Authenticity · Faith · Vulnerability

Exterior Walls

We put up exteriors daily. As if we don’t care about what people think.

As if I don’t care.

As if I don’t notice the likes, the comments or the lack-there-of. As if I’m stronger than those who need to be told every day that they are valuable in someway. As if I don’t need to hear the words of people confirming me and the things I do.

Deep down we just want to be understood, desperately, pathetically.

Humanly.

Listen, as much as you fight it and act like you are above such longings, if you’re human, those feelings are there.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

To the world, you may look confident. Or you may look hopeless. You may look like someone who has it all together or you’re falling apart at every turn. You may even give a phony smile, and say some cliche things. Or you may spew every careless thought that comes from your mouth in hopes of being real and bold.

But whoever you are… you hate it. Because deep down, we all know that that’s not what it’s about, is it?

As if one kind of wrong is better than the other.

Thank God, you are worth more than than your feelings tell you.

Can I just say something here?

Maybe we are all more alike than we want to admit. Maybe I’m just like that too-faced, self-righteous, rich snob we all avoid. That hypocrite in the church pews. That political maniac who rants day and night on social media, believing that those who are on the other side are the enemy. Or the “tolerant” crowd who are tolerant of everyone… except for those who are intolerant.

Maybe, that drunk homeless man, who reeks of alcohol, sitting on the side of the road asking “food” money, is just like me inside.

In fact, I’m convinced of it.

Pride tells me I’m better than all of the above, but there’s one thing that tells me I’m not.

The Cross.

Because on that cross, Jesus gave his life as much for the hypocrite, as for the drunkard, as for the bitter-old-soul who can’t forgive.

Think you’re better? Then maybe the cross isn’t for you.

…Or maybe, it’s especially for you. Because, friends, the ground at the bottom of the cross is equal. And not one of us deserved it.

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Faith

The Betrayal of a Friend

“If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide.

But it is you,

a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked among the worshippers.”

Psalm 55:12-14

One of the greatest pains you can face is the utter betrayal of a close and trusted friend. Indeed, I have felt no greater pain than when I was rejected by those I loved dearly.

It is the ultimate rejection – to be known and then forgotten.

Wounds that deep are not easily healed. But take heart, there is a path to healing.

Healing takes time. Don’t rush it! Instead rush to God:

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” Psalm 55:22

Those who run to God in their distress will not fall. When others fail you, trust God.

Faith · Forgiveness · Reconcilliation

It was Never Your Grudge to Hold

There’s a family who has completely shut mine out for almost four years now.

At one time I loved them like my own family. We spent many days a week together. And then suddenly, we were shut out. Just like that. They shut us out of their lives. Out of their church. Out of their friendship circles.

Out of everything.

In fact, if I meet up with either of them, they will try to look past me as if I do not exist. If I smile and say hi anyway, they barely nod, mumbling an inaudible greeting in return and only because they know it would make them look bad to say nothing.

Why, you may ask, am I sharing this? Because of the warning their lives have become for me.

I do not know them anymore, because they have made sure that we can’t. They were once great people, godly people. They weren’t some angry, bitter souls that looked to destroy and tear others down. They were helpful people. They had a strong family and a beautiful faith. They were talented and inspiring.

Yet somewhere along the line, they have become convinced that what they perceive as wrong in our lives, is what God perceives as wrong… and that God is pleased with this grudge they continue to hold, this “godly shunning” of others.

Let me just say this: Other people’s sin is not for us to hold against them.

Ever.

God does not need us to hold on to the burden of hating others for his sake. He doesn’t need our help to convict them, to discipline them or to punish them in any way. In fact, there are very strong warnings in scripture against bitterness because that is really what bitterness is: holding other people’s sins against them, refusing to forgive. The only difference is that this has been done “for Christ’s sake” so it feels much more godly.

In some cultures this sort of zealous self-righteousness results in honor killings. A “sacrifice” to God.

Can I be so bold as to say that God takes no pleasure in honor killings? Neither does he take pleasure in grudges or in self righteous shunning. In fact there is a story where Jesus responded to this type of religiosity.

