Do Not Despair

As life pours out hardships, struggles or pain, the world tells us to fret and despair. It can be tempting to throw up our hands and give up when things get tough. The evil one wants us to believe that we have no hope. “See, there is always something horrible happening. There is no hope for you.” I remember hearing these lies as a child. “Your life will always be filled with pain. You will always be trapped in this hell. There is no hope for you.” The devil uses these lies to diminish and defeat us, keeping us from our God-given purpose.

For many years, I believed these lies. When I met Jesus, He started to reveal to me His truth. First, He showed me that He cares for me by rescuing me when I asked Him for help. And He did this when the world considered me to be nothing just a poor, weak child.

Second, He began to help me understand why I had gone through such suffering. The world is broken. It is not as God created it to be. And people are broken, filled with sin, and not as God intended us to be. In our sin, we hurt each other. This hurt destroys relationships which creates a domino effect of pain and sorrow which flows through our families, communities and nations.

Third, He showed me that I did not need to stay trapped in my despair – current or past. In fact, I could use my experiences to help other hurting people and to fight injustice. My painful experience gave me empathy and compassion for other people – people I have never met and even people how have hurt me, intentionally or not.

Finally, Jesus has given me great hope. He has shown me over and over again that He will never leave me. He is always with me even during the darkest days. And He reminds me that “joy will come in the morning.” He has filled me with His Holy Spirit so that I can rely on His love, His gentleness, His kindness, His strength to walk-through any situation. I am never abandoned to face situations in my own weakness as long as I rely on Him.

There are times when life still overwhelms me. During those times, I quiet myself before God. He lovingly reminds me of His goodness and faithfulness. He restores my soul and my hope. Hope in the Lord will never disappoint us as it is a gift out of God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love and His hope are available to anyone who will ask in faith. Will you ask Him for hope today?

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10 ESV

O, Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and You have healed me. Psalm 30:2 ESV

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5 ESV

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5 ESV

Just Ask

This morning is absolutely beautiful.  The sun is shining, a perfect blue sky, the birds are singing, and a lovely breeze is whisking through the house bringing forth song from the chimes I hung in the kitchen window yesterday.  It is 67 degrees so it feels lovely sitting with the sun on my back and under a blanket.  It is a perfect morning to journal and sip tea with my Heavenly Father.

This morning, He is reminding me just how much He loves me.  He says I am valued by Him and nothing outside of that matters.  He loves me more than I can imagine and will take care of me.  He does take care of me!  Sometimes, he waits for me to ask first.  I guess it is like a young mom with her toddler.  The toddler is in the kitchen pointing at a jar of sweet with grunts and whining to get her mom’s attention.  Her mom turns to her, “What do you want, me Beloved?  Use your words.”  

How often do I go through life grunting and whining when what I really need to do is pray to my Heavenly Father.  He is the one who loves me more than anyone else.  The one who is all powerful.  And He is the only one who can truly help me in all situations.  He just wants me to use my words to ask and to trust Him.  Making me ask Him helps me to understand that the blessings in my life are from Him.  If He always just poured blessings on me without waiting for me to ask, I would probably give the credit to myself or something else.  He knows I need to understand that He is my provider.  He is helping me day-by-day to fill my trust bank with memories of His blessings and care.  Memories that will serve me on the darker days when I need to stand in faith.  He is always good.  His love never ends.

“On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.  Trust in Him at all times, O people;  pour out your heart before Him;  God is a refuge for us.”  Psalm 62:7-8

I Remember

It is a clear memory for me as a third grader moving to a new school.  It would be my first of many moves between schools.  The move was difficult for me with the loss of my first real friendships – friendships that really spanned a third of my life.  We had moved from a rural community to suburbia.  It would be my most challenging year of school both academically and emotionally.  There was no love lost when we moved again before the end of the school year. 

