It’s been 16 months since he traded his military uniform in for overly recycled, faded brown scrubs.
As I prepared it for the cleaners this morning, I was struck with memories and sadness. I spotted the dark sweat stains that had, 16 months prior, blemished the undershirt to his uniform. For three days he sat nearly defenseless before a judge, a jury, and a courtroom of observers as he was brutally attacked by the government. Through the berating and mockery, his only defense was to sweat.
Now, 16 months later, I have officially taken my husbands military dress uniform to the dry cleaners. A uniform likely never to be worn again but that bears so many reminders. Reminders, not just of the moment that changed our lives forever and the pain that endured, but of the grandeur of God’s amazing grace by which we have been sustained, refined and purified through these trials.
Our lives are in his hands,
and he keeps our feet from stumbling.
You have tested us, O God;
you have purified us like silver.
You captured us in your net
and laid the burden of slavery on our backs.
Then you put a leader over us.
We went through fire and flood,
but you brought us to a place of great abundance.
There, I sat on the dusty garage floor, wrench in hand, sweat running down my nose, and in front of me sat what used to be an intact lawn mower now just a few parts shy of being considered useful
In all my frustration (and yes, I’ll admit a bit of self-pity) I thought, I’m so tired of fixing broken things. (Though, I think to write those words in all caps might be a bit more accurate in tone).
But just as quickly as that thought crossed my mind so too did the next.
Imagine if God ever tired of fixing broken things.
Woah. If I was needing a gut punching, reality check, that was surely it.
Sure, I’m exhausted and feeling more drained by the day with all the upkeep and maintenance as a homeowner on top of all the other roles I bear in this current stage of life; but, when I think of all the times God could have tired of fixing me (a broken sinner), I’m reminded of the patience my God has extended to me over the years. He continues filling in the missing pieces of my soul with His extraordinary grace in a process of making me more and more like Christ.
Focusing on all the things that need to be tended to is mentally exhausting; there are simply not enough hours in the day or days in the week to make it all happen. But I don’t want to live there, swallowed by a list of to-dos so much so that my physical, mental, and spiritual health are depleted. I want to bask first in the presence of the Lord, focusing not on the overwhelming things awaiting my TLC but rather on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of my faith (Heb 12:2, ESV).
I’m so glad God is in the business of fixing broken things.
If God weren’t in such a relentless, merciful restorative business, I would remain the incomplete and damaged mess I am — a few parts shy of being considered useful.
Thank you, Lord, for never growing weak or weary and giving up on me (Isa 40:28). Thank you, Jesus, for allowing your body to be broken that I be made whole (Isa 53:5). Though I often feel a few parts shy of being useful, you call me your masterpiece, created anew in Christ Jesus with purpose (Eph 2:10). Lord, thank you for your unyielding grace.
Oxford University Press (2019) defines shame as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”
Renowned author and shame researcher, Brené Brown expands on that definition to explain shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
If you’ve ever done something wrong — something foolish — you’ve likely experienced shame to some extent. The weight of it is different for each person, each foolish act, and each sin. Nevertheless, shame is real; and shame is painful.
Shame, my friend, is a lie.
Yes, we are a flawed and imperfect people living in a flawed and imperfect world, but we are far from being unworthy of love and belonging.
In fact, God’s story reveals the very opposite; it reveals the very depth of His love for this very flawed and imperfect creation of His. God’s sacrifice of His perfect Son, for sake of an imperfect humanity, says we are worthy of love and belonging (John 3:16).
As Christians, we acknowledge our sinful nature and recognize that we are undeserving of God’s grace. Yet, that’s the grandeur of it all; that even though we don’t deserve it, God pours out His grace on us (Ephesians 1:6).
When sin entered the world, shame consequently accompanied it.
Before Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, they had yet to experience the burden of shame (Genesis 2:25). It was their disobedience to God that then opened their eyes to feel the shame of nakedness (Genesis 3:7).
By way of sin, shame gains power. Without sin, shame would have no power to reside.
Because of Christ we don’t have to carry shame’s weight.
Jesus has already sacrificially taken our sin to the cross. We’ve been freed from the slavery of which is sin (Galatians 5:1). Christ came to set captives free (Luke 4:18). He came with a divine mission, to bear the weight of our sins so that we’d experience His very righteousness and be reconciled to the Father (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:18).