A woman was brought before him, caught red-handed in adultery. The real righteous folk, those leaders of the church, brought this woman to Jesus, trying to trap him. Smirking and desperate for bloodshed that day, they said:

“Good teacher, the law requires us to stone her. What should we do?”

Jesus bent down to write in the sand. And then he stood to say something absolutely phenomenal: “He who has no sin, cast the first stone.”

Every single person present silently walked away, one at a time. No one was worthy to cast it.

Not one.

Every single one of us has sinned. And when we judge one person’s sin as worse than ours, holding onto it, we are literally spitting on the grace that Christ has shown us. Holding onto the sins of others and feeling as if their mistakes are just somehow not worthy of the grace that God has shown us, is hypocrisy.

When Christ was being nailed to the cross, he did not say, “Father, once these vile sinners repent and realize their sin, forgive them.”

He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus did not hold on to grudges, regardless of the actions of those around him. He simply forgave and left the rest in God’s hands.

So why would we think it is our duty to live any differently?

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2

Do I really want to hold onto another person‘s sin and take the risk that God will hold onto mine?

I’m not taking that chance.

Let it go, move on and love people deeply.

Because friends, it’s not our grudge to hold.

Faith · Forgiveness

Two Authors, Two stories, Two Perspectives

I often read books on difficult topics like the holocaust, residential schools, slavery, war and about the horrors of living under communism. Some might think that I favor books like these because I’m a person drawn to drama – focussing on the negative events in world history…or that I’m a Debbie downer, one of those extremists who always seem to have their undies in a bunch about something.

In reality, I hate drama, especially in my own life and I’m incredibly sensitive when I read about it. I have to be careful how much I allow myself to dwell on these things, because I know that it affects my mood and my day-to-day life.

What was interesting is that in the past week I read two books: one written about slavery and the other about the horrors of residential schools in Canada. Both addressed the horrendous acts of those who felt that they had “God’s right” to behave the way they did. Both books shed light on some of the most shameful behaviour done by those claiming to follow God. Both highlighted racism, extremism and abuse. And of course, my heart broke for both of the authors and the torment that they had to experience in their lives.

But that’s where my comparisons end because each book was so starkly different from the other. They were obviously written for different purposes: One was written as a path to healing and the other tried to become the victim all over again, ever trying to draw sympathy out of the reader. It got me thinking about the real difference between the two books, and not just these books, but the differences between each of the books I have read about suffering.

I realized that the majority of stories on suffering can be lumped into two categories:

1) A message of forgiveness and redemption

2) A theme of bitterness and regret

The first category is refreshing and hopeful. The writing is hard, but uplifting. The experiences dark, but the message is light.

The second category is equally dark and hard, but comes about it with a feeling of hopeless. And honestly I feel gross after reading such books.

The one book, which I will not name in respect for the author and her experiences, ended her story with these words: “Some people say I need to let go of the past and learn to forgive… I say bullshit.”

This, my friends, is the saddest, most hopeless end to a trial I can think of.

In the well written words of author Lynn Austin:

Bitterness is one of the deadliest emotions we ever feel. You can’t look forward when you’re bitter, only backwards. Thinking about what you’ve lost, stuck in the past. In the end it devours all hope.

Bitterness is a subject that I don’t like to talk about much, particularly because it is one of those “acceptable” sins where we justify our legitimacy to feel the way we do. It’s also an awkward thing to address in others as one cannot simply listen to someone sharing about a difficult experience and then joyfully say, “just forgive and forget!” That would be cruel and cold hearted! Only a person with zero empathy could respond in such a flippant way towards suffering.

But one only needs to spend a few minutes with a soul who is deeply bitter, to realize that it is the most draining, depressing and deadly things to be.

I’ve shared before about a past church and the painful rejection my family experienced there with a leadership couple, but what I didn’t share much about was that at beginning it started with the confrontation: You are bitter.

