Grace…and Paying it Forward
Just over a month ago (December 14, 2012), the holidays were fast approaching, and I was looking forward to several things. For instance, all of my kids would be home for Christmas, I was about to turn 50, and some much needed time off from work. On that particular day, the word grace had been on my mind. I was thinking about how “Grace” is God‘s unmerited favor. I don’t deserve His grace, and I definitely didn’t earn His grace. God gives me grace despite my weaknesses.
The morning of the 14th, I posted a simple picture about grace. It was only the definition.
Grace, n.: undeserved, unmerited, unearned, favor.
On the afternoon of the 14th, when I got home from school, I drove up to my house to find my son, my husband, my youngest daughter & her best friend, my mom, and the police…all outside of our house. I remember driving up and thinking that something was not right. As I got out, I was met by many, to say that there was a break in and we had probably been burglarized.
The two police officers, one off duty (Officer Prichard) who heard the call and responded first, and the reporting officer both entered the back of the house to see if it were safe to enter. The front door had been jammed so that no one could enter during the burglary. The burglars actually used our grill accessory to crash through the glass of the back door.
Upon announcing that the house was safe to enter, the officers asked if one of us would come inside with them to scan and make an initial report of what was taken. I volunteered, and as I was scanning the house…it seemed so surreal. While the officers were asking questions and taking pictures, I realized that things could have been so much worse. You see, my youngest has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and sometimes stays home with the pain. She is a high school freshman, and my mom lives across the street; therefore, I feel okay with her staying home if she needs to. Needless to say, her room was one of the rooms burglarized.
In fact, the downstairs bedrooms were pretty much the only rooms hit. Again, it could have been so much worse. The burglars only went for things that could possibly be put in a backpack and/or carry out with straps. The burglars pretty much took all the good jewelry I have ever owned…that I had collected over the last 35+ years. Some were heirlooms, and some semi-precious items. They took two laptops (one with our family photos), our family video camera, and some music and gaming devices. There were some other things; but, I was thankful that it wasn’t worse.
I need to make a side note here before I go any further. The last few years have been a big learning curve for our family. We have experienced many ups and downs…with different family members moving out and some returning home (that’s another story). The reason why I’m bringing this up, is that my youngest writes poetry (one which is on this site called “Beauty Is…”). She also writes stories (with great details), and creates art. She’s extremely talented, and yes…I’m biased. Anyway, her laptop was extremely important to her. Her inner most thoughts, trials & tribulations, and dreams were on that computer. It was also a way to stay in touch with her best friends that moved to Alabama, and her older sister that had gone off to college. It was really like a safe haven for her.
Once we made the initial report, I returned outside to talk to the others. Glancing to the side, I noticed that Jess had a metal pole in her hand. It’s used to turn the water off at the street, in case of emergency. I was talking with one of the officers, and my son and husband, when I heard this blood curdling scream. My first thought was that Jess had fallen on this metal pole, and it stabbed her.
It was probably one of the worst feelings that has ever come over me…except from a bad dream. After I realized she was not physically injured, I went over to her to see what was wrong. That was when Officer Prichard had told me that he had told Jess the rooms that had gotten burglarized, and that the laptops had been taken.
That blood curdling scream was the agony she felt by someone invading her space, and just snatching up her very intimate thoughts. I was just thankful that our cats were okay, or that would have just added to the injury.
I have never heard her say anything really bad. If you read her poem (‘Beauty Is…”), you will have a better understanding of where her heart truly lies. But, on this day she screamed a cry of disgust. She asked, “Why would someone do such a thing?” I thought I don’t know. I’m sure they were in need of some quick cash before the holidays; but, no one really knows the burglar’s heart (except for God). Maybe they needed money for something really important.
I remember that it was hard to console Jess. It’s hard to say you understand, and sorry to something like that, unless you have really experienced something like that. She’s young, and there is nothing I could immediately compare it too. We all felt a little helpless. She looked like an empty shell of a person. She left the house to go stay at her friend’s house, because we were missing most of the back door…and frankly it’s a little scary. You begin to wonder if the burglars might return for the rest of the items they left behind.
I realize some of you may be thinking that maybe she was being a little silly, and very dramatic; but, don’t judge her if you haven’t been in that situation.
I posted later that night about the coincidence of posting about grace earlier that day, and how humbling it was for me. That I, in turn, should show grace toward these burglars. I was thankful that no one, or cats, were hurt. I had to accept that things were going to be okay, and that God was good!
Now to the paying it forward part…Officer Prichard, the first officer to respond came over the next day to see how we were faring. What I’m about to tell you is so awesome. He told me that he had fought in Afghanistan for eight years and had seen homicides while being an officer; but, he told me that the yell of Jess’ pain and the grief she felt, really touched him. Officer Prichard went home and contacted some wonderful people. He told them about Jess’ story. He told them that she was a good student. He told them that she had experienced some ups and downs over the past year (some emotional and some physical). He told them about her laptop, and then many of those kind people he contacted, responded to his story of Jess.
With the Christmas season approaching, Officer Prichard, and another officer, came to our house a few nights before Christmas. Officer Prichard, being the Christian man he is, wanted to make a difference and remind Jess that yes there is bad in the world; but, that there is a lot of good, too. He emphasized the reason for the season was Christ, and how Jesus gave us the best gift of all. He died so that we could live. His grace covers our sins…and even the sins of the burglars.
