Freedom Isn’t Free

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from Heaven and forgive their sins and restore their land.”                                                          2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

Today is my nation’s 242nd birthday.  People all over this country will be coming together to celebrate and pay tribute to the good ole’ U.S. of A.  Star-spangled clothing will be worn; red, white and blue decorations adorned.  People will host cookouts and barbeques.  Lakes will be flooded with boats, floats and beach goers.  Parades will march.  Attendees will applaud Veterans.  ‘God Bless the USA’ and other patriotic melodies will be performed.  When the sun goes down, fireworks will explode as the grand finale of the nation’s greatest display of American pride.  For most, today will be a day filled with fun, family, friends and many, many festivities.

A true Independence Day celebration reminds us of the sacrifices that were made for this country to have the freedoms we stand on today.  The Revolutionary War was the start to gaining our freedoms.  In googling statistics, according to World Book Encyclopedia, found at www.answers.com, 25,700 Americans were killed during this war.  Traditional US History classes teach that this war came about to separate us from the tyranny of Britain’s then monarchy. Our US constitution was written to give and protect freedoms to its citizens. Since we became a nation we have engaged in numerous wars and military conflicts to ensure this country and its residences are protected and that freedom will forever reign.

One entity that is honored on Independence Day is our US military.  We remember the fallen and we honor the living, those who have served and are serving.  In fact, most Americans, when encountering a member of the US Military, will thank him or her for their service to our country because we recognize that military personnel sacrifice a lot during their time of active duty.  They’re training alone teaches them how to be sacrificial and how to survive in the most dangerous and cruelest of situations.  They are moved periodically to different states and most serve overseas on at least one if not multiple deployments.  They sacrifice time with their families, their jobs, their health and even their lives to protect this nation and to especially protect this nation’s freedoms.  One thing we Americans value is our freedom.

God also values freedom.  Galatians 5:13a tells us “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters…”  We read David’s confident statement in Psalm 119:45 when he declares that he will walk in freedom for he had devoted himself to God’s commandments.  Again in 2 Corinthians 3:17, we are reminded that wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  As a Christian, we are called to walk in freedom.  But what does that mean and how do we do that?

First we need to look at what freedom looks like to God.  Freedom in Christ means freedom from guilt, shame, despair, bitterness, etc.  It most assuredly means, freedom from fear and from death.  If you’re an unbeliever reading this, you may question that last statement or possibly even mock it because people die every day.  The death mentioned above is not a physical death, its freedom from spiritual death.  This means after we experience physical death we are promised eternal life with Christ.  (1 John 5:11) Just like a US military member pays a price to protect our nation’s freedoms, as a Christian, our freedom was paid when Christ died at Calvary and then resurrected three days later.  Freedom is not free.

So if freedom isn’t free, then walking in freedom will also cost us.  If my country’s freedom and Christian freedom were both paid by the sacrificing of lives, it only makes sense that in order to walk in spiritual freedom, we are called to sacrifice our lives as well.  PLEASE NOTE!  This is metaphorically speaking.  This post is not leading to a call to drink some magic red poisoned Kool-Aid that would actually kill us.  The life sacrificing I’m referring to is the sacrificing of lifestyles, life habits and negative thoughts that do not honor Christ and inevitably separate us from the freedom He has promised us.

Anything that is dishonoring to Christ separates us from His freedom.  That can come in the form of deliberate sin such as a battle with lust, purposefully holding grudges, becoming best friends with pride, refusing to obey when God gives us a direct order.  That can also come in a subtler form like battling with an addiction or holding on to wounds that Christ wants to heal and release us from.  Whatever stronghold we allow in our lives becomes our way of life and keeps us captured in a spiritual roller coaster that simples goes round and round in circles but never seems to end.  No matter what human effort you make, if you’re not willing to sacrifice the stronghold or repent of the sin, you will not know or be able to walk in Christ’s freedom.  You will also grow weary and face conditions like depression, anxiety or physical health conditions that develop when we are wait down by burdens we are not meant to carry.

Can you relate to struggling with deliberate sin, battling with some sort of addiction or just feeling bogged down by all life has thrown at you?  Do you long to feel free from past wounds?  Do you want to guard your heart, as the Lord directs, without putting up walls that inevitably push others away?  Are you willing to make the sacrifices required to know Christ’s freedom?

If you want to know and walk in Christ’s freedom, you (and I) must be willing to place all that weighs us down, at the foot of the cross.  We have to humble ourselves before our King and confess the sins we commit, confess the hurts we hold on to and confess the addictions we wrestle with.  We have to seek Christ’s forgiveness, choose to forgive our offenders and also, choose to forgive ourselves.  This also means sacrificing ungodly habits such as gossiping, complaining, procrastinating, cussing, overeating or whatever else we may turn to in the place of Christ to “cope” with what burdens us.

This sacrifice is not a one-time event consisting of one prayer or even one fast.  This is a daily sacrifice that involves refocusing our thoughts, asking Christ to renew our minds, softening our hearts to obey His word and practicing the art of discipline to refrain from turning to back to dishonorable behaviors.  This sacrifice also entails understanding that making these kind of sacrifices, changing our coping skills, letting go of the past and forgiving those who have trespassed against us is a process.  It’s a process that doesn’t come naturally and takes much discipline to master.  It’s a process that has to be practiced every day and it’s a process that will include backsliding and failing.  But it’s also a process that through commitment, God’s strength, His grace and your perseverance, brings victory and true freedom.

Zach Williams is a Christian artist who performs a popular song called, “Chain Breaker.”  The lyrics to the first verse and chorus are this:

“If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles

If you’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies

If you’re trying to fill the same old holes inside

There’s a better life

There’s a better life

“If you’ve got pain,

He’s a pain taker

If you feel lost

He’s a way maker

If you need freedom or saving

He’s a prison-shaking Savior

If you’ve got chains

He’s a chain breaker..”

As I am personally walking through this process of letting go of my strongholds in order to gain Christ’s freedoms, I recorded myself performing this song praising God even before the chains I have bound myself to are broken.  Jesus is the chain breaker of all that holds us back from the life He promised us.  When you’re willing to sacrifice what He’s calling you to let go of, when you’re willing to endure the painstaking process of confession, forgiveness and healing, then you are ready to chase after Christian freedom and walk in it, freely.  Freedom isn’t free.  But our Jesus paid the debt when He gave His life on a tree.

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Do Not Go Down the Rabbit Hole

“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.”

2 Timothy 2:23 NLT

I cannot count the number times I have failed obeying 2 Timothy 2:23. In fact, I once had a superior describe me as this; “She tends to argue but when she argues it’s because she’s usually right.”  Of course hearing such statement brings an increase in pride and an inflation in ego, at least for me it did.  It also made it justifiable for me to continue to argue.  After all, it’s pointless to argue if you’re wrong but if you know you’re right then you should argue, right? WRONG!!!

Arguing one’s point is ungodly and counterproductive.  Arguments rarely end in a positive manner with friendships or relationships still intact nor do they draw people closer together.  In fact, the book of Proverbs gives us two examples of how arguments and angry words do the complete opposite. In Chapter 18, verse 19, we read that “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.”  Proverbs Chapter 26 verse 4 warns “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.”  I personally have lost a handful of relationships after engaging in hurtful arguments.  One in particular ended over very different opposing political views.  Another took a long hiatus because of multiple mini arguments over subject matter that I don’t even recall the details of now.