But before going into the specifics of my memory, I want to share what brought out this memory.  As you know, this past week has been brining out voices raising a cry of injustice.  It is a cry that is way over due.  And the sad reality is so many of us didn’t understand the depths of the injustice – even those of us who have known injustice.  I was reading an article by Bryan N. Massingale, “The assumptions of white privilege and what we can do about it”.  His article was quite eye opening for me as I had no idea the depth of white privilege in our society.  I was absolutely blind to it.  (It is a similar ignorance as the child being raised in an unhealthy home and not realizing until they have the opportunity to encounter a healthy family.)  The author’s statement that struck me the most was that all white people have a moment some time in their youth when they realize they are glad they are not black.  It is a haunting statement as this is the kind of thought that should never enter our minds as we are all created equal – in the very image of God himself – and should never feel as if we are more or less than someone else.

The other gut wrenching part of his statement was I remembered my moment immediately.  It was not a common memory for me; however, it was quick to float to the surface.  The memory goes back to being nine and the new kid at school.  There was no welcome wagon.  In fact, I vividly remember a girl in my class confronting me at recess, “we don’t like you and wish you would go away.”  They were just mean kids.  Yet, I wasn’t their only target.  There was another girl in the class who they singled out even more than me.  She was a quiet, reserved girl who tried to stay to the edges.  It seemed like she would probably be nice; however, I was too afraid to find out, and I kept my distance from her.  I did work up the nerve to ask another child if she was new too.  She was not.  She had always been in their class.  I couldn’t understand why they were so mean to her.  It just didn’t make sense.  Then it came out, she had a black and a white parent.  I had no idea what this had to do with anything, but it did explain some of the names they called her.  It was at that moment that I had my first thought that I was glad I was not black because things were far worse for her.

Sadly, the story does not end in that third grade classroom.  From suburbia, we moved to the depths of Appalachia.  During that summer between third and fourth grade, I spent just about every waking hour outside – except for during the rain.  By the time school started, my skin was a deep golden brown.  This time being the new kid in class, the other children were oddly excited about having me in the class.  There was a black child in my grade who had been adopted by a white family in the area.  The children were so excited about me because he could finally have a girlfriend because I was also black.  This area of Appalachia was so white that they easily mistook my tan as me being black.  Instead of feeling happy about being immediately accepted into the group on any level, I recoiled.  The prior year had evidently given me a firm lesson that it was not good to be black.  In desperation, I tried to explain that I was not black.

This may seem like a minor story to some.  It is not.  These situations should never happen.  All children and all people should be accepted no matter what they or their parents look like or regardless of their heritage.  It seems obvious that the children in my third grade class learned the name calling from their parents.  And in the fourth grade class, there should not have been distinctions for friendships or any other relationship based on the color of our skin.  My hope is that you will take some time to reflect on your own past and identify the moments that may have shaped unknown privilege or lack of privilege in your life.  I hope that through my openness in sharing my memory that you will be able to share your memories as well.  As with all buried hurts and lies, admitting that they exist and exposing them to the light is a great start towards healing and change.

Black lives matter.  Let’s be part of the solution.

Reset Button

The second week of March was extremely stressful for me (and certainly for many others as well).  It was the first week that the reality of COVID-19 was starting to hit home.  I had just returned from vacation that Sunday which included a plan ride with a hundred or so people who could have been from anywhere.  The governor was shutting down our business.  In a hurried rush, I packed up my office to work from home – for who knows how long.  I wasn’t even certain how long I would be able to continue working.  It was so stressful.

As my life began to settle into some semblance of routine, blessings started to pop out at me.  One here, and then another over there.  With less distractions and constant going here or there, these blessings became more visible.  There was more time for prayer and journaling in the morning since there was no need to commute to work.  My cats would take turns visiting me while I worked as if they knew exactly when a cuddle was needed.  And since it was spring, nature was coming to life with lovely flowers, a wide array of greens, and beautiful melodies from the local song birds.  I was able to enjoy all of this during my lunch and some occasional, distressing tea breaks.  On neighborhood walks, there were parents outside playing with their children with laughter and squeals of joy.  

