An Unexpected and Undeserving Gift
No one told me that when I turned 50, I needed to take out an extended warranty. I was the person who dove after balls, and lifted things without properly bending down. Yet, when I turned 50, I began to quickly deteriorate physically! It hasn’t been pretty, and I don’t appreciate what’s happening to me! Despite me seeming to be falling apart, I recently received an unexpected and very undeserving gift…kind of like grace. It was definitely God giving me a much needed wake up call.
I will admit, I have begun to lose track of what’s important, especially in my daily walk with the Lord. I have forgotten many of the common courtesies about how I should live my life. I should love generously, be happy, help others, be grateful, and above all…count my blessings.
On the other hand I say, “What you talking about? Life is hard!”
I know what I’m supposed to do, and yet I’ve been miscalculating, and missing the prize altogether. I’ve been literally, and figuratively, missing the mark of the high calling of Jesus Christ. I’ve been stuck on family things, monetary things, not feeling well, and just not believing in grace…period!
I have posted the definition of grace before, but apparently I still struggle with its meaning. I’m like the prodigal son who hasn’t returned, and hoping to be forgiven.
Grace, n.: undeserved, unmerited, unearned, favor.
Grace is something that I most desire, but often feel that I’m not deserving of it for many reasons from past to present. I tend to forget that the amazing thing about grace is that it is an undeserving gift.
I know about God’s grace. It’s hard for me to fathom it at times. My daughter, Erica, is good about reminding me of this. She often talks to me, giving me pep talks, about how God’s grace is for the undeserving. Although it came at a big price, it’s freely given by God. His unmerited favor is that He sent His Son to die so we could live. He loves us unconditionally!
The word “grace” is music to my ears. Erica often makes me gifts with the words from the song “Amazing Grace” on them. I love it!
Now let me rewind to me turning 50, falling apart physically, and how His amazing grace has begun playing music to my ears.
I have had a mass in my stomach, and also in need of a hernia repair for a couple of years. I had been putting off surgery for many reasons: 1) I don’t like them, 2) I teach learning disabled children and they don’t like when I miss school, and 3) monetary reasons. I feel our monies could be spent better elsewhere.
Well, last fall things took a drastic change. The mass began to grow bigger, and was becoming more and more painful. I began to gain weight quickly. Then things took a twist. In December, I began to bleed. I ended up in the emergency room. The concern was endometrial cancer, and that took priority over the mass and hernia. Doctors began testing, but due to the holidays, appointments were hard to make with them. Early January, the doctor suggested I get a total hysterectomy. I was willing to do this, because I felt so bad. They would take a biopsy during this time.
I went to schedule the surgery, but to my surprise my insurance coverage had changed. My family pays almost $1,200/month for the various insurances we have. Yet to perform this surgery (because of the new laws), I was going to have to pay $3,000 up front for the hospital co-payment alone. This wasn’t including the doctor, anesthesia, and the rest of the hospital payment.
Tearfully, I had to tell the scheduler to stop! At this time we could not afford it. We are already in debt due to other family medical bills, and this would just have to wait. Since I couldn’t have the hysterectomy, the doctor said we at least needed to do a biopsy to check for cancer. I had cancer insurance, and if that were the case, then I could have the surgery.
Thankfully, the biopsy came back benign. We were relieved! I decided I would put that surgery off until a later date. In the meantime, the mass in my stomach continued to grow bigger. I knew it needed to be taken out, but we really don’t have the monies for that. We are just teachers, and we have a kid that was about to graduate college, one about to go to college, and one more at home. I just couldn’t think about it.
On Mother’s day, my oldest daughter texted me, and said she had a gift for me. She was about to graduate from college, and we would be going up for her graduation the following weekend. NOTE:Traditionally we don’t celebrate certain holidays, giving each other gifts, just because we try to save money. We are very blessed, and don’t really need some things…but family time is always good.
I texted back, and said I couldn’t wait to see her graduate, and that seeing her was gift enough.
I had no idea what was coming on the upcoming college graduation visit!
We arrived on Friday night, the night before Erica was to graduate. I dropped my husband off at the hotel because he was tired. My youngest, Jess, and I went over to Erica’s apartment to pick her up. I thought we might go out to eat. As we drive up to her apartment, I see Erica and her friend Kelli walking up. Erica had borrowed her whole graduation gown to save money and was walking up with the borrowed sash. She nonchalantly said let’s go up and get your mother’s day gift before we go eat.
