Four Fundamental Beliefs

believeContinued from here.

Before I continue with the narrative of my testimony, I’d like to discuss four fundamental beliefs that each of us needs to embrace in order to live in a state of joy. I will be referring to these as I continue my narrative. God’s way actually works, but you must align your thoughts with four core beliefs in order to access that joy and experience life as God intended:

  • God loves you.
  • God is good.
  • God is with you.
  • God is in control.

If you do not truly, from the bottom of your heart, believe any of these four fundamental pillars, then Promised Land living (such as God’s joy and peace) will continue to elude you, despite how frequently you pray and ask for it.

Note that believing each of these pillars is not the same thing knowing them. For example, you might know that God is good. You have might have grown up hearing this in Sunday School and reflexively “know” this about God. However, if you don’t believe this – if you don’t know in the marrow of your bones that God is good – then when the waves of life crash over you, you will question God’s goodness. You will drive yourself crazy asking why a “good” God would allow such bad things to happen to you, someone you love, or a stranger across the world.

Conversely, if you truly believe that God is good (as well as loving, present, and in control), your perspective of even great tragedies will change. The best way I can phrase this is that you will no longer experience “dark and stormy” seasons in your life. While the storms might continue to rage, you will no longer feel “in darkness” because the pillars of God’s love, goodness, presence, and control will shine a light that the strongest storm cannot snuff out. You will experience hope, even when your circumstances look hopeless, because you absolutely know in the marrow of your bones that God is good, loves you, is right there in the storm with you, and is in control, working this terrible mess for good. You might not know HOW, but what matters is that you know WHO.

Whenever you find yourself struggling in any area of your life … or whenever you notice a glaring absence of God’s joy and peace, stop and remind yourself: “God loves me, He is good, He is here with me right now, and He is in control.” As you choose to believe these four fundamental pillars of faith, you will find joy and peace in the midst of life’s trials.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling, looking up, holding up her hands, and saying, “I believe.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Grace’s Journey: Experiencing Joy Regularly

many_thanksContinued from here.

Thanksgiving truly is the avenue to joy. If you want to be joyful, then be thankful. Look for reasons to be thankful, and joy will bubble up inside of you. This is why the Apostle Paul told us to think about excellent and praiseworthy things.

Here’s a newsflash that was truly revolutionary to me: You get to choose what you think! That means you get to choose whether you are thankful or miserable, and your choice will determine how you feel. Think about it – You cannot think about something you are grateful for and something that annoys you at the same time. You must choose to focus on one or the other, and that choice will determine how you feel.

And get this … Whatever you focus on magnifies while whatever you are not focusing on minimizes. So, as you choose to focus on the things in your life that you are thankful for, they grow your joy while draining the energy out of the things that annoy you. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and see what happens.

On her television show, Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer said something that greatly helped me make the transition to choosing gratitude over grumbling. She said that it was OK for me to enjoy my life while I have a problem. I truly, from the bottom of my heart, did not know this!

For my entire life, I had believed that I needed to stew on my problems. Yes, I knew (and even memorized) the passage about not being anxious about anything, but I still thought about the problem incessantly because I thought I was supposed to. And guess what phrase I never noticed in those verses? They say to present our requests to God with thanksgiving.

I used to be a constant worrier, but I don’t do that anymore. When a problem arises (and a problem always arises), I pray to God about it, do what I know to do on my end, and then focus on what I am thankful for and enjoy my life while I still have the problem. (Thank you, Joyce!) As Joyce Meyer says, “If God can’t fix the problem, I sure can’t!” I ask God to intervene, focus on Scripture that is applicable to the situation, do what I can toward fixing the problem, and then don’t allow myself to think about it. I have so much in my life to be grateful for. I am not going to ruin my life being miserable waiting for my problem to be solved. I trust that God is in control of my life and will work this mess for good. In the meantime, I’m going to be joyful and grateful.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of a card with Grace smiling and raising her hands above the words, “Many Thanks.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Grace’s Journey: Learning Gratitude

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As my marriage improved through my obedience to God, the next area of sanctification came. My friend gave me Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, as a Christmas present in 2014. I found her writings to be powerful because of her authenticity. I had never read a Christian author who mentioned self-injury, which is something I once struggled with, and I could relate to the deep emotional pain that drives that behavior. (Note that this was something she mentioned in passing and is certainly not the focus of the book.)

The book is about Voskamp’s challenge to write down 1,000 things that she is thankful for and the transformation process that took place inside of her by doing this. As someone who did not even have the word gratitude in her vocabulary, this was a novel concept to me, and I took her up on her challenge. Voskamp said that sowing the seeds of thanksgiving reaps a harvest of joy, and she was right!

