The Love of God


Ephesians 3: 18  “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.”

Oh! And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

When someone is about to confide in me but hesitates, I often say, “Look. I’ve done and seen pretty much everything there is to do and see. I won’t be offended and I won’t be surprised.”

It’s the truth. If I were to list off my sins, my mistakes – well, many of you who know me would actually be offended, because it would blow your mind how different I am today than I was even a decade ago.

Beth Moore says one reason we can’t understand God is that we try to humanize Him. Oh sweet Lord, how true that is. When we try to grasp how much – or how, period – He loves us, we can come up short.

Oh, especially when we’ve lived lives unsure of the love of anyone, right? The love of any human being? And when – if we’re lucky – we find out that we were wrong – that he or she – or they – actually do love us, well – that presents a beautiful challenge.

What do we do with our lives when we realize we were living them under the wrong assumption or belief? The first thing that we understand, friends, is the depth of the mistakes we made because we believed we were unworthy of love.

So – what constitutes an unforgivable offense here? Just by looking at my life, and the lives of people I know, here’s a quick list I compiled.

“God couldn’t love me because I’ve had too many sexual partners.”

“God couldn’t love me because I lied – all the time.”

“God couldn’t love me because I manipulated people and tried to control them.”

“God couldn’t love me because I had a baby out of wedlock.”

“God couldn’t love me because I haven’t lived a mature, responsible life. I’m not a success, I’m sometimes lazy, and I don’t make as much money as I should. It’s my own fault.”

“God couldn’t love me because I have doubted His love for me for years.”

“God couldn’t love me because I got divorced.”

“God couldn’t love me because I don’t look, think, or act like all those other Christians.”

You know what? Beth Moore also said that belief is not a feeling – it is a choice. And she is right. Some days or moments it’s easy to feel God’s love. Because it was a “good” day – no one got mad at you and you didn’t make an insanely huge screw-up. Or something bad has happened and God came through for you in a big way.

But most days we’re just human. We make mistakes, hurt someone, or let someone down. Maybe we get in trouble at work, at school, or at home. And satan comes strolling into that hot mess and just tells us how worthless we are. And if you’ve heard those words come out of the mouths of people, his voice sounds an awful lot like theirs. And you believe it.

You have a choice, my friends. The choice to believe the Word, not the words of satan, not the words of people who are also screwed up and don’t know how to love you like they should.

Make the choice. And while you’re at it, encourage someone today. You never know, y’all. You never know how much they might need it.

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Quality of Life – God’s Way


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What does quality of life mean to you? Well, Google defines it as “the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group.”

The question is, who decides that standard? Because the world is what creates that benchmark, and because the world operates quite differently from God’s word, you’re always going to come up short by defining your quality of life on worldly canons such as money, fame, recognition, success, your career, the appearance of perfection in your life (including your spouse and children and other family members), popularity, how many followers you have on Facebook or Twitter, etc.

Joyce Meyer made an excellent point about quality of life. She wrote, “It’s not the things that happen to us that determine the quality of our lives; it’s how we respond to those things…how much we trust God with them. Doing what we want and getting our way all the time isn’t what will make us happy. Being selfish and self-centered is actually a miserable way to live.”

I know what you might be thinking – how you would really, really love to get your way all the time! That having things worked out to your specifications would be just great. Take it from someone who’s living that way a lot of the time – that’d be me – it’s not true. She’s right – it is absolutely miserable because I know it’s wrong and it’s not fair to others, and since I’m used to pushing people around sometimes to get what I want, it’s a hard habit to break.

The world would call that ambition, or even excellence – if it only happened at work. Other women might applaud me for being “strong.” But here’s  the thing, y’all – taking advantage of others and feeling entitled are not signs of strength; they’re actually signals of great weakness.

It is meekness – humility – that make a person strong. Kindness. Love. Generosity (with money and time). Consider Acts 20:35 – “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

How about Colossians 3: 12-14: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Change of Plans


When I got married the second time around, I had a job. I rather liked it. It required definite use of brain cells. Being a mom, much of the job is menial, tedious, mind-numbing work. It doesn’t take a genius to wash clothes and wipe booties.

Well, six months later I was laid off. A second baby was well on the way. Did I ever picture that as my life? Of course not! I had big dreams, like most people. As a teenager, I read The Lost City.  Never again did I want to be an ordinary journalist. I wanted to some day work at a foreign news desk. For The Washington Post!  I never made it out of middle-sized small town papers. Thank God. I would have sucked at being a reporter at a bigger place. I just wasn’t meant to do it, I guess.

So not one of those big dreams came true. Because it’s just not what my life is supposed to be, and you know what? I’m ok with that. Because my big dreams are different now. Maybe not as exciting in the world’s eyes, but they’re pretty major to me.