Because of Christ we’re no longer slaves.
We are no longer captive to the sin that once imprisoned us. We don’t have to live feeling unworthy, flawed, not good enough, too far gone, or unqualified. The lie has been squashed. Aspladado. Ésvise. Sumobog. Knust. It doesn’t matter what language you say it in … Jesus has set us free!
So you’ve messed up and you’re crippled by your mistakes.
I’ve been there. I’ve been right where you’re at — ashamed of who I am, what I’ve done, and who I’ve hurt. I, too, have wondered how God could ever forgive someone so selfish and wicked.
I had known right, yet I’d chosen wrong. I chose the path — no one else chose for me. Every choice leading up to that fateful affair was mine alone to make. I’d chosen wrong, and the only person responsible was my own self. So it was I who, then, carried the blame, failure, self-disgust, and shame — from sun-up to sun-down.
For years, I felt unworthy of love and belonging no matter how hard I tried to escape my past. I was certain I deserved to suffer every single day for the remainder of my life as a consequence to my foolishness. I believed the lie of shame and it was a heavy load that ultimately held me back from experiencing the blessings of God.
Though I may have given up on myself, God hadn’t.
You see … we can try to hide and to run from His presence, but God is always there, always present. He may be silent, yet he is there. King David proclaims God’s very omnipresence in Psalm 139. In verses 7-12, he declares,
7 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! 8 If I go up to heaven, you are there, if I go down to the grave, you are there. 9 If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, 10 even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. 11 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— 12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.
God allows us to run, but all the while he remains present, ready to help when we’re ready to accept it. God’s desire is never to shame us for what we already know to be. Instead, his desire is to help us, though he’ll never force us to choose Him. The choice is ours.
God knows that we are an imperfect people and yet he desires nothing more than to love, nurture, and provide for us.
When Adam and Eve welcomed sin into the world God was very disappointed, but nevertheless He was there — He was present in their shame and helped them overcome the burden by providing relief from their nakedness by making clothes out of animal skins (Genesis 3:21).
God wants to provide relief from your shame all the same.
I chose to stop hiding; to stop running. Instead, I chose to give my life over to God — all the guilt and all the shame laid down at the foot of the cross — and in return “God gave beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning, and praise instead of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3, TLB).
So, my friend, please stop running.
Your mistakes are a part of your story — God’s story for your life — and that story is only composed through your experiences.
In the infamous words of Dr. Suess, “When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let is destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”
Choose to follow Jesus and to center your life on him. Choose to accept God’s forgiveness and to embrace your past and let its weight strengthen you. Choose to walk forward in the Lord’s presence and trust His provision and His promises.
What story do you want your life to tell, my friend?
I assure you, there’s no greater story than that of a life lived in the grandeur of His grace.
18,816 hours. 784 days. 112 weeks. 2 years, 1 month and 23 days.
For nearly 26 months my husband bore the guilt and shame of his past. It was a weight heavier than any other he’d had to carry before. And though a consequence to his ill choices and mistakes, he found himself chained in darkness and tormented by the chaos surrounding him.
A life once filled with grit and ambition was quickly overwhelmed with anguish and humiliation as the enemy spoke lies into his bruised and bleeding heart.
Life had become barren in his eyes.
I looked on for more than 2 years as my husband consumed whatever might numb him from his pain. While he was numbing his pain, I was empathetically dwelling in the pain of his sorrows wishing nothing more than to take it upon myself, that he would hurt no longer.
Despite my occasional desire to throw in the towel and walk away from it all, I refused to fall victim to society — a society that tells us to run at every difficult obstacle for a chance at the “better” life, an “easier” life.
Regardless of the enemy’s effort to destroy our marriage, our family, and our faith, I chose not to give in, but to stand firm in my faith — a faith that tells me to trust in the Lord and remain patient through every trial for He is the truth, the life, and the way.
Are you a prisoner to guilt? To shame? To addiction? Are you chained to your past? Haunted by your fears? By loneliness?
