Tender Hearted

A dear friend of mine gave me a beautiful book by Ruth Chou Simons, Gracelaced:  Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart.  The author is an artist so the pages are truly beautiful.  More importantly, she does a fantastic job of guiding you through meaningful self-reflection.  I highly recommend her book.  

The other day, I was reading through her section on forgiveness.  Forgiveness has always been a challenging topic for me.  I believe this is true for most people.  We want justice now.  We do not want to wait for God’s timing and His justice.

Her self-reflection question was “Who in your life needs to see your tender heart?”  I’ve considered myself to be tender hearted.  Many people have even told me that they saw me as a tender hearted, caring person.  However, I was ashamed of how many people came to mind – and how quickly – that I needed to show tenderness and mercy.  If you would have asked me two days ago if I was a grudge holder, I would have said “No.” The existence of this list says quite the opposite.  I shouldn’t have a list!  

For me, part of this comes from a lack of humility.  If my self worth is truly defined by my relationship with Jesus, how others treat me or view me does not matter.  I worry too much about how others see me.  I worry too much about being successful at work.  If someone falsely diminishes my work or undervalues what I do, it just doesn’t matter in the big picture.  The only thing that matters is what is happening between me and God – that I am working for Him!  What I do at work has little impact long term.  Instead, how I work is what matters.  I need to do all things as if for Him with a tender heart and with integrity.

Beyond the lack of humility, there is a learned behavior here as well.  Self-preservation has its role and is important; yet, sin twists it into something negative.  As a child, I learned early on that other people could not be trusted.  I kept a record of hurts.  Now this was not me as a 6 or 12 year old thinking, “Oh, I should make a list so I remember…”.  I believe it is more of a  subconscious behavior.  Part of the job of our brain is to remember situations or people that are unsafe and help us stay clear of them.  This behavior helps keep us safe.  For me, instead of applying this self-protection to extreme situations, my brain learned to apply it to everyone.  This was a bi-product of believing that no one could be trusted.  And due to this behavior and its liberal application, I spent years keeping people at arms length, and unfortunately, keeping that record of wrongs – big and small.

As a lover of Jesus, I am called to live differently and to let go of my grudge list.  I am called to a life of love.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  Love is patient and kind.  This is how I am called to live – to love everyone including my enemies.  I cannot hold on to grudges.

Why would God call us to love our enemies?  First, because He loved us while we were His enemies.  He wants us to love as He loves.  He wants us to live in peace with one another.  Second, all people are created in God’s own image and are precious to Him.  God sent His one and only son, Jesus, to save everyone.  Yes, everyone – all nations and all peoples – no exclusions.  When we love others, despite how they treat us, we shine the light and love of Jesus.  I need to love others because Jesus loves them.  He came to earth and died a brutal death because of how much He loves all of us.  How can I not live as He has asked when He has given so much to me?

Jesus – Please help me to love others regardless of how they treat me.  Help me not to keep a record of wrongs; instead, give me a tender heart and eyes that see others as You see them.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”    Ephesians 4:32 ESV

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”   1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son”     Romans 5:10a ESV

“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 3:17 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

Faithful Love

“Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found…”

Have you ever runaway or hidden from someone just to see if they would follow or search for you? It reminds me of the childhood game we would play at recess. We would run and others would try to catch us. I remember screaming in fear of being caught; and yet, there was also the sense of pleasure in the fact that someone would want to catch me.

As a teenager angry with God, I didn’t want caught. I just wanted to curl up somewhere and fade out of existence – to be no more. I was convinced being nothing was the only way I would be able to stop the pain. (Thankfully, I was wrong about that.) I also thought
I could distance myself from God. But He never stopped trying to reach me. Frequently, He would use people to try to speak love and truth to me. Some of their words made a mark on me. Yet, I kept pushing them away. Additionally, He would use songs to connect with me. He still does this as with the song Reckless Love that I have been discussing in my last few articles. The thing I really want to highlight is He never gave up on me. No matter what I did, how many times I pushed away, ran away, shut myself down – He kept pursuing me, chasing me.

He did fight to get my attention, to get me to listen, and to get me to see His love for me. And He didn’t just do this so I could know Him or believe in Him. He loves me so much that He wants me to be whole and healthy. He wants me to know the joy of being in a relationship with Him. He wants me to experience joy in the life He has given me. He was desperate to pull me out of my deep despair and into his loving, healing embrace. Only, this could not happen until I accepted His help. I am so grateful that He fought so hard for me (for over thirty years). I am grateful for his unfailing, faithful love.

Unconditional Love

“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.”

We have all heard the phrase “unconditional love.” Have you ever experienced it, or does it feel more like something from a fairytale? From a personal perspective, I believe my closest experience of receiving unconditional love would have been from my childhood dog. He loved me no matter what and was always over-the-moon happy to see me. Some of my cats got close; however, cats always seem to have a personal agenda. Things have to be their way. People are more on this line – tending to be more self-centered. And people are easily hurt or offended and will hold on to grudges for a life-time. And being a person, I frequently do things that offend or hurt others. Sometimes I even do them on purpose but mostly unintentionally.

