Guilt to Gratitude

thank you Jesus

Growing up I had the rules, but lacked the relationship. I felt like the only way to earn and stay in God’s favor was to do or not do certain things. And, I failed….constantly. Being a born pleaser, I felt like I must certainly be letting him down like all the time. I loved Him and I wanted His love, but felt unworthy because I couldn’t live up to what I thought He expected from me. Even when I did the “right” things, I didn’t understand why I had to in order to be loved. Either I was or I wasn’t, right?

My “hard to please” God eventually turned into one I gave up trying to please. I just accepted the fact that I never could. I was too sinful, too guilty, too wrong. If he loved me, it must be out of pity. It would have to be in spite of my efforts because I could never do enough or get it right.

Slowly, but ever so surely, I started feeling His love more. I began studying, searching, seeking, wondering….could it be true? He would speak to me. He would tell me it was true. But, my imperfections were the bullhorn and His voice was hard to hear. I started straining to hear His voice. I started reading books that spoke about it. Reading about and talking to people with the same issues and questions as me. People who’s lives were transformed by the love of God in spite of themselves and their actions hoping on a prayer that He could love me the same.

Guess what? He does. Now, I know that His love for me is regardless of my actions. Anything I do or don’t know in His name as a sacrifice is a beautiful thing, but I don’t HAVE to do anything for Him to love me any more than He already does each and every day. This fuels joy like I’ve never felt. This makes me want to shout His name from the mountaintops! This makes me WANT to live for and with Him. This unconditional love is worth changing our lives for and I firmly believe is the only thing powerful enough to do so.

My hang-ups are people pleasing, guilt, fear, worry. He meets me here. He loves me through it. He empowers me, calms me, walks with me, and reminds me that I’m human. While we see the struggle and feel the shame, He sees the reason that He came. Jesus wouldn’t have had to die for us, if we didn’t need Him to. He did it because He loves and He knew He had to. Being human means that we are sinful. We are sinful and selfish as two year olds. As we grow up, we can control ourselves better and make better choices, but we are still sinful and it takes complete dependence on Jesus when we realize that our works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

When we realize our condition, we are sometimes prone to run the other way. We could never measure up! Instead, let us turn our guilt into gratitude. Let us throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and say “Thank you!! Thank you for dying for me. Thank you for loving me then, now, and tomorrow, no matter what. Thank you, sweet Jesus, for taking everything I’ve ever done and ever will do to the cross. Help me to live in a way that honors you!”

Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Matthew 26:40-41 (NLT)

Even the men Jesus chose to walk beside him were weak. Peter wanted to fight for Jesus. Peter drew a sword when they came to take Him. Peter swore He’d never deny Jesus. But, Peter couldn’t even stay awake while Jesus (his best friend, his Savior) sweat drops of blood in agony just a few feet away. Jesus asked them to do one thing, yet their flesh was too weak. THIS is why He died for us. He knows what we are up against. He knows the frailties of our minds, bodies, and spirits.

That being said, can we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul?

One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ Matthew 22:35-37 (NLT)

Jesus KNOWS our limitations as humans. He also knows our hearts crave His love. If we allow His love into our hearts and start to live in the freedom of it, our lives will reflect that. We will be filled with Jesus and the fruits of the Spirit. We will not be perfect, but we will be surrendered. Rather than hiding because of our guilt or trying to earn His love, let’s go face down in gratefulness to our Father in heaven. Because there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) and we could never do enough to even come close to what He’s already done for us.

Mary Magdalene loved much because she knew she had been forgiven much (Luke 7:47). That forgiveness and love is available to each one of us. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…..Only Jesus can save a wretch like me. Thank you Jesus!

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Why wait?

waiting

Why would God give us something that feels as good as sex and then ask us to wait? Once we get our first good hit, we’re hooked and looking for the next one. Reminds me of when my brother took his first bite of a Krispy Kreme doughnut. He said: “What do they put in these things? Heroin?” They’re good!