I said okay, and we all went up. She put up her borrowed sash. As she was doing this, I saw on a table with a plaque that had the words from “Amazing Grace”. I didn’t think too much about it because I just figured it was some of their apartment decor.
I noticed Kelli beginning to film, but that’s not unusual. These girls are quite the hoot posting many a funny video online, or on Instagram. But this was to be no ordinary film. I was about to receive an unexpected, and very undeserving gift.
Erica picked up the plaque. I was kind of being silly quietly singing “Amazing Grace”, when Erica began telling me something that I never could imagine.
She said, “Dearest Momma! This gift is to show you one thing. ‘God loves you!’ Even if the mass were not removed we know that God loves you perfectly, but He has generously provided a way for your surgery through the body of Christ. No, you did nothing to earn it and that’s what makes His grace so amazing! I love you very much, and I know my love for you cannot compare to the perfect, unconditional, passionate, and proud love that God has for you!”
While this was going on, Kelli was still filming, and affirming what Erica was saying. Kelli was also telling me that God loves me!
Finally, Erica handed me an envelope, and in that envelope was the exact amount I needed for the hospital co-payment. I was going to be able to have my surgery! After paying the initial fees, I would be able to pay monthly on the rest of the bills.
I can’t explain what came over me in those moments. I began backing up away from them. I was overwhelmed with so many emotions: thankfulness, feeling guilty because I didn’t deserve this, excited, tears of joy, etc. .
I mean what does one do with such a great and undeserving gift as this?
Oh, but the story gets better! Erica, and several of her college friends, prayed about needs and wants. She lifted me up in prayer with a need, and these beautiful students gathered up monies, among themselves, so I could have a surgery.
Mind you these are college students: some getting their masters, some about to graduate, and some returning to school next year. Most of these students have their own debts to pay off, and here they were graciously lifting me up in prayer, and giving me an undeserved gift.
I had the surgery almost two weeks ago. The mass was the size of a plum, and they fixed a hernia as well. As I lay here in bed, recovering from my surgery, I’m reminded of a Bible verse that I love so much!
“the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;” ~Numbers 6:25
The Lord has definitely shined down on me!
I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting most of the students who prayed for me, and who made it financially possible for me to have the surgery. I still can’t stop feeling a little guilty for this amazing gift. I have always had problems with asking for help, or accepting such gifts; but, I have been truly blessed. That said, I thank these students from the bottom of my heart. I can never repay you all except with the pleasure of you all knowing that I better understand that God loves me graciously despite my weaknesses. Thank you all for sharing, caring, and showing me through your actions that God loves me perfectly.
Thank you to Erica Hairston, Kelli Stenke, Kaitlin Daugherty, Paul Feghali, Jacob Imam, Jeremy Feghali, Drake Osborn, Allie Matherne, Joanna Calhoun, Katy Craft, Haley Barton, Madeline Sneed, and Carly Beckham.
These young Baylor University students have taken Acts 1:8 to heart. They are making a difference in the world, and furthering God’s kingdom. They are witnesses for Christ, and will go to the ends of the Earth. They each have many different gifts that God has given them, and I pray that you will continue to share those gifts wherever He sends you all. God bless each of you in your journey to love the Lord, and the freedom that you will bring to others spreading His word.
God is truly amazing! These young people help to restore faith within me. It’s been a distracting few years. The best way to deal with these distractions is to turn to God, read the Bible, and remember the common courtesies to live by. I’m so very thankful, and count my blessings…especially for God bringing these young students into my life. These students who love the Lord so much that they gave me an unexpected and undeserved gift.
P.S. If you would like to see the link to part of the video of this gracious gift being presented to me, please check it out: http://instagram.com/p/qwqcwTmQsk/?modal=true
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.
Reach for the Prize!
I will have to say that all of the 2012 Olympic swimming has pumped me up! What an outstanding Olympics for Team USA. I thoroughly enjoyed watching their great achievements, and hearing their stories of hard work and overcoming their obstacles.
I love to swim! I may be a novice swimmer, but I enjoy it just the same. It’s a great quiet time for me. I actually listen to music, or pray while I’m swimming. It allows me to think about trying to reach for the prize.