In the category of politics, I have argued about abortion, women’s marches, equality, presidential candidates, racism, etc.  I have argued about religious beliefs both with believers and non-believers.  Unfortunately, I have argued about far too many less trivial things also.  If I listed all those this post would never end.  I have a fierce personality and my mouth tends to start running before my brain has time to keep me quiet.  I’m slowly learning to practice pausing and thinking before speaking.  But there are days I am making very slow progress if any at all.  HAHA!

Ironically, I recently found myself tiptoeing into two separate arguments on social media.  One was an anti-education post that completely goes against my beliefs and values in education.  The other one was actually an effort to help someone avoid arguing and turned into a debate about arguing.  I could feel my insides just getting fired up about both posts and especially regarding comments made to me by the posters.  I could mentally see my platform in front of me and a fully prepared speech on the tip of my tongue that would open with, “First of all…” I’ve been told I should be a good lawyer because I definitely can argue well.  Not that that’s something to brag about.  But, I also felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “Don’t go down that rabbit hole” and I knew that meant something like, “this is not my circus and they are not my monkeys.  Do not exhaust your energy engaging in an argument with either of them.  Surprisingly, I actually listened this time (usually I’m too fired up to listen to God’s gentle promptings and fight the battles in my own flesh.) and opted to take a weekend hiatus from that social media site to reset my priorities.   I also deleted the comments I had already posted.

I spent a good part of my evening thinking about the concept of going down the rabbit hole.  This ideology is related to story of Alice in Wonderland.  Alice was enticed to go down that rabbit hole and entered a world full of all kinds of crazy abnormalities.  I started relating some of the characters Alice encountered to those we engage with on social media and how that all ties in with arguing.  Social Media is the universal source of arguing these days isn’t it?

Just like in Wonderland, in any social media argument you will encounter the Queen of Hearts whose view is inevitably “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!”. Everything is black and white in their minds and they’re solutions are typically punitive.  Then there’s the Mad Hatter who’s certifiably crazy and makes comments that leaves most readers scratching their heads or feeling slightly disturbed.  Of course there’s the White Rabbit person who either has bad timing with their remarks, or is ever fretful in their commentaries.  And what media argument would be complete without the Cheshire Cat tapping into their multiple personalities and fueling the fire by secretly taking dual sides or talking about others behind their backs.  The Cheshire Cat characters are definitely the most toxic as they are the pot stirrers who keep the discord going all while looking like they are the best friend to all parties involved.

Admittedly I have played the role of the Queen, the Hatter and the white rabbit on far too many occasions.  Worse yet, I know I’ve been a Cheshire Cat a time or two also.  Not necessarily with malice intent or as an effort to destroy a relationship but I’ve kept the embers of anger, hurt and conflict burning by dwelling on the argument and discussing it with others who weren’t a part of it. I’ve ignored verses like Psalm 37:8 that tells us to stop being angry and turn from our rage and Ephesians 4:31 where we’re told to put away all malice, harsh words, brawling, etc.  Malice, harsh words, and brawling are all descriptors of arguing.

Fortunately for Alice, going down the rabbit hole didn’t bring total disaster.  After all, a Disney movie usually has a happy ending.  In the real world however, when we choose to go down the rabbit hole of arguing, the only ending we get is one that results in an ending of a relationship, perhaps even an ending of mutual respect you once shared.  Even if you feel you’ve “won” the argument, is it worth celebrating if it cost you the relationship?  That raises the very question of where we place our value.  Is it more valuable to be right or is it more valuable to have relationship?

Personally I believe that relationship holds far more value than being right.  I’ve learned this the hard way.  For example, I have a best friend whom I rarely agree with.  The only thing we probably truly have in common is a love for Jesus, family and our friendship.  Everything else we tend to be opposites on.  In the early stages of our friendship we had a few arguments.  Only one that I can recall ended up in no communication for two weeks.  For a friendship that talked daily, two weeks was a very long time.  During that time frame I reflected a lot on what was said and actually considered ending the friendship.  But I loved this person too much to never have them in my life again.  So I bent my pride and reached out to her.  It wasn’t easy.  Neither of us believed we were wrong.  But we both could agree that we shared words that hurt one another and we could apologize for that.  We also both chose to forgive and move past it because our friendship was far too valuable to throw away.

I wish I could say that was the case for other relationships in my life but sadly, there are some that the argument outweighed the relationship and that person is no longer a part of my life.  Those were times when the offender refused to apologize for attacking my character or wanted continue to argue.  I felt it necessary to emotionally protect myself by no longer having them in my life.  I still love them, but I simply choose to love them from a distance.  There are times you have to set boundaries in your life to protect your emotional well-being.  These situations aren’t about who’s right and who’s wrong.  They are simply about choosing what kinds of behaviors we will allow in our lives and being able to cut off anything that is toxic or will undermine the character God defines for us.

Please know I am not saying we shouldn’t have opinions or strong convictions.  The Bible is full of beliefs we as Christ followers are to cling to.  We should never compromise our belief systems.  But when talking to someone who opposes us, we should do what Jesus did.  He didn’t argue.  He had the spiritual wisdom to recognize a trap and he never went down the rabbit hole.  Time and again the Pharisees would ask Him questions to entice him into a debate.  Each time Jesus disappointed them.  There were times Jesus wouldn’t even answer them (think of the woman caught in adultery when Jesus ignored the Pharisees and drew in the sand.)  When He chose to answer them, He would use one liners like “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Or “Render unto Caesar what is Caesars’s.) Other times He spoke in parables to make His point.  Often times His own disciples didn’t understand what He was saying but Jesus didn’t debate them either.

There were also times he avoided his naysayers altogether.  But here’s a list of what He didn’t do:

  • Jesus never said, “I’m right, you’re wrong.”
  • He never became defensive nor did He defend Who He was. By this I mean He never engaged in a debate or argument about Him being the Son of Man.  He stated it time and again but He didn’t argue with anyone who disagreed.
  • Jesus also never defend His character. Jesus’ enemies were right in their own eyes and there were many who slandered Him for Who He presented Himself to be and the ministry He led.
  • He didn’t have a publicist write a formal speech to address His naysayers. He just kept on doing His thing and ignored the Queens of Hearts, Mad Hatters, White Rabbits and Cheshire Cats of His day.

Time and again the Bible tells us, we are to be just like Jesus.  Which means, instead of arguing, we can choose to ignore.  Instead of debating, we can choose to pray.  When someone entices us into an argument, we can choose to be like Jesus which may mean not responding to them at all.

Before you post something that you know will open up a rabbit hole into Argueland, pause and ask yourself is it worth the energy you’re going to waste defending your opinion?  Better yet, don’t post it.  Post a verse, a fun picture or a joke instead.  Social media platforms don’t change the world anyway.  They simply create a greater division that already exists because people are too focused on being right and less focused on being in relationship and fellowship with one another.

We are all entitled to our opinions and belief systems.  We are not entitled to share or impose them on someone else.  If Jesus didn’t force His beliefs on anyone during His ministry, why do we feel so entitled to do it now-especially on social media?  I can’t promise I won’t fall prey to another argument but for now, I am choosing to listen to the Holy Spirit and not go down the rabbit hole.  People change the world by praying and being Christ like not by arguing or posting controversial things on Social Media.