Our bodies go through all kinds of changes as we grow up. Sexual desires and feelings are natural in this process. And, when puberty ends, that’s just the beginning. God created sex for us to not just be fruitful and multiply, but to enjoy. To come together as husband and wife over and over and over again. Each time we do, we honor God with our bodies and our marriage.

But, what about before? Before I got married, one of my favorite things about a committed relationship was consistent sex. I enjoyed it with my boyfriend and felt little shame. We were “committed” after all. But, is that the commitment God desires? Our boyfriend is not our husband. Our boyfriend has not pledged his life to us. Boyfriends come and go. Husbands are supposed to stay. I realize now that this is God’s desire and definition of commitment.

Covenant love gets to enjoy sexual relations free of shame and free from the fear of parting ways. Sex is a gift that God intends and promotes for true commitment. These days divorce is so common, I can understand how even marriage can feel iffy in the “not parting ways” department. Mine was. This fact makes it that much more important to me to know how committed my future mate is.

In my mid 30s and back in the dating pool, the Lord spoke to my heart and I had the question for the first time in my life: “How do I date without sex?” “How do I have a relationship without it?” Is it even possible? I mean, what do we do instead? How far is too far? What’s ok, what’s not? How will we connect? How will our love grow? To me, that was all part of being and growing in a relationship. And, once I’d crossed that line, what was the point in not crossing again?

Then, the questions: How would I want my daughters to date? Wouldn’t I want them to know it’s possible? What example do I want to set? How does grace play in? I hadn’t held back since my teens. So, I thought I’d write to share my struggle with you. If it’s hard for you, I get it. I’m living it. And, I’d love your tips if you have any. This is new and very difficult territory here.

My best tips are communication and peace. Communicate with God. Ask Him for help and guidance. Have the “talk”. Let your dates know up front that it’s your desire to wait. If they bail, you know early! If they have the same desire, Hallelujah! They can and should help you. If they don’t, they’ll go elsewhere. Don’t expect it to be easy for them either. You will both struggle. But, it will be together.

Keep talking as your relationship progresses. It will grow in a completely different way. Let peace be your guide. If you have it, you’ll know. If you don’t, you may be going too far. Communicate again with God and each other. Because, there is so much more to it…

You are not alone. There are Christian singles out there with the same desire to honor God with their lives, hearts, and bodies. Both men and women. They are out there, but few and far between. It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be. It’s so difficult in fact, that it may prohibit some from dating at all.

If you find someone who is willing to battle this with you, they are willing to fight for you. They know, like you, that in order to get to the other side with someone who respects themselves and desires to honor God is worth that wait.

Your willingness to communicate your desire to wait has to be stronger than the fear of embarrassment or rejection. In this case, you have to look at rejection as a blessing. The man who honors you, honors his Father in heaven. And, that’s the kind of guy you’d want for your daughters, right? A man who knows how to cherish, protect, and wait for what he wants most too. And, that’s you. A woman who knows her worth and God’s definition of commitment.

Your heart is the ultimate benefit after the ring. Add that to the other benefits and that’s a marriage to cherish!

 

Looking Back…

looking back

Looking back isn’t easy. We are told to leave the past in the past. As much as I agree with not living in the past, we can and should definitely learn from it. Looking back can also help us realize how far we’ve come and what we’ve been delivered from.

One of my best friends has recently had the courage to share her story of childhood sexual abuse. What bravery. Her willingness to share helps others to know they are not alone. Sharing removes the mask and the secrets and shame the enemy wants us to carry forever. Jesus broke that chain and empowered her. She has forgiven her abuser, but forgiveness doesn’t mean she can’t share her story. It’s the truth and it’s her story to share. Her willingness to forgive brings grace front and center when we realize what she’s been through. Her courage inspires me to look back and share.

This is me looking back. Maybe someone can relate. Maybe someone won’t feel alone. Maybe someone knows someone else who needs to read this. Maybe someone can learn something.