Recently, I was thinking about Michael Phelps‘ swim coach, Bob Bowman, and how he has understandably put Michael through some trials to train him for the many adversities that might come his way. He was quite successful at doing this. I was also thinking about Hebrews Chapter 12. Both of these things got me to thinking about a similarity between our Father in Heaven, and some great coaches. The similarity of how they discipline…or train us for adversities of life.
Discipline is not always pleasant, but if one trains hard, with their “coach”, then they have the potential to become stronger…bringing about great joy. For Michael, he has become the most decorated Olympian in history of any sport.
In my case, I’m not training for Olympic history, but I’m training for an Everlasting life. I am hopeful that my new found joy will lead me to a greater intimacy with my Father in Heaven, and that will help me reach for the prize.
My pastor had a message a couple of years ago from Proverbs stating that “a friend loveth at all times”. Sometimes those friends have to love with discipline.
I know that others have tried to discipline me in a loving way, so that I may learn to make better decisions. More importantly, I know that they want me to experience the love God intended for me to know instead living in self pity (despair)…due to my past abuse. In knowing that, I will need to make sure that I have a good “assistant coach” (Earthly companions) that may be looking over my “workouts” to make sure I’m on the right pace. I may also have some questions about what “workout” will come next, or be the best for me. I may doubt their knowledge; but, those coaches, full of wisdom, will help guide me to reach the prize.
There will be times that I won’t want to listen to the “coaches”, especially when they are speaking truth. They will try to help me be better prepared for the race that’s set before me. They will tell me that there will be obstacles…even when I can’t see them coming. They will help me learn how to react and/or avoid them.
They will also help me to muster up the skills, and encourage me, to get ready to battle for any adversities that might come my way. I will need to wear good equipment (full armor of God), put my “game face” on (fix my eyes on Jesus), look at the game plan (His word), and really listen to my assistant coaches (Earthly companions) and Head coach (Christ). Together, they will try to help me put on the full armor of God as stated in Ephesians.
Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”! I know that I can win this battle and reach for the prize of Christ. It will take hard work from myself, and many; but, it can be done.
God can restore my hardened heart, and really strengthen me. God has shown me grace, mercy, and love, and in knowing this, I can become one step closer to being truly healed.
In order to be truly healed, my workouts will need to consist hard work & dedication. The desire to do better. Coaches that have great wisdom to share, and may be able to guide me. Their knowledge will better prepare me for the days that follow. I will have to allow them to do so, and not let my pride get in the way. I will also need strength and courage to love boldly-not just others, but myself. This will allow me to forgive, and be better able to focus on the prize.
I will be honest. It’s still hard for me to believe that I can be granted grace and mercy. I constantly forget this idea, or block it from my memory. Thank goodness God does not forget, and He places others around me to remind me of His grace, and to lift me up when I feel down.
In essence, I am just a beginner swimmer. I have not totally learned to submerge myself into His healing waters. I must learn to dive off the starting blocks to get a great push forward. It will help me to swim as fast as I can to reach for the prize–Christ who strengthens me.
I know that I might get disqualified along the way; but, the good news is that I can start His race over. God is very patient with me, and never gives up-even when I think He has.
Trying to swim hard to reach for the prize! †
“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.
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
Get Back Up Again!
Forgiving doesn’t mean to forget about the pain. It means to no longer let the experience hold you back for another season. Only His abounding grace and mercy allows you to break free and to get back up again. I will not give up!
Even though I may be one, and am surrounded by oppressors, I will never be totally crushed by them. I will never give up, and I will continue to get back up again.
I may suffer embarrassments and become perplexed. Often there seems no way out of my situation; but, I manage to survive. I shall not despair…even if I am persecuted, driven hard, or ignored. God will never desert me, nor make me stand alone. Even though I may have been knocked down to the ground, I will never totally strike out. No matter the difficulties that come my way, I will never give up. I’m stronger than the energizer bunny. Yes, I have breaking points; but, when I recoup…I can get back up again.
I have become stronger and more courageous. I have become persistent, more steadfast, and resilient with my faith. I will try to remain fearless and determined no matter what obstacles lie ahead. I will remain strong in the Lord despite my weaknesses. I have the power of His words and the strength of his sword. Victory will be mine! I will be relentless on those that try to knock me down. I will remember that I’m standing on Solid Rock.