After reminding us that grace covers much in us that is not deserved, he also said that it’s important to make a difference with our talents that God has given us. This is where he brought out a new laptop for Jess. He also presented her with a backpack to carry it in, a jump drive so that she could back up her talent, and a card to upgrade Microsoft office so that she could excel at her school work as well. He also presented me with a laptop, and a printer for the family.
Wow! I wish I had a camera to capture the look of our amazed astonishment on our faces as when we received our gifts. God had used this officer’s talent to respond to the cry of one of His children. He contacted others on her behalf, and others responded. What a blessing, and for many reasons. I will actually write more about this at a later time.
Now, it’s time to use our talents and pay it forward. Jess has continued to write and create art. I’m beginning to write again, and we are currently housing a young boy who needed a safe place to live. It is the least we could do, for what others had done for us…especially God.
So much about God’s love was learned this season.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” ~Romans 12:9-10
God’s love is genuine! Hold fast to what is good. Show affection to others. God’s grace covers us all despite our weaknesses. God has shown/given unmerited favor to us. None of us are deserving, yet He gave His grace to us freely. He gave us His Son.
I know this isn’t much; but, at this time I want to personally thank those that were involved in paying forward and making a difference in our lives this season. There were some that didn’t want to be personally acknowledged for their charitable acts, and I respect that; but, know that we appreciate your gift, and we are most thankful. I know that God is adding jewels to your crown in Heaven. A big thank you goes to Officer Prichard, Patty, Cat, Susan & Jack, Al, Terry & Carolyn, and to the many others that responded and helped Officer Prichard make a difference in restoring a young girl’s faith. I also would like to thank the sweet teacher at my school who anonymously donated a grocery gift card to my family, and my Special Ed department at my school who bought each kid a gift card to help make their Christmas brighter. God bless you all.
“The Crownless Again Shall Be King”
There is a poem that I love that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in the “Lord of the Rings”. My favorite line is the last line, “The crownless again shall be king.”
Of course, the king Tolkien was talking about in his book was the Ranger Strider who later becomes King Aragorn. There is much symbolism made in Tolkien’s books that refer to Christianity. I love it! Today, I’m going to share my twist of this last line of the poem.
We know that Christ touched many lives (figuratively and literally). I think most people thought that there was nothing special about Him. I have often thought about how Christ did not much look like a King during His reign on Earth; in fact, he probably had similarities to that of a ranger.
Through God‘s words, the Gospel in the Holy Bible, we know that Christ is the truth we should all seek. We also know that while He lived on Earth… few really “knew” Him. Of the few that knew Him…some betrayed Him. In fact He suffered greatly at their hands. In the end, He wore a crown of thorns.
Why was Christ crucified?
The Apostle Paul explains very well for us. Paul says that, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us . . . We are now justified by his blood.”; thus the crucifixion began. Christ endured many painful experiences for us so we could live our lives…the lives we often choose for our self.
As humans, we often choose the life we want to live for ourselves. Although, there are times that we experience pain as a result of those that choose to live their life for them self; such as, physically, spiritually, verbally, emotionally abusing others. This is not always the case; but, it does happen more than we care to know…often times go unnoticed by our self, or others.
…Anyway, in dealing with our painful experiences we must understand that a deep healing can take place, if we allow it. We must desire for this deep healing to take place. We can not begin to understand how this deep healing works, unless we understand His grace and mercy…of dying for us.
We must learn, and try to understand, that there is hope in healing, and His hope leads to freedom. Freedom will come when we have faith to trust in Him. Truth is our hope is found in Christ; but, lack of faith can stand in the way of our passion to heal. Like our doubt, faith must be learned.
How do we learn to have faith?
Having faith is learning His truth. Ultimately the truth is that it is not within our power to heal ourselves. We will fail alone–every one of us. That is why we need the “Author and Finisher” of our faith. The One who is able to keep us from falling. Christ can lift us up. As Casting Crowns song “Who Am I” says, “He lifts me up not because of who I am or what I’ve done; but, because of who He is…the One who cares to know my pain.”
Christ endured great pain on the cross. He died for our sins so that we could live. Christ fulfilled what we could not do.
If the Gospel brings about true freedom, then His message brings us hope. Not just for today, but for the future of His Kingdom. One of my Pastors told me that, “God’s grace gives us freedom from despair and pride.” Truth is, that we can have hope to “carry on”, if we let His grace free us of our idols of our sinful nature…or from our past of painful experiences.
I want to share parts of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s poem. It is as follows:
“…Not all those who wander are lost;
…A light from the shadows shall spring;
…The crownless again shall be king.”
Again, the only crown Jesus wore was a crown of thorns. But through the Gospel we find hope. We learn that the truth of God’s mercy, grace, and justice sets us free. Knowing all of these things, we should be able to have faith that His Kingdom is very real. He has Risen! Yes, the Lord has risen indeed! He is risen in a kingdom where the crownless again shall be King…of all Kings.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~ Galatians 2:20
I would like to have the Lenten Special, please.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” ~ Psalm 73:25-26
The season of Lent precedes Easter, which is known as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is a 40 day period prior to Easter day.
Traditionally people “give up” certain things during the Lent period. Usually a person will “give up” something they really like. It usually is a habit of some sort, and it really depends on the person. I really have a sweet tooth; but, have to have something salty to get the sweet taste out of my mouth…hahahaha!
Lent is not about a deprivation of our selfish habits…the ones we mostly partake for our personal gratification. Lent is a season of self-examination. During this period of self-examination we are called as Christians to examine how we “nourish” our bodies…as members of the body of Christ. It’s about how we nourish our hearts. It’s about how we focus on Jesus, who gives us strength.