Life had slowed down; and maybe for the first time in my life, I was discovering true rest and peace.  A hope was bubbling up in me for a new normal.  A hope, that as individuals and a world, we would come out on the other side of this pandemic better than we had entered it.  My heart longed for others to notice and embrace the blessings of now rather than falling into the stress of the gloom and doom.  I do hope we leave the quarantine with a priority and refreshed love for our relationships, with a knowledge that we can still live comfortably with less, with an appreciation for living at a slower pace, with an understanding of how much we do impact our environment, and with a desire to care for one another.

As I hear the news and see friends lashing out in anger online, my hope gets shaken.  Sometimes, fear and anger suck me into the madness.  At those moments, I need to hit the reset button.  Instead of holding on to the anger, I back away and allow myself to fall back into the awareness of all of my blessings.  I refocus on the beautiful sound of the birds and remember how important love is.  And I will continue to focus on hope and hold onto the peace I have found.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”  Isaiah 26:3 ESV

Trapped

Today begins my third week of isolation due to COVID-19.  My work took early precautions and asked all of our office staff to work from home.  By the end of the first week, our governor was asking everyone to do the same thing.  It is strange being so isolated from other people.  Even us introverts long for some level of interaction with other people – just in small, controlled quantities.  Though, I am very fortunate that I can keep working, for now, unlike so many other people who are unable to work.  State after state is beginning to mandate their residents to stay home.  For most of us, this is not a terrible situation.  We can video chat with our friends and families.  And for those of us with children and/or pets, we are finding more quality time with them.  My concern is for the people who are now trapped in a horrible situation with no safe place for escape.

When my family moved to West Virginia when I was a child, we were extremely isolated.  We were so far back into the woods that there was barely a road.  The only time we left our land was for work, school, and grocery shopping.  These were usually bundled together since it was a trip to go anywhere.  Very rarely, we would visit a neighbor (the closest neighbor was probably about a half mile away).  School was my only escape from the loneliness and quarreling.  Then my parents decided I should be homeschooled.  This is following the spring that the sexual abuse began, again.  Without school, I had no place to escape – I was trapped.  My mom was working at the hospital and volunteering as an EMT so she wasn’t home very much.  It was horrible.

My only saving grace in the situation was that I was very good at math.  You might be wondering how being good at math would have anything to do with this or even be helpful.  Well, the homeschooling fell to my father (and what a joke that was).  He dropped out of school early.  As a seventh grader, I already knew more math than he did.  I was able to use that to end the homeschooling and return to school after the Christmas break.  My time of complete isolation lasted for seven months.

If you are currently isolated in a horrible situation, please know that it will not last forever.  The voices in your head saying “it will always be like this” are from an evil place.  Don’t believe them!  On this earth, forever is not real.  Everything has a beginning and an end.  Please don’t give up on yourself.  You may be in a terrible place now, yet cling to the hope of what is beyond it.  Focus on your future.  The church is an excellent place to find hope.  In today’s isolation, so many churches have started offering online services.  This makes it easy for you to try out many different churches.  You don’t need a ride there.  You don’t have to worry about talking to people you don’t know.  You don’t have to worry about fitting in.  And many of the services are recorded too so you can decide when to watch the service.  You don’t have to try to make Sunday morning work.  All church congregations are a little different.  Keep trying different ones until you find one that suits you.  

The point of this is to encourage you to find a source of hope.  Jesus became my hope and my Savior.  He wants to save everyone and give us a better life.  May He become your hope and Savior too.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  John 3:16-17 ESV

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

 

https://www.bible.com/59/jhn.3.16-17.esv
https://www.bible.com/59/jer.29.11.esv

Rescue

As a child, I felt isolated and alone.  To me, there were no visible signs of hope – no one to rescue me from my situation and my distress.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized I was never alone – not really.  I was just blind to my help.  And my natural state and free will (which, as a child, I wasn’t even aware of) kept me separated from my one source of hope.  Who was there to open my eyes so I could see?  Who was sent to help me?  Who came forward with a message of hope?  Hidden away in the deep woods of Appalachia, there weren’t many who could come or would be able to find me.