You don’t have to stay there, trapped, afraid, and ashamed. God’s Word reminds us time and time again of His unfailing love for his people — for the captive, the oppressed, and the broken. In fact, He loved us so much so, that he gave his most prized and precious possession — His Son — to set us free (John 3:16). And through His Son, Jesus Christ, we are forgiven of our sins and made right in God’s sight (Acts 13:38-39).
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters.Galatians 5:13a
Though my husband is now a prisoner to the government, he is finally free.
He is free from the lies, the shame, and the fear that had once imprisoned his soul for far too long.
For the first time, he is living unashamed and unafraid, fully embracing freedom in Christ and the grandeur of grace.
You don’t have to continue living captive or haunted by your sins, your fears, or your past. You, too, can experience a life of freedom. It’s the grandeur of God’s grace.
At her question I smiled as joy fueled my soul disregarding the details of my current afflictions. Her question was one of a deep desire to find purpose in her own pain; it was a longing for meaning in her own worldly madness. That desire and longing to find joy even in suffering was one I’d once felt myself.
You’ve been there, too. Longing for something more. Looking for a way out of the darkness. Wondering if you’ll ever find true purpose in life. Wanting nothing more than to experience the exuberant glee others around you so joyfully display.
Perhaps you’re still there. Waiting. Disappointed. Frustrated. Angry. Miserable. Disheartened.
You’re not alone. But even in your waiting, you can experience joy.
Joy is NOT Happiness
We often confuse happiness and joy. Though the terms are usually defined synonymously, they are very different.
“Joy is distinctly a Christian word and a Christian thing. It is the reverse of happiness. Happiness is the result of what happens of an agreeable sort. Joy has its springs deep down inside. And that spring never runs dry, no matter what happens. Only Jesus gives that joy. He had joy, singing its music within, even under the shadow of the cross.”S.D. Gordon (1859-1936)
Happiness comes and goes like the seasons. It’s momentary. It’s surface-level emotion. It’s dependant on our circumstances. Unfortunately, choosing to live in a world in which our emotions are solely based on circumstance will keep us from truly experiencing the joy of the Lord.
But joy … joy is much deeper. It’s rooted in the heart. Contrary to happiness, joy is an established and secure feeling of peace, hope, and pleasure regardless of our circumstances and despite our suffering. It’s established, or securly rooted, in our faith — hoping in the things we cannot see (Heb 11:1).
Just as a plant establishes itself by growing roots in order that it may draw nourishment and maintain its strength, we take root in Christ through whom our soul is nourished and strengthened (Isa 55:1-3). Without roots, plants would lack the ability to draw the necessary nourishment and subsequently fail to experience its full potential. Likewise, without roots we fail to experience everything God has to offer us.
The Journey to Joy
There was a point in my life when the road I was traveling was marked with darkness, discord, lonliness, fear, and utter foolishness. Though I still remain a broken and imperfect mess — prone to pain and saddness all the same — I find joy in my brokenness and imperfections. With joy, I no longer just exist in this world but rather I live — I live for what is greater than I and greater than all of my circumstances.
I assure you, joy did not come about overnight. I didn’t wake one morning with a radiant glow nor did I have all the answers after giving my life to the Lord at the age of 24. I looked for joy at the bottom of the bottle and came up empty everytime. I sought joy through relationships and only returned with more heartbreak.
Joy came as the product of an inconvenient, overwhelming, and painful journey. Every inconvenience, every difficulty, and every trial has led me to this place.
Now, bearing countless scars, I rejoice because along my journey I found life. I found The Answer to everything I’d been searching for all along.
The joy of the Lord will forever be my strength (Neh 8:10).
Joy is the product of a journey and every journey looks different. But no matter how different one’s journey, our source of joy will always remain the same.
The Choice is Ours
Our days are full of countless choices. We choose what to eat, what to wear, who to like, when to pray, how to complete a task, and even how to respond to each circumstance. Sure, circumstances can leave us feeling weary and sad but regardless, to have joy in the midst of our weariness and saddness is ultimately our choice.
“[God] will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of [His] presence and the pleasures of living with [Him] forever” (Ps 16:11).
1. Choose to Trust
Joy comes in trusting God’s promises. Jesus himself was able to endure the cross because of the joy awaiting him (Heb 12:2). His joy came in trusting God to fullfill his promise to restore the wayward, the broken, the lost, and the hurting.