My pastor said, “It’s like a spiritual test of where your heart is. Your heart is where your treasure is. Is it focused on “me” [self], or is it focused on Jesus?”
It’s human nature to want to focus on ourselves. I’m extremely guilty of this. In fact, I tend to focus on things that I may have regretted doing wrong or I may focus on good things that I feel have gone unnoticed. Either way, my focus is on “me”, and not Him. I focus on things that don’t give me true life.
There are also some who may focus on the things I’ve done wrong, and are really good at pointing them out to me, and sometimes to others. It’s not like I live in a box. I know I’m a sinner! Most of the time, I actually regret doing a lot of the things I do. But, something that I tend to forget, and need constant reminding of, is that there is no condemnation in Christ! Only others, or my miserable self, may accuse of past, or present things.
Lent can also be a time to be a part of community; to be a part of others–who have a commonality of fixing their eyes on Jesus.
That’s really the goal isn’t it? To fix our eyes on Jesus. To understand that this beautiful gift from God, His only Son, is not just for ourselves but to be shared with others…with no strings attached.
Lent is a time to extend ourselves to others. Extending not to just those who are impoverished, but, those that are older in age, those that may need comforting (for whatever reason), and to the sick and weary. We should extend ourselves to those in our broken world; to be His messengers of love and mercy. Our extension of ourselves should bear the very image of God.
Giving of oneself can be tough; but, there is a high return on the satisfaction odometer. Giving of oneself can be like a ripple effect. Those that take His Light out into the world of others–do so because they take delight in this action, not because it’s “dutiful”. It becomes a celebration that ripples out into the world.
I know that there is a lot more to Lent. I could write pages on Lent. Lent is not only about self-examination, it’s a plethora of practicality of sorts. Some of it’s about focusing on our faults; some of it’s about repenting; some of it’s about extending ourselves to others; but, it’s mainly about keeping our eye on the prize of Christ Jesus. He is the Author & Creator–the Finisher of the story of our lives.
During this season, what will you be serving up for your Lenten Special?
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this is not from ourselves, it is a gift of God…” ~ Ephesians 2:8
Who determines if one is strong or not? No one should determine other’s strengths or weaknesses. We have our own strengths and weaknesses, knowing that God has a plan for us. Every struggle in your life shapes you into the person you are today. Be thankful for the hard times; they can only make you stronger…strong enough!
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” ~ Philippians 4:13
Many of us have felt great guilt from the brokenness of our past, and present, struggles. We feel, or have felt, that we just have to live under a dark cloud. Through Christ, He became our answer for our brokenness. It was His sacrificial love for us that gives us strength to carry on past our struggles.
For some of us, the healing and restoration from life’s struggles are needed to rightly see God. This kind of healing is available through the power of God who makes us stronger. It may take some time to let those old idols go; but, one may consider the work of the Holy Spirit to heal those wounds—if we let him.
Despite our struggles in life, we can have confidence in knowing that Jesus suffered and died for us. We can now find restoration and resurrection through him…and all from the hand of God.
We all know that our struggles can wreak havoc within us. They often leave us feeling like we are living in a world of tangled hangers. Sometimes it’s hard to straighten them out without some kind of help. While straightening up the “hangers” in our life, they may allow us to find support and comfort from others. Instead of regretting all of our struggles, we should be thankful when God puts others into our lives to help us.
One important question we may have is…does God care that we suffer? Does He enjoy watching us as we fall down? Of course not.
God knows that we suffer. On our worst day, we are never alone. Jesus is by our side. Our faith declares that God, our Father, sent His only Son to suffer at the hand of others. He came into our world to deliver us from evil and give us a future and a hope.
How then does Jesus know about our path of struggles? Within our faith we have learned how the only Son of the living God encountered real temptations. We know that Jesus overcame those temptations by using His Father’s words…scriptures. We have read where Jesus suffered at the hands of family and friends. We know that His suffering became worse the closer he got to achieving His goal—to save our souls.
God knows that we are weak and He urges us to pray to Him, dare I say cry out to Him, so that we would be better equipped not to succumb to temptation. Something happens to us when we take our struggles to the Father. He transforms us, and gives us strength and courage to do things we never thought possible. Even in the midst of our struggles, we can rise up to most challenges. God would not bring us to our struggles, if He could not bring us through our struggles. Don’t get off the beaten path, take the path to Jesus… often times the path less traveled.
Finally, I’m reminded of a song by Matthew West, that got him a Grammy award nomination. It’s called “Strong Enough” and parts of it is as follows:
“You must think I’m strong…
To give me what I’m going through…
Forgive me if I’m wrong; but this looks like more than I can do on my own.
…Maybe that’s the point; to reach the point of giving up.
Cause when I’m finally…at rock bottom.
That’s when I start looking up and reaching out.
Cause I’m broken down to nothing
But I’m still holding on to one thing
You are God and you are strong when
I am weak
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,
and i don’t have to be strong enough
I know I’m not strong enough to be everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up. I’m not strong enough.
Hands of mercy won’t you cover me.
Lord right now I’m asking you to be…Strong enough.”
God does know that we suffer and that we needed someone to give meaning and hope beyond our suffering. Jesus Christ was sent to enter into our world to deliver us from evil. He gives us hope when we draw near to Him. Jesus’ suffering lasts beyond the cross to the wonder and glory of the resurrection. He is the Suffering Christ whose grace and mercy has saved us from our struggles today! He makes us strong enough to carry on.