God, on the other hand, looks passed all of this. He knows we are broken and messed up, and He loves us anyway. And here is the reckless part, He even loves us when we hate Him.

“When I was your foe, still your love fought for me.”

Even though I had hatred towards God – being angry with Him for the pain in my life, He did not abandon me. He walked the painful road with me; and when the time was right, He rescued me. And even while I knew He was my rescuer, still I harbored anger against Him. And He never left my side. No one else has ever loved me like this – or could. I am forever grateful to my loving Lord and Savior.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3

The Most Important Lesson

Through all of my lessons from life, the most important is that I can always trust my Lord and Savior. People will always eventually let you down and break your heart.  But my God will always be there.  And I can trust Him to comfort me when no one else will or can.  And because He is trustworthy, I can continue to love others fully – even knowing that someday there will be tears.

Love Has Won

“Death has died. Love has won!”

The emotional trauma I experienced as a child left me dead inside. Sure, I was alive – up moving around – but not living. It wasn’t until I met Jesus and really got to know Him that I started to heal and live.

What He did for us so many years ago on the cross is hard to understand but at the same time wonderful. He has opened up not only the grave so that we can have eternal life but also a way to healing now so that we can truly live.

If you don’t know or fully understand the Easter story, I encourage you to visit a Bible teaching church this Easter. Before you go, say a prayer and ask Jesus to help you find the right church for you and to meet you there.

 

 

Raising Up the Broken

Most people who know me don’t know my story. I may occasionally joke about growing up in the woods, but I like to keep it lighthearted. There is no need in most circumstances to bring such pain into a relationship or give glory to the devil’s handy work. Here in this blog, however, I would like you to be able to see the great things Jesus has done for me. My deepest wish is that others will find hope in my story and that they will continue to persevere, and ultimately, find their own path to healing.

There are great tragedies in my life which left me with sadness and scars. Some of the sadness and the pain of the scars surface from time to time; yet, I do not live there. My life now is filled with blessings. Before, I could not sleep for fear of the nightmares that haunted me. I lived in fear of being found. I was afraid to venture out of my home without my husband or a relative. My heart was filled with anger and distrust, and I hid from people, basically, refusing to socialize. In fact, my dearest friend in the world became so only because she forced me to interact with her. For that, I am very grateful.

Today, I have many friends. My home is filled with love and laughter. I am blessed with a great job where I have the opportunity to help our company and our employees grow. In a business setting, I have the awesome privilege to apply what I have learned about love and empathy to help nurture a work culture of trust. I am involved in business groups in my local community. I am involved in several ministries at my church, and I volunteer in my community. My acquaintances see a person of success and blessings – not the scars I carry. All of this is through the grace of God. Jesus has saved me; and with each day, He makes me more and more whole again.

In the Bible, Jesus has been given many names. To me, these names are promises, and I claim all of them! Jesus is the God of Comfort, our refuge and strength, Wonderful Counselor, Father to the orphan, Prince of Peace, The Potter, the Light of the world, and our Everlasting Father just to name a few. He loves us even when we don’t yet love Him. He is faithful. His mercies are never ending. He is a help in trouble. He comforts us in all our affliction. We need only to reach out to Him; ask Him for help.

“All these pieces
Broken and scattered
In mercy gathered
Mended and whole
Empty handed
But not forsaken
I’ve been set free

You take our failure
You take our weakness
You set Your treasure
In jars of clay
So take this heart, Lord

I’ll be Your vessel
The world to see
Your life in me

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind but now I see

Oh I can see you now
Oh I can see the love in Your eyes
Laying yourself down
Raising up the broken to life”

These words in the song Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace) by Hillsong remind me of how much Jesus has done for me. If you are on the way to healing already, I hope this song helps you see how much God loves you. If you are still in the midst of pain, may this song give you hope. May it give you the courage to reach out to Jesus and see what He can do in your life.

 

The Madness Ends Here!

So much hurt in the world is created by our families. We pass our disappointment, regrets, jealousy, shame and anger from one generation to the next. Now this is not the intention. Most people are completely unaware that they are passing on their hurt. However, misery breeds misery.

I have watched the effects of this generational passing in my own family. I have a limited view of everything that happened in my family since I come from “good German stock” so nothing is shared. Nothing. My great grandmother married a middle-class gentleman, together they had two children – a daughter and a son. My grandmother was the first born. Unfortunately, my great grandfather died in his twenties. To add sorrow to sorrow, his family felt that my great grandmother was beneath his station in life so they rejected her and her children. Great grandmother did remarry and together they had many more children. I am certain that she carried through her life the sorrow of losing her first love and the sting of rejection from his family, as did my grandmother.

