Category Archives: God

Series: College Life | Firsts…

I’m in my last semester of college for my BA in English. I have five, yes five, English courses this semester…and a husband, three kids, and a dog. And four of those classes have long book lists so needless to say, I have little time for anything.

With all that said, I miss being here. I am trying to make time to blog but honestly, I’m exhausted. Physically and emotionally. Especially since my last blog which told of another huge loss I’m dealing with. It’s still hard. It’s going to be hard. It’s life. Anyway, a professor from one of my writing classes gave us a writing exercise in class a couple days ago and I wanted to share it all with you…

The exercise: Write about a first or firsts…

“It was ice cold and stark white in the delivery room. Even though I hadn’t started pushing yet, I was already exhausted. It’s indescribable how those sharp, stabbing pains in my stomach and back had stolen any umph I could muster up. It was all I could do just to breathe through them.

Speaking of breathing, I hate that word. I hate focusing on breathing. There was a time in my life when holding my breathe was normal. It was safe. Here was this doctor standing beside me telling me to breathe. Frankly, I wanted to rip his lungs out and say, ‘You try breathing!’

Not to mention my husband standing there with an empathetic look. All I could think was he’d gotten me into this mess — he better figure out a way to get me through it. I wanted to stab him every time the knots got tighter inside. I felt like my body was attacking me, which I’d felt many times before, only this time, it wasn’t my body. It was this strange creature growing inside my body causing this crazy whirlwind of physical and emotional feelings.

I screamed at the doctor, ‘Just get him out!’

I was twenty-two. I wondered what God was thinking letting me have a kid. Didn’t He know how screwed up I was? Why would He trust me with an innocent little kid. I couldn’t even keep a cactus alive, but God expected me to keep a baby alive?

‘Push…’ I hear the nurses say, ‘You can do it…breathe, just breathe.’ I swore if I heard one more person say breathe I was going to smother them all with the extra pillows they’d stuffed behind me.

And then…

I saw these tiny red toes and heard this wimpy, pitiful cry. It was the first time I’d given birth…the first time I’d really known what love was…the first time I had a reason to breathe.”

So there you have it. That’s my creative story of firsts. Though portions of the story may be somewhat exaggerated, when I write, I write from my heart. So yes, that little creature that turned my world upside down…he gave me purpose. He gave me a reason to fight. We’ve had our moments. I’ve had my really crappy mom moments and he’s had his drive me crazy moments. He’s seventeen now. He’s a senior in high school. He’s a volunteer firefighter. He’s training to be an EMT. He’s a good boy. I’m thankful, but still surprised God trusted me to raise this kid…and his two siblings.

Through all the hard in life, in marriage, in parenting, in loss, in grief, in darkness…through it all, I depend on beauty like this to help me breathe again.

Save

Unfortunate misconceptions…

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In usual fashion, this post is quite long…ramblings of a sort. I’m honored if you make it to the end. Words fill my heart and head. And when they start to flow, I don’t want to hold them back. I hope each of my words touch your heart and leave you with love and compassion in a cruel world.
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Misconception

In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida, I’ve heard of and witnessed many stories filled with or fueled by hate. I’ve also heard many stories of the outpouring of love and support for the families of the victims involved in the senseless murders of 49 people and the many others injured, forever scarred by evil desires. It’s a mixed up world we are in and unfortunately, in a time when we should all come together in support of one another, we remain divided, allowing anger to fester between us. These are my own thoughts. Feel free to comment with your thoughts as well, but leave hate out of it. There’s no room for anymore hate. Comments filled with hate, from any point of view, will be deleted.

Misconception – a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding.

Religion – “the belief in a god or group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.

Tragedy – “an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.”

On September 11, 2001, thousands of people breathed their last breath. A country was impacted by the tragedy of violence, hate, and murder. A country mourned. The world mourned. We still mourn.

December 14th, 2012, in the peaceful town of Newtown, Connecticut, a young man walked into an elementary school and murdered 20 children and 6 adults. The children were 6 and 7 years old…still babies, learning to read and write, to dance, to share with one another, to walk in a line, to whisper, to live, to love. Their lives were invaluable to those who loved them but to that one young man, their lives were meaningless.

June 17th, 2015, in a small South Carolina church, a group prayed together. They welcomed a troubled young man into the church and prayed with him just before he took their lives. A tragedy of violence, hate, and murder.

On June 12th, 2016, at a night club in Florida, men and women danced, laughed, sang, and breathed their final breaths as a gunman ripped their lives away. A moment of terror left 49 dead and many others injured. Hundreds of lives, forever changed, by violence, hate, and murder.

It’s been said that many of these tragedies are done “in the name of religion.”