God’s Valentine Promises to Us
There is no better gift to get for Valentines than receiving, and knowing, God’s Valentine promises to us. God’s Love for us is greater than anything we can imagine. His sacrificial gift to us was His son, Christ. God is love!
“…nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:39
I saw the Hallmark Valentine commercial. I have to admit, I’m a sap for romantic gestures, especially this time of year…ok, I’m pretty much a romanticist all year. I love the idea of someone telling me I’m beautiful. I want someone to tell me they want to grow old with me. Who wouldn’t want to have a super hero rescue them? And, I never grow weary of someone saying they need me, or love me.
After watching the commercial, I realized that God is constantly trying to send me His own “Hallmark” greeting. God tells me He delights in me. I ask Him to never let me go, so He promises to hold on to me. He comforts me. God wants to be my “Super Hero“, if I would let Him.
God has also told me that He loved me so much that He sent His only Son to give me hope by dying on the cross…so I could live.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16
His promise doesn’t end there. You see…I was sexually abused as a child. I have harbored lots of pain, shame, and guilt. It took years (almost 30 years to be exact) before I understood that God did not condemn me for what happened. People may condemn me; but, He never does.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” ~ John 3:17
We all have struggles. It’s nice to know that we have hope in the midst of our struggles. There is hope in the very lives we live. Christ’s love is our hope.
There were times I wondered where God was in the midst of my suffering…literally suffering at the hands of others..
My pastor reminded me that God had been beside me every time I have suffered. In fact, He is present in the suffering and struggles of the world today. He controls the suffering, and guides it for His purpose.
God’s promises don’t stop there. Oh no they don’t!
Another of God’s promises totally sweeps me off my feet when I think about it. He tells me that He has plans for me. He says in the midst of my struggles, He has plans for me to prosper. God is molding me to be in the image of Christ. He is not finished with me. He wants me to invite others into His kingdom, so that they may prosper.
I know you are thinking, “What you talking bout?”
I’m talking about what my pastor (Tom Gibbs) said, “We are all walking the road with our elder brother…Christ. The path can and will lead us to glory. Our present sufferings are identified with the struggles of Christ. While we are walking with Him (during our struggles) we are being formed in the image of Christ. We are no longer subjected to the bondage of this world. God comforts us in this world even when we have lost our way. The world offers us meaningless and randomness sufferings; but, God is in control of the suffering. Our sufferings guide us for His purpose in the end.”
So in all of this suffering in our world…there is hope. Hope in the love of Christ.
As Valentine approaches, remember that even during our struggles–God is wining and dining us. He is the true lover of our soul. We should take the time to express that “we love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
This Valentines Day my prayer is that we will remember that God’s valentine promises to us are very real and present in our lives …today and everyday. God is near. God is Love!
Adopted by God
Even though I was far from being an orphan as a child, I understood loneliness at times. I was an only child…for real. I was abused by my step father. I alienated myself from others.
As an adult, I have experienced loneliness. I have alienated myself in a very different way. I imagined I was what my pastor describes as being “spiritually orphaned“. But something has changed over the last couple of years. I’ve been adopted…adopted by God.
There was a time that the only father I knew about was one I was trying to forget about. With the help of a few spiritual leaders at my church and counseling, I began to learn otherwise. I learned that God is my true Father. I understand that He is my Father. He chose me. He had plans for me, even before I was born. God adopted me to be a part of His family.
Because of my past, even my present, I have carried a lot of shame and guilt. It has laid heavy in my heart. I tried to keep it suppressed; but, thankfully things are different now.
There is a song called, “You Love Me Anyway” by Sidewalk Prophets. It reminds me of how I feel I acted toward Jesus for all of my life. Part of the song is as follows:
“I am the thorn in your crown; but, You love me anyway.
I am the sweat from Your brow; but, You love me anyway.
I am the nail in Your wrist; but, You love me anyway.
I am Judas’ kiss; but, You love me anyway.
See now I am the [wo] man who yelled out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then I turned away with a smile on my face
With this sin in my heart, tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night I still call out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life!
It’s like nothing in life
That I’ve ever known
Yes You love me anyway
Oh Lord, how You love me.”
You see, my sins pinned His exposed and naked body on the cross. Despite what I did to Him, He sought me out in the crowd and said, “I love you anyway. I delight in you. I have adopted you for my own. You are mine.”
I’m so glad to know that I am loved. I’m not afraid to follow Jesus, or be with Him. In fact, I look forward to the day I will spend eternity with Him. I’m secure in knowing that Jesus loves me. He has adopted me for His very own. He understands my fears. He forgives me of my sins. He gives me strength.
It’s people who don’t understand. It goes back to the disconnectedness I have mentioned before. It’s people who choose to disconnect. Yes, there are some other circumstances; but, people make time for what they want to do. I know, because I’m a human being who does that very thing…chooses to do what I want to do.
I think that God would like for us to slow down and be a community…to try and reconnect with one another. Last fall I had a friend from middle school who reconnected with me, and it was great seeing her. To share our different journeys with each other. We shared so much, and it meant so much to me to be able to catch up with her. I have to admit that I have also connected with several through Facebook as well. It’s been great reconnecting with so many.