I never met my great grandmother’s new husband, but I have heard that he was a hard man. Keep in mind, this was the generation of the great depression where life was hard on many levels. My grandmother did mention that her and her brother were outcasts within his family. She went as far as to call her and her brother orphans. In blended families, it can be difficult for the new parent to love someone else’s children as their own. This can be intensified if there is jealousy created by a belief that they are loved less than the first spouse. This easily leads to favoritism which creates resentment, jealousy and a reduced sense of worth for the children.

My grandmother and I were never close. I have no memories of her cuddling or playing with me. She did teach me to play solitaire, which as an only child, I appreciated. Grandmother always seemed stern and carried an air of defeat. She was particularly hard on my mom. There was definitely a perception of favoritism among her children to the point they felt that the favorites were permitted to take advantage of the non-favorites. Children learn more from our actions than our words. Grandmother’s actions did not teach love. She taught resentment, jealousy, and anger. She was passing on what was given to her. The hurt created among her children still divides my family.

Imagine how the world would be if we, as parents, learned to move past our own hurts to give our kids a fresh start based on love. If we took a stand, “the madness ends here!” If we acknowledged our brokenness and worked through it, we could stop it from moving to the next generation.

A Deeper Look at Love

Ok, so Corinthians provides a pretty little poem on love, but what does all of that mean anyway?  How would I apply that to my life and my relationships?  How could this help me deal with the pain inside of me?  Excellent questions!  Let’s start by breaking it down into smaller chunks so we can reflect on it better.

“Love is patient.” We understand that no one is perfect. We are all going to do things that hurt or upset others. Instead of responding in anger, we need to extend grace and give people time and space to work through what is going on within themselves. We don’t force our own agendas and time tables on them.

“Love does not envy or boast.” Life will never be fair on this side of heaven. Everyone knows this. Love says learn to be joyful where you are and not worry about where other people are. Love also does not rub its advantage or blessings in other people’s faces. (Though my experience with this boastful behavior is that it is frequently compensating for their own feelings of envy over something else.)

“Love is not arrogant or rude.” In all we do, we should treat others with respect and how we would want to be treated. How would you like to be treated? Wouldn’t you like people to be kind, to acknowledge your presence and value as a person, to include you in conversation, and not take advantage of you? We should always be nice to one another which could be as simple as extending a warm smile.

“Love does not insist on its own way.” Sometimes it is more important to take care of the needs of another than to meet our own agendas. Love takes the time to listen and understand the other side of the story. Love does not live with the mentality of “it’s all about me.” If you live life all about you, you may gain a lot of things you think you want, but your life will not be fulfilling.

“Love is not irritable or resentful.” Again, people are going to do and say things that hurt us. Love says let go of the hurt and forgive. Taking on the judgement of another and not forgiving does more damage to you than to the person who injured you. Not forgiving makes us bitter and miserable. It is a path to more sorrow.

“Love does not rejoice at wrong doing.” It is a terrible thing to take pleasure in hurting someone else. I saw this frequently in my own family. They would laugh and make fun of other people’s pain or even the pain they were causing. This is a sign of a cruel heart. If you find yourself laughing at another’s pain, I encourage you to find some quiet time and reflect on why you feel this way. You most likely have a past hurt of your own that you need to work through and overcome.

“Love rejoices with truth.” It is so important to be honest with yourself and others. We need to talk things through with our loved ones so we can understand the whole story and what is real rather than relying on the scenarios in our minds. Going through life believing you know what someone else is thinking is dangerous business. No one can do that. No really, no one can do that. And there is freedom in being ourselves. I once knew a woman who wore many different masks. She would completely change her outward personality to be who the people with here would like, or at least her perception of what they would like. She did this for so long; she eventually forgot who she really was. She lost her identity, and she was miserable. You can never know true love from others if you are living a lie. Even if they love you, they are loving the lie not you. Living life locked within yourself – hiding – is a very lonely way to live.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Going back to my grandmother, she did not live out of love. She was one of the most dissatisfied people I have ever known. I am convinced that her and I were never close because of shame she carried. Early in my parents relationship, grandmother learned that my father was a child molester. She never shared this with my mom. Rather than extending patience and forgiveness through love, she allowed my mom to travel a road of pain as a punishment. Inevitably, I walked this road with my mom. I am not sharing this to further shame my grandmother. Our story is a vivid example of how our actions, or lack of action, without love effect more than just our original target. I understand that my grandmother had some tough challenges in her life. I choose to love her regardless of how she lived. After all, love is exactly what she needed. The last time I saw my grandmother, she was in a hospital bed dying from cancer and surrounded by her children. When she saw me, she struggled to reach out and speak to me. My aunt stopped her. To me, my grandmother’s eyes were filled with sadness and regret. I hope she could read the love and forgiveness in mine.