This is true. Many acts of hate and evil have been done “in the name of religion.” What this means is people, filled with hate towards a select group of men, women, or children, committed acts of horror, terror, violence, and murder and claimed to do so based their belief that in doing so, they would be fulfilling the desires of their god. When this happens, the unfortunate misconception is that religion is to blame. We lump all religions, every group of people who gather to worship a higher power, into one category. We label religion as evil. But that’s where we are wrong.

When religion is based strictly on a set of rules or laws that one believes must be met in order to receive salvation, that opens the door for competition, jealousy, anger, rage, and hate. It creates a need to “one-up.” It puts people in a position of attempting to attain the impossible … perfection. When religion is based solely on the grace and mercy of one man, sent from the Creator of the earth, we are humbled people, learning to extend compassion and forgiveness, understanding we are no better than any other, knowing we are all broken people in need. This removes ourselves from being the source of our own salvation and places that salvation in the wounded hands of the only Savior.

Not one of those lives stolen deserved to die that way. Not one. Not the youngest of the children at Sandy Hook, not the heroes who rushed into falling buildings to save the lives of others, not one man or woman based on their sexuality, their feelings, their desires, period. Not even the men who began their lives as one tiny heartbeat, 10 little toes and fingers, a light, soft swoop of hair on their head, raised and taught to hate to the point they would brutally torture and rape women, or sacrifice their own lives to selfishly and hatefully take the life another, in the name of religion. Not one of them should have died. Not one.

Let’s get something straight…

Religion did not carry a gun into the the flashing lights and crowded dance floors of a night club in Florida and the gun did not walk in there on its own. A man chose to allow anger and hate to fill his heart. He chose to carry guns inside a night club filled with people. He chose to murder many innocent men and women and forever change the lives of many others. A broken man. A man with empty places filled by hate. Religion is not to blame. Evil is. Religion did not fly a plane into the World Trade Center with the intent to kill thousands. Broken men did. Religion did not walk into a church, sit among a group of people as they prayed what would be their final prayers, and then rob them of another breath. A broken man did. Religion did not enter an elementary school, open fire on a terrified, helpless, innocent group of 6 and 7 year olds, and destroy the lives of many. A broken man did.

We are all broken. Hear me, we are ALL broken.

As broken people, we need each other. We need love, support, encouragement, hope, peace, faith. Each of us is designed to grieve, to mourn, to desire fulfillment, closeness, relationships, and more. But in a broken world, we are left empty in many of the places we need, so deeply, to be filled.

For some, those places are filled through work, friends, activities, addictions, religion, etc. Others find themselves filled through what most would call religion, but what I will call a relationship and faith. Faith in something better. Faith in a loving God. Faith in a God who became flesh to teach us, guide us, and love us. Faith in a grander place and a grand design. Faith in humanity. Hope.

A successful relationship comes from knowing someone. You learn about their character. You grow to understand them. Through prayer, through reading Scripture, I’ve been able to understand more about the God I believe created the world. I have learned He is a God of love, not hate. He is a just God, who will punish evil, but at the same time, reminds me to live with peace and unity among all, including those who have different beliefs, make different choices, live different lives, and even with my enemies. He instructs me to pray for my enemy, those who hurt and betray me. Praying for those who hurt me does not wipe away the hurt, the wounds are not forgotten, and the pain is not removed, but the hate that could fill my heart is replaced by forgiveness, love, and hope. What could make me bitter, angry, and hate-filled, instead, allows me to look for the good, to appreciate the blessings, to love the unlovable. Religion is much more than a set of rules. It’s a relationship with the One who gave me life, and gave His own, in order that I may truly live. Without a relationship, without that appreciation, without the mercy and grace given as a gift, we have nothing.

Marriage does not work without communication.
Parenting without nurture wounds a child.
Religion without Christ, the giver of grace and mercy, is empty.

Perhaps we need to create some sort of substantial separation between what we define as religion and Faith. I’m not even sure that works because there are peaceful, loving Muslims. There are peaceful, loving, Buddhist. There are peaceful loving people in all sorts of “religions”. And there are broken people in them, just the same.

As a Christian, I believe we all need…we all need a savior and I believe the source of salvation is not in acts of goodness, service, kindness or in acts of control, hate, or murder. I believe our salvation is based solely on the grace and mercy of a loving God by His own flesh, Jesus Christ.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

Are bad things done in the name of religion? Yes.
Does that make religion bad? No.