It seems so many have trouble reconnecting. Maybe something happened within the relationship. Sometimes things may have happened intentional, maybe on accident without knowing, or maybe time just slipped away. It’s not easy to reconnect. It takes time and energy. There are some who encourage you to do one thing, and then same people hold it against you for doing the very thing they encouraged you to do. It’s so frustrating, and talk about disconnecting.
There is another type of reconnecting…a reconnecting with God. God desires us to connect with Him. If God had not given me the strength and courage to depend on Him, then I think I would have ceased to exist. It’s because of Him that I’m capable of so much more. I’ve been made new.
God chose me to be a part of His family. God adopted me. I don’t mind being in a single family relationship with God. A community would be nice; but if some can’t accept me for me then there is no reason to be a part of community. Jesus loves me anyway…no matter what secrets I may have from my past, or the person I am now. He chose me. I’m adopted by God. He is the best head of family anyone could ever want. Praise His glorious name!
“…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from…strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace,…For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,…” ~ Ephesians 2:12-14, 18-19
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
I have often wondered, at various times in my life, if I was made for more than the ways of this world. As a child I had been sexually abused. I’ve lived through things that I never would thought I was capable of, and I’m much less afraid than I used to be. I’ve realized there is a strength within, a reason worth fighting for. I realized I am fearfully and wonderfully made, by Him, for so much more.
The word ‘fearfully’ means heart-felt interest and respect. The word ‘wonderfully’ means to be unique, and set apart. There is a great love and concern that goes into our uniqueness and being individually created in His image. According to Scripture, we are of great importance! We all have a purpose.
I’m just an ordinary person with wanting a heart to try and focus on God. The last couple of years I’ve been desiring to seek His purpose for me so that I may be used for Him. I feel God wants me to grasp the wonder of His love and grace. To know how real His involvement in my life is, even when I think He is not near, so that I may do this task that is set before me.
It clearly states in Philippians that God works in us for His pleasure. The Word of God tells us that we have been given favor from the Lord, it’s our inheritance as a child of God (Psalm 5:12).
I know that I’ve been guilty of not always putting Him first…even before my own family. At one time, I placed many on a pedestal above Him; but, no longer. I now know that I’m indebted to Him, that He has forgiven my debts, and that He has brought me into a new life with Him. I have become part of His family…the family of God.
My church had a conference this past fall about the family. Skip Ryan was the speaker. He said that the family becomes a place where we learn the purpose of our lives. It becomes the first place where we learn of who we are. He was referring of being a part of God’s family. The key to all we are and to be understood is within the family.
Of course, we learn a lot from our biological families as well. I’m thankful to have met a man that I married and began a family with. I have been blessed in many ways; but, especially with my three children. They are all three very unique with many God-given qualities and talents. They have taught me so much about life, and how very thankful I am for the opportunity to be called, “Mom”.
I’m thankful that I’m a part of the family of God, as well as my own family. We are joint heirs with Jesus. Admittedly, I’m not always close to either families; but, I’m thankful to be a part of both.
Within our families each of us has been given a unique and individual purpose that cannot fail if we will cast off fear and stop listening to the lies of failure, doom and gloom and all the negativity that the devil has been beating us up with. Regardless of our past and our shortcomings! Why? Because it is God ordained – that’s why. And besides that, Romans 11:29 tells us: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” He’s given this to us and He will never take it back.
There is no difference who you are. Grace is for everyone in the family.
One thing that I’ve learned is that within our families, there is hope! Jesus is our hope! Jesus is God’s gift to sinners! The plans and purposes of God are set in motion for a reason…to give us a future and a hope, so that we can be a blessing to our families, or others.
Despite the complexity of families, we should invest time in her members…not taking for granted how much time God has fashioned us to be individuals that have been created for His purpose. We are all unique and bring a different gift to the family. God would not go to the trouble of creating us, if He did not have a purpose for the family. We have been fearfully and wonderfully made to be individuals within the family of God to do His purpose. Praise His wonderful name!
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” ~ Psalm 139: 13-17
Compassion Changed My Life. Thank You, Pastor!
I realize this blog is a little long; but, it’s important to raise our spiritual leader(s) up on a regular basis–by offering prayer and at times showing them some appreciation. In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, I would like to dedicate this blog to those who have given their time to tend their flocks. I know that my pastor’s compassion helped me to change my life. I was sexually abused as a child, and I had a lot of baggage. My pastor helped me to understand how to leave my past abuse behind while becoming more passionate for Christ.
So how can we show our appreciation to our spiritual leaders? Well, most pastors put a significant amount of their time into preparing sermons. I think one of the best ways to give encouragement to them is by being faithful participants in the congregation.
Many pastors pour their heart out, using God’s words, into a sermon to tell us the truth of His grace and love for us. These words spoken, allow us to understand the faith & hope we can have through Him so that we can live and have a passion for Him.
It seems to me that the life of a pastor might be one of the loneliest professions one could pick. It has the makings of a very tough, demanding – and lonely – occupation.
Frustrating? Some of the times, yes. Rewarding? Most times, yes. Spiritually fulfilling? I am most certain yes, and on many different levels.
To spend one’s “everyday” life to further the kingdom of God must be a great profession indeed.
We all have days where nothing seems to go right. Maybe days of immense stress with any number of things that could be contributing to a “bad day.” Maybe you’re having a “season” of bad days.
When that happens, it’s not uncommon for us to talk the situation over with a spouse, family member, friend, or peer. Those conversations can be a great relief. Maybe you might come up with some solutions that you had not considered.
Your pastor has probably had some of those same “bad” days; but, unlike the rest of us, they often don’t have the luxury of a sounding board.