What Fruit is Your Tree Producing?

“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭12:33‬ ‭NLT‬‬

For the past few months I have been obsessively craving oranges. I can eat six of them or more in a day sometimes. Definitely can eat several over the span of a week. But I’m a bit weird with how I eat them. I can’t peel just one and then eat it. I have to peel several at a time and store them in a dish so they’re readily available whenever my belly craves them. If I don’t peel them all at once, they tend to sit, rot and get wasted.

Tasting the juicy sweetness of a ripe orange and throwing away one that’s mushy and covered in a fuzzy green substance reminds me of God’s calling on all of us to be fruit bearers. In Galatians (Chapter 5 verse 22 and 23) we read about the fruits of the Spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, perseverance and self-control. These are all characteristics God requires of us to display in our day to day lives. Reading the list sounds easy and I am confident there are many times practicing all of these have come natural to all of us. But what about the times when it doesn’t? Let’s look at some scenarios.

When a person cuts us off on the road it’s human nature to react in a harsh manner (not practice gentleness.) when someone wounds us deeply or continues to disappoint us, it’s human nature to stop loving them, maybe even feel hatred toward them. When we’re grief stricken if feels impossible to experience joy. Addictions make it incredibly challenging to practice self-control. When life feels out of control it’s easy to worry and be anxious instead of choosing to be at peace fully trusting Abba. If you’re a parent dealing with a toddler meltdown or a disrespectful know-it-all teenager it’s super easy to lose patience. On days when we’re just feeling grumpy it’s easier to lash out at others rather than practice goodness and kindness.

Then there’s the concept of being known by our fruit. If we are a person bearing good fruit we should be identified as such. But what about those who constantly bear bad fruit? What about the people who cross our paths who appear to be mean-spirited, toxic, hard-hearted or down right evil? What about those people who seem so hard hearted that no amount of prayer covering seems ever possible that they will ever change?

First and foremost if you’re a Christian who’s known for bearing bad fruit (maybe you hold grudges, is unwelcoming, always arguing, gossips, harbors hatred toward others, loses your temper easily, over spends/over eats or even over works) it’s time to take a long hard look in the mirror, confess these attitudes and behaviors and ask God to cut off the branches that aren’t bearing good fruit. Until you refuse to repent, you will be a tree that produces bad fruit and bears a false witness as to what being Christ like is all about. If you repent, God promises to prune you in a way that will make your tree overflowing with His fruit once again (John 15:2.)

Dealing with nonbelievers who bear bad fruit is a bit more challenging. None of us hold the power in our human strength to change a human heart, including our own. Part of bearing good fruit is being a seed planter for those who bear bad fruit. If you have any knowledge of botany (which mine is very limited) you know that some plants actually populate from having their seeds spread elsewhere. This happens in both plants and weeds which means Christians can plant both good and bad seeds in the lives of those whom we cross paths with. If we want to be good fruit bearers, we have to be good seed planters also (read Mark 4 regarding Jesus’ parable on seed planting.)

How do we do that? We practice the fruits of the Spirit at all times. Think about being a comedian performing on stage for the first time. Your audience boos you and throws rotten tomatoes at you. This is the epitome of being exposed to bad fruit bearers and toxic people. It’s also human nature to want to defend ourselves and to pick up those rotted tomatoes and throw them back. Instead, God calls us to give them good fruit. Sticking with this analogy let’s say when someone throws rotten tomatoes at you, you pull out fresh ripe ones and ask them to join you for a salad. If someone steals from your apple tree, bake them a pie with what’s left. By doing so, you will be planting seeds of the Spirit that God can use to grow your enemies into good fruit bearers also.

This is definitely easier said than done. Trust me-I struggle daily with practicing any of this. I tend to live out my feelings instead of practicing self-control. I lose my temper and throw gentleness, kindness and goodness right out the window replacing them with anger, harsh words and unforgiveness. I wallow in my sorrows and give the enemy my joy. When I try problem solving in my own human wisdom, I get engulfed in worry and anxiety which suffocates any ounce of His peace within me. There are days I make a conscious effort to choose His fruit instead though. Just like choosing healthy food gives your body more energy, choosing His fruit gives my spirit a supernatural energy boost that produces more fruit within me. The more we pour out into others, the more He pours back into us. To keep using a scientific analogy, this would be a spiritual osmosis!

Whether you’re in a season of seed planting or fruit bearing remember three things-one, just like growing a garden or planting trees takes a length of time before the plant is fully matured and fruit is produced, so it may take years before you see changes in those you are discipling to, including even your own children. That’s where consistency, perseverance and the power of prayer play their biggest roles. Just because you can’t see anything growing, doesn’t mean there aren’t roots forming beneath the surface. So don’t give up.

Second, you may not be the person God uses to fully change their hearts. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:6 that he planted the seed but Apollo watered it and only God actually made it grow. This verse reminds us that some hearts may take more than one person to soften and that no matter who God uses, He ultimately gets the glory. It’s His power alone that truly changes hearts. We are just His tools.

Lastly, and this part is a sad reality, some hearts will never change. Choosing the fruits of the Spirit is a choice. There are people who choose to be hard hearted and no effort will ever change them. (Matthew 21:19) I believe God will show you when it’s time to walk away from such a person and surrender them fully to the Lord. We can still pray for a miracle in them but walking away means protecting ourselves emotionally and avoiding getting spiritually burned out. You may not agree with this last concept but just remember Judas was a prime example of such a heart. He walked right beside Jesus and betrayed him. Jesus never pursued Judas after the betrayal because He knew there was no changing him.

Jesus forgave Judas and He calls us to forgive our enemies also-even if they refuse to change. Forgiveness is definitely a seed that when planted can produce amazing fruit in ourselves and in those we choose to forgive. Jesus modeled this as He was hanging on a cross enduring excruciating pain, pushing himself up just to take a breath, and said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” So what seeds are you planting? What fruit are you producing? What is your spiritual tree bearing? Strive to plant seeds that inevitably produce trees that bear His fruit.

When It’s Hardest to Forgive

“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:21-22‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If you were raised Christian, ever visited a Sunday School class or have been witnessed to, I am confident you’ve heard a message about forgiveness. The plan of salvation alone consists of confessing our sins and Jesus forgiving us. Christ’s death is the epitome of forgiveness both to those who crucified Him and for those He died for. As He was hanging on the cross already beaten and tortured, He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Throughout the Old and New Testament there are many passages on God and Christ forgiving sinners. We aren’t just forgiven. God calls us to forgive those who “trespass against us.” If you’re anything like me, being forgiven is easy. Forgiving others can be a very tough pill to swallow especially those who aren’t even sorry.

There are people in this world who may hate you, hurt you, and lie about you because of their own toxicity. Perhaps they’re jealous and insecure, sociopathic or narcissistic even. The stories of Jezebel, Joseph’s brothers and even Saul’s murderous behavior toward David are prime examples. The Pharisees even blasphemed against Jesus. Yet there are multiple scriptures that tell us to forgive. In fact a few verses even say love your enemies and pray for them/do good to them.