Do you have to be happy with your current circumstances? Of course not. You don’t have to be happy to rejoice in the Lord. We can rejoice because we can trust. We can trust that God is working ALL things together for our good just as His Word says in Romans 8:28. We can trust that God is using every circumstance of our lives so that we may live to spread the Good News just as Paul proclaims in Philippians 1:12-14.
2. Choose to Hope
When we can believe that we have a specific purpose in God’s plan it becomes easier to accept moments of pain and difficulty. Like Christ, we can endure our difficult circumstances as we look ahead with hope to what is yet to come.
While trusting God in the process, Jesus was choosing to have hope. He hoped for greater things to come through all of his suffering and this hope gave him great joy as he obediently fullfilled the Father’s will at the cross.
Having hope does not exempt us from suffering. Rather, it leads us to experience a divine joy amidst moments of hardship. To experience true joy even within difficult circumstances we must put our hope in the Lord. Choosing hope is choosing to have joy through our trials and in our waiting.
3. Choose to Focus
When we choose to focus on God, our circumstances no longer determine whether or not we rejoice when war is waged. When we choose to focus on the right things we are choosing joy. When we choose joy, even through the fire and the flood, we experience the wonders of our faithful Father.
Ask yourself: Are your eyes fixed on Jesus or your current circumstance? Are you spending more energy trying to fix your circumstance than you are seeking God in prayer? What are you most focused on — temporary things or eternal things, worldly things or heavenly things?
When we focus on God and His promises it becomes so much more difficult to lose sight of the goal — to finish the race and receive the heavenly prize that awaits us (Phil 3:14).
Had I not chosen joy through the roughest of trials in my life, but rather chosen to allow my circumstances to determine my happiness, I would not have had the courage to follow God’s calling for my life. I would not have the opportunity to serve those who feel they’ve been forgotten, unworthy, and unloved. I would not have the energy to be a parent to the daughter God has asked me to show the way. And I would certainly not have been honoring Christ.
Choosing joy has led me to experience so many of God’s wonders and you, too, can experience those same glorious wonders.
So, my heart may ache, my body may fail and my mind may fear, yet I rest in the arms of the One who created that very heart, body and mind to experience every emotion — both good and bad. And even through the bad, God still reigns.
May you, too, find joy in your storm and joy in your waiting as you seek to trust, to hope, and to focus on the Lord and His promises. May your journey testify to the goodness of our God.
I thought it was clear as to why we wear and speak the phrase. Only after reading a letter I had recently received from a friend, did I actually understand the true significance of those two simple words — welcome home.
Mo1 is currently serving a 10 year sentence in a military prison. He’s completed three years but in those few years he’s lost his career, his marriage, friendships, the love and respect from his children, and the support of many loved ones.
What he hasn’t lost is his faith.
His faith has been tested through injustice, abandonment, lonliness, shame, injustice, depression, fear, succlussion and more. But through every pain his endurance has produced in him a hope greater than any he would have found in the world (Rom 5:3-4).
When there’s nowhere else to run when you hit rock bottom run to the Father. You are always welcome in the Father’s presence.
1Name has been changed for privacy.
Mo writes often. It’s an outlet for him; a chance for him to vent, to share, and to communicate. His letters most always lead to great discussion centered on God’s Word. He shares his current struggles and God reveals His promises in return. In his most recent letter he told of his recent visitation with some loved ones. He shared with me his grandmother’s unwillingness to outwardly admit to and transparently live in the truth of her grandson’s circumstances for sake of saving face.
“ … they are embarrassed and I get it. This is embarrassing. People don’t take kindly to people being in prison … So I asked [my grandmother], ‘… since you’re not telling people what’s really going on and saying that I’m still in the military, what’s gonna happen when I come home?’”
“Well, you can’t come to my church.“
If you’ve ever heard those words yourself you can imagine the hurt Mo felt. Reading her words left my heart in pure agony for my brother and for every person who has ever been told, or even felt, as if they were unwelcome.
Her church?! Has the veil not yet been torn?!
Is it not He — Friend of Sinners — who we follow (Lk 7:34)?