Think about it. Most of us have jobs where we are faced with “performance” appraisals once, maybe twice a year. Pastors are continually being critiqued on a weekly basis. I’m sure there is someone sitting in the pews, on any given Sunday, who is thinking that the sermon could have been better, or that the music wasn’t to their liking, or that the service just wasn’t “good” enough.
It’s almost certain that at least some of the comments will make their way back to them. Who are they going to discuss their concerns with about the fact that no matter what they do…somebody seems to be unhappy?
Then there’s this role of counselor. We often speak to our spiritual leader in confidence. Things said, and seen, can weigh heavily on their heart. All along pondering how to deal with such difficult situations. Yet, where can they go when they are feeling emotionally drained themselves? Where can they go to receive advice about how to handle a particular situation? That could be a whole separate blog; but, at this time I want to share what one of my pastors did for me.
As a child I had been sexually abused by my stepfather from the ages of 7-15…becoming most intense from age 9 and on. I had no idea of how much the abuse really affected me. The following is an excerpt from my site “About Grace Desired”:
“My husband, Sam Hairston, had researched and found a church that taught reformed doctrine. We had been attending Redeemer Presbyterian Church for over a year. I have never been one to stand out at church. I have pretty much been a back row worshiper. I obviously lacked passion for His truth–because there was definitely a lack of knowledge.
As time went on, and due to the good leadership at the church, I began to understand more of the Bible–the truth of His Word. The senior pastor, Tom Gibbs, has a vision and a passion for furthering His kingdom by being compassionate toward His people. The church has a vision and passion as well. Together, the community of the whole church has a passion for wanting to further His kingdom within our city and beyond. For the first time, since I was in high school, I had begun to love a church.
At church it was spoken that the broken (being me) could be energized by the “grace of God”. Week after week, I began to hear that Jesus was for the brokenhearted. Tom preached, and I heard that Jesus could be my champion, and that I could be made new like the “Oaks of Righteousness“. I also heard that God took delight in me. I thought, who me? I am a broken and scarred sinner who is full of shame, guilt, fear, and contempt. How can that possibly be? I was a skeptic!
At the time, Pastor Tom Gibbs, and his wife Tara, believed something else. They had noticed the back row worshiper and her family. I was told that they had prayed for us prior to their time spent with me. I suppose they wanted us to become the front row family.
Anyway, they began to play an integral part in my life. They dedicated much of their time trying to help me see that His grace and love is the reality of my faith & hope; thus, I would learn that I have really received His grace for my past secrets. They helped me to begin to understand that my shame, guilt, fear, along with my contempt, were unnecessary–because Christ took all of that away when He was nailed to the cross. The path was becoming clearer. I was to begin my journey learning that God desired me for who I was…even if I was broken.
I began to realize that God was actually “wining and dining” me. God longed for my attention. I began to feel God’s love, and it was the kind of love that I subconsciously craved for years and did not know it. Many, many months went by, and little did we know that a volcanic eruption (in epic proportion) would follow after the completion of the workbook. It was very painful to recall the memories I had suppressed. I began to have nightmares. I had no idea of the emotions that were surfacing to the top (like the beach ball). These were emotions that I had harbored within my very soul for years.
My “season” of confusion, self-hatred, and fear became too complex… even to the point of a deep despair. I began to become so frustrated that I cut myself a couple of different times. Of course I never really wanted to die; but, that I just wanted to get the horrible shame, guilt, and fear out of my body.
My “season” of emotions turned into “seasons” gone bad; kind of like a really bad reality TV show.
I believe God puts people into our lives for a reason. I definitely believe God brought the Gibbs’ into my life for a reason.”
Sometimes we put our spiritual leaders on pedestals of sorts – and it’s got to be a little lonely up there. We might forget that they’re human beings just like we are. They have strengths, and they have weaknesses, just like us. They get tired. They get frustrated. They need a pat on the back every once in a while, too!
So while Pastor Appreciation Month is a great thing, remember it’s important to support them all year long with prayers and words of encouragement. If last week’s sermon had a particular impact on you, say so. Send your spiritual leader a note of appreciation. You can also support spiritual leaders by becoming more involved with the church.
If we are enthusiastic followers of God, it will mean something to God – and to His ordained servants. I’m thankful that my pastor showed compassion and saw more in me, than I saw in me. He saw that God was not finished with me yet. Through his compassion he helped me to leave my past abuse behind and helped me to become more passionate for Him. Thank you, Pastor!
My prayer for spiritual leaders would be: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” ~Philippians 1:2
In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, I would like to thank the rest of the staff at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas. They are as follows: Tom Gibbs, Senior Pastor; Brandon Eggar, Associate Pastor; Victor Martinez, Assistant Pastor; Michael Novak, RUF Pastor; Brent Watkins, Music Ministry (BTW he also has his own jazz band “South Texas Jazz); Bekah McNeel, Children’s Director; Matt Beham, Youth Director (who has spent countless hours with my kids); Harriet Peavy, Office Administrator; Sarah Gill, Assistant Administrator. I would also like to thank the Elders, Deacons, and Deaconesses for their countless hours of service. There are so many others that play an integral part behind the scenes, and God bless you all for your time and efforts to further His kingdom.