Yes, we all fall short and sin. We can be forgiven by Jesus, yet there are those who can’t seem to forgive. Sometimes we can’t see past our own mistakes. I will be the first to admit that I make lots of mistakes. I was in need of a change. I finally realized that I was desperate for His grace. It’s by God‘s mercy and grace that I, and others, can love and forgive and be able to make a change.
Our world is a broken place filled with broken people. Many often get a front row seat to this brokenness because God sends trials our way. These seasons bring us closer to Him. So why do we feel that we have to grovel for forgiveness from others when Christ has already forgiven us? Isn’t it what God does in the heart of a person rather than waiting for something to happen? Shouldn’t we use some of our experiences to go out and further His kingdom?
There are those who are called to walk with others through this deep personal pain. Gratefully, some have helped me to find my way through some of my seasons to stronger days. It’s through a few confidants that only God gives them grace to persevere and have good wisdom to give counsel. Sometimes counseling can be in the form of encouragement; sometimes admonishment. Sometimes people have to hear things they don’t want to hear…or say things they don’t want to say.
My pastor said that a good entry point into grace is in and through Christ…the One who liberates us. Now we can become empowered by our obedience to live a life that He intended for us.
When we find freedom from our sin through Christ, not everyone allows us to be free from our sin. I don’t feel very liberated when some may hold a grudge from something I have done. I feel there are times that many (including myself) have a disconnectedness from “grace” within our own lives.
In the church we are called to help others understand His grace. Not everyone seems receptive to “reaching out.” If there is a disconnectedness…why not get reconnected? There are a few that seem to ask, “What’s in it for me? How will reaching out to others empower me?”
I like what Robert Munger said, “The Church is the only fellowship in the world where the one requirement for membership is the unworthiness of the candidate.”
If we are a part of the body of Christ, we are called to encourage one another. Don’t say that the community is like a family reunion and then never include some family to the reunion. That’s wrong! People get there hopes up thinking they will be included…just to be let down that they were just words.
Jesus is for everyone…especially His grace and forgiveness!
My new acquaintance, Mark Wilson, wrote, “A long time ago, Christian forgiveness used to be called, ‘the truth will set you free’.” The problem is that not everyone feels that way.
Mark noted that, “It is not possible to become entirely whole unless we are in relationships with the people around us. But as we give love and receive love – or learn to – then we can grow, heal, evolve and heal and become whole. We also can’t come to wholeness if we refuse to be an adult and grow up, take ownership of what happened to us and mature. What happened was not good, but ignoring it won’t heal it and won’t make it go away.”
Mark also said it’s hard to under-estimate how important forgiveness is. If you refuse to forgive…the Lord’s prayer says that you will also not be forgiven. It’s really just that simple. If you refuse to forgive… you are harming yourself, and your own fellowship with Christ.
Try to think about if there is someone you know that produced sour fruit…in the beginning of the relationship. Unbeknownst to you their fruit began to ripen. Maybe you are blind to the changes. Maybe you haven’t noticed the changes, or time has slipped by without concern. For whatever reason, the fruit has become sweeter; but, because of our disconnectedness the new found fruit is not shared with others. Instead, we may only remember being “snake bit”.
If we are truly liberated by Christ and we are members of his body…then maybe try to reconnect with the other member. Try to remember that His grace is abounding with joy. Why not share the joy of the fruit that has been made new and sweet with the one who was once sour. Reconnect. Make a Difference. Show grace.
Being faithful is the work of the Spirit. We can’t do it alone! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Faith is not what we look at; but what we look through. It’s not what we have focused our lives on but that which we should focus our lives on…on Him. If we are God centered, then change becomes evident and we can make a difference in our own life and in others…to try and further His kingdom. It won’t hurt members of the body to reconnect their disconnectedness. What would Jesus do? He would welcome any member to His body. Again, His grace is for everyone!
Stay strong! No matter what is thrown at you…don’t let it knock you down.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” ~ Psalm 46:1
God, my heart is truly, truly comforted by Your promises, by Your love and mercy; refuge and strength. I want to establish myself, permanently placing myself in Your word and in Your works!!! Thank You God for giving me strength and helping me to get back up again!
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.