Here are a few more scriptures on God telling us to forgive:

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. ””

‭‭Mark‬ ‭11:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:32‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Over and over God tells us to love our enemies, be kind to each other and to forgive each other. When someone we love hurts our feelings or disappoints us-it tends to be easy to forgive them because our love supersedes the offense. It’s hardest to forgive those who’s offenses supersede the ability to love that person. That’s where surrender to God and an obedient heart comes in to play. That’s where seventy times seven needs to be applied.

You may come across someone who will never be sorry for the wrong they did to you. You may want to just avoid them or ignore their existence. However, there may be circumstances where you cannot ignore or avoid them. You may have such a justifiable aversion to them that being kind to them makes your skin crawl. Our wounded hearts don’t want to forgive. Our defenses don’t want to be around them let alone offer them grace or kindness. But God says “Forgive them.” God says “Be kind to them.” God says “Love and pray for them.”

Seventy times seven means we forgive every offense, every time. I think it also means we may have to forgive the same offense over and over as a means to truly let go and fully forgive our offenders. Think about it. How many times a day do you dwell on the offense? Ever have arguments in your head between yourself and the offender? Ever think unkind thoughts or call them vicious names in your mind? Gossip about them maybe? Can you feel roots of bitterness growing and consuming you? Do you think any of that hurts your offender? Trust me-it does not. Your offender is most likely not even thinking about you. If their not sorry for their actions then they’re certainly not dwelling on them either. Our dwelling only keeps us wounded and keeps us from forgiving.

We combat this by choosing forgiveness. When a negative thought pops in your head-confess in your mind or aloud that you forgive the offender. Dwelling on specific actions they did against you? Name them aloud as you declare that you forgive these offenses. Confess each and every hateful thought you entertain and give it all to Jesus. When circumstances arise that you have to engage with that person, force yourself to be kind. You may have to fake it until you make it but if you do this, you will cut off all roots of bitterness and walk in the freedom of having a forgiving heart. You will make it to forgiving your offender(s).

Your enemy may never change. Our greatest enemy will never change so why do we expect our human enemies to change? We cannot control the behaviors and actions of others. We can only control how we respond, what we hold on to and what we let go of. We have a choice to forgive or to hold a grudge. Holding a grudge steals our joy and makes us more like our haters. Always choose to forgive. Even if you have to say it 490 times (which is 70 X 7 by the way) choosing forgiveness makes you more Christlike. That forgiveness may be the exact stepping stone Jesus uses to bring your enemy to salvation. After all-Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20) You never know how God will use your forgiveness to save the lives of others also.

Show Me Love

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I seem to write a lot about love. More so, God seems to put this word on my heart a lot and so I write about it. I’ve written about different types of love, the cost of love and what real love is. This weekend, God has really been pressing on me to write about breaking down walls in order to give and receive love. The walls I’m referring to aren’t that of someone else-they’re the walls we build around our own hearts to keep us from getting hurt.

There are a variety of reasons those walls are there-perhaps your parent deeply wounded or abandoned you. Maybe a lover or spouse was abusive or cheated on you. Maybe you grew up around members of the opposite sex who were abusive and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Maybe you’ve gone through a string of relationships feeling used and disposable because that’s how past lovers treated you. Maybe you’re like me and select “all of the above” as your reason for hiding your heart behind those walls. Whatever the reason, each disappointment or heart breaking experience added another brick or layer and your wall is probably at a point where no human in their own strength could ever break through it.

I watch a lot of romantic comedies and Hallmark movies. I love Love. I love watching couples meet, flirt, date, share a first kiss, fall in love, face conflict that nearly tears them apart yet and in the end see love conquer with them living happily ever after. My favorite fairy tale has always been Cinderella. Realistically speaking I don’t wait for a prince on a white horse to show up with a glass slipper and whisk me off to his castle but I do long for a man who would cross the ocean and travel through Hell or high water just to be with me. I think some of that stems from watching so many romantic movies.

Movies are a great source of entertainment. I work two jobs and my second job is actually working at a video store so I obviously love movies. Romantic movies can give us a false sense of what real life romance and love are really all about, but they can also model what grace and forgiveness look like. Take for instance the Hallmark movie, All of my Heart, Inn Love, starring Lacey Chabert. In this movie, Lacey’s character is small town girl with dreams of being a successful baker and owning a country inn. Her fiancé is a big city financial guru who moved to the country and joined in on Lacey’s character’s aspirations. They’re character set-ups are really polar opposites. Every love story has to have a climax-the moment where viewers think the couple is breaking up or will never end up together. In All of my Heart, that moment comes when the big city fiancé takes a temporary job back in the city to help make ends meet and starts displaying old characteristics that Lacey’s character isn’t attracted to. Obviously they’re wants start to pull them away from each other.

At one point, Lacey’s character gives the engagement ring back telling her fiancé to give it back to her when he’s ready to come back to the life they were building. Then there’s a few minutes of scenes showing them living apart and both very unhappy. In the end the fiancé realizes a life with the woman he loves is more important than any successful business adventure or financial gain. He leaves the city life for good and returns to the small town, goat farming, inn keeper life devoting himself to celebrating his fiancée’s accomplishments. Of course the ending is written to lead the viewer to believe the couple lives happily ever after.

Here’s where grace and Forgiveness comes in to play. Never in this movie does Lacey’s character attack or speak hurtful things to her man (her fiancée also never speaks unkindly to his woman either.) When he returns to the home they were sharing, she greets him with open arms and embraces him. There is no punishment or even thought of punishment or spite displayed. She does nothing to make her fiancé prove his love for her or make up for nearly abandoning her and their relationship. She simply welcomes him home and shows him love.

Then there’s my heart. When I watch these movies I tend to think about how I would handle such scenarios. With each conflict I’ve watched in these types of movies I tend to have the same response-put up a wall, don’t forgive easily and make the other person prove his love. Unfortunately, this is how I’ve handled many relationship issues in my own life. Why? Because I unknowingly have punished new relationships for past lovers’ mistakes. I’ve also been far too prideful to ever admit that to anyone or myself, until now. I have a wall built around my heart. I’ve blamed men from my past for having this wall. I naively believed God was going to send me a man so out of this world that would have the super strength to demolish this wall and then I would know it was safe to love him. But let’s be real-God is telling me I need to open up my heart and let Him knock down this wall because my fortress is not only impenetrable, I think it’s covered with barbed wire to ensure nobody can even try to climb over it!

There’s a song from the 90’s by Robin S called Show Me Love. It’s the inspiration for the title of this post because it’s been playing through my mind today. The first few lines of this song describes my heart to a tee-

“Always been told that I’ve got too much pride,

Too independent to have you by side

Then my heart said, all of you will see

Just wont live for someone until he lives for me…”

Character was definitely God’s word for me in 2018 but I am thinking love is too. Maybe it’s a sub part to my character? I’m not certain but I do know this-God is showing me the walls that have to come down so that I can freely and unabashedly love those already in my life and everyone God will continue to bring into my life.

What about you? Do you live behind walls of false security? Are you governed by pride? Are you holding on to past wounds and guarding your heart in an unhealthy way? I pray Ezekiel 36:26 over you and stand on God’s promise to “give you a new heart and a new spirit. May He remove from you this heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” May you and I become fully surrendered and allow God to demolish the walls we’ve hidden behind for far too long. It is only with a surrendered will that God can really show me (and you) love.