Looking back on my wedding, I remember the hurt feelings.  I can still feel my shoulders fall and the tears sting during our first dance. I knew, at that moment, I would remember it for the rest of my life. That special moment was ruined for me by a flippant comment he made. Looking back on our honeymoon, I remember his excitement when he found Motocross on TV and his annoyance with the beach. The honeymoon was less about us and much more about what he was willing to do while we were there. One night he actually wanted to go to the beach…..but alone.

Looking back, I remember begging to get pregnant and both times finally getting a very reluctant, “ok, if it means you stop asking and crying” agreement. At the time, that made me so happy. None of it was happily ever after or how it should be. I was neglected, physically and emotionally. I wasn’t doted on or taken care of. I wasn’t told I was beautiful. Instead, I felt lucky to be pregnant and when I complained he reminded me of that fact. This is what I wanted, after all. I put on a happy face and looked forward to us being a happy family one day. I thought maybe he would love me more if I had his child, especially a son.

We had two girls.

I remember the look of disappointment both times when he found out. I remember, even his parents, saying they would need time to get over the fact that the second wasn’t a boy.  They wanted him to have a son too. A football player, a hunting partner. Looking back, I felt sorry for him that I wasn’t giving him one.

Looking back, I remember feeling like my meals weren’t good enough and like I didn’t clean house well enough. We both worked full time.

Looking back, I remember being made to feel like a dismissive mom when I asked if he would take time off to take our daughter to the doctor or stay home when she had fever. Our first was sick a lot. She had recurrent UTIs, ear infections, and strep throat. I missed a lot of work with her. I remember when I asked him, I would get the response: “Don’t you want to take her to the doctor? You’re the mom.” Ummmmm….yes. It’s not a matter of want. Of course, I do. But, I have a job too. Instead of saying that, I would think “you’re right, I am the mom. I should take off…” And, I’d call in or cancel my patients….again. I tried so hard to be the best mom and wife I could be.

Looking back, I remember trying so hard to stay out of debt. Telling him, yes, I’d love to have a boat too, but can we pay such and such off first? He bought the boat the next day. If he wanted it, he got it. He bought boats, guns, second vehicles, hunting gear, and dear leases. When I asked to go on vacation, we could never afford it. “What a waste of money” he thought. I took our daughter to Disney World twice…once alone and once with my mom.

I knew we couldn’t afford for me to go part time at work. But, I did it anyway. That’s the one time I knew I made a risky financial decision, but it was worth it to me. We could have easily afforded it and vacations, if it weren’t for his spending. I remember buying him gifts he returned and buying tickets to events specifically for him that he refused to go to or chose to take someone else. Looking back, I didn’t tell my friends or family about this treatment because I wanted them to love him as much as I wanted him to love me.

Looking back, emotional pain overshadows a lot. Still, I would constantly try to focus on my blessings. The pain continued. What should have been special times in my life were taken from me. Looking back, my oldest daughter’s toddler years were precious to me, but my “incompetence” in his eyes seemed to increase. I am just now regaining and recognizing the fact that I was and am a good mom to our girls.

My youngest was one year old when he left. Her first birthday party was a disaster. He held back from being in any pictures. I was convinced that was the night that he’d come back home. Instead, he called me manipulative and blamed me for everything after the party. I gave him an open door and he slammed the door to our marriage tighter. I should have been the one throwing him out by the way he was treating me and he was refusing to come home. I just couldn’t understand. The pain increased.

While the pain of my divorce was intense. Looking back, the pain I endured during the marriage probably did the most damage and is taking the longest to unfold, recover, and learn from. Story after story after story. Looking back, I remember, holding my head in my hands and asking my mom “Let me get this straight. He treated me like this and then left me?” She simply nodded, yes.