I soon realized that I was using what I had learned in Alex Kendrick’s and Stephen Kendrick’s book, The Love Dare, but going broader. As I shared here, the Love Dare taught me that the information I had stored about my husband in the “appreciation room” and the “depreciation room” of my heart was equally true. Voskamp challenged me to take this concept farther by applying it to every area of my life. By doing this, I experienced joy!

For example, when I sprained my thumb, my natural inclination was to complain about the pain and inconvenience of having a sprained thumb. However, it was equally true that I had nine perfectly functional fingers that did not hurt. It was my choice which to focus on – grumbling about the sprained thumb or thanksgiving about the other nine uninjured fingers. My choice determined whether I felt joyful or irritable.

I also learned through Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling that I could reframe annoying situations as opportunities to practice Christlikeness. For example, when I encounter technical issues with my computer, rather than grumbling about it, I can thank God for this opportunity to trust Him even more.

I used to be a very critical person. If everything didn’t go my way, I got frustrated and angry about it. I was a control freak, so even little deviations from the plan could ruin my day. However, as I have chosen to look for reasons to be thankful rather than focus on the reasons to be upset, I have experienced joy. This has been the key for me learning how to “rejoice always.”

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts]

Foundational Attribute of a Strong Marriage: Forgiveness

forgive_meContinued from here.

Another lie that society has sold us is that the most important attribute of a good marriage is communication. While communication is certainly important, it doesn’t come close to a much more important attribute that is foundational to all strong marriages: forgiveness.

On her television show, Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer recently said something profound: “When we decide to continue in a relationship with someone, we decide in advance to forgive.” A relationship doesn’t work when you are tallying up a mental list of everything that your spouse has done wrong. For relationships to flourish, we need to prioritize the relationship over “being right,” and that means forgiveness.

Let me share an amusing example: On our honeymoon, my husband learned that I have a tendency to forget to bring food home from a restaurant. A local pizza place was having a buy one, get one free sale on pizza. After sharing one pizza, I sat at the table with an untouched, freshly boxed pizza while he went to pay the bill. When he waved for me to join him, I left the entire pizza sitting on the table. He was not pleased later in the evening when he looked for the pizza to snack on and discovered its absence. Meanwhile, the pizza had not once crossed my mind all evening.

That happened almost 25 years ago, and we have numerous other similar stories to share. I don’t do this on purpose. I have no idea why I am apparently incapable of transporting food home from a restaurant, but no matter how hard I try to remember, I forget at least half the time. Nevertheless, my husband has never gotten angry with me about this. While I am sure he finds this trait annoying, he has decided in advance to forgive me, so this annoying tendency of mine has never once caused a marital conflict. While my husband has every reason to be frustrated with me over this, he has chosen to let go of his frustration, no matter how many times I mess up, because he values our relationship over the food.

If you want a happy marriage, it’s time to let some things go. Extend grace to your spouse. He or she is never going to be perfect, and that’s OK – neither are you. If you will both cut each other some slack and extend grace, you will be amazed by how much happier you are. After all, if the purpose of marriage is holiness, these annoying situations provide us with ample opportunity to practice Christlikeness as we forgive our spouse in the same way that Jesus forgives us.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a flower and asking, “Forgive me?” Courtesy of Bitmoji.]

Did I Marry the Right Person?

marriageContinued from here.

Another one of society’s lies that too many in the Church have believed is that marital problems come from marrying the wrong person, so the solution is to break your marital covenant and find someone more compatible. If this were true, then the divorce rates of second marriages would not be higher than those of first marriages. Nevertheless, this myth persists, breaking apart what God has joined together and destroying families in the process.

Remember the powerful sermon on marriage I heard on my road trip? This pastor also said, “How do you know you married the right person? Because he or she said, ‘yes.’” When your spouse said, “yes,” to you on your wedding day and you said, “yes,” in return, God took two separate beings and made them one. That makes your spouse “the right person,” regardless of how you might feel about this.

I used to wonder whether I deviated from God’s plan for me in who I married because I was in a season of rebellion when my husband and I met and married. I never once prayed about whether he was the man God intended for me – I honestly did not care whether he was or not.

My husband and I are different in many ways. His perfect evening is watching a Carolina basketball game, and I am lucky to know that basketball is the sport where they dribble a ball and shoot it at a hoop. My perfect evening is dinner and a movie, but my husband doesn’t like to go to the movies. As the “newness” of our marriage waned, I became acutely aware of our differences.