Hypocrites and Holy People (or Sinners Saved By Grace)

“…He [Christ] gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:25b-26 NLT

How’s your sin life? Yes you read that correctly and no, there is no auto correct typo in that question. How is your sin life? Many devotionals focus on a person’s prayer life or their walk with Jesus but how often do we focus on the path we take in our daily sins or with ongoing strongholds that continue to set us back spiritually? God doesn’t want us to dwell on our past or worship our sin but I believe He definitely wants us to examine our hearts and allow Him to cleanse us from all that keeps us stagnant in our relationship with Him.

I’ve been called many hurtful things in my lifetime and a “hypocrite” is one of them. Truth be told, I’ve even referred to myself as a hypocrite thinking this description made me more real than sanctimonious. In fact, I had planned on titling this post “I am a Hypocrite” and writing more of a confessional than a devotional. Looking up the definition of a hypocrite and seeing what God’s word says about this word changed my mind.

The dictionary defines a hypocrite as; ” a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion…” (Merriam-Webster) God’s word describes a hypocrite as someone who puts on a show in their faith for attention and public praise (Matthew 6:2, 5 and 12.) The Bible also tells us hypocrites honor the Lord with their mouths but their hearts are far from Him (Mark 7:6.) One common word to define hypocrite found in both the dictionary and the Bible is “LIAR.” There are times I am an attention seeker but one thing I am not is a liar.

Lying is the top character trait I have zero tolerance or grace for. The lack of grace is obviously a flaw in my own character and one I continue to have to surrender to the Lord allowing Him to soften my heart toward. After all, if Christ died for my lifetime of sins, I definitely need to be able to forgive someone who has lied to me or lied about me, right? I guess this post is a bit of a confessional after all and my lack of grace for liars is confession number one.

So here’s confession number two-I fail in my Christian walk every. single. day. Some ongoing strongholds I have are unforgiveness and holding on to past hurts, keeping my heart closed off to protect myself from getting hurt again, cussing, worrying, grumbling and gossiping. In one confession I have managed to admit that I do not always practice what I preach. But my posts aren’t written in a self-righteous or “holier than thou” manner where I’m esteeming my walk and pointing out the flaws in yours. In my childhood, I attended a church where the pastor preached from a pulpit of self-righteousness and his flock were the ones who were “wretches”. I prayed the prayer of salvation every Sunday in that church and never felt good enough t be redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb. I loved my childhood in a state of constant shame and fear of a wrathful God.

My posts are written from the depths of the muddied waters I travel through daily in hopes that my fellow mud puddle dwellers can be inspired to draw closer to Jesus and to seek His cleansing. I use my own personal experiences to show that I also strive to pursue His cleansing for my own journey. I am far from perfect. In fact, here’s a few more strongholds I struggle with:

  • I get angry and in my anger, I sin. One thing my momma used to say was “Her mouth is going to get her in trouble.” She’s been right about that far too many times.
  • I over spend and am a slave to debt. It’s why I work two jobs and don’t regularly tithe. I struggle with many sleepless nights worrying about how a bill is going to get paid or how I’m going to meet all the financial obligations I have.
  • I haven’t attended church regularly in two years. I’ve been church shopping and in a season of busyness where I choose to skip church just because I’m tired and want one full day to be home and be still. I also use the excuse that I haven’t found a church I’m drawn to as much as I was drawn to my old church.
  • I’m not always faithful in my devotionals and prayer time. Most days my prayers are more like “oh yeah hey God-I made you last again today but yeah you know I still love ya.” At night, lying in bed my prayers can become obsessive over my own needs and wants, lifetime longings and dwelling on my mistakes that I forget to pray for anyone else.
  • I struggle with lust. I’m single, never married and have two biological children. I’ve lived with more than one man in my lifetime. I’m definitely a modern day version of the woman at the well. …The list could go on and on but I think you get the picture.

For 2018, I am working on allowing God to define me and my character. I have spent far too many years defining my character based on how my critics describe me. One thing God is showing me that I am and am not is this-I am holy and I am not a hypocrite. You see when we give our hearts to Jesus, He covers us in His blood and makes us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18.) We are no longer a slave to sin but we become slaves to righteous living (Romans 6:18.) We are adopted as sons and daughters of the One True King (Romans 8:15.) God makes us holy (Hebrews 2:11).

Guess what the definition of Holy is: “specially recognized as or declared sacred…consecrated…dedicated or devoted to the service of God.” (Dictionary.com) The word consecrated means “set apart” which God shows us is exactly who we are in Psalm 4:3 when David acknowledges that the Lord set apart the godly for Himself. He shows us again in many examples in the New Testament where references are made about being a new creation, made holy and set apart for His glory. Believers whose hearts belong to Jesus cannot be hypocrites. Yes we sin. Yes we have strongholds that interfere with our relationship with Jesus. Yes we don’t always practice what we preach. Paul wrote it best when in Romans he confesses this: “…The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans‬ ‭7:14-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

But we are also redeemed by Jesus and saved by Grace.

I urge you to examine your sin life and confess every stronghold you’re still a slave to. Look up and meditate on scripture that may help you overcome those strongholds that make you feel like a failure. Strive for holiness in your daily walk but give yourself grace when you stumble and fall. Don’t lie and especially don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Lastly, no matter how many times you sin today, lay it down before the Lord and see yourself as holy, but never. ever. call yourself a hypocrite.

The Voice of Truth

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.””

‭‭John‬ ‭8:32‬ ‭NLT‬‬

As we go about our daily lives we engage with many voices throughout the day. Some of those voices are encouraging, some are critical. Some voices are loud and direct while others are barely audible and more passive. Nonetheless, these voices tend to skew the way we see and carry ourselves. We give a lot of power to these voices but the only one that truly matters-the one that can truly define us, is the voice of God.

But first-let’s look at the different voices. There are voices of encouragement. These are messages that build you up, strengthen you and motivated you. These can come from your family and friends who love and support you. Heck, maybe they come from Tony Robbins, Joyce Meyers, Bishop T.D. Jakes or Steven Furtick by means of a self-help book, devotional or YouTube video. Whatever the form, these voices help you walk taller, see yourself in a positive matter and display a “can do” kind of attitude.

Then we have the critical voices. These voices see your flaws and define you only by your worst moments or mistakes you’ve made. These voices condemn you, berate you and can cut deep and severe emotional wounds. They leave you seeing yourself in a very lowly manner. If you listen to them long enough these voices can lead to you feeling depressed, anxious and believing you are what these voices tell you. Ironically-these voices always seem louder and more direct than any voice of encouragement. Truth be told-these voices are liars.

The voice of truth is God’s voice. Since we are His creation, his voice is the only one that can truly define us. It’s also the only one we should be listening too. However, God’s voice isn’t always easy to hear or recognize. David describes the voice of the Lord as a thunderous roar that echoed above seas (Psalms 29:3), is powerful and majestic (Psalms 29:4), strikes with bolts of lightning (Psalms 29:7), and can split might cedars (Psalms 29:5.) In 2 Samuel 22:14, the voice of God “thundered from Heaven”, and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 we read that the voice of the Lord is a commanding shout. Thunder, echoes, shouting-these words all describe LOUD! Yet far too often, the liars are louder than the voice of truth. How can they be, what can we do about it and who are we really according to the voice of Truth?