Teach Me to Walk
My oldest daughter, Erica Hairston, is expanding her very own spiritual journey with our Heavenly Father. It has been a blessing to watch her mature and grow spiritually, and all aspects of her life as well. I often stand in awe of her. She has a beautiful spirit about her, and tries to be a friend to all…especially to those in need. She is a people magnet! Erica’s gift from God attracts people to her…in which she is better able to share the Good News.
My other children, Jess and John, are just beginning their own journey making a difference in their own way to further His kingdom. I’m so very proud of them all; each with their own unique God-given talents that they share with others on a daily basis…especially with me. What a blessing to be called “Momma“.
I’m actually going to focus on Erica for this blog because of a recent event.
Here is a brief synopsis of Erica. From an early age she has thrived on “being in the thick of things”. She has a lot of energy, and knows how to harness it and channel it to work for herself, and others, and in a good way. Erica has been in sports most of her life, and has proven to be a great leader on the softball field and mission field. She earned the title of best athlete at her middle school, and earned first team all district honors in softball for her high school team a couple of years. Erica has made lots of friends, loves life, and truly cares for people.
Yes, she has faults. I know I painted her better than Mary Poppins; but, she does have special God-given talents. Plus, we already know that we are all sinners and fall short.
Erica has a mission, and it’s to further His Kingdom. She puts her on twist on the way she furthers His kingdom with a flair that only Erica can do.
This past year, Erica attended Baylor University. She has made a network of amazing Christian friends, and it has literally pumped her up for Jesus! They are a well oiled “tight knit” group ready to fight in God’s army.
Recently, in one of Erica’s quiet time, God revealed to her some of her strengths and weaknesses. She told me that God had revealed to her–that He was going to teach her how to walk. He was going to teach her His way, and it would be better than she has ever walked before. They would start over and take it from the beginning. Even though her spiritual walk is strong; He was going to make her walk stronger than it has ever been before, and all for His glory.
I work at a summer camp now, and it’s very hard to get a hold of me. My cell doesn’t have service unless I stand on top of the zip-line on one foot. Ok, that is a little exaggeration…but not much.
Erica finally got a hold of me to tell me what God had revealed to her; then, she casually added that something unexpected happened a couple of days later.
I thought, “I wonder what unexpected event?”
I knew she had gone to Minnesota to spend some time with one of her future roommate; and then she said, “By the way, I got to go jet skiing and tubing for the first time.”
I thought, “Awesome!”
Erica also told me that she went water skiing, and that the skis were too loose, and she had trouble getting up; therefore, she tightened the skis. The problem was the next time she was getting pulled out of the water (because she is strong) she was pushing harder with one leg, and the ski was under water slightly. This is not a good thing while trying to ski on top of water.
I’m thinking this is all really cool!
Then, her next words were words that would pain any parent’s heart, and my very soul writhed with pain for her. Erica had an accident. The iliofemoral ligament (the strongest ligament in the body, had detached from her hip, and will be having surgery on Tuesday.
BTW…prayers would be good now. Prayers for the doctor and healing would be great; especially since she is a Packer fan and a Cowboy’s doctor will be performing the surgery. She may have to change her allegiance after the surgery; but, she should see how it turns out first-hahahaha!
My eyes began tearing up as she told me what had happened. I was trying not let her hear the pain in my voice; but, I’m not the best at hiding my emotions.
I immediately asked if she had a life jacket on, and she said, “Yes, she did”. I was somewhat relieved. I was happy that she had thought of safety first, and that it helped her to keep a float while writhing in pain waiting in the cold water.
Erica went on to tell me of the events that followed, and she felt certain that she would have drowned (because of the severity of the pain) if not for the life jacket she was wearing, and the other “Life Jacket” that covered her with strength and comfort.
A boat drove by and said they would call the sheriff to get help. Those blessed people also drove around the lake to help clear it so that the waves would not continue to make her move so much…and cause her pain.
Her future roommate, Elizabeth Papetti, and another girl, Kristen Pool, dove out of the boat into the water, and each of the girls got on Erica’s side to help support her until emergency service arrived. I am thankful to God for all of their support to help their friend…their sister in Christ.
She told me about the air life that came; but, that an ambulance was actually able to get to where they were. Erica said that placing her on the backboard was an excruciating pain that she will never forget.
My heart was hurting so bad! A parent never wants their child to suffer such pain. I wanted to be able to take it away, and there is nothing I can do. Then I realized I can pray, and that’s one of the best things I could do for her.
All of the sudden Erica’s voice, despite being a little pain stricken, became more upbeat. She said, “Momma. I got to talk to the people in the ambulance about Jesus.”
My whole body became engulfed with a beautiful warm, spirit filled feeling.
Then Erica said, “Momma. I’m going to have to learn to walk again.”
The realization of her accident came rushing over me again. I felt sick to my stomach.
Then Erica said, “Don’t worry, Momma. I have faith. Plus remember, I told you what God had revealed to me that He was going to teach me how to walk.”
Ok…now, I really need a tissue. This beautiful, sweet child of mine finds the beauty in her own pain. What a testimony! It’s true! He is going to teach her how to walk in His truth and way. How awesome is that?
Erica has made it back to Texas, and has a great support group of friends with her. As a mom, it’s so hard not to want to know how everything is going. How I wish I could take her pain away, and be with her.
Erica reassured me she was in the great hands with her friends, and of the best hands in the Father of the Heavens and Earth. I have no control in th situation. Not controlling the situation is a big leap of faith for me. Since my mini-stroke in May, I have had to learn to let some things go, and not worry so much. It’s definitely a test of faith for me, and being able to put my trust in Him…despite my weaknesses.