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!””
Romans 10:15 ESV

There were arguments between my parents that brought up the name, Jesus.  By my father’s attempt to drive Jesus out of my mother’s life, he introduced Jesus to mine.  And every year, like clock work, my great grandmother would send me a birthday card with a track.  “What is this?” I remember asking my mother.  It was another introduction, and my eyes were slowly opening to the presence of another – unseen – the one who could truly save me. The one who could save me not just from my situation but also walk me through the healing of the scars I would carry.  The one who would save me from a life of shame and give me a life of blessing and purpose.  The one who would show me grace and teach me to love as He loves. 

He was always there even in my darkest days.  And because of His great love for me, He sent messages to me through people and highlighted the work of His great hands in the world around me so that I could find Him.  What messages is He sending you?  Do you hear?  Can you see?

His great army fights all around us, in the heavenly realms, to save us.  And He uses people – those who love us and sometimes even those who don’t – to reach out to us.  

He hears our cries to Him!  Do you need rescued?  Cry out to the only One that saves.  He is waiting for you with open arms.

Precious

There have been many dark days in my life.  I understand the pain of betrayal.  I have lived where no child should have to live without some basic needs.  I know the fear of being on the wrong end of a gun.  I have been verbally, emotionally and physically beaten down.  

Yet, I now know I was never alone.  I could have been brought to an utter end but was not.  And this was before I knew Jesus.  Now that I know Him, He shows me his love for me over and over again.  And I have a new perspective looking back on those dark days.  Jesus has proven Himself faithful to me over and over again.  He has blessed my life.  Each day, He helps me to move closer to wholeness through Him.  There are no words to express my love and gratitude to Jesus for the peace and hope He has lavished on me.  

Why would He do this for me?  Because He loves me, and I am His.  I am precious in His eyes.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you”        

Isaiah 43:1-4 ESV

Oceans

As a pre-teen, I was so overwhelmed by the pain and betrayal in my life that I was at the point of committing suicide. I was drowning in an emotional ocean of despair and hopelessness with no one to turn to for help. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t bear to keep living either. In a moment of desperation, I called out to Jesus for help. And amazingly, He responded. An unexplainable sense of peace descended on me in such a powerful and tangible way that I looked over my shoulder to see who had wrapped their arms around me. No one was there. And though I didn’t realize it then, I took my first step of faith that night by handing my situation over to Jesus and going to sleep. If I had not, I would not be here to tell my story.

He did not fail me. And while my story of healing spans decades, He has never left my side. With each new ocean, He is always there.

Matthew 14:22-33

Out of the Blue

Are you ever going through your day feeling fine when, it seems like out of the blue, your mood takes a dive? As if suddenly, the joy has been sucked out of your day. For us ladies, it could be a simple hormone flux. It could be someone greeted your smile with a frown, or hearing something sad on the news. Other than the hormones, it is usually easy to recognize the cause of the cloud hanging over your head.

For those of us with traumatic past experiences, it could have been an emotional trigger. What do I mean by a trigger? A trigger is something that draws out our emotions from a past experience. It could be a song on the radio, a ticking clock, a phrase, or something as ridiculous as the smell of Lipton’s noodle soup. Our brains are amazing. When a memory is created, all of the information of that moment is stored away whether we know it or not. Not just words spoken or physical sensations, but also, the sounds, smells and even lighting. It is actually quite incredible and can be wonderful when connected with a good memory. Unfortunately, when the memory is connected to something traumatic, it can send your emotions whirling.