But these words in my Bible, that I believe are breathed straight from God through man, serve as instruction and guidance for my life. They very clearly say that I am not saved by acts of kindness, service, or a good heart, nor am I saved by acts of evil, hate, or murder. I am saved by the acts of one sinless man, the very God I believe in, the one who created everything out of nothing, the one who fills darkness with light, the one who walked on earth in the form of flesh to experience the very same feelings and emotions we experience, in order to draw us closer to Him, to show He fully understands, to set an example before us of how to extend hope, love, and compassion to those around us, who created us with the purpose of doing good. Acts do not make me a Christian and believing in God does not make me good. I am a sinner. I have made bad choices. I have hurt people. Being a Christian, a believer in Christ, a follower of Christ, makes me a person who can freely admit that I have dished out my own fair share of wrongs and had wrongs done to me but am saved by the grace and mercy of one God, who took on the sins of the world through flesh, with the purpose that I will do good in His name. That in the name of God, because I have faith, I will love. I will show compassion. I will try to understand others. I will accept as they are, just as He has accepted me. I will pray for peace.

Do I profess to fully understand all of that? Nope.
Can I explain it without any doubt so that anyone else will also believe? Nope.
Do I have faith anyway? Yes.

There are a lot of “religious” people who spew hate and disgust at people who are different from them.  There are a lot of non-religious people who hate the religious bigots. That means there is a lot of hate going around. I don’t understand why this happens and I can’t explain the hate some are filled with.

Unresolved anger?
Fear?

Maybe there are no answers or maybe there are hundreds of answers.

What I do know is that we are designed with a desire and need to be with one another, to love one another, to support, encourage, and care for one another. From the moment a child is conceived, she has a need. She needs nourishment from her mothers body to enable her to grow inside her mothers womb. She needs comfort and protection as her organs form and she prepares to breath her first breath. And in that moment, the moment she takes her first breath, she needs love, comfort, and nourishment. Without those things, she will die. We are created to need one another.

While some people frown upon the word sin, one fact is, sin separates us. No matter what you believe or don’t believe, as a human being, you are not exempt from the effects of sin (or the wrong/bad choices people make). As a Christian, I believe sin separates us from God. I believe in a good God who can take no part in the evilness of sin, who mourns and grieves with us because of the evil in our broken world, but who promises us a place of peace and hope, to fill the emptiness left by the sinful acts committed by us or against us. As a person, who walks in the flesh, I believe sin separates us from each other. It doesn’t matter what religion you are or if you believe in anything, you are still subject to the effects of sin. Gossip destroys relationships, reputations, and lives. Infidelity puts walls between couples and robs them of the trust in their partner. Jealousy leads to dissatisfaction and a lack of thankfulness in the blessings of the meaningful things in our lives. Rape takes the innocence of an act designed to be pleasurable, fulfilling, intimate, and turns it into something horrific, a brutal, damaging form or torture that follows one throughout their life. Murder not only destroys the lives of many, but it robs the murdered of another moment, another breath, another chance to extend hope and love. It is an irreversible choice.

Sin, evil thoughts or acts, crimes of rape, murder, jealousy, infidelity, and so on, create in us a cold, dead heart. Not in the physical sense, but by us placing the value of a thing above the value of a person, in pursuing our own desires before those of another, in forcing things upon another against their will, in stealing ones innocence, in destroying the lives of others. It takes the love and warmth that was meant for us and replaces it with hate, anger, rage.

Religion did not destroy the lives of more than a hundred people at the Orlando shooting. Hate did.

While some claim hate in the name of religion, what people need to understand is, you cannot lump all those who have faith in a higher power under one title. Religion is not the source hate anymore than a tree is the source of money. An individual persons choices and actions are the source of and result of hate. Hate comes from many different people, religions, cultures, groups, beliefs, and so on. Hate can be found in a classroom, in a church, in a store, on a baseball field, in a group of friends, in a marriage, on a highway, or anywhere and in anyone’s heart.

So can love. It’s our choice what we fill our hearts with.

Religion – “the belief in a god or group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.

Can religion be the source of hate? Yes.
Does that mean religion is evil or hate-filled? No.

There are many peaceful, loving, caring Muslims who believe their God is a God of peace. There are many Christians who pray daily for peace, grasping for bits of hope for a better tomorrow, believing in a loving God.

And then there are those who have their own motives, fueled by their brokenness, filled with hate.

I can only speak from the Christian perspective because it’s what I know.

Do religious people hurt people? Yes.
Do non-religious people hurt people? Yes.
Do Christians hurt people? Yes.
Do non-Christians hurt people? Yes.

Does the Bible speak of hate, murder, sexual immorality, punishment, war, and many other horrors? Yes. Does that make it hard to comprehend? Yes. Have countless people asked, “How can a loving God allow so much hurt and pain?” Of course. Is it possible for that to create doubt in a loving God? Yes.

Here’s the thing…doubt comes from a lack of understanding. I can say that because I’ve been there. For most of my life, I’ve doubted that I was worthy of the love of a good and loving God. I also spent many years believing He was punishing me for being a bad person. I lived in fear, doubt, hopelessness. I wanted to believe in a good and loving God but I couldn’t imagine one who would accept me.