In biblical times, we read multiple examples of God speaking directly to His people. I firmly believe He still speaks to us directly through His word and the Holy Spirit but in today’s day an age we have to remove all distractions and get quiet before Him to really hear His voice. I believe this because of the passage in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah is at his lowest point, asking God to End his life and God speaks to him. “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (Verses 11-13.) God’s voice was a soft whisper. Can you hear whispers in the middle of noise and chaos or are whispers best heard in stillness and silence? Why else would God tell us is Psalms 46:10 to “be still and know that [He] is God.” And again in Exodus 14:14 when promising to fight for us He says, “you need only to be still.” We can’t hear God because we’re too busy, too distracted and most likely to stuck on the critical voices that tell us we are the opposite of who God creates us to be.

What can we do about it? This is going to sound simple and cliché but we can stop, drop (to our knees) and pray. We have to carve out moments of silence daily to get into God’s word, the only source of really truth, and be still before Him. We have to pray for open hearts and open ears with the God-given ability to hear His voice and then allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and speak to us. We have to be patient when we spend a day or weeks in these moments hearing nothing at all. We have to persevere and choose to stand on His truth every day. Most importantly, we have to recognize the voice of God over the voice of the creator of lies. God’s voice will always coincide with His word. God’s voice will always be pure, peace loving, gentle, full of mercy and sincere. (James 3:17). It is never condemning and will not remind you of your mistakes. (Romans 8:1, 2 Corinthians 2:5)

So who does God say we are? First and foremost we are HIS! James 1:18 confirms that with this: “He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” A prized possession is a priceless treasure that is safe guarded, protected and preciously cared for just as God Himself, treasures, protects and delicately cares for us. We are also FORGIVEN! 1 John 2:12 states it very matter-of-fact like: “I am writing to you who are God’s children because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.” Luke 7:47 reinforces that with, “““I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love…” and 1 John 1:9 promises that “if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

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God also say we are LOVED. He confirms this in 1 John 4:19 “we love because she first loved us.” For those who have never been unconditionally loved, this one is probably the hardest to understand. How can someone love you in spite of your failures? How can someone love before you were even born? For God it’s quite simple-God is love and He creates our inmost beings. He loves us because He created us and He knows us more intricately than we or anyone else can ever know us. One of the best ways to combat our critics to let go of their harsh words and cling to God’s love for us. It’s the only way we can rise above hate and truly walk in love.

There are many more things God says about us and you can find them all in His word. We have a choice to listen to the voice of critics or the voice of truth. When the enemy strikes you with harsh words, when liars try to remind you of your past or haters criticize you out of jealousy or selfish ambition, stand on God’s truth and if you can’t cling to His love just yet, cling to this one simple verse: “But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” Acts 11:9 If you’re a child of God, He has made you clean no matter what dirty mistakes you’ve made. You are not who your critics say you are. You are exactly who God says you are. Walk as the hold of God He made you to be.

With These Broken Wings

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:31‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I do not respond well to rude or arrogant men. I do not respond well to anything that I interpret as rude, arrogant or controlling especially if it’s a man that displays it. I am not a man hater, nor am I a feminazi. My reactions stem from my experiences with men who repeatedly did not act as a man should.

I grew up with a single mom. My biological father abandoned us when I was only two. When I was three years old, my mother married the man I called “daddy”. For four years I felt the most love and security I have ever known. God blessed me with a man who chose to raise me as his own child even though we had no genetic ties. I firmly believe it’s the reason I love so many children as as if they were my flesh and blood. But my daddy died. And I spent the remainder of my childhood and teenage years being raised by a single mom.

I grew up around alcoholics and abusive men. One of these men screamed at me so much that I vomited. Another took me into a room, turned the lights off and started yelling just to scare me because he knew I was afraid of the dark. I never had a male teacher that I liked or respected. To this day I struggle with male authority because I am simply inexperienced with it.

After my daddy died I longed to feel loved and secure again. My mom did her best and she worked hard to provide for us. I know she loved me and she made a lot of sacrifices for me. She’s the reason I have the strength to persevere through the trials I face as a single mom. But she couldn’t replace the love I lost. She couldn’t give me the amount of love two parents give. After all, that’s humanly impossible. So when I became a teenager I chased after that love through boys and dating relationships.

Most boys I had crushes on didn’t give me the time of day. The ones who did tended to be trouble with a capital T. My senior year, I was blessed to meet a young man who became my boyfriend all through college. He was funny, kind, loving and very protective. He definitely seem to be the answer to what I had been missing. But we were young, immature and hadn’t the first clue on how to make a relationship work. Our relationship eventually ended based on the decision that we were better off friends than in a romantic relationship. When it ended, the void began again.

Over the next few years I found myself drawn to men who had zero desire of settling down and making an actual commitment. They were mostly looking for a woman who wanted to party in various forms. Time and time again I was left disappointed and feeling undesirable. Yet I kept chasing after this desire to be chosen. I defined my self worth based on whether a man would choose me or not. Because I was rarely chosen, I convinced myself I had no value.

Since that college relationship, I’ve had two other long term relationships. One produced my two children. The other occurred a few years ago. Neither filled the void, made me feel loved or protected. Both brought more insecurity than I was able to handle. One was dangerously toxic and consisted of years of being emotionally torn down. The other should’ve never happened because I was incredibly broken and hadn’t even begun healing from the first one. A bird who tries to fly again with broken wings only ends up hurting itself more. That’s exactly what happened in the latter relationship.

Bitterness engulfed my heart like a neglected garden overtaken by weeds. I grew critical and more distrusting of men. I closed myself off to dating. To be honest, I also had some very angry moments with God. Many times I asked God what I did wrong to deserve such maltreatment. After all, suffering can be the result of our own mishaps. But it can also be something that God allows to happen or even brings upon us as part of His refinement process.

Through the years God has tugged at me to begin the healing process. That starts with laying down my brokenness and surrendering my past completely to Him. That is not an easy thing to do. As exhausting as it is to carry around heavy burdens, they’re a constant reminder to stay guarded and work as a shield to keep me from getting hurt or broken again. But God won’t heal me if I’m not willing to tear down the wall and lay my burdens down. He beckons all of us to come to Him, weary and heavy laden, and promises to give us rest. (Matthew 11:28).

Another part of the healing process is confessing my bitter heart and choosing to forgive those who have wounded me. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to forgive the man who abandoned me or the one who yelled at me. I certainly don’t want to forgive the one who cheated, the one who lied, or the one who was only interested in me for “one thing.” I don’t want to forgive the one who continues to text me harassing messages and just recently admitted to “hating my guts”. But want to and have to are two different things. I don’t want to forgive them but God tells me I have to. Not for their sake, I have to forgive them for my own. I also have to forgive them as an act of obedience to God. (Ephesians 4:31-32.) Right now I’m at the stage where I can confess my unforgiving heart and seek God’s help in changing my desire to choose forgiveness.

Once I choose to lay my past down and practice forgiveness, I then have to face my fear of getting hurt once again. This doesn’t mean I start chasing after relationships or become a serial dater. This means I seek discernment in establishing healthy friendships and even professional relationships with men. This also means learning to understand and decipher how men communicate to avoid becoming easily defensive or even shutting down. Too often I’ve assumed the man I think is offending me is like the others from my past. Eventually, God willing, it will mean opening my heart up to the man He will send me who will choose to love, respect and protect me. If that happens, it also means not punishing this man for the mistakes of those from my past.