I truly can’t do much for her while I’m at camp, or any place for that matter; but, I can definitely pray.
I listen to K-LOVE Christian radio quite often. Their link is also on this web page. As I got off of the phone with Erica, I was reminded of a Jeremy Camp song that I really like. It’s called, “Walk by Faith”, and a part of the song is below.
“Well I will walk by faith
Even when I cannot see
Well because this broken road
Prepares Your will for me
Help me to win my endless fears
You’ve been so faithful for all my years
With one breath You make me new
Your grace covers all I do.”
Those words are so true!
As my pastor, Tom Gibbs, has told me many times…even if I can’t see and I may be in a season of brokenness, God will teach me to do His will.
God will help me with my many fears that follow me from my past to present shame and guilt of abuse. I must not listen to the lies. I am His beloved. He has made me new. And the most important thing…His grace covers all I do…just like Jeremy’s song says.
If one looks closely…one can always find beauty from within their pain, or brokenness.
Tom has also told me, “You have to draw near, be patient, and listen to what God is trying to tell you.”
I suppose if I can continue to do those things then beauty will be able to spring forth from the pain that has built up over the years.
My new prayer for myself is for the Lord to teach me to walk…walk in His way of truth, and not my way of lies. Praise His glorious name!
“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me;…” ~Psalm 86:11-13a
Light at the End of the Tunnel
One afternoon I began to reflect about the circumstances that have happened to me over the last couple of years, and how I have come to place where I am now. I thought about the many ups and downs, and the many turns I have taken to get here. How I should be
Even in my darkest night, He has shown me His Light at the end of the tunnel.
Had Christ been trying to reveal His Light to my heart? Have I been blind to His attempts to shine on me? If I would slow down and take time to remember all of His gracious acts, my confidence in Him would be strengthened and my passion to know Him would be greater. I need to draw near to Him so that I can better understand Him and His amazing grace.
Because of my childhood abuse, I have often longed for an exclusive relationship with others. I want to be intimate– not like a sexual intimacy—but to share my thoughts, ideas, concerns, and to grow with others learning about the Kingdom of Christ.
With that being said, I understand that no human could ever fulfill the job description of being my exclusive other in a relationship. My expectations have been formed in my mind. It’s really no one’s privilege to be in an exclusive relationship…except for God.
Frankly after the sexual abuse that I experienced from my step father, I had no desire to have an exclusive relationship–especially with a Father whom I really did not know much about. What if He would be like my step father? I only imagined that His anger was much worse than my step father. I was frightened.
Then I thought about the love of God. I had never thought about being intimate with God. I began to look at Him in a different Light. When I began to think about the things that I recently learned, and had read, I found that God was quite stimulating.
I never really thought about God “wining and dining” me. That He truly considers me to be His bride. I knew that He would love me and protect me like no other. I never thought about God having exclusive rights of me. As an added learning bonus, I was excited to read about being given a special name on a white rock that only I will know that that it’s He who is calling me. How cool is that? Very intimate indeed!
In lots of ways I still behave like a child; for instance, I can be too needy for some—desiring more attention than deserved. I also believed in such a way as to have child-like faith. I thought there would be someone to love me unconditionally (here on Earth) and protect me from the evil–like I had experienced as a child. I passionately wanted this love to happen to “me”, and more importantly–for “me”.
I had not realized that my thoughts had become all about “me”…my own desires, selfishness, and of course – my pride. All these things had become my idols. I always thought that idols were people, or material things. I never really thought about my emotions as being idols.
Although I have been/felt betrayed, abandoned, and even mocked; I had not realized that I was letting the load of shame and guilt take control of me. They were becoming and being made my idols. I was in a whirlpool of idolatry. I know that others have alluded to this many times, but it is hard to get a stubborn person to look into the mirror to actually see them as they are—broken and scarred sinner.
I found out I had a lot of anger that had become deeply rooted inside of me. My anger varied from different things, to certain people, and even to my God. The poison that built up inside of me was festering and being shown as contempt for self, and others. It even brought me to the point of considering suicide as a choice rather than honestly facing my fears and anger.
Jesus does comfort all who mourn! He bared all of my sins and iniquities on the cross, so I could live. I have no right to take that away from Him. Only He decides when it is right for me to meet Him in Heaven.
I have learned that people are human, and I should not expect more from them; to be all “healing, loving, and protecting” to me. But, I do think God sends those that surround us as confidants, or “attendants” on His behalf. They are placed in my life to help me understand the wisdom that has been bestowed before me.
I have discovered that I have much insecurity. I do not always understand what is being taught. Not wanting to acknowledge that I really need help, I blow up in a fit of anger. In essence, I hurt those that I really care about, and really need. There is no excuse for my behavior. I can only ask for forgiveness.
Again, I have been thinking about the different pieces of the puzzle that others have been trying to teach me. They have patiently tried to help me piece it together. Once the puzzle is together, I should realize that Jesus is the best, or exclusive, gift I could ever dream of receiving. He is, and should be, my all! He is on the side of the brokenhearted! He is my champion–my knight in shining armor.
True brokenness will lead me to Him, and help me to break free from my idolatry of shame; the shame I have carried from my past into my present. I learn to be repentant, and not let my pride always get in my way. I shall have faith that He will lead me to the Light at the end of the tunnel. He passionately desires this for me…to learn to find my way toward Him.
Christ is my everlasting Light, and the darkness of my past shall be no more. I see the Light at the end of the tunnel.