The first step in overcoming the effects of triggers is to become aware of and understanding your own particular triggers. For me, several of my triggers were always very obvious to me even though I didn’t really understand what was happening. It took me years to be able to be in a room with a ticking clock without getting the tremors and feeling an overwhelming urge to run away. It was completely unsettling. To be clear, they were not excessive tremors. I doubt anyone else noticed. Though, they probably noticed me withdrawal and just felt it was part of my quiet nature.

My initial coping mechanism was to not have any clocks that ticked. That was easy. Unfortunately, when I married, my husband’s grandparents’ house was filled with clocks. I mean walls covered with clocks. In the living room, there were an overwhelming amount of out of sync ticking sounds and gongs. I loved my grandparents-in-law, but being in their house just wore on my nerves. My husband loved the clocks and started to add clocks to our house. I also had a private no Lipton soup rule (private meaning, I never told anyone else). When my daughter was young, she would stay with my mom when she wasn’t feeling well. Mom gave her Lipton’s soup. Of course, after that, whenever my daughter didn’t feel well she would ask for soup. And not just any soup, it had to be Lipton. Sigh. So, I would make her the soup.

A really awesome thing happened over time. My old memories started to be replaced with new memories. When hearing a clock, I was no longer pulled back into my childhood. Instead, I see the smiling faces of my husband and his grandparents. And now, when I smell Lipton’s soup, I remember my daughter as a little girl and the joys of motherhood.

I know there are still some triggers out there that have not been beautifully replaced like the clocks and the soup. However, I realize they are out there. When I feel my mood shift, I try to refocus on reality – to ground myself and not get sucked into darkness. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes the sorrow is overpowering. In these moments, I pray, listen to worship music, and seek out my husband for comfort. It may take a little a while, but Jesus always meets me when I need him.

The Reflection in the Mirror

For too many years, I focused on the negative and broken parts of myself. I bought into all of the lies ever said about me: you are ugly, you are trash, you have no value. And I believed the unspoken voices that I was unloved, unworthy of protection, and that women are just for sex. I hated myself. I hid in corners in social settings. I hid from cameras. I even hid in clothes that were way too big for me. And these were baked in beliefs and reactions, not conscious. It was just who I was. And without even knowing it, I was carrying on my own abuse.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I got a glimpse of my own destructive behaviors. It happened sort of like a two-by-four to the back of the head. Sometimes, we really need to feel it for our wake up calls to move us into action. Each year my church would create a space for spiritual reflection along with a book of readings and questions to help guide you through the process. My favorite spaces were those filled with plants and bubbling fountains. There were others with images of the cross to help us start to grasp what Jesus really did for us. Those were always tough spaces. This particular year, the tough one for me though only contained a chair and a mirror. The guide simply instructed me to look at my reflection, and thank God for creating me. It broke me. I couldn’t bear to look at myself. And I certainly couldn’t thank God for making me. Instead of responding with a grateful heart, I was filled with anger. Why did He create me? The weight of my self-loathing crushed my spirit and brought me to tears.

Now here comes the two-by-four. Several days later, my friend at church asked me if I enjoyed the spiritual spaces. I shared my dislike for the mirrored room, and how I couldn’t even look at myself. What I expected from her was an “I get that.” Her reaction caught me totally off guard. “Who are you to insult God’s handiwork? You were made exactly as He intended you to be.” Inside, my emotions swirled from disbelief to anger to reflection. Her words rocked my world. I had never thought of myself as God’s work of art. That He had planned for me to be a certain way. After all, I was no one special, right? But God doesn’t make garbage?

Others may consider my friend’s words to be harsh, but they were exactly what I needed to hear. Her words started me on a new path of seeing myself through God’s eyes. And while life tore the edges of my canvas and slashed scars through me, I was still His masterpiece. And the more time I spend getting to know Jesus through prayer, reading my Bible, and listening to worship music, the more He restores me. He is taking my tattered form and revealing someone beautiful.