It wasn’t until I couldn’t bare the thought of my girls thinking this treatment was okay, that I stood up. It wasn’t until he stopped touching me at all. He wouldn’t even hug me if I asked. I would never want them treated that way by anyone, especially their husband. And, if they were, I’d have no one to blame but myself for allowing it. That’s what it took. And, that was his way out. Out of a marriage he hadn’t wanted to be in for a long time. And, he took it. He blamed me on the way out the door…”Just so you know, you kicked me out. I didn’t leave my family.” After begging him to come home one night (Why? To work on the marriage, I didn’t want a divorce), he told me he’d rather live in a ditch than come home to me.

His words hurt in the very beginning. His words hurt in the middle. His words hurt at the very end. By the time he left, I was an emotional bloody pulp.

Looking back, I see how bad it was. I couldn’t when I was in it. Looking back, I see God showing me more love than I’d ever known or felt in the midst of the least love I’d ever known. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that He was with me. Even through the deceit and blaming, God covered me. The emotional pain was killing me and God wouldn’t allow that treatment one more year, one more day. My desire to stay married and honor my vows, no matter what, prevented me from walking away. Instead, I got left after summoning the strength to stand up. The Lord removed him. Then He picked me up, washed me off, and started the work of healing, comforting, and teaching. What a beautiful sight.

I thought that I was just that miserable to live with, but it turns out he was in love with someone else. They’ve been together ever since.

From the moment I knew divorce was imminent, I started asking God to help me. To help me forgive. To help me coparent. To help me do it to His Glory. And to protect our girls. I have forgiven him. I release that pain to my Father. And, I have learned from it. We still deal with each other on an almost daily basis because of the girls. But, he treats me better now. He loves them very much. He comes to their events. He takes them to the doctor. He’s a better dad now. And, I thank God for that.

My prayer for him is not that his marriage falls apart. Not that he comes back. Not that he gets left. Not that he suffers like I did. Not that he feels abandoned or blamed. But, that he treats her better. That our daughters will see him treat his wife well. That he will look to the Lord for guidance and learn to respect women. That he receives the love and grace offered to him. And, whether he chooses to or not, that our girls will never consider that treatment normal or acceptable. That they will know they are worthy of respect and kindness. That they will value themselves enough to stand up to the alternative. I care too much about their hearts and futures to pass along anything else.

Thank you, Lord, for the strength to stand up and the strength the share.

 

 

 

Out With a Sigh

gift box

I turn 39 next week. My 30s have been tough. So much so, that instead of dreading turning 40, I’m ready to turn the corner.

I’ve raised babies, which we all know is wonderful and HARD. I’ve gone through a painful divorce, which was HARD. I’ve moved. I’ve navigated the scary seas of dating after divorce and as a single mom. This decade of my life has been chock full of HARD lessons and difficult scenarios. I’ve felt the pain. I’ve felt the fear. I’ve grieved the loss. I’ve grown stronger. I started this blog. I also started a Facebook ministry page to share these lessons and my story. Sharing and connecting brings me so much joy. I don’t know where it will lead, but I know it’s helped me heal and helped others in the process. I praise God for that!

I’m ready to take these lessons with me. I’m ready to love all over again. I’m ready to trust. I’m ready to build. I’m ready to help and love on others who have been through what I’ve been through.

I’ve learned what love is and what love is not. I’ve learned how to speak up for myself. I’ve learned that my feelings and opinions matter just as much as the next person. I’ve learned that marriage should include teamwork and family time should be enjoyed as the blessing it is. I’ve learned why I was attracted to my ex-husband in the first place and why that was a huge part of why our marriage was doomed before it even began. He was selfish and I was needy. So needy, in fact, that I accepted far short of what I should have, even from the very beginning.

I’ve learned my worth as a daughter of God. I don’t feel needy for love anymore. I’m thankful to those who do love me, but now I know that I’m already loved more than I could ever imagine and that will never change. I’ve learned that no matter what comes my way in the future, Jesus will never leave me or forsake me. And, I’ve learned the joy that comes with that realization!

