When Life’s Raw Deal was Not Your Fault

my_badContinued from here.

If I was reading this blog series 15 years ago, I would have angrily responded with, “But it wasn’t my fault!! I was six years old!! It was NOT my responsibility or fault that I was sex-trafficked!!” And those words are true. They are not incorrect, but they are incomplete.

I was not responsible for being sex-trafficked as a child. I was, however, responsible for hating my child abusers, which Jesus said is murder. I was responsible for “punishing” the people in my life who tried to love me as I rejected them because of what had been done to me in the past. I was responsible for idolizing food, seeking relief from my pain through an eating disorder rather than seeking the arms of God for my healing.

Again, I would have reacted angrily to reading those words: “If I had not be abused, I would not have NEEDED an idol!! How dare you tell me that I am sinning for hating the people who raped me!! My life is one big train wreck because of other people’s evil choices!! How DARE you tell me that I am sinning by hating them for doing this to me!!”

If this is your reaction to what I have written, I say to you with much gentleness and tenderness – God’s healing is bigger than your pain. My heart was beyond broken. It was shattered into a million pieces, but God gave me a new heart. While I have not forgotten all of the pain I carried for decades, it seems like a lifetime ago – like the story of a dear friend from long ago who has since been healed. I feel separated from all of that pain and heartache because God has healed me, and He will heal you, too, if you will let Him. But you’ve got to do it His way, and that requires forgiving those who broke you, which I know is the last thing you want to hear, but it’s the avenue God uses to heal shattered hearts.

A friend who is having a difficult time forgiving asked me if I would forgive someone who murdered my child, and I said yes. She asked how I could do it. I responded that the alternative is to carry the weight of that anger and pain around for the rest of my life. It’s not worth it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging under the words, “My bad.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Advertisements

The Last Will be First

pity_party_catContinued from here.

I ended my last blog entry by sharing a deeper truth that God recently gave me in answer to my question from years ago of where He was when I was being raped as a little girl. His answer centers around this passage of Scripture:

Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’” ~ Mark 10:28-31

In God’s economy, greatness comes from loss and suffering in this life. Jesus explained this when James and John asked to be seated on Jesus’ right and left side in heaven. We all want to be honored, but are we willing to drink from the cup of suffering that Jesus drank from? He was/is the Son of God, and yet he came not to be served but to serve and to suffer, giving his life as a ransom for many.

Are we willing to endure suffering in this life to receive honor in heaven? The truthful answer for most of us is no. We are so driven by our desire for comfort and control that we reject our Healer, blaming Him for the raw deal that life has thrown us. We made ungodly choices that brought us harm – or were victimized by the wrongful choices of others – and then we rail at God for the consequences of free will used for evil:

A person’s own folly leads to their ruin,
yet their heart rages against the Lord.” ~ Prov. 19:3

When I talk to people who have been given a raw deal in life, I repeatedly remind them that this is NOT heaven. We all want free will, but we also want God to magically remove the consequences of that free will. We cannot have it both ways. If we want to experience the freedom, joy, and peace of God, we must submit our free will to His.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace and a cat sitting together looking sad. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Encouragement for Those Who Got a Raw Deal in Life

dog_cover_faceI am one of those who got a raw deal in life. By the time I was six years old, I was being sex-trafficked, repeatedly raped as family “friends” made money off my body. Despite receiving Jesus as my Savior at age 8, the sex-trafficking continued until my family moved away when I was 11. It took me a long time to reconcile how a loving God – one I had given my heart to at age 8 – could be trusted. Today, I will look you in the eye and tell you with absolutely no reservation that my God is GOOD and infinitely trustworthy. I know that makes no logical sense, and yet it’s the truth.

How did I get there? One step at a time, choosing to believe God’s Word over my own experience. A huge sticking point for me was the question that haunted me for years: “God, where were you when I was being raped as a little girl?” One of the answers I received was that He was right there beside me, grieving that mankind would choose to use free will in such a vile manner. A later answer was that as He was right there beside me grieving, He was giving me the stamina I needed to survive the abuse without becoming an abuser myself as he constructed an exit strategy, which was my family moving away.

I have found that interactions with God are always multi-layered, which is one reason I enjoy reading the Bible so much. You can read a biblical story from a surface level, but there are always deeper meanings and nuances that the Holy Spirit enlightens as you need them. God recently led me to a much deeper layer of His answer to my question of where He was when I was being raped as a little girl: He was preparing great rewards for me because in His economy, the last are first. More on this in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting next to a dog, both of them covering their faces with a hand/paw. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Learning to Walk in Faith throughout Your Day

whats_goodContinued from here.

I was blown away by this teaching and can personally testify to the truth of the importance of maintaining an atmosphere in your life that is conducive to your faith. I have not been as consistent with surrounding myself with friends of faith to spur me on, but I do have some dear Christian friends who I reach out to for prayer support when I am struggling. It helps to talk with someone who has been in the trenches and has personally experienced God’s faithfulness as you are facing your own storms in life.

If you want to be a man or woman of great faith – not just in size but in duration – I strongly encourage you to partner with others who are chasing God and to take intentional steps to control your atmosphere. Even if you can only set aside five minutes at a time, follow Daniel’s lead to set aside three times a day to pray and thank God. This simple act can radically change your outlook, shifting your focus from the size of your storm to the size of your God.