To this day, this remains one of the most painful things that has been said to me. Not because it was said of course, but because of the timing and manner in which it was said. I was going through depression, health issues, loneliness, and a lot of changes in my life at the time. We had just moved homes, churches and jobs, and we had a baby that cried constantly. I was just beginning to open up about my struggles with it all for the first time and this well-meaning confrontation caused such a devastating break of trust in my life. Because of this painful experience, I avoided even using the word “bitterness” for a long time. But the truth is, no matter how hard it is for me to talk about, it needs to be addressed!

Bitterness.

Is it a lack of forgiveness? Is it a negative outlook on life? Is it resentment towards your position in life?

I think to some degree, we all experience bitterness in different areas of our lives. Some experience it to a much larger degree than others. And some people are more easily offended than others! Whether it’s towards coworkers, or spouses, extended family or friends…

OR maybe It’s not towards people, but towards the suffering in your life, towards your situation that seems helpess…maybe even to God for putting you there!

I know I most definitely have felt bitterness. I’ve seen it too.

During the most difficult time of this conflict in the church, I met another couple who were going through a church split. I was having a hard time forgiving and processing our own experience so I felt some comfort in being able to share my struggles with this woman. However, when she began sharing her experiences and I heard the hateful words come out of her mouth: “I just wish they were dead!” I realized that forgiveness wasn’t just a good option, it was the ONLY option.

Bitterness unchecked is ugly. And it kills.

Offences committed against us and the pain that follows MUST be dealt with in a compassionate way, with much grace. The more painful the wound, the more time it needs to heal. One cannot expect to be fatally injured one day and then skip about smiling joyfully the next…such an expectation is unreasonable and unhealthy.

Forgiveness is much like taking a difficult course. At first, you may sit down and have no clue what the professor is talking about. The books don’t make sense, the assignments are daunting… but as the course goes on (provided you’ve decided to continue), you begin understanding more and more about the subject. The longer you take to study and absorb the material, the more your experience and capacity is expanded. Only after long months of lectures, homework and studies, are you ready to write the exam.

However, just stepping into the room and writing the exam on the first day would’ve never worked out! It couldn’t of been expected of you, you wouldn’t have passed! You needed time, growth, knowledge and experience.

You can pass the exam, but you need to first decide to say in the class and keep working at it!

The first step to forgiveness is simply deciding to walk that path.

At first it’s so confusing and difficult you may even doubt you’re on the right path. But as you begin learning and seeing the situation in the right perspective, the path suddenly doesn’t seem so impossible.

Yet there are always difficult days! Dark thoughts and painful feelings will come out of nowhere. This is expected. Don’t get down on yourself.

Keep walking forward, don’t look back. The secret to forgiveness and redemption is this: Don’t give up.

The moment you give up trying to forgive, is the moment you let go of the lifeline that is saving you from the deep pit of bitterness and offence.

About Me

My Favorites: Faith, Family, Fitness, Food, Forgiveness, Freedom, and Friends

No this isn’t the “F” section in the dictionary, nor am I playing a random game of blog scategories…

These are seven “F’s” I came up with to describe my life and the things I’m passionate about. With pictures even!

Faith – My Faith is something I take seriously. I almost lost my way as a teen. The danger and carelessness I lived in almost destroyed me. When I met Jesus Christ and experienced his love for the first time, everything changed: That thick book of His that once bored me to tears became my all time favorite. I treasured it as my most precious possession. God became my rock, my hiding place and ever since I chose to follow God, I’ve had stability and love. I’ve gone through a lot of difficult seasons… but I have peace in my trials and joy even in the hard times.

Family – My first son was born when I was just 18 years old. He became my purpose, my reason to change. Fast forward 13 years…I have a husband and five kids. Yes. Yes it is crazy…My life revolves around feeding them, caring for them, teaching them, loving them, and driving them around. And don’t kid yourselves, in no way is this a one way street… I get just as much love and life lessons in return.

Fitness– I began running a year ago after being diagnosed with depression (which I had struggled with for years without having a name for the darkness I was feeling). I contribute my well-being mostly to God’s healing work in my heart and to what running has done for my mental health. Today I am doing better than I have in many years and I’m passionate about staying active. And recently, I even got my husband to join me 🙂

Food– I love food. Baking mostly. Trend Gluten-free diets have no appeal to me. No thank you! I not only bake for my family, but for weddings and other social gatherings as well. Cakes and cupcakes are my specialty 🙂 I love trying new recipes and am a firm believer that food shouldn’t just look good, but taste delicious as well.