Lastly-and this one is key-God has been teaching me that no human being, male or female, parent or spouse, can provide the love and protection I truly desire. He is the only One who can. (Jeremiah 31:3; Deuteronomy 31:6) No one I chase, nothing I seek comfort in will ever fill the void I have like Jesus can. Chasing after anything or anyone else is idolatry and God

refuses to have any other gods before Him. (Exodus 20:3)

When a bird breaks its wings, the wings can be immobilized and the bird is ground bound. Although tying the bird’s wings down keeps the bird’s travel abilities restricted, its a necessary part of the healing process. When the wings are healed, the restriction is lifted and the bird can soar once again. When the human heart is broken it becomes immobilized too. It can shut down and even become paralyzed,metaphorically speaking. It’s in these moments we need to allow God to wrap Himself around us and heal us from the inside out. His healing brings wholeness, renews our spirits and strengthens us to soar on wings like eagles.

Currently, my heart is still immobilized because I have chosen the path of self healing instead of walking through the process God’s way. He remains faithful though. He has sent me a handful of kind, godly and selfless male friends who have been encouragers, and helpers. He even blessed me with an older gentleman who treats me like one of his own children teaching me how a man should father a daughter. God never ceases to awe me that’s for sure.

Has your heart been broken? Do you feel crushed? Have you been abused or treated harshly? Do you struggle with relationships with the opposite sex? Are you longing for the freedom of walking in His healing power? Is your past keeping you bitter? Is fear holding you back from letting go or choosing forgiveness? Take a step toward the healing process by simply confessing to God exactly where your heart is, admitting to carrying around old wounds and trust Him to remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

Once Upon a Time Anger Blackened My Heart…

“Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Ever been so angry you could spit nails? Or better yet has anger fueled inside of you that felt like fiery volcanic activity? What circumstances or situations trigger this type of anger within you?
Anger is a normal feeling or emotion.  Even Jesus displayed anger during His short ministry.  When He saw that people turned the house of God into a shopping mall He “knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” (Matthew 21:12 NLT)  In verse 13 He displayed more of His anger by accusing the traders of turning the temple into a “den of thieves.” Clearly the people in His time were doing something wrong and Jesus took action to right that wrong.  Clearly too, His anger was quite justifiable.

But what happens we we see or we experience wrongs being done and we feel helpless to be able to right it but acting out in anger, no matter how justifiable we think that anger is, would only make matters worse.  What do we do then?

There are many ways I have handled my anger over circumstances I cannot control.  Some ways were more positive or godly than others.  Some were downright dishonoring to God.  I’ve struggled with unforgiveness and allowed roots of bitterness to nearly suffocate my heart.  I’ve definitely allowed the enemy to bring a total eclipse over God’s light within me covering me in darkness and blackening my heart.

The concept of a blackened heart reminds me of the show Once Upon a Time. I’m a huge fan of this series.  If you’re not familiar with the storyline basically this show entwines fairy tale characters from the Enchanted Forest into other characters portrayed in a “real life” small town setting.  The first season of this show started out with Snow White’s step-mother, the evil queen, casting a curse on the entire forest and banishing everyone to this new realm with no memory of their fairytale lives.  In fact, they were all given new identities with only the evil queen knowing who they really were and continuing to be the “puppet master.”  No matter what storyline unfolds, each episode teaches a lesson about goodness and love always conquering evil and hate but never without a battle or a heartbreaking sacrifice.

In one particular episode, Snow White learns the truth of how her mother died and she’s immediately filled with such heart break that she starts to feel hatred toward her mother’s killer.  This angry state weakens her faith in good overcoming evil and she commits an evil act.  That evil act blackens her heart. For several episodes she battles with depression and despair but the love of her husband, family and friends lift her out of that pit and restores her faith in light being victorious over darkness.

When I am angriest, I pour out screaming prayers to God spewing disappointment and even questioning His love for me.  I think unforgiving and hateful thoughts and many times I hold a grudge for far too long.  Tonight was a night of tears and angry praying.  There are circumstances occurring in my life that I don’t know how to change and I’ve reached a point where, just like Snow White,  I’m lacking faith. It seems evil doers are getting away with spiteful acts and that’s not ok in my book.   I know God is in control and that’s frustrating me even more because I don’t see Him intervening.  Tonight I felt Him reminding me that David praised God and would continuously remind himself of all God had done for him but I refused. I was so angry and disappointed that I refused to praise God.  In my anger I sinned because I responded to hate by blinding myself from all of God’s goodness. And God is good-all of the time.  No matter the circumstances God is good.

In researching my Bible app to find the verse about the den of thieves, God led me to some verses on anger.  Here are a couple that stood out to me immediately and broke up the hard black stone that formed around my heart:

  • “Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.”

          ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭29:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

  • “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”

          ‭‭James‬ ‭1:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬

  • “Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper— it only leads to harm.”

          ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭37:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

  • “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.”

          ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭19:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

These stood out to me because they didn’t speak to the requests I made or to my lack of faith-they spoke directly to my heart.  Isn’t that  just like God to allow us to throw tantrums yet also provide correction at the same time.  It’s as if I was pointing my finger at these circumstances and asking God where He’s at in all of this and God was pointing His finger at me saying “Get your anger in check girl!”  To be honest, these verses humbled me faster than any verse I’ve ever read about peace and forgiveness.  These verses also motivated me to give thanks to God for His correction and to write this post because during my angry monologue in fits of sobbing, I confessed that I was too angry and too disappointed to even write for Him.  Good thing God is omnipotent and knew I would end up writing this post less than an hour after saying that.

Whatever you’re dealing with-pour out your anger to God, confess every feeling you’re experiencing to Him and if you happen to sin in your angry-allow God’s correction to humble your heart.  No matter what keep, believing in His goodness, His deliverance, His provision and His perfect timing! He promisss in Isaiah 41:10 “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
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Father’s Day in May

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

The month of May brings hopes for warmer temps, budding trees and blooming flowers.  It also holds the day we celebrate mothers and remember those who sacrificed their lives for us as well as loved ones who have passed on before us.  But for me, the month of May holds another special day-not one most would celebrate or even wish to ever have happen.  May holds the anniversary of the man whom I was blessed to call dad’s (His name was Skeet), death.  May 15th, 1983 to be exact, is the day that  made me half an orphan.

Although it’s been over 30 years, I can still remember many details from that night.  Some details are foggy but what still sticks with me is this:  My mom woke me up in the middle of the night telling me there had been an accident and my uncle was taking us to the hospital.  When we got to the hospital I remember sitting in the waiting room praying to a God I didn’t know asking that it be my grandfather who was hurt, not my daddy because in true 7-year-old logic my grandfather was “old” and I didn’t want God to take my daddy.  But then I saw the doctor talk to my mom and I watched her lose all strength in her legs.  She was so stricken with grief that she literally collapsed and a wheel chair was brought in for her to sit in.  The days that followed were something like this:  We moved in with my Aunt and Uncle temporarily (we never returned to the apartment we lived in with my dad.) My mom was catatonic for days.  She said nothing, I don’t recall her eating much.  She just sat on the couch and stared into space.  I grieved alone.  I remember getting a new dress for the funeral.  I loved that dress.  I think I got new black shiny shoes and white bobby socks with lace trim (don’t laugh, it was the early 80’s.)  I remember there was a tornado warning a few days before the funeral and I made sure to grab my and my mom’s funeral outfits before heading to the basement because I didn’t want them to be ruined.