Broken people need.

They need healing.
They need hope.
We are ALL broken.

At some point, in my own life, I knew I couldn’t make it on my own. I was in a place of desperation. The only choice I felt I had was to depend on a God I couldn’t see, one I feared hated me, one I was certain would never accept me, but one I placed my faith in anyway. It was a choice. I don’t take pride in any of the choices I have made but I am thankful for the direction my life took that led to the choice I made that sunny September morning in 2005. What I’ve learned is the God I believe in truly is a loving God. He chooses broken people. We are broken, created with many needs, leaving us each with empty places, that I believe, only He can fill. He uses broken people. He uses them for good…not evil.

So when someone commits a horrible crime, destroy lives, robbing them of a future, of hope, and they do so in the name of religion, we need to understand there is a difference in them, their beliefs, and mine. Religion is not hate. Religion is a group of people, worshiping a God they believe in, because it is important to them. That does not mean religion can be defined as hate.

Are there some religious people filled with hate? Yes.
Are there many other religious people filled with love? Yes.

Please don’t put us all in the same category based on misunderstanding of religion or the differences in religions.

Personally, I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in hope. I believe that someday, there will be no more pain, tears, suffering. I believe because it’s what I need. It’s what works for me. I have lived through many tragedies of my own. I have lived a very broken life, with many hurts, many moments of darkness, and many thoughts of escaping this cruel world. I have questioned the God I believe in. There are things I will never understand.

I have sat alone in a cold, empty room, having had everything even down to my underwear stripped away from me and in that darkest, loneliest moment, the comfort of God’s words were all I had.

“I will not die but live, and proclaim what the Lord has done.” Psalm 118:17

Those words were with me that night. Whether you believe in God or not, I believe those words came from Him, over 2,000 years ago, and in that moment, He used them to comfort me, to give me peace, to restore my faith and bring life back to my worn and tattered soul. He gave me hope that I could breathe another breath, that I could face another tomorrow, that somehow, someway, I could help another through the struggles of this life as well. I was not alone. Though physically, I had nothing but a hard cot, a scratchy blanket, and a set of paper scrubs, I was not alone and He provided exactly what I needed in that very moment. Those words were everything.

And still, I find myself asking at times…

Why does a mother have to say goodbye to her child before it can even take it’s first breath?
Why do people fulfill their own sick desires by violating innocent children?
Why does a man walk into a night club and murder many innocent, precious, people?
Why do we not value each and every life, breath or no breath?
Why does a child face starvation and desperation?
Why are people hated because of the color of their skin, their physical disabilities, or their sexuality?

What brings a person to the point that he or she sees no value in the life of another?

I could go on and on with the questions but there are no answers. The only answer that brings me peace is that the God I believe in is faithful and promises hope, love, and healing. He promises to never abandon, to provide strength in times of need, to hear our cries, to mourn with us.

There may be religious people who hate. But religion itself is not hate. Religion is a group of people in a shared group of beliefs in either a God, laws, rituals or whatever. But hate is what fills a person. Religion may teach works, hate, or murder. Religion may teach hope, faith and love. Each of those things are what a person is filled with and each of those people are given a choice in what they will be filled with. A man who chose to murder 49 innocent people in the name of religion chose to be filled with hate. A person professing to be a Christian, shouting hate-filled statements of disgust and anger towards a group of people based on their sexuality, makes the choice to hate. A person who denying the beliefs of any greater power or a different higher being and in turn mocks, condemns, or ridicules someone else because of their differences in beliefs, chooses hate.

Why? Why are we so afraid of people who are different from us? Why are we offended when someone chooses something we don’t agree with? Why do we feel our beliefs and desires have to be the beliefs and desires of everyone? Why, like God, do we not allow people to make their own choices, and extend encouragement, support, and love? Perhaps if the gunman in Florida had been nurtured and loved, raised to accept the differences in others, to embrace those differences, to love in spite of differences, maybe he would have chosen love instead of hate.

And as a Christian, I know there are many “Christians” who express disgust towards homosexuals, yet when one is found guilty of adultery, gossip, slander, stealing, or something else they deem those “sins” as inadequate compared to what they believe is the sin of a homosexual. What someone does in their bedroom is their business. It’s not mine. It’s not yours. It’s theirs. If you believe in God, then you also know that Scripture says…

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Basically, it says butt out. Mind your own business.