Forgiveness– A few years ago I nearly had my heart ripped out in one of the most painful, heart-wrenching experiences of my life. My trusted friends, mentors and church leaders sent me and my family away, ignoring our messages, our love, and our extension of reconciliation over and over again. It was messy, it was humiliating, it was terrible and I was so hurt. But God brought me to the place where I learnt to forgive, not just in word but in action. Forgiveness means responding in love when others lash out at you or misjudge you. Forgiveness means returning kindness for hatred, blessings for curses. It’s letting go of our “right” to feel insulted and making the decision to step out of that dark dungeon called bitterness. It’s a beautiful thing.

And it also brings me to my next point which is…

Freedom– I have found freedom! Not through obeying the law in my flesh…this brings judgementalism and legalism, but through the cross and precious blood of Jesus. He gave his life for me, I now have the opportunity to daily give mine to him. This is true freedom. No guilt in life because I’m forgiven! No fear in death because he has conquered!!

Friends– This brings me to my last and final word: Friends!! Oh has God ever been good to me, for what I lost three years ago, God has multiplied fourfold! I am overwhelmed with the amount of people in my life who I can call up for coffee or invite down. Being someone who never has had many close friendships, I can say with confidence that I have more people in my life who care for me than I ever have before. Who knew that God could take such heartache and turn it for my good! Out of that season, came some shuffling and switching and now I have had the opportunity to meet a ton of great people!

How about you? What are your words? What describes your life right now?

Uncategorized

Rebuilding the Bridge

Oh my heart.

I’ve been reading so many articles lately, of people I’ve never met, who have become like friends. Broken people. Hurting people. People who have been mistreated and rejected by the world.

And my heart literally breaks for them.

I thought my story was unique. That no one else had experienced what I had experienced.

I was wrong.

My story, isn’t something I want to flaunt. I’m not ashamed of it, but I do want to protect those I love.

So here I am, once again, struggling.  Struggling to know what to share, how much to share. Struggling because I know I have found freedom from the deepest, darkest pain. And I desperately want to lead others to this freedom.

My testimony is this:

I followed the “typical” teenage path, got caught up in the socialization of school, rather than the work. Insecure as I was, I tried to impress others by partying, being obnoxious and carefree, lying about who I was, and by doing things I knew I ought to stay away from. I got caught in a very bad place. From being suspended from school because of drinking to being careless sexually…I made heartbreaking, life-devastating choices.

Choices that lead me to the night God heard me and literally set me free.

It was dark, I knew only one person at the party. I was lonely as ever and I prayed while looking at the stars on that clear, August night. I prayed for God to save me. Then, I drank one very large drink and don’t remember much else. Two men, a lot older than myself, slept with me.

I was broken, but acted tough, like it made no difference.

It was at this time I met her. For the sake of privacy, I’ll call her Anna, though those who know my full story will know quite well who she is, because she was so instrumental in my life.

The gentleness and compassion in her voice is something I’ll never forget. Her sincere heart of care, she saw things in me that no-one else did. And she loved me. I could tell from the moment I met her, I wasn’t just some charity case, some feel-good project, she truly cared for me. She said that I was beautiful. That I was tenderhearted. She gently and carefully showed me the care of Christ.

And one day she got me to pray, and I experienced God’s love for myself. I knew he was real that day and I chose that day to leave my life of emptiness behind.

I became a child of God.

My boyfriend, who soon became my husband, formed a similar relationship with Anna’s husband, whom I’ll call Paul. During the next ten years a beautiful friendship/mentorship formed. Paul and Anna guided me and my husband through life. She prayed for me when I felt down. She listened when I cried, and gave really good advice. When my firstborn was deathly ill in the hospital, she and her husband visited me faithfully.

I cared for her too, listened to her and prayed for her as well. When she experienced loss, I brought her food. She was often lonely and I felt for her in this.