Mo’s words continued …
“Everyone knows I’m your grandson … I’m not gonna lie and say I wan’t here. I’m not ashamed; I’d love to tell the church how I kept my faith through this but I don’t want to be an embarrassment. I might as well flee the country — all someone has to do it look up your address and boom, there I am … Maybe I shouldn’t come home.”
“I can’t lie, that hurt — especially while I’m learning Christianity and thinking about it more and more. That was a huge turn off. I’m considering doing the entire 10 years so there’s no parole and just disappear.”
Here is a man with a deep desire to understand Christianity and share his testimony of faith with others. Yet, to become an embarrassment to his family was never his intention and the only option in his mind to avoid being that embarrassment would be to not return home.
Unless you’re a parent of a teenager you don’t purposefully sets out to “be an embarrassment.” Yet, it’s not uncommon for our choices and our circumstances to present us as an embarrassment to those closest to us. And for those of us who are recovering people-pleasers, feeling to have let-down and embarrassed your loved ones creates the perfect opportunity for the enemy to attack (1 Pet 5:8). Afterall, the enemy would love nothing more than to lead a Christ-follower to second-guess himself and his faith.
So, I can understand Mo’s confusion on Christianity when he’s learning the truth about God’s grace and redemption through Scripture and witnessing strangers practice more grace and hospitality than his very own blood.
God reiterates the command to practice hospitality throughout the New Testament (see Rom 12:13; 1 Tim 3:2; 5:10; Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9; 3 Jn 1:5-8). His repitition of such command simply highlights the importance of His (C)hurch — His people — in practicing hospitality. All-the-same, every (c)hurch is called to the very same. Welcoming others is not merely a suggestion, it’s a command. For we know that all have sinned and all fall short of God’s standard (Rom 3:23).
Nevertheless, amid his doubts and distractions from the world, he declared a radical statement of faith and freedom when he said,
“I’m not ashamed.”
Those words alone are power. To declare you are unashamed is to rightfully declare your commitment to following Christ. The more we speak it, the more we believe it. Shame begins to have no power over us.
When Christ went forth to the cross, he disregarded the shame associated with it (Heb 12:2). He might as well have shouted, “I’m not ashamed!” Christ bore the weight of our sins, reconciling us to the Father (2 Cor 5:18) so that we can hear Him say “Welcome Home.”
We, believers, are on a mission — a race to the finish line. With eyes set on Jesus we long for the day we are welcomed home into paradise. We imagine. We dream. We believe in greater things yet to come. And until that day comes, we will always wonder what’s gonna happen when I do go home?
The wonder keeps us running towards God. The vision of the Father welcoming us home gives us hope. The promise to be freed from the pain and suffering we experience in this world brings joy in the waiting and the journey.
Yet our past can still haunt us and our sin entangle us. The weight of daily toils can become heavy. We desire freedom from everything holding us back from experiencing the life God wills for us, yet the world blurs our sights and muffles our hearing as it seeks to lead us to question our worthiness and doubt our God.
And when the world becomes too loud and too chaotic, we begin believing those lies. We hold onto the shame. Despite attempts to break free from the guilt, the lies, the shame … the weight becomes too heavy to bear and we begin to tell ourselves that we shouldn’t even try anymore. We are left believing we are unworthy and unwelcome. We are left believing God doesn’t even want us to come home afterall.
God wants his church to be a place where EVERYONE is welcome and EVERYONE feels at home. God longs for his lost children to come home and when they do, he doesn’t shame them or disqualify them; He runs toward them, embraces them, and calls for celebration (Lk 15:11-32). There’s no doubt that he says to His child, “Welcome home.”
Regardless of how far you’ve run you can always COME HOME.
“No matter how hard things are I do my best to stay focused. I trust God. I know I do. It’s too hard to give up. My faith won’t let me.”Mo
Photo Credits | Grace Fellowship Church, 2019.
Annually we pay tribute to the men and women who’ve served and sacrificed for sake of our nation. Now known as Veterans Day, Armistice Day was set aside as a day to honor those who’d served during World War I (WWI). But with several major wars following Armistice Day was converted to Veterans Day to commemorate ALL veterans of ALL wars.
Today, we celebrate Veterans Day every November 11th in honor of our nation’s men and women who braved the call of duty in uniform in support of our armed forced. .