While that may sound harsh, leave the judgment to the God you believe in. If you feel the need to do something or say something, follow God’s word and pray. Don’t pray to change someone who’s different from you. Genuinely pray for them, that whatever is best for them will be, that the God you hold so highly, wrap them in His loving embrace and comfort them in any times of trouble. Cry out to God with your frustrations, concerns and fears. When we fail to trust the very God we expect others to follow and trust, we are no example to them. If we believe, as we say we do, in a loving and just God, then we should show our trust in Him by leaving the judgment and correction to Him and extend to others the grace and mercy He has given us.

The greatest commands are to love God and love others. Before anything else, we love God and others. A friend said to me, “Does your Bible say homosexuality is wrong?” Yes, it does. It also says tattoos, gossip, infidelity, stealing, murder and more are wrong. And it says we are all broken. It says we are all in need of something to fill our empty places. And it says we all have choices on what those empty places will be filled with. And it says if we choose to let those empty places be filled with love, we are full-filling the greatest and only commands we need to follow. By loving God and loving others, everything falls into place as it should.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36-39

“Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:13

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:1-11

These are verses from my Bible. These are the commands of a loving, sovereign God.

Do bad things happen? Yes.
Does God punish people for the bad things they do? I believe He will.
Does He still mourn and grieve for those who turn from Him, those who do wrong, those who are hurt by the hands of another? I believe so.
Does He offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness? Yes.
Does He withhold that from anyone? No, it’s available to all.
Does He command us to do the same? Yes.

So while there are many things in Scripture that I may never understand, I do know God’s love is available to anyone. And I believe He loves everyone.

“… when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6

Christ died for the ungodly. Not the saints. Not the perfect people. Not the holier than thou. But for the broken, the needy, for all of us, not based on religion, sexuality, age, color, or name. We are all His creation. His desire is for not one person to be lost. But with that, He gives each of us the choice. He won’t force us to choose Him. We are free to make our own choices.

A religion may be a group of people who share a common belief, or even believe certain rituals or laws, but each individual is responsible for the choices they make. There are bad people and there are good people. There is sorrow and there is joy. There is pain and there is healing. What will you pour into others?

Many non-Christians or non-religious people say the Bible is filled with hate. I admit, there’s a lot in the Bible that makes very little sense to me, things I don’t think I’ll ever understand but as you really begin to understand the God of the Bible, you see, it’s His letter to us of guidance, hope, and love.

“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” 1 John 3:12

Cain was evil. He was affected by sin. Each of us are given a choice. We can allow sin to control us or we can take control of that sin. Cain allowed his anger, his jealousy, to enrage him to the point he murdered his own brother. His deeds were evil. Cain made a choice to commit an evil act.

“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.” Psalm 139:13-16

Each an every heart that ever beats is precious in God’s eyes. Every single one. And each and every person is given choices in life. The hate-filled men who murdered thousands of innocent people in the name of religion as they brought a country to her knees on a beautiful September morning…they were created, intricately, in the depths of a woman’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made. And in a broken world, they had a need. They had an emptiness that only God should fill. Instead, the choices they made led those empty places to be filled with hate and evil. What should have been filled with peace, love and hope, was occupied by plans of devastation and murder, and done in the name of religion.

But religion did not cause the events of that September day. Broken people, who made hate-filled choices did.

Does God allow evil?

Each of those twenty precious babies from Sandy Hook Elementary had value. They had value to their parents, to their families, to their friends, and to a loving God. Did God want fear, suffering, and death for them? I don’t believe so.

I believe from the very beginning, from the moment God took the dust of the earth and formed it into a man, He had a plan. A grand, beautiful plan, but a plan we would play part in. He could have created us as robots that followed everything He desired but instead, He allowed us to make that choice for ourselves. Without a choice, there would really be no meaning or no purpose in our lives. With choices, we would learn to put others before ourselves, to love one another, to mourn with each other, to laugh and be joy-filled together, to pray together, to live together. And with that, we would learn differences, and with differences would come jealousy, anger, and hate. And we would have a choice. We could choose to look beyond those differences in acceptance and love, or we could choose to allow bitterness to take root and grow into a hate-filled heart.

If God is all-knowing and in control, how do our choices make a difference?

Because He is all-knowing, He knows our hearts. Our comprehension and understanding is inadequate compared to Him. After all, He created everything, with a single breath. Can you do that? His ways are beyond our understanding. But He is good. His purposes are good. His desire is for us to choose Him, to come to Him in our own free will…not forced, but to make a choice to serve Him, a good, loving God. Being in control means He is aware of the outcome and in the end, He wins. Evil cannot win. Evil does not get the final say. Hate does not win. Love does.

Some people bring up the Old Testament laws and use them against Christians today, calling us hypocrites. I understand that and honestly, there really are plenty of hypocrites in the church, and outside the church. I’ve been one myself. Again, we are all broken people. I’ve been a thief. I’ve been jealous. I’ve gossiped. And on, and on, and on. And I’ve loved. I’ve served. I’ve grieved. I’ve suffered. You name it, I’ve probably done it. I’m broken just like anyone else.