I’m reading Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer. Today’s quote that sent me hurrying to blog is this: “If we don’t prepare to modify our plans, we will end up more and frustrated and overwhelmed.”

As women who marry and intend to – one day – have children, inevitably, we are surprised when they come. We aren’t just “not ready” – we don’t always want one right then. We have jobs. A social life. Spontaneity. And then we rearrange our lives for a period of time – forever or just six weeks or so – and change course. That’s our new direction.

Maybe we want a second child – in theory. I did. Guess what day I decided maybe I didn’t? Yep. The same day I found out I was pregnant with said second child. I am not kidding. It was probably an hour before I took the pregnancy test.

Wowza. Change course again. New life begins. Life gets more complicated.

I admit I have been adrift for years. It’s very unpleasant. It’s only been about six months since things really began to look up. Prior to that, I did not know what the plan was, so I kept doing what I was doing. Being a wife and mom. A writer. A nose-wiper. A daughter, friend, and neighbor.

It isn’t that now I see some deep plan unfolding in a vision. It’s an energy I feel. I know something different is on the way!

If your life is stuck, pray. If your life is moving forward and you aren’t sure exactly where God is taking it, pray! He might not reveal all just yet. But Shirer is right – you don’t want to be frustrated and overwhelmed when you suddenly wake up and realize your entire life plan has changed and you somehow forgot!

Forgiveness Isn’t a Hallmark Card


Well, it’s not. It sounds that way when other people do it. They look so beatific and peaceful. But when it’s my turn – your turn perhaps? – it’s hard and my stomach is tied in knots. I’m angry and hurt, frustrated, heartbroken even – and forgiveness is just too much work.

I was given a reprieve from work about, oh, 14 years ago. I headed to a park nearby because it was such a beautiful day. And even though God and I weren’t on the same speaking terms we are now, I still talked to Him and prayed – and even read my Bible. But we didn’t have the intimate, restorative relationship we have now. Which totally debunks the whole “miracles don’t happen anymore” theory I have heard lately and the idea that if you aren’t as close to God as you should be, He won’t help you.

Y’all, that is a bald-faced lieGod knows your heart more thoroughly than anyone on the face of the planet – even if you don’t know His. And sometimes, He comes through for you in a big big way just to show you Who’s boss. Like He did for me that day.

I didn’t come to the park thinking about a significant person in my life. I didn’t even talk about him to God that day. I just thanked God for the beauty around me, and asked that He provide the money to make up the hours I wasn’t getting paid at work that day. Somehow.

Well, He didn’t. He gave me a much bigger gift – the present of forgiveness For some reason, He laid miraculous, supernatural forgiveness of this significant person on my heart that day. The truly amazing thing was that on that day 14 years ago, or so, I didn’t even realize how fully I had forgiven this person!

I just knew my hatred of him was gone. In the years to come, in his presence, I would no longer cower, or grow angry. I would usually laugh at the stupid, inane lies he told me about myself. Sometimes I would even laugh out loud. Oh y’all, I still do! It’s been more than a decade and that forgiveness is still a daily part of my life about this person!

However, here’s the thing people: this isn’t how forgiveness is supposed to work! This was truly, really, believe me – a miracle. God doesn’t make forgiveness this easy on us 99.99999% of the time.

Makes you mad, doesn’t it? Here’s someone who has hurt you and maybe even done unspeakable things to you – and not only are you supposed to forgive this person, but also you’re supposed to do it gracefully, effortlessly, despite the very real repercussions that you may have to suffer through – for the rest of your life.

You think I don’t have those? I sure do. Those things done to me – those things I did to myself – I have to live with that awful nasty terrible ugly crap too! Consequences aren’t just born of what we do; they’re born of what others do to us.

Forgive, huh God? Oh yes – you’ve maybe even heard it said that forgiveness isn’t just about the other person – it’s really for you. So you can go on without a stained conscience and with peace in your heart.

Well, let me tell you something – I don’t think that’s the whole point of forgiveness, and if you disagree, let me turn your attention to Mark 11: 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (KJV)

Did you get that last part? If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven. Now that’s a pretty big problem huh?

Forgiveness isn’t usually a miracle and it’s rarely easy. It’s a choice you may have to make every day for an indeterminate amount of time! I’ve spent years forgiving people. YEARS.

And yet – how many years has someone – or some people – spent forgiving me?

What is Endurance?


Sometimes, I get so tired of studying and pondering the Word that my brain hurts. Today is one of those days. And guess what I stumbled upon in my journal? Yep. Endurance. Awesome Lord. I get it.