Also, remember that endurance is built one step at a time. Think about an alcoholic following the Alcoholics Anonymous program one day at a time. It’s too much to think about never drinking again, but it’s manageable simply to get through this moment. The program encourages accountability through a sponsor – perhaps find a “faith sponsor” for yourself to hold you accountable for growing your faith. And the program also encourages a change in atmosphere, such as no longer frequenting bars or being in relationships with people who are going to encourage the alcoholic to drink. In the same way, we can change our atmosphere to remove ourselves from the influences that lead us to doubt God and replace those influences with those that encourage us to keep walking toward God, no matter how stormy the waters. Just as an alcoholic can learn to live sober, you can learn to continue walking in faith, one step at a time.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing by a staircase and asking, “What’s good?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Extend Your Faith through the Atmosphere You Surround Yourself With

storm_cloudContinued from here.

Pastor Ashley also made the observation that Peter’s faith faltered because of the atmosphere around him. As if stepping out onto water was not daunting enough, his feet sought to walk on a body of water that was stormy, with the waves crashing against him and the wind whipping him. This atmosphere was a distraction from his faith, leading him to doubt and sink.

Pastor Ashley pointed out that we are responsible for the atmosphere surrounding us, and the best way to change that atmosphere is through praise and worship. Amen to that! I have been living this reality for a long time now. In fact, God had led me to meet with him in prayer followed by praise & worship three times a day – first thing in the morning, midday, and then before bed.

I have been starting my day with God (the first hour) for years now, and I noticed that it was easy to hold onto my faith in the mornings. No matter what storms hit me at work or in my personal life, I could rest in the stability of a God who loves me and is in control. However, by midafternoon, I was much more susceptible to becoming unstable in my faith. Why? Because I allowed the atmosphere surrounding me to change. Too much time had passed since I filled up with the Living Water in the wee hours of the morning, so the storms of life that could not touch me before lunch had the ability to shift my focus from Jesus to my problems in the afternoon. The antidote has been engaging in prayer, praise, and worship after lunch to provide me with the stability I need to maintain my faith throughout the afternoon. This is what Daniel did, which is how he managed to maintain his faith in the lion’s den. If we want Daniel-type faith, we need to do what Daniel did and maintain an atmosphere that focuses on our God rather than on our problems.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing under a dark cloud with lightning and pouring rain. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Extend Your Faith through the Company You Keep

need_new_friendsContinued from here.

Pastor Ashley’s first piece of advice for increasing the duration of your faith is to surround yourself with people who are chasing God. He pointed out that Peter had the faith to step out of the boat when he was surrounded by the other disciples. However, he stepped out alone and wasn’t next to Jesus yet when he doubted and began to sink. Perhaps if he had stepped out of the boat with James and John, the story would have had a different ending.

Contrast this with two other stories in the Bible about people who surrounded themselves with others of faith and were successful. Pastor Ashley’s first example was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who together refused to bow to an idol, even at the price of being throw into a fiery furnace. Pastor Ashley pointed out that in every group, you typically find a rule-keeper and a rule-breaker, both of whom can influence the group. You want to surround yourself with people who want to keep the rules in following God and break the rules of your circumstances that say that something is impossible. Perhaps Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego might have buckled under the pressure if they had stood before King Nebuchadnezzar alone, but by standing together, they were able to extend the duration of their faith on to victory.

He second example was the men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof of where Jesus was preaching. Alone, each one might have given up because it seemed impossible to get their friend to Jesus because of the crowds. However, these men worked together and refused to leave until they got their paralyzed friend to Jesus. I’m sure it was not easy to carry a paralyzed man onto the roof, cut through the roof, and lower him down to Jesus, but they did it by working together. They urged one another on, extending the duration of their faith. Pastor Ashley’s advice is to surround yourself with other people who will help spur on your faith so that it will last.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking sad and opening a door under the words, “I need new friends…” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Increasing the Duration of your Faith

runningContinued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, the story of Jesus telling Peter he has “little faith” after he walked on the water (albeit briefly) makes much more sense if you consider that Jesus was not judging the size of Peter’s faith when he stepped out of the boat but, instead, making an observation about the short duration of that great faith, which ceased when he began to doubt. As Pastor Ashley pointed out, doesn’t this happen with us? We are inspired at church on Sunday and take a great leap of faith in moving that mountain that has been blocking our way for decades. However, by Tuesday, the duration of our faith has ended as we begin to doubt and sink back into our circumstances. We conclude that our faith on Sunday must not have been real, but perhaps, like Peter, it was great faith … it just didn’t last because we doubted.

The Bible tells us that doubt makes us double-minded and unstable in all that we do. Peter was able to walk on the water briefly, but it wound up being inconsistent because he doubted. And don’t we do the same thing? God tells us to come through impossible circumstances, and we respond to that call, taking a huge step in faith that feels “right” in the moment. But then we break our eye contact with Jesus and focus our attention onto the storms around us, leading us to doubt and sink. Our lack of faith and consistent focus on Jesus makes us unstable, causing us to have great leaps of faith followed shortly by sinking back into our circumstances, causing us to doubt that we ever had any faith in the first place. Sound familiar? It sure does to me!

I’ll share what Pastor Ashley advises to do about this in my next two blog entries.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running. Courtesy Bitmoji.]