But I have something that the man who walked into a night club and took the lives of 49 innocent, precious, beautiful sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, did not have. I have faith in a good and loving God. My religion is not hate. My religion is Christianity. I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I believe in a God who became flesh as an example of how to forgive, to love, to care for others, to bring comfort, to serve, to live. I believe in a God who became flesh to show me that He understands the temptations and sufferings I would experience on this earth and that He alone can provide the strength and courage needed. I believe in a God who promises to be with me through every moment of joy and through every painful tragedy. I believe in a God who is not filled with hate or disgust for any person, because after all, He created each and every one of us, loving us from before our hearts even beat for the first time, with a grand plan that someday, we would join Him in a peaceful and perfect world, but only after He allowed us to choose that for ourselves.

Religion is not hate. God is not hate. Evil is hate.

“The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

People have a choice. Love or hate. Choose love. No matter what you believe, no matter what you’ve heard or what the media blows out of proportion. No matter the differences, no matter your location, no matter your history, no matter your future, choose love. Hate destroys what is meant to come together. Love brings unity and that is what God desires. We are “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We are one nation. We are America. We are broken. We are all in need of something. Don’t let hate be what fills your empty places.

Let love win. Let love win. Let LOVE win!

 

 

Free to be free…

2016_FebFreedom

Freedom is defined as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

Voluntary.
Without restraint.
Without cost.
To set at liberty.
(NIV Life Application Study Bible)

One year ago today, I was seeking freedom. Desperate to escape from a lifetime of hurts, I attempted to take my own life. If you haven’t read my story about that February day, please take the time to read it here and then come back.

Now that you’re all caught up, let’s talk about freedom.

Last year, I thought ending my life would bring me the freedom I desired. The depression I have suffered my whole life, the nightmares that still plague my sleep, the memories and flashbacks of pain and abuse, would all be gone. I had no doubt that God would understand and welcome me home. I would finally be free.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

When my plans failed, I faced a cruel reality that any freedom I had would soon be gone as well. I ended up spending three days in a mental hospital, for my own safety of course. Having never been in an actual prison, I can only imagine I had less freedoms than those behind bars. Everything, and I mean everything, was taken away from me. Physically, I had nothing. I also had no rights. All of the freedoms we enjoy daily, were stripped away. I had to ask permission to do anything and even those things were very limited.

I had to ask to use the restroom or take a shower.
I had to wait for someone to unlock the restroom door.
I had to ask for a pen and paper.
I was given the guts of a pen.
I had to ask to make a phone call.

I had to eat when they said eat.
I had to eat even if I didn’t want to.
I had to sleep when they said sleep, even if I couldn’t sleep.

There was no internet (no quick answers on Google, no Facebook, no emails…okay, maybe there was freedom with that, LOL!), no freedom to watch whatever I wanted on the one small television in the group room, no freedom to listen to the radio or any music, no freedom to call whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted, no freedom to wear what clothes I wanted, no freedom to read what I wanted, no freedom to view outside of those walls. It would be days before I would see the sun again.

Freedom as I knew it was no longer. Freedom as I had desired did not come. But that night, February 21st, 2015, I found a new kind of freedom…freedom like nothing I’d ever imagined.

Through the most difficult night of my life, I felt more alone than ever, and yet, I was never alone. I have never felt a greater embrace of comfort and peace than I felt that night. It was like God himself was sitting there next to me with His arms wrapped gently around me as I poured my heart out to Him. I cried for hours that night. I thought of my family at home. I thought of what mattered to me – God, my church family, my husband and children, writing, and teaching. It became undeniably clear that night, those were the things I needed to focus on. Those were the things that could bring life back into my empty heart.

As I sat there in that little room of four walls and a cot, I held tight to the words God had placed in my heart just days before…

“I will not die but live, and proclaim what the Lord has done.” Psalm 118:17

And the words from the song “Shoulders” by For King and Country played over and over in my mind…

“…My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders…”

God had planted those words in my heart and mind in the weeks leading up to my suicide attempt. I feel sure it was His was of preparing me for that night. That verse and those lyrics were exactly what I needed. When nothing else mattered, when everything else was gone, taken away. When freedom no longer made sense, He provided everything I needed.

This past year has been nothing less than amazing. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some incredibly difficult times and I imagine there always will be.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

The difference since that night is assurance. I have no doubt God met me there. I have no doubt God is with me. I have no fear of anything this world can throw my way because I know that no matter how dark my world gets, no matter what is taken from me, no matter what is done to me, God will carry me through. All I have to do is let Him.