The day of the funeral lots of people were there.  Lots of tears and sadness filled the room.  I remember my dad was buried in a brown polyester suit (again it was the early 80’s.)  Thinking back now, I think he would’ve hated that suit and preferred to be buried in one of his button down butterfly collared shirts and nice pair of blue jeans.  But my mom chose a suit.  I remember what he looked like at the funeral.  He looked like he was lifelessly asleep.  It was the first dead person I had ever seen.  I kissed his nose.  That was a shock-dead people don’t feel warm and soft like a live person.  I have never touched another dead person again after that.

I sat in a side area of the funeral parlor for the service.  I don’t remember what was spoken I just remember looking around and seeing lots of tears.  One teenaged boy in particular went through at least a full box of tissues from sobbing. I knew he was my dad’s biological son whom he wasn’t allowed ever see.  I have to admit I’ve lived with a guilt of being blessed to have been loved and cared for by this man and his biological son never knew what he was like as a dad.  I know it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t his either but nonetheless there’s still a burden I carry of having such a blessing that his own son was not fortunate to have.

Just a few short months after Skeet died, mom and I moved into a huge home in town that she purchased.  It was my most favorite house I have ever lived in.  We moved next door to a minister and his family and it didn’t take long for me to form a friendship with the minister’s children.  Soon I was invited to their church and that’s where I came to know Jesus as my personal Savior.  My mom still went out from time to time but soon, something stirred in her and she felt she wasn’t being a good role model for me so she quit the bar scene altogether. It wasn’t long after I became saved that my mom started attending the church also and she too gave her life to the Lord.  For five years we lived in a few homes (the house my mom had bought was just too big for the two of us and we moved around to a few different spots.)  We finally ended up in a 1-bedroom apartment upstairs in the house my mom had originally purchased (and later sold to someone else.) My mom started dating a man from our church and they ended up getting married.  That man and I had no bond.  I wasn’t ready to let go of the dad I had lost and he didn’t know how to father a 12-year-old child.  My baby brother, however, was a beautiful produce of that short lived marriage and I am forever grateful for that union because of his birth.

But then it was just my mom, my baby brother and me-and again, we moved around a lot.  I had a different address each school year.  My mom didn’t have to work when my step-dad died and for some time after because we lived off his life insurance policy.  But when that ran out, my mom was jobless and relied on public assistance temporarily.  One lesson I learned from that hardship was the value of an education.  My mom attended secretarial classes at the local career center, paid for by the government, and was eventually hired by the school as one of their secretaries.  She hated being on assistance and took action to ensure that hardship was only temporary.  While she was pregnant for my brother, she walked to work (4 miles round trip) just to keep her job and continue to provide for me and him.  We walked a lot growing up.  We experienced a lot of financial hardship.  But through it all, my mom kept persevering and providing for my brother and me.

Can I get real for a minute?  Grief is a very challenging thing to deal with and if not dealt with properly can cause years of problems and dysfunction.  How do I know?  Because I am one who didn’t grieve well and it took its toll on me for far too long.  For years after Skeet’s death I was numb for two days in May-the day of his death and the day after.  I would tear up and then eventually suppress the sadness because I didn’t want to feel sad.  I couldn’t visit his grave without crying so I eventually stopped visiting.  I hated to cry. I gave myself a time limit to grieve and after a while I told myself I shouldn’t be sad anymore so I shut down that part of my feelings.  I resented my mom too.  You see, they were together the night he died and she left the bar early.  He was drunk and decided to drive home (like many, many times before) and he caused the car accident.  Thankfully, the person he hit suffered only a broken leg and only my step-dad’s life was taken.  I am not thankful he died but thankful no other lives were lost in what could’ve been a preventable accident.

I have dealt with anger issues and lived a very long life feeling half of me was missing.  I also felt like I was robbed of the only security I had ever known.  I had times I was angry with God too. I couldn’t understand why He would take my daddy away from and allow me to grow up without a father.  I strayed from the church in my 20’s because of my anger with God and felt I had been force fed the Bible for far too long.  During my bar days, I would get into near fist fights with people who had been drinking and were going to drive home. I was a designated driver for many years and honestly didn’t even have my first alcoholic beverage until I was 23.  I was even controlling with my first real relationship because I was afraid to lose him.  Having something so tragic and out of my control happen to me at such a young age put me into a tailspin of always being in control, expecting the worst and never really enjoying the happy times because I vowed I would never feel that out of control or lost again.

It took years to learn that I am not in control of anything but my own response or reaction to the curve balls life throws at me.  It took years to recognize that God is in control and He does what He wants, when He wants to whom He wants because He is God and He can do that.  It also took me years to truly believe that all things work together for His glory Romans 8:28)-even the worst tragedies of our lives.  And it literally took 30 years for me to feel free from the burden of grief.  In fact-it was almost 30 years to the day of his death that I found myself at the same funeral home surrounded by the same family and at the same cemetery honoring the life of his great aunt.  After her graveside services and I said my goodbyes to his family, I mustered up the courage to walk over to his grave site.  While standing there, I found myself talking to the stone as if he was there in person.  I suddenly heard a whisper in the wind say, “I’m sorry.” And I felt my whole heart whisper back, “I forgive you.”  It was that moment all the grief, sadness, resentment and anger was finally released.  I walked to my car with a tear stained face and heart full of freedom.

Last fall I found myself traveling to the town I lived in when Skeet had died.  It was for my son’s football game.  While driving home my children and I drove past the place I lived at the time of his death.  Suddenly floods of memories came back that I hadn’t thought of since I was a small child.  Good, strong happy memories.  As I was telling the kids many wonderful stories, I began to cry.  Only this time, I didn’t suppress it.  I let myself tear up and feel the sadness that never truly goes away.  You see, when you live the rest of your life missing half of yourself, no matter how fully healed you are, there’s a sadness that will never go away.  I have learned that that is truly ok.  God can fill us up and He can make us whole.  But even God knows what it feels like to be grief stricken and feel like half of you is missing.  So I believe He fully understands the emptiness we forever feel when someone we deeply loved is taken from us so suddenly.

Although Skeet was only my dad for nearly 5 short years, he impacted my life tremendously and his death forever changed me.  One thing that came from such a loss is this-I am living proof that God is near to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18), that He turns our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11) and that He makes beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3.) A life changing tragedy is what led me to Him and continued circumstances beyond my control, including other moments of heartache and grief continue to keep me close to Him.  Tomorrow is another anniversary of the day my life was forever turned upside down.  But because of God’s healing touch and His perfect love for me, I will face tomorrow with joy in my heart and gratitude for the years I did have with Skeet instead of focusing on the years I have lived without Him.  God is always faithful to His promises-especially the promise of healing (Isaiah 53:5) and to bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1.)

God calls us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18.)  This doesn’t mean I have to thank Him for taking my daddy away from me.  What this does mean is that I can choose to be thankful for the years I had with him and for all the ways God protected, provided and loved me unconditionally in the years I have lived on since Skeet was called home to Jesus.  It also means I can thank God for His faithfulness in the promise that He is our Heavenly Father and is especially faithful in being the One true Father to the fatherless.  (Psalm 68:5)