During the 66th Annual Veterans Day Observance ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Amphitheater, Vice President Mike Pence spoke with honor and gratitude as he addressed the heroism of our nation’s veterans. In his statement, Pence recognized aloud that “every veteran of the armed forces of the United States is a hero to the American people.” (Cronk, 2019).
Pence challenged every American to extend gratitude to those who’ve served in uniform.
What he didn’t do was place exceptions on his challenge.
His words did not exclude nor warrant partiality.
He said “every veteran.”
Why then do we, as a nation, have the tendency to leave some feeling so outcast and forgotten?
Directly spoken from an incarcerated soldier himself on Veterans Day were words that left me pining for every veteran to feel honored for their service. “We are just the forgotten veterans.”
My heart crumbled at his words.
With reassuring love I responded with words of affirmation to ensure that he knew he and his fellows inmates are far from being the forgotten veterans. Lest we forget the service and sacrifice of the forgotten veterans — they who’ve been reduced to but a reg number by the UCMJ.
They, too, embarked on a journey of bravery and courage.
They, too, wore the same uniform, lost brothers and sisters to war, and still suffer the longterm effects.
They, too, have filled their lungs with the same middle-eastern dust, spent time barricaded in the same bunkers, and traveled the same IED affixed routes as their counterparts.
The reality … even the incarcerated veteran is a veteran.
We have men and women who’ve served our country yet somewhere along the way they found themselves face to face with the United States Military Justice System. I’m not here to speak on a system’s justices or injustices or the offenses for which they’ve been convicted but rather to bring light to the fact that while a criminal is still a human so a convicted service-member is still a veteran.
So today, a day observed in honor of our nation’s veterans, we honor every veteran. Past, present, wounded, convicted, incarcerated, discharged …
May we be a nation that extends grace and honor toward every veteran — both the remembered and the forgotten.
And may every veteran, today and every day, be honored for their service and sacrifice to this nation. Regardless.
Her voice is awful. She’s rude and inconsiderate — often interrupting deep conversation with her monotone nonsense. Even after nine months of hearing her voice, it remains an annoyance.
My husband calls daily, multiple times a day, in fact.
The minutes we spend on the phone, regardless of how pointless the conversation, are extremely precious to us both. But it certainly doesn’t come without a cost.
The cost … 21 cents per minute with taxes and surcharges leaving it costing us a whopping 28 cents per minute.
Yes, it’s absolutely ridiculous (especially since one of the main goals of incarceration is rehabilitation communication with loved ones encouraged for such rehabilitative purposes). Nevertheless, it’s a cost we’re willing to pay. We’ve given up many other luxuries so that we may stay connected while we’re apart knowing that communication is one of the greatest tools for overcoming obstacles — and this, by far, is the greatest obstacle we’ve had to endure as of yet.
And even after having spent $8.40 for a 30 minute conversation with my husband, that awful computerized voice intrudes once again …
Though her timing is poor and her tone completely graceless her warning is nevertheless appreciated. Not many things in life come with a notice of expiration. But her’s … it provides us with 60 seconds — 60 seconds to ensure our final words are nothing short of love and grace.
If it weren’t for that rude, untimely voice we wouldn’t have those 60 seconds to prepare a happy ending.
Imagine if life itself came with a one minute warning — 60 seconds to prepare a happy ending.
What if you were told that you only have one minute before your heart gives out; before your teenager becomes a parent; before your spouse trades you in for a newer model; before you’re laid off from work…
Would you treat the moments differently?
Just imagine how differently we might appreciate our time we’re given and the people in our lives if every next came with a warning of expiration.
We’d likely love more deeply, show more appreciation, forgive more often, and live more unreserved.
We’d learn the art of embracing moments and making memories.
We’d focus less on ourselves and more on others; less on receiving and more on giving.
Unfortunately, we don’t know when a moment’s expiration will come. We aren’t given a warning to make amends or complete the bucket list we’ve created. We’re given only the now — a now that can end in the blink of an eye — no warning, no expiration date.
So why not live as if we always have one minute remaining?
What if you heard, “you have one minute remaining?”
This morning I stormed out of a staff meeting. It certainly was not my greatest moment.
I wish I were able to say it was not my fault but I have no one else to blame but myself, for it was I who had chosen to walk through this particular valley silently and pridefully alone.
