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)

A Modern Day Hester

If you’ve ever read the novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, you are familiar with the main character, Hester Prynne, who was publicly punished for having an affair.  Her punishment included imprisonment and standing in the town square for hours wearing a red A on her clothing (the A stood for adulteress.)  Hester had a child by her lover but chose to never disclose who the lover was despite the threatening pressure she endured.  In fact, the only time she fought back was when select townspeople threatened to take her child away when the child started acting out.  The story is full of deception, secret lives and guilt stricken consciences.  In the end, Hester carries on, wearing her scarlet A with no healing from the mistake she made.

I am a modern day Hester.  Now before I go any further let me clarify-this is NOT a confession of having an affair nor am I pregnant with a love child.  But-I have made some pretty sinful mistakes in my life and if I had lived in the puritan era like Hester, I would’ve been her cell mate. My scarlet letter probably would have covered my entire body.  Like I said, this is not a confession. In fact, guilt rarely even has control over me anymore.  This is transparency for my readers in hopes to raise awareness of forgiveness, mercy, grace and healing.

I was called a “loser” recently.  Being call that not only shocked me but it greatly stung.  In fact, in nearly knocked me down.  I was called a loser because of a mistake I made.  It was a mistake made from a broken heart and out of mass confusion. I confessed it not only to God but to the person who called me this name trusting that person would be understanding and forgiving. They weren’t.  They were angry and instead of mercy and grace, they verbally pinned me with a big old scarlet L (for loser.)  This is not the first time I’ve been called names for making a mistake.  My “favorites” are being called “a head case” when I had post-partum depression, and “a financial disaster” because I struggle with money management.

We are all human.  We ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23.) David was an adulterer and a murderer.  Do you know what God did to him?  Made him king of Judah.  Moses was also a murderer and a coward.  God chose him to take on Pharaoh and lead God’s chosen people out of slavery.  Rahab was a prostitute and God used her to hide His spies who came later to conquer the city she lived in.  God did punish them-David and Bathsheba lost the child that was conceived by their affair.  Moses was exiled for 40 years after committing murder and I’m sure Rahab lived a fairly miserable life as a prostitute.  But God also redeemed them.  And once redeemed, He then promoted them!  That’s just how God works.

God doesn’t call us names.  If He is tearing us down it’s only to remove the bad.  Any tear down from God is guaranteed to have a major build up and fill up with His forgiveness, grace and mercy. God calls us to the do same with each other.  His word is full of scriptures like; “But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith… (Jude 1:21), “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25) and “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8.)  The Bible does call us to admonish one another but He does not call us to shame or condemn one another.  In fact, He says the opposite in Romans 8:1; “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”  That verse is pretty straight forward and if your Christian walk is anything like mine then we both need straight forward, aye?

Driving to work today, God reminded me of Hawthorne’s novel.  He played a Casting Crowns song for me on the radio with these lyrics,

“Not because of who I am

But because of what You’ve done.

Not because of what I’ve done

But because of who You are…

Lord, You catch me when I’m falling.

And You’ve told me who I am.

I am Yours, I am Yours…

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin

Would look on me with love and watch me rise again?” ~Who am I

He then spoke to me with these words, “You don’t wear a scarlet A or L, Beloved.  The blood I shed on the cross for you removed every transgression I knew you would commit in your lifetime.  Beloved, the cross took that A and L away.  I have emblazoned you with a new letter-a V, washed white as snow.  It stands for the victory you have in Me.”

Ironically, when googling those above song lyrics, I stumbled upon the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by Jessica Andrews.  It’s called, Who I am.  The second verse in this song is my anthem;

“So when I make big mistake

When I fall flat on my face

I know I’ll be alright

Should my tender heart be broken

I will cry those teardrops knowin’

I will be just fine

‘Cause nothin’ changes who I am..”

I know who I am.  I am not a loser, a head case or a financial disaster.  Who am I?  A modern day Hester redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  I AM the DAUGHTER of the ONE TRUE KING, His Princess and His only.  No cruel word will ever change that.

For those living in a pit of guilt and shame-get out!  Shake it off and straighten your crown.  For you too are redeemed, washed white as snow and wear a V for victory on your heart.  Live victoriously as the son or daughter of Christ that you were made to be.  For those casting stones, stop it!  Stop forming a firing squad.  If your heart is hurting and your angry then pause and pray.  Ask God to fill you with the grace and mercy for those whose mistakes hurt you.  But remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees who wanted to condemn a woman caught in adultery in John 8:7, “They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” God called us to be bridge builders-not stone throwers.

Can I take a Mulligan, please?

“…His mercies never end.  They are new each morning.  Great is His faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22b&23 ESV

This week was a week of mulligans.  It started on Tuesday getting a major attack at the office and not responding to it in a godly way.  It continued at home and has just been a week of conflict and road blocks all around.  Each day I wake up thinking it’s a new day with new adventures but it seems to end the same way as the day before.  I’m emotionally raw and quite exhausted and there’s still three days left of this week.  By Saturday I’ll probably just be operating on auto-pilot.