She was the one person who always understood me…until the day came when she didn’t.

What can destroy a deep friendship like that? A hurtful word? Miscommunication? Gossip? An outburst of anger? Cruel misjudgement?

In my opinion it is none of the above, although they do hurt a friendship, a deep friendship is ultimately built on endurance, commitment, loyalty, forgiveness and the ability to see the best in others when they’re at their worst. Unwillingness to change or forgive, that is ultimately what destroys all relationships in life.

When I went through a dark depression a year after having my fifth child, Anna did not recognize it as such, and to be honest, nor did I at first. I was confused, having never felt such despair and loneliness before. I desperately needed help, physically, mentally, spiritually. I mostly kept it to myself, but once in I while I would give little glimpses to her to reveal what I was going through.

She sensed that things were changing too. Things were just different between us. By the time we started talking about these changes that were happening, Anna was convinced that I was dealing with deep bitterness, that I was trying to hide it and lie about it and that I was being deceived by the devil. Strong accusations for sure. But since I didn’t know what I was going through, I couldn’t quite explain why I knew she was wrong, all I could say was “no, I wasn’t holding anything against anyone.”

Paul and Anna began to have meetings with us, at first to help us, but really what they became were interrogations. They would bring before me everything that they thought I was doing wrong and I would apologize for somethings (such as wrongful attitudes and gossip) and defend myself in others (as in, I would not repent for lying when I had not lied).

Unfortunately, Paul and Anna were also our church leaders, and we were forced to resign from our involvement in the church, as they felt like we weren’t walking in true freedom. Soon after, we were also told to repent of these issues and submit to their leadership, or leave the church. This was done without any meeting with the rest of the church leadership.

We had to leave the church, I had no choice. I longed to make things right, but to pretend I was guilty of sins that I was not? That was too far. I could not do it. Our very best friends were in that church. They were all called up and told to no longer welcome us to their bible study. They submitted to their leadership and I was crushed. I longed for someone to defend us, for someone to fight for our case.

But no one spoke up. They all stayed silent.

I lost my mentors, my church and my best friends all within a few months. Only my family and my husband stood by my side.

Meanwhile, I was still  going through depression, which had only intensified with the situation. I was so confused. Here my loving mentors were saying disturbing things: Saying I was bitter and vindictive. Saying I was living by works and not by faith. Telling me that my apologies were covering up my unwillingness to repent…were they right? Could this really be the source of my struggles? Part of me wanted them to just be right, so I could make amends and be happy again. I longed to have things back to the way they used to be. I was willing to do anything for reconciliation.

But in my heart I knew that they had misunderstood me so deeply, that they were now just following the trail of lies, ultimately believing the worst about my motives and my actions.

Forgiveness for those who felt they were righteously doing God’s will…could I ever let go of what they had done? Trusting people after such betrayal…is it possible?

Sorting through all my feelings and coming to a place where I could see things through God’s eyes wasn’t at all simple. I read A LOT about forgiveness. The Bible is full of stories of forgiveness, from Joseph to David to Jesus Christ himself. Another gem of a book I found on forgiveness, that aided to my healing, was called “The bait of Satan” by John Bevere. 

Here’s the conclusion that I’ve come to: It is impossible to forgive someone when you let your mind think the worst of them. BUT when you begin to humbly let God show you how he feels about those who have hurt you and choose to think the best of them, ALL things are possible.

I can not make people see my heart through God’s eyes. I can not force them to love me, forgive me, believe me or even like me, but I CAN chose to do so for them.

It no longer became a struggle of who is right and wrong…Rather could I be humble enough to stop trying to figure it out and forgive them either way? If Paul and Anna were right about me, then what right do I have to hate them? They were trying to help me, risking their own reputation in the process. That is love! If they were wrong about me, then I felt deep compassion and sorrow for them. How sad to feel like you are doing the work of God, only to find out in the end that you were working against him! But in all, whether they’re right or wrong, I can only say that I believe they were trying their best to do what they felt was right, with the knowledge and tools that they had.