I’d say I’ve learned some of these lessons the really hard way, but thank GOD I’ve learned them. They are lessons I want to live out in front of my girls. They are lessons that will help me in the future, come what may. I know I’ll have my share of tough times in my 40s, but knowing Jesus loves me will truly help me through. I want nothing more than to continue to grow in His love and share it with others. He has shown me that His Love is the only remedy for life’s hardest trials.

I’d like to take the love I’ve lost, the love I’ve gained, the friends I’ve lost, the friends I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned, the personal relationship that’s grown, the soul searching, the rediscovering of who I am and who I want to be into my next decade. I want to teach my girls what I’ve learned. I want them to know their worth. I want them to see my joy. I want them to know Who got mommy through. They are still young, 5 and 10. But, each and every day, I know their minds are being impressed, tugged, prodded, pulled. I know because mine is. I can’t force them to follow Jesus, but I can continue to lean on Him and pray with and for them. I can do that. I will do that. I can show them joy. I can show them strength. And, I know now, more than ever, where mine comes from.

Thank you and I’m ready, Lord. Let’s tie this difficult decade up with a pretty bow. Let’s finish not just with a bang, but with a sigh of relief and a smile.

I’d Choose Love

choose

Love and money are great, but if I have to choose, I choose love. Love and sex are great, but if I have to choose, I choose love. Love and handyman abilities are great, but if I have to choose, I choose love. Love and great looks are great, but if I have to choose, I choose love. Love and a great time are great, but if I have to choose, I choose love.

What’s interesting to me is that so many of us confuse money, sex, skills, looks, and fun for love. They can all come WITH love. But, they can also very easily come without. They can counterfeit the real thing. I think they even sometimes keep us from finding the real thing. We want money. We want physical pleasure. We want the perfect face and body. We want to have a great time. In and of themselves, none of these are bad. But, to be loved. Truly loved. Is better than them all. If you’ve never had this, you’d never know. If you have and lost it, no doubt, you know. Real love is a rare find. If you have it, nourish it, be thankful for it, enjoy it.

Great sex doesn’t equal love. But, real love will lead to great sex. If you have real love, then communication is already in place. If you have real love, you’ve already proven that you can talk about anything. Hang-ups, likes, dislikes, previous issues, fears. There will be a mutual respect and concern for each others hearts. There will be an openness that takes shame out of the picture. The person making real love to you will honor you. Your pleasure will be their greatest desire, not their own. Before marriage, this comes in the form of waiting or going only as far as you’re both comfortable with. After marriage, this comes in the form of giving. I was physically rejected countless times in my marriage and then immediately desired in that way when dating. This made it very hard for me to refrain in order to decipher real love. My self esteem was shot and I had been starved in so many ways. If your desire is to wait and a man honors you in this way, your heart will swell with so much love for him. He will be making love to you in a way you’ve never known, to your heart. This is beautiful. This is pure. This is real.

Money without love will feel empty. Things cannot replace love. They are nice. Vacations are nice. Designer clothes are nice. But, without the love, they feel like extremely fake imitations. Without the love, a Gucci purse has as much worth as the knock off. I’ve had nice things given to me when all I wanted was personal time spent together. I liked the purse, but felt shunned. I carried the purse, but knew in my heart, that it was given as an after thought in hopes to replace my desire for time spent. If I had known I was loved, I would have felt much warmer carrying the purse. Instead, I felt like it was a lousy substitute. A pacifier. A gift given out of convenience and requirement. Looking back, I wish I had had the courage to say “Keep it, it’s not what I want.”

We love our kids regardless of what they have, what they look like, what they can do, or how they are feeling. This is true love. Love trumps. If they were to become disfigured or injured, our love would not waver. Love never fails. If you have a rich, attractive, fun, handy spouse who loves you, ENJOY! The “who loves you” part is the hardest to come by. The “who loves you” part is something not to be taken for granted.  The “who loves you” part is the most important. There’s a reason wedding vows say “for richer for poorer”, “in sickness and in health”. Because all those things can change. To love and to honor through them all is something nothing else can buy.