The subject I’m addressing today is joy despite a trial, and endurance plays a huge part of that process. Here are a few words that I love, love, love – that are synonymous with endurance:

ability   capacity   courage   fortitude   grit    mettle   persistence   tenacity   

                                      vitality   cool   moxie   pluck   starch

So. God is pretty clear on how our perspective should change when under the fire of suffering. And that’s the courage, the fortitude, the moxie – to endure. To endure without quitting and to endure in a lasting way, because if we quit – if we don’t last – what was the point of the whole thing?

Our pastor, Thomas Hammond, preached about all this, and it resonated because it’s human nature to quit when things get hard – a job, a marriage, a friend, a dream – and that’s when satan sneaks in, I think, to taunt us as to how huge a miserable failure we are.

But we’re not, y’all. We’re just people. And so who or what can you reach for when you’re tempted to quit? God, of course – and the Word. But find people you admire who have thrived despite adversity. Call on them for guidance and encouragement. They won’t mind – someone did the same for them when they were about to chuck it all and lose their pluck.

My Mental Health Story


If you don’t have mental health issues, what does awareness month mean to you? Probably nothing. And I wouldn’t blame you.

The question is, what should it mean to you? And the answer to that varies. Does someone you know struggle with any of the following: depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, body image disorders, and dare I include gender identity issues? Yes. I dare. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, excessive thoughts/complaints about health, anger or aggression or violence, delusions/hallucinations, or even denial of problems?

Well then. The answer to the question is that if you know them well – if they’re a frequent part of your life – you need to be as aware as you can of what the problem[s] is and how to handle it, especially if you have children and/or mental health problems of your own.

But what if by “frequent” I mean someone you work with, but aren’t friends with, for example, or a family member of some sort? Chances are, if you don’t have experience with the proper handling of mental health problems, this person – or these people – make you angry or uncomfortable, to say the least.

It’s easy to judge. On all fronts of dealing with mental illness, it’s easy to judge. Some say their mental health doesn’t define them. Personally, I think that’s an easy way to think of yourself as someone free from the intense burden of grief over your life.

It absolutely defines me. Let’s see. Severe clinical depression. Panic/anxiety disorder. PTSD. Body image disorder in the form of bulimia. I lost 20 pounds in one month. I was a size 8 when I started losing weight. I was skin and bones when I was done. I thought I was beautiful. It made my Daddy tear up and ask me what in the world had I done to myself.

“Even if you hadn’t been born with genetic mental health disorders, after what has happened to you over your life, you’d have at least one,” said my first therapist. That was 18 years ago. I was a baby then, a 19-year-old myself!

I’m not going into specifics here, and it’s not because I’m ashamed of the things that have happened to me – and the things I’ve done because of it – it’s because there are people involved that, no matter how hurtful they’ve been, have a right to privacy. Frankly, people who didn’t handle their own mental health issues well. I can’t fully blame them for how they treated or “loved” me any more than I can blame myself for what I did to them. They didn’t have a clue what they were doing with their own lives. I certainly didn’t either.

I first and foremost have to give anyone struggling with mental illness this piece of advice: God is HERE. I was raised in a “Christian” family. Went to church every time its doors were open. And I hated myself so much, and knew of the hatred towards me of others (in my own house), that I was convinced God was DONE. Saved and baptized at age 9, I thought my chance for heaven and happiness was over. I had screwed up too much to be loved by God anymore, and – here’s the kicker that many of you know full well – I was so, so terrible that I deserved what people did to me – violence, sexual assault, infidelity, mental/emotional/physical abuse – all the way through to adulthood.

Yes. It doesn’t stop at childhood, for example, if that’s where it started. It follows you everywhere – until you decide enough is enough. How that happens and what that looks like for you, I have zero idea. I have no experience with, for example, schizophrenia. I know enough about it, though, to realize that it takes a village to get that mess under control, and in society – regardless of where that society is geographically – it’s not “proper” to talk about it or seek help for it.

Y’all, there is no reason to live your live surviving. There is no reason to let someone else you love do that. God put us here to THRIVE! To be fruitful, to blossom, to bloom! That recently happened to me. All because I decided to take a chance.

What did that look like? To you, it might be laughable. I got out of my husband’s car and walked into our church. Alone. Up the stairs to the Upper Room. Alone. I was acquainted with one or two women in the Bible study group I was joining. That was it. I sat there, before it began, my heart pounding. Intense nausea made it hard to think. I was shaking so hard and terribly ashamed because I knew that some of the women could see me doing it. But I looked at the book I’d been given and almost laughed.