After many tears, much heartache, many angry outbursts, and times when I wrongfully spoke against them…I can truly say that I’m sorry for the ways I have hurt Paul and Anna, even the ones that I may be blinded to.

And I forgive them.

So much so, that when their names come up, my heart is full of joy because of the ten good years we had with them. For the ten years of wisdom we gained from knowing them. I am glad I knew them. I remember the good. I remember their passion and love for God.

Forgiveness is like building a bridge to those who have hurt us and extending a hand, welcoming them back to friendship with us when they are ready.

However, one thing that we often forget is that building a bridge of forgiveness doesn’t guarantee that people will cross it, it merely gives them a chance to. And we are not accountable for the actions of others.

Much to my disappointment Paul and Anna have chosen, so far, not to cross that bridge. Then again, the moral of the story is that they don’t need to. Ever. I can still find overflowing joy and peace in the fact that my heart is right with God.

And I can find joy in the blessings he has given us during the past two painful years: A new church that I love with my whole heart, new friends (more than I have ever had in my adult life before) and new mentors who have gone through similar trials and come through victorious.

Simply put, building a bridge is difficult. It takes time. Sometimes you have to stop everything and start all over. But through forgiving, God has brought me to hope again…not in people. Not in things. But in Christ alone, all my hope is found.

For me, that’s a first.

Uncategorized

Don’t Weep for Me

I think one of the things that has hit me the deepest this Easter season, is the absolute humility of Jesus Christ.  The strength of his character is unimaginable. The compassion for others, to the core of his being, wasn’t something that could’ve been faked. It was his very nature to think of others above himself.

Before I lose some of you here who are thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I heard this story a hundred times already…I’ve seen the film. I get it.”

Just stop.

Picture Jesus. Close your eyes if you have to and picture him.

Not the Scandinavian man with long flowing hair from the Bible story picture books.

Not the man with the clean white robe and blue sash.

Not the white skinned, serious faced character from the paintings, surrounded by people.

But a man…A Jewish man.

Betrayed by his friends.

Beaten beyond recognition.

Innocent, but falsely accused.

Sentenced to a horrendous death.

Carrying a cross upon his torn up back, until all strength was gone.

And a crowd of women, crying and grief-stricken, trailing behind him.

And rightly so! Jesus was the victim here! Certainly, he deserved their sympathy. Certainly, he deserved their tears.

But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t you weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children…” Luke 23:28

When I read this yesterday, my eyes filled with tears. For Jesus was the most unjustly treated man that has ever lived on the face of the earth.  Yet he never once, NEVER ONCE, victimized himself. Even when he was falsely accused, even in his suffering, even in his betrayal and abandonment by close friends – he did not weep for himself.

He was continually more concerned with the spiritual state of others, then of his own darkest moments.

And as he was nailed to the cross? I have partially stepped on a nail (as in it went through my shoe and partly into my foot and it hurt for days!) I can not even imagine the pain of what he went through at the hands of human beings. Surely now he would curse them!

 “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

While hanging there, suffering beyond comprehension, he spots his mother.

“Mother help me! They’ve misjudged me! I only helped them and they’ve done this to me! Mom, I’m in so much pain!” That’s what my voice would’ve yelled.

 “Dear woman, here is your son…and John, here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

Not ONE selfish thought.

Not ONE bit of self pity.

Even on the cross he was honouring and caring for his mother. Even in his suffering he was forgiving his tormentors.

The amazing strength and integrity of Jesus is unfathomable. How I love this man! How absolutely perfect and noble. How incomparable to even our greatest hero’s today!

And when it was all said and done he cries out:

“Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46 

And he breathes his last.

Jesus simply trusted God‘s will. He trusted him even in his suffering, until his last painful breath. He trusted that God would keep his spirit, even while being under God’s judgement and condemnation himself.

It’s easy to read the story and not feel it.

Please, take time to read about this incredible man, Jesus, the image of God himself in human form. Read the story slowly. Think about it deeply. Really picture the details. Perhaps other things will stick out to you from the story, perhaps other details will bring tears to your eyes.

But whatever you do, DON’T harden yourself to the message of the cross, where Jesus didn’t weep for himself, he wept for YOU.