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Psalm 118:6

That night, God set me free. I have been His for as long as I can remember but there have been times, I have ran from Him, feeling so broken and so unworthy. The truth is, I am worthy because I am His.

The freedom I found was…
The freedom to trust Him and others.

The freedom to let go of myself and let God lead the way.
The freedom to believe in tomorrow.
The freedom to let my heart heal.
The freedom to understand and accept God’s grace.
The freedom to allow others to love me.
The freedom to move forward, unashamed.
The freedom to see the beauty in the broken.
The freedom to rejoice in my sufferings.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” Romans 5:1-5

You see, I do rejoice. I would not trade the choice I made for anything. That choice led me straight into a prison, more trapped than I’d ever felt and yet that choice led me to a freedom greater than anything I could have ever imagined.

“You have freed me from my chains.” Psalm 116:16b

For months, I thought out, planned, and prepared to say goodbye. For months, I waited patiently for the right time. The truth is, there was never a right time for my plan, but what played out was His perfect plan. Through my own chaos and darkness, He met me. He held me. He comforted me. He poured His grace over me. He accepted me. He loved me.

I admit, before that night, I still doubted and wondered if He could truly love me. That night, He freed me from those doubts. He left me with full assurance that I am His and nothing can ever take that away.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Life isn’t magically okay.

I am still just an imperfect girl living in a broken world. I still suffer with depression. I still have moments where those thoughts of suicide creep into my mind. I still have days when I don’t want to get out of bed. I still worry that I am too much trouble for those who love me. I still feel so very inadequate to be a child of God and to be loved by Him. And that’s okay…because through it all, He constantly reminds me that He’s not going to abandon me. He’s teaching me His truth. He’s shown me that He will prepare me, that He will make a way, that He is using me because He chooses me. I think I’m good with that! (…more like very grateful and honored that He’d choose a mess like me!)

Truth is…He gave me the best gift that night. He gave me the freedom to believe I am His. I am His imperfect princess…perfectly imperfect.

Don’t be sad for me.
Don’t pray away my depression or those thoughts.

Rejoice with me in the freedom I have been given. Those things that hurt and sting…they keep me close to Him. If we didn’t face trials, hurt, pain, sorrows, grief, loss, and more, we wouldn’t need Him. I want to need Him with every breath I take and if that means walking through a fire the rest of my life, then so be it. I’ll walk through the fire, just to be with Him.

People said I should have at least gotten sick when I attempted to take my own life. I didn’t. Not dizzy, not nauseous, not confused, not sick…nothing. NOTHING. What I got…was FREEDOM! To God be the Glory!

Above, I shared Psalm 118:17. I will proclaim what He has done! He has set me free!

I pray you don’t have to meet Him in the darkest, lowest, most desperate place…but even if that’s where He meets you, rejoice that you are His!

You are worthy.
You are loved.
You are enough.
You are His.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Choose life.
Choose joy.
Choose freedom.
It is well…with my soul.

“It Is Well With My Soul” – Matt Redman

Our scars are a sign of grace in our lives,
And Father how you brought us through
When deep were the wounds and dark was the
Night the promise of Your love You proved.
Now every battle still to come let this be our song.

It is well, (it is well)
with my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul…”

 

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Hand in hand…

HandinHand

The moment she came into the world, there was a look upon his face.

Love.

Joy.

Pride.

You could see it in his eyes.  He would never be the same.

Today, she is three and three quarters.  For almost four years, she has had his heart. 

As the other woman, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For years, I longed to see this side of him.  With our two boys, he’s been firm and rightly so.  It’s rules and sticking to them.  It’s simply less tender.  I ached to see this gentle side, one I had seen in other dads with little girls but one I had never experienced because my own father left before I was born.

She giggles.  He grins.

She tickles.  He jumps.

She dances.  He holds her hand.

She sings.  He’s her biggest fan.

She talks.  He listens.

She snuggles.  His arms embrace her.

She is safe.  She is loved.  She is his little girl.  It’s an amazing sight to see.  It melts my heart over and over again.

They have taught me so much about my own life and my walk with the Lord. 

You see, as he walks hand in hand with her, I realize, God has held my hand many times.  He has walked with me through fires.  He has been there to pick me up.  He’s wiped away my tears.  He’s carried me through the darkness.  He has given me life.

Every time I watch them walk side by side, hand in hand…
When I see him smiling down at her…
When she looks at him with awe…
When he holds her in his arms…
As he protects her and loves her…

It serves as a reminder that everything I’ll ever need in a father is right here waiting for me to reach out and grasp.  He will never let me go.

Colton Dixon “Never Gone”

Jesus never ever left you
Never ever left you, no.
He sees us, even in the darkness
Now you know you’re not alone.