Armor of God, by Priscilla Shirer. And I felt this seed of determination begin to build, y’all. Like the person I used to be, before my anxiety made me turn into an agoraphobic. Someone who got sick on car trips from being closed into a vehicle. Someone who got dizzy and faint just walking out the front door alone.

Second, if you know someone suffering from mental illness, PLEASE take note:

1. Don’t question their faith. Faith from YOUR point of view has nothing to do with it. I had a true love of God for many, many years. It did not stop satan from taking over my life, and it did not stop me from letting him. It did, however, save me countless times from suicide attempts, for example.

2. Don’t embarrass or discourage them to make a point about your own ignorance. I get that this is frustrating and hard for you,too. Especially if you’ve never dealt with this in your own life. It seems so simple – just get out of the house! Of the relationship. Of your head.

Guys, fear doesn’t work like that. It takes over your life, and when the people who are supposed to love you make you feel small, that fear erodes all trust. I have family members I barely speak to because I do not know how to bridge the gap of lost trust. Of judgment and criticism because I wasn’t what they needed.

3. It’s ok to get frustrated. It’s ok to get angry! There is something insidious and dark taking over the life of someone you love, and you are powerless to stop it. No one would blame you for feeling like that, least of all the person it’s happening to. They completely understand! Show unconditional love – which does NOT mean you never feel negatively about that person. It means you keep coming back and you never give up.

4. Learn your place. You cannot heal anyone; only God and, at times, medical help, can do that. You are there to pray over, try to guide, and love that person. That’s it. No one expects you to be perfect, or to always handle it well. You’re human, and everyone knows it.

5. Don’t let it erode your own life. Take care of yourself, because if you don’t you can’t fully take care of someone else.

6. Give it to the Father, y’all. His shoulders are perfectly capable of carrying and bearing your burden. Lay it at His feet every time it rears its ugly head at you, and you will be totally amazed at what He can do.

Whether you’re struggling with mental health problems, or someone you know and love is, hang in there. Seek help. That may be a doctor or a medication. Don’t be ashamed of this! There is PLENTY of love out there for you! God, others – we are HERE. Comment below if you have questions or just want to chat. Bless all y’all!

Here’s a prayer I was recently told about by a wonderfully sweet woman in my Wednesday night Bible study. Let these words of love soak into your parched heart – your dusty soul – so that you are lifted up and away from the evil of satan that is clutching your body. Your mind. Your soul. May God heal you, may He comfort you in times of distress. May He send satan straight back to hell where he belongs!

Ephesians 3:  14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

 

Jesus & The Samaritan Dogs


Many of you are familiar with the story of The Good Samaritan. You can read it here. What you might not know is that to the Jews of Jesus’ day, they considered Samaritans dogs. This takes on new meaning with more than simply the Good Samaritan character.

It is my opinion that Jesus was looked down upon by some of His own followers for stopping to talk and share the Gospel with The Woman at the WellAt the very least, it was considered terribly odd that He chose her.

The point is, considering how much Jews hated Samaritans, the choice of two important parables containing Samaritan heroes was an interesting one for Jesus. He certainly wanted his audience to pay attention.

If He were to come back at this moment – when you’re reading this blog – and two Muslim men were with Him, and He used them as heroes in two stories – well, you get the drift.

The thing is, the heroes of these stories – regardless of racial and geographical background – did wonderful things. In fact, in the story of The Good Samaritan, he surpassed a church elder and a priest in how he helped the poor soul beaten by robbers and left for dead.

Can you picture your pastor? And your favorite deacon or church leader? Now imagine one of those Muslim men walking by this beaten man, after your pastor and church leader left him for dead, and stopping to lend a hand?

Jesus wanted to make sure that the Jews knew He did not discriminate, and He did so by using their enemy in these two parables. They viewed Samaritans as only good enough to eat the scraps left by their feet at table.

Who do we leave sitting by the side of the road, so to speak, in our lives?

  1. Our husbands and children when we’re mad at them?
  2. Our boss when he/she treats us poorly?
  3. Our parents, when we’ve had all we can take, despite our caretaking of them in the aging process?
  4. Our friends, when they disagree out of love and care?
  5. GOD, when He doesn’t do what we want Him to?

The list includes some excellent scenarios, but maybe you have your own that you’re struggling with. Well, what did Jesus tell us to do?

Not only does our neighbor – anyone we come in contact with – need our help, but so do the rest of the people in our lives. Those pesky-people. Those who want more than we can give. What is the answer here? To erect boundaries that are healthy, or to cut those people dead when we see them so they never speak to us again?

What is the answer to the family members that plague us from time to time? To shut down, withdraw, and nurse hurt and anger? Or to pray and press on? Y’all, it doesn’t get more simple than that. Complicating it is just a way out of doing what we need to do.