I had chosen pride over humility. Instead of facing my grief, my doubts, and my fears, I had chosen to ignore them. For what? To appear put-together? To give the false impression that I am strong? To avoid facing my reality?
Whatever the reason, it ultimately lead to a moment of great weakness.
On my own, I am weak. Very weak. And today, I tried to face it all on my own.
Darkness vs. Light
We’ve all been there. We’ve all found ourselves walking through a pivital, life-changing valley or darkness. And there, we’ve all had a choice to make — to walk through the darkness alone or to recognize that God is with us even in the midst of that darkness (Psalm 23:4).
I have no doubt that God is beside me through my dark valleys.
So why didn’t I hold onto Him as the darkness began closing in on me?
Why didn’t I trust that He is in control and that He is lighting the path set before me?
Why wasn’t my faith strong enough to call on Him when I was feeling overwhelmed within my circumstances?
Because I — a broken and prideful being — am weak.
A Lesson From Paul
The apostle Paul knew suffering quite well. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 he documents a thorn in his flesh from which he sought relief. Paul, feeling weak from such torment, begged God to remove the thorn. Not once. Not twice. But three times. And God’s answer remained the same.
Instead of removing the thorn, God assured Paul, “My grace is sufficient. My power works best in weakness.”
Paul didn’t respond with, “fine, I’ll find another route.” Paul had already seen what God was capable of doing. He had witnessed God’s miracles. In fact, Paul himself was a miracle. So when God didn’t remove the thorn from which Paul was suffering, Paul chose not to go at it alone but rather to trust — to cling to God and His promises.
In his weakness Paul found great strength. Strength only God was able to supply. Paul found himself strong enough to bear the thorn from which he was suffering. And he bore it with great gladness (or joy).
Paul was glad to boast in his weaknesses because he learned that through his weaknesses Christ’s power was actually being revealed.
God’s power is magnified through our weaknesses all the same. How often do we fail to see the purpose in our pain, the purpose in our suffering?
From Paul’s weakness and through his suffering we learn a vital lesson, one that without comprehending we will merely find ourselves lost and without hope as light appears to fade and darkness surrounds us.
Sometimes the answer to our plea for relief is not to have the burden removed but to be reminded of God’s grace; that we may continuously trust in his plan regardless of our circumstances.
Paul’s circumstances didn’t change, but his perspective did.
Strength Through Christ
My thorn may not be the same as that from which Paul suffered. And my thorn likely looks different from that which you are suffering.
Regardless of the form and nature of our thorns, of one thing I am certain … we are all weak on our own.
And just as God answered Paul’s plea He, too, ensures us that His grace is all we need for His power works best in our weakness.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12).
Choosing to follow Christ comes at a high cost. We can look forward to what is yet to come all the while walking in His light as we endure worldly suffering.
“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
So yes, I am weak. But with Christ, I am strong.
It is only when I try to walk through this life alone that I find myself gasping for air beneath the weight of pride, anxiety, doubt, and fear.
Through weakness, I am learning trust — to trust that God is the source of all strength (Isaiah 41:10; Philippians 4:13; Hebrews 13:9), to trust there is purpose in my suffering, and to trust that through such His power is being revealed.
I am learning courage — to acknowledge I cannot do this alone and to admit there are times I am overwhelmed.
I am learning humility — to be okay not being okay and to cry when my heart is overcome with sadness.
I am learning dependence — to rely not on my own strength but on God who is with me even in the midst of the dark valleys.
Most of all, I am learning grace — to breathe in and embrace the grandeur of God’s grace.
It’s been 7 years since we tied the knot; 7 remarkably challenging and insanely eventful years to say the least. Challenges and all, these last 7 years have been the greatest years of my life!
I never would have anticipated celebrating an anniversary in a correctional facility. Yet this year we did. And this year is by far my favorite.
Why? Because for the first year, Danny and I weren’t distracted by the noise and disturbances of this world. Instead, we were focused solely on each other. As we sat around the table in the JRCF visitation room our eyes, ears and hearts focused on the now —not the past nor the future. There was no phone and there was no Internet; there was merely nothing to separate us in that moment.
Those eight hours spent with my best friend this weekend were nothing shy of perfect. We joked. We laughed. We told stories. And we prayed. We found joy in the chaos.