I’m still standing here
No I didn’t disappear
Now the lights are on
See I was never gone
I let go of your hand
To help you understand
With you all along
Oh, I was never gone

 

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A Bad Day Wrong…

BadDay

↑ See the picture?  Ever had one of those kind of days?

How do you handle things when something goes wrong?  Does it depend on the day?  The situation?  Who’s with you?  Or do you carry a similar response in any situation?

I ask because as Christians, we are often put into a category, one where standards are higher, room for failure is minimal and everything we do and say is used for or against us.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, the only perfect person to ever walk the earth was Jesus Christ himself.  Even he dealt with problems, hurt and pain.

Do you feel like you are truly able to express things when you are having a bad day?  Or do you feel you have to push your feelings aside and wear the “happy mask”?

I am fully aware that tomorrow might be better but I think sometimes, we try to help one another by saying things like, “Give it to God” or “In God’s time”.  While we mean well, these don’t actually address the issue.  Sometimes, we can go a bit further directing someone to a verse that fits the subject, a prayer or both.  These may very well be just what we need and often times, soaking in God’s word has been the pill that fixed my problem at the moment.

But…

Other times, I just want someone to hear what’s on my heart.  I want someone willing to let me say it, even if it means I say it over and over until I’ve completely forgotten what I was saying.  Sometimes it feels like what I need is just to have my feelings validated, to hear “That really stinks and I’m sorry you feel that way” or “Yes, I’d be upset too!” or maybe even “Sure, you have ever right to be angry!”

More often than not, I think we just don’t know how to respond so we fall on easy phrases.  We depend on familiar words and overused lines.

Would it be so bad to dig deeper into each others heart and soul?  Aren’t we worth the effort?  The extra time?

Instead of saying, “tomorrow is a new day!”, why not validate each other by saying…

“Tell me more.”

“What’s really bothering you?”

“How are you feeling about that?”

“What do you want?”

I’m sure I’ve been the girl who’s used those common phrases but the thing is, I don’t want to be that person.  I don’t want to be her because I know how it feels to stuff all the feelings down, to feel like it would be wrong to dredge up things, to feel anything, to express any anger or sadness.

I’m also the Christian that others look to for guidance, for hope, for something more so I’m already worried about the things I say and do and how they affect those around me.  I’m already stuffing away some thoughts and feelings because I don’t want to offend or hurt someone else or because I know I should set a good example.

So today, I leave you with this…

We are all broken people.  We all have things that bother us.  We all have bad days.  We all need someone, even if we don’t want to admit it.   Sometimes, I just want to hear that it’s okay, to feel justified in my feelings.  Sometimes I just need reassurance. Sometimes I just want to let my defenses down enough to cry, which is a really big struggle for me.

Being head over heels for Jesus Christ doesn’t make me perfect like him.  It just makes me a girl who knows the standard Christian answers, who knows that God is the almighty and that yes, with him, I can get through anything, but also, a girl with real feelings, who might just need to borrow and ear or a shoulder sometime!

How about you?

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Beautifully Stained…

BeautifullyStained

This morning, I sat listening to the Rhett Walker Band “All I Need is You”.  At one point in the song, he says…

“Wash my eyes to see you
Wash the stains away
Give me faith to trust You
‘Cause You’re the rising day

So let the rain keep falling down
As the waters flood this town
On my knees
I’ll be found

All I need
All I need is You.”

What caught my attention was “wash the stains away”.

I thought about my husband.  He is forever dripping things on his shirts and most often, they leave a small stain.  He may wipe the spot immediately or it may sit a while.  He may spray it with some sort of stain remover but many of his shirts still carry these small stains.

I think of my life.  I think of all the stains that have been smeared into the years of my life.  How many times have I tried to wipe them away on my own?  How often have I used something to try and remove them or cover them?  And yet many of them are still there.

When you look at my husband in one of his shirts, you probably won’t notice the stains (except, now that I pointed it out, you might, lol), but he knows they are there and I know they are there.

God knows the stains we carry.  God aches for us, for the burdens we hang onto, the pain we hold so tight and yet he waits for us to hand it over to him.

We spend so much time and energy trying to hide our stains, trying to cover them up or wipe them away.  Those stains are a part of us.  Those stains have made us who we are.  Sometimes that picture of who we are may not be a pretty one but when we choose to walk with God, it doesn’t matter how pretty or clean our shirts are.  He meets us right where we are.  He gives us time to grow, guides us along the way and picks us up when we fall.

I admit, my heart is often very heavy with the stains I carry but I am learning to let Him carry me.  Someday, maybe I’ll be able to hand it all to him and just simply walk beside him.  For today, I’m just gonna wear my stains, knowing they don’t define me, they don’t make me ugly, that with Him, I am beautifully stained!

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