Cherish your spouse. Love them like no other. Show them the best humanly love possible. Your spouse is given to you by God to love you through life and we all know life isn’t easy. They are supposed to be your helper, not your hurter. Let us never intentionally hurt each other. Let us ask forgiveness when we do. Let us forgive. Let us cherish. And, let us always choose love.

This is a Test.

tested

We test each other. Our children test us. Our spouses test us. Our coworkers test us. The Lord tests us. Our testing of each other is also being used as a test from God. How did you react to that injustice? How did you react to that set back? We pray for patience and then lose it when it’s required. We pray for blessings and then fail to recognize all the blessings around the one we are specifically praying for. We pray for financial relief, but are careless or stingy with what we do acquire.

My faith has been tested. My motherhood has been tested. My relationships have been tested. And, I wouldn’t want it any other way. In order to be strong, we must get through trials. Tests help us realize what’s worth fighting for. Trials are tests. We pass some, we fail some. But, if we learn and grow, no matter the outcome, we are stronger for the next one that comes along. And, another one will come. Not until we enter those pearly gates, will these tests come to an end.

It helps me to remember that tests are not designed to shame us (as Satan would like us to think), but to point out where we need Jesus most. They keep us humble and strengthen us at the same time. They point us to Jesus and remind us why He died for us. Because, only He could pass every test. Now, our dependence on Him is how we do.

If a relationship fails and reconciliation is not desired by both parties, let it go. You can’t make someone desire a friendship or future with you, nor should you have to. The people meant to be in your life forever, will WANT to be in your life forever. This is a test, this is only a test. Jesus loves you.

If you are in need of work, unhappy with your job, or didn’t get the job you wanted, how do you handle it? Are you looking? Are you doing what you can while you wait? Are you a bitter coworker? The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. This a test, this is only a test. Jesus loves you.

Rejection is one of our most painful tests as humans. Where is your sense of worth? In people? In Jesus? When you lose someone, when your heart breaks, when you need money, when you or someone you love is diagnosed, when your spouse or friend turns their back, when your opinion is deemed worthless or wrong, when your faith is questioned, when you mess up, CLING even tighter to Jesus. Cling tighter to Him than any human being. The loss and rejection is temporary, HE is permanent and never changing. This is why we call Him our Rock. This is a test, this is only a test. Jesus loves you.

God allowed Job to be tested. Satan was convinced that Job only worshipped God because his family and finances were blessed and he had a seemingly “easy” life. God allowed this test. This test broke Job’s heart into a million pieces. He lost his children, his health, his friends, his money….but his response?

Job stood up, tore his robe in grief, and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground and worshiped.  He said,

“Naked I came from my mother,
    and naked I will return.
The Lord has given,
    and the Lord has taken away!
May the name of the Lord be praised.”

Through all this Job did not sin or blame God for doing anything wrong. Job 1:20-22 (GW)

His faith remained.

Tests are hard. They are hard in school and they are hard in life. We have tests for a reason. To find out what we know, what we are made of, what we will fight for, and who we will follow. Praise God for His faithfulness in my feeble attempts and failures. Praise God for the tests that make me realize more and more that I need Him. Praise God for the people who help me study and the people who test me.

For the same exact reason that a marriage becomes stronger when it overcomes tests, our relationship with Jesus becomes more secure through them as well. Satan tempted Job. Satan tempted Jesus. And, Satan tempts us. It’s what he does. He tempts and tries each one of us, with his ultimate goal being for us to curse God in our struggles and turn from him. Hold on to Jesus, dear one, and you will pass the test. Your sinfulness doesn’t discredit you. Jesus died for that. Your loyalty and sole dependence on Jesus gets you the “well done, good and faithful servant” at the end of your days on this earth. Regardless of the specific grade we receive, seeing His sweet face is the ultimate graduation gift after all these tests are over.

I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life. — Matthew 5:24 (GNT)

 His Face is the A+ and I can’t wait to see it.