Several months ago, God showed me that my husband is indeed the one He planned for me all along. I asked my husband how he came to regular church attendance in college when his family did not take him to church after grade school. He shared that no matter which dorm he was assigned, he happened to be placed on a hall surrounded by Christians who invited him to church and other religious functions. Then, God reminded me that as a teenager, I had prayed for my future spouse. Even while I was in a season of rebellion, God honored those prayers to prepare a Christian husband for me. Talk about faithfulness!

While it is true that my husband and I are different in many areas, God has shown me that this makes us complementary. Our son does not need carbon copy parents. As a parenting team, our differences actually provide our son with a much richer family. And then we have similarities in the places that matter, the most important of which is loving the LORD.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing by a tree with “Me + U 4ever” carved into it. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Marriage is about HOLINESS, not Happiness

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Before I move on to the next stage of my transformation journey, I’d like to share more of what I have learned about living marriage God’s way. I fear that many couples within the Church have bought into society’s views of marriage, which may account for why the divorce rate among Christians is as high as it is (although see this article that notes a correlation between regular church attendance and a lower divorce rate).

God led me to Gary Thomas’ writings and the epiphany that happiness is not the point of marriage, which is the lie that society tells us. Society portrays marriage as the prince saving the damsel in distress, and then they live happily ever after. But what if the goal of marriage isn’t actually happiness, but holiness?

I heard a fabulous sermon on the radio during a road trip, but I don’t know who to credit. The pastor said these wise words: “If the person you are married to is ‘bad’ enough that Jesus had to die for his or her sins, then your spouse is going to annoy you from time to time.” Oh, the truth in those words … and it works both ways! Marriage yokes us to an imperfect person who … let’s face it … is selfish, just as we, at our cores, are also selfish. The damsel doesn’t want to clean up the prince’s dirty clothes off the floor – she wants him to meet her needs and keep her happy, regardless of her own selfishness.

God has shown my through Gary Thomas’ writings and Alex Kendrick’s and Stephen Kendrick’s book, The Love Dare, that marriage works best when I allow God to transform me into Christ’s image as I put my husband’s needs ahead of my own. Being married actually helps with the sanctification process because I have numerous opportunities to pay forward the unconditional love that God has given me. Because we are yoked together, I am more aware of my husband’s shortcomings than anyone else in the world (just as he is with mine), which puts me in a unique position to pray for him so God can intervene in places that nobody else sees.

I have also learned that God meant it when he said that a married couple is “one flesh.” When I am unconditionally loving to my husband, that love empowers me! Conversely, when I seek to harm my husband, that harm is inflicted upon me. Therefore, because you are one, God only needs one of you to submit to His authority (to actually do what He says to do) to heal your marriage. Because the Holy Spirit is in you while you are one with your spouse, your choice to align yourself with God will change your marriage, regardless of your spouse’s attitude.

Don’t believe me? I dare you to do The Love Dare for 40 days and see what happens.

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[Graphic: Cover of Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Marriage.]

Grace’s Story: My “Love Dare” Experience

Continued from here.

As I continued working through Alex Kendrick’s and Stephen Kendrick’s book, The Love Dare, I had a HUGE epiphany: Did you know that we actually choose our bad moods and that we are selfish when we do? I seriously – from the bottom of my heart — did NOT know this! The notion that my bad mood was a choice that I had the power to “unchoose” was, quite literally, life changing for me!

I could write for days about all that I learned from this wonderful book. The Love Dare is a “must read” for all Christians, and doubly so for those who are married. The lessons I learned from The Love Dare apply to every relationship in my life – my friendships, work colleagues, family, and everyone else. So, even if you are single, this book can still transform your life. Actually, to be precise, God can transform your life through your obedience to God through the activities explained in this book.

As happened in the movie, as I neared the end of the book, God opened my eyes to how incredibly selfish I was in my marriage. This was a humbling realization. I saw my husband – and my marriage – through different eyes. By the time I reached Day 40, I went back and completed every “homework assignment” I had skipped because I wanted to express unconditional love to my husband.

Just as happened with Kirk Cameron’s character in the movie, Fireproof, The Love Dare changed my marriage and my life! It’s been 2-1/2 years since I “did the love dare,” and my husband and I have never been happier! As I humbled myself in obedience to God, He changed my heart. As God transformed me, He transformed my marriage, and the transformation of our marriage transformed my husband. As a direct result of “doing the love dare,” the relationships between God and me, God and my husband, and my husband and me all changed in wonderful ways!

If you are feeling hopeless in your marriage, do NOT give up. Just as God can bring life to dry bones, he can resurrect a dead marriage. But you have to do it God’s way because His way actually works! Start living I Cor. 13 in your marriage, and watch God’s resurrection power breathe life back into it.

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[Graphic: Cover of The Love Dare. Courtesy]