We could have allowed our circumstances to weaken us, to steal our joy, and to hinder our growth and love for one another, yet Danny, and I have chosen not to waste our moments lamenting over what awful things we endure in this temporary world; instead we’ve chosen to focus on the promises of our generous and gracious God.
“Do I have to?” A question we once asked when told to do chores or take a bath has since become a question with far deeper roots — our purpose.
Do I have to talk to people today? Do I have to go to church? Do I have to tell my kids I love them every night? Do I have to help my elderly neighbor mow their lawn? Do I have to … ?
The truth — no. We don’t have to. We don’t have to serve. We don’t have be generous. We don’t have to have compassion. We don’t have to extend grace. The reality is none of us have to do what we’re asked — though we can’t neglect to accept that there’s a consequence with every choice, whether right or wrong.
It’s a concept most often referred to as free will — the ability one has to choose for themselves their course of action in life.
Then why? Why do I spend so much of my life doing all of these things?
Because God. Because God called you — right here, right now.
The Choice is Ours
God doesn’t necessarily need me, or you, to carry out his will. Surely there are countless, more qualified, sons and daughters to call upon for this very task.
God has a choice and yet he’s chosen me — a lowly wretch with an ugly past and a chaotic present.
God didn’t carry me through the valley only to leave me on the ledge of a mountain.
God didn’t rescue me from the pit of darkness only to watch the lights go out once again.
No. He called me away from the ledge and rescued me from the gates of Hell because of who He is.
And that — that’s the grandeur of grace.
He wanted my chaos, my trouble, my pain and the many lessons I’ve learned along the way because with them I am qualified; and he intended that through it all I’d find purpose.
With every foolish choice, every wrong turn, and every scrapped knee He knew I’d find His purpose for my life.
He has been preparing me that when He called I might respond just as Isaiah had in Isaiah 6:8.
And when he called, with exuberant joy, I responded, “Here I am. Send me.”
Why? Because it is the lowly, the sinner, the shamed, the outcast, the prisoner — the one’s society calls rejects — who deserve to know they are not what the world has deemed them as. They, too, are loved and nonetheless worthy of God’s perfect grace.
How tragic to live, even one day, not extending the very grace and compassion my God so generously poured out on me to those who’ve been rejected and scorned just as I once was.
Society tells us to reject those of a lesser status — to shame them for their past, to ridicule them for their mistakes, and to disgrace them dependent upon their economic status. But what a different world it might be if those deemed as rejects knew the very grace of God.
Divorce rates would drop.
Recedivism rates would decrease.
Suicide rates would fall.
Above all, Christ would reign in the hearts of more people. After all that is the mission, right? To go and make disciples that they, too, may be saved.
It’s hard. It’s full of hateful jabs and spiteful cuts. And it’s learning to smile at those hurtful words knowing you, too, once spoke with such hate to your own parents.
It’s exhausting. It’s long days and endless hours of reponsibilities. And it’s falling — not crawling — into bed every night for eighteen years completedly depleted of every ounce of energy.
It’s choices. It’s constant wants and never-good-enoughs. And it’s telling yourself it’s okay not to give in to the relentless, ridiculous desires of your children for you know that feeding their pety requests will likely only foster ungratefulness.
Parenthood comes bearing with it inconvenience and agitation; stress and pressure; meltdowns and — Heck, there are days we feel like giving up and just throwing in the towel. But, then grace shines in. And it is there, in those grace-filled moments, when we realize that parenthood is worth it all.
When your son grabs your cheeks, looks you in the eyes, and says “you’re beautiful.
“When your daughter emerges from your closet wearing your oversized combat boots as leggings; for she wants only to follow in her daddy’s footsteps.
When they bring home that Picasso painting for you on Mother’s Day, even if you look like a giant pink and yellow blob.
Or when they hand pick you the very same flowers you just spent all spring planting in the garden out front.
It is there, in those moments, grace is found.
Because no matter how frustrated and overwhelmed our children leave us feeling, we are blessed.
The hurtful words, the selfish actions, and the unsatisfied demands of our children are merely temporary.
And let’s be honest — we’re only living the reality our very own parents once endured coupled with the grandeur of God’s grace.