Some of you may be reading this wondering “What the heck is a mulligan?”  In the game of golf there’s a concept called the mulligan.  When you are teeing off, if you have a bad swing and end up hooking the ball, landing in a sand trap or who knows where you can choose to take a mulligan. Essentially, a mulligan is a do-over.  Taking a mulligan erases the bad swing-it’s as if the hook shot never existed.  Granted, mulligans are not part of the formal rules of golf but in a casual game mulligans can speed up the process by allowing you to avoid searching for a lost ball or chip repeatedly from a sand trap.

God’s word is filled with stories of mulligans.  Abraham thought he had to manufacture his own miracle and created Ishmael with Hagar.  But Ishmael was not the promised heir God had for Abraham.  God could have told Abraham “Too bad so sad, you got in my way, now you’ll never get what I promised you.”  But instead He corrected Abraham, protected Hagar and blessed Abraham with Isaac anyway.  I know I talk a lot about Abraham but that’s because God uses his story a lot in my life.  In a way, you could say I’m a cross between a modern day Abraham and a modern day Job.

My favorite example of a mulligan is Peter.  Peter was one of Jesus’ beloved disciples.  He walked with Christ faithfully throughout Jesus’ ministry.  But when his life was threatened for believing in Christ, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.  THREE TIMES!  Every time I read this story I am mesmerized that someone who walked with Jesus, and saw His miracles first hand still doubted Him to the point that he denied knowing Christ.  In all honestly, it makes me think I shouldn’t beat myself up so much when my faith is lacking.  Our faith today is a lot more challenging considering the distractions and deceit this world is filled with.

Jesus knew Peter would deny Him.  In fact, Jesus told Peter he would deny Christ three times.  But Peter didn’t listen.  He was so confident in his faith and devotion to Jesus that he couldn’t fathom ever denying Him.  He also underestimated the power of satan to use our greatest weaknesses to fall from grace.  The devil got Peter to fall through fear.  Fear is probably the craftiest and one of the most compelling weapons satan uses to pull us away from God.  When we fear-we doubt God.  Doubting God turns our eyes away from Him and onto the object of our fear.  For Peter, he feared death.  Thus, after Jesus was arrested, he denied knowing Jesus in order to avoid death.  He didn’t just deny Christ-he lied.  One of Jesus’ right hand men, the one who literally walked on water with Jesus, lied about even knowing Jesus and being affiliated with Him.

Most people then and today reading about Peter might think he deserved to be shunned by Christ and dejected from the Kingdom of Heaven.  And I would agree.  Denying Christ was an awful choice Peter made.  In fact (to quote a US presidential candidate) it was deplorable!  In today’s day and age the media would have slammed Peter and verbally crucified him through ridicule, mockery and horrific judgement.  He would have been condemned for lying and removed from ministry.  He would have suffered great humiliation publicly.

What did Jesus do?  After His death and resurrection, Jesus approached Peter and asked him if he loved Jesus.  Peter said “yes.”  Jesus asked him again.  Peter again said, “yes.”  Jesus asked Peter a third time allowing Peter to say, “Lord, you know that I do.”  Why did Jesus ask him that and why did he ask him three times?  It was the ultimate mulligan.  In fact-it was three mulligans in one.  Peter denied Jesus three times-Jesus showed Peter He knew Peter’s heart by allowing Peter to express his true love for Christ the same three times.  Peter was redeemed and it was if his denial never existed.

Christ does the same for us today.  There are choices we make that will bring a lifetime of consequences.  But no matter what, we never get what we truly deserve.  God’s promises of forgiveness, grace and mercy are His mulligans for every mistake we make.  And He calls us to give mulligans too.  When others offend us, He calls us to forgive them and offer the same grace He gives us instead of harboring a grudge and choosing to not forgive.   He forgives every sin we ever commit.  Like the Lord’s Prayer says, He forgives us as we forgive those who trespass against us also.

Forgiveness is not an easy thing to do but becomes easier if we remember that God forgives us.  I can hold a long grudge. I’m not bragging by any means.  It’s something I’m actually ashamed of.  But when God gets a hold of me and reminds me of His grace and forgiveness for me, I am able to offer the same forgiveness to the one who hurt me.  After, of course, I have a HUGE helping of humble pie.

I’m thankful for mulligans.  I’m thankful for God’s promise of new mercies each morning.  If you had a bad day today remember this-tomorrow is brand new.  Tomorrow is God’s mulligan.  Learn from your mistakes and don’t take each new day for granted.  The best we can do is strive to be better tomorrow than we were today.  Also, don’t live defeated.  Feeling defeated and living defeated are two different things.  Don’t confuse the two.  A golfer who takes a mulligan doesn’t do so in a spirit of defeat.  When he or she tees up again they do so with the determination to not make the same mistake twice and to swing better the second time around.  In life we can do the same.  If you screw up in life (and at some point, we all screw up), take a step back and examine what you did.  Figure out what you can change and then take a mulligan.  In your mulligan swing, don’t make the same mistake again.  But know this-even if you do make the same mistake again, God’s grace is generous enough that His mulligans only stop when He calls us home to His kingdom.