopeful. Lilacs and roses are coming, along with green grass and softer air. When I focus on what is left of Winter I feel tired, like I am carrying a heavy and cumbersome chain. Winter of itself is not bad, but it is dark and cold and I am weary of it. Both things are true in this moment. The choice is mine.

 

Paul reminds us that we need to focus on the good stuff. Truth. Honesty. Justice. Purity. Loveliness. Good reports. Virtuous things.  Praiseworthy things. He is laying out instructions for the Philippian Christians on how to live in this world and he polishes off his recomendations with an admonition on what to think about.

What we think about is important. What we think about, what we meditate on, determines our mood, our attitude and our actions.  A person might think, “We cannot ignore all the bad stuff in the world and only “think on these things”! Our outrage and negative emotions are what move us to action to make things better!” There is some truth in that.  But when I focus on the good and lovely things I feel more positive, more hopeful, more energized. When I focus on the horrible things and the sad things I start feeling hopeless, helpless and overwhelmed. In which state I am more likely to be kind to others, to lift up those around me or to take any positive action? 

There are so many things going on around us, so many voices screaming for attention. There is so much information, most of it of questionable quality, constantly before us. Where shall we look? The world is filled with war, strife, division, hatred, despair, violence, and loss. The world is also filled with beauty, hope, wonder, kindness, love, generosity and grace. We will see it all but we must “think on these things.” That does not mean we close our eyes to the ugly things because we must see them before we can change them. We can work toward a better world–we must help others and we must stand up for what is right–but to be able to do that we must think on “these things”.  When we think too much on the dark side, when we meditate on the horrible, unimaginable and seemingly hopeless, it fixes nothing and even does damage. We can easily become immobilized in the face of what seems like overwhelming evil.  

So, I am choosing to think about all the wonderful things about March. I love the crazy, wild winds. I love the new green around me. I even love watching the battle between Spring and Winter. (New life will win eventually, of course, but when?)  I choose to lift my eyes from the mud on my boots and look across the fields of wheat. When my eyes are focused on the beautiful, makes it easier to keep marching.