Rejoicing in Spiritual Growth and Progress

finallyContinued from here.

And now, we have made it to Friday. I overslept on Friday, which is very unusual for me. I somehow forgot to set my alarm clock and awoke one hour late. This meant I didn’t have time to tithe the full first hour of my day to God, as it my custom. This has only happened a handful of times (probably fewer than five) since March 2013.

When this has happened in the past, I experienced sheer panic. Because I know I am not good, I am well aware that this first hour with God is critical to my having the ability to behave as God wants me to behave. I know painfully well that I am 100% dependent on God to make that happen, and I need that first hour alone with God to fill up with Him so I then have what is needed to pour out to others throughout the day. When this has happened before, I spent my time in the shower begging God to help me contain my sinful nature and not allow it to rule me.

I had a very different reaction this time. I told God that He knows my heart – that I did not intentionally choose to take that hour away from Him. I will always choose God over sleep. I engaged in praise & worship while I showered so I could still begin my day with God. I next had an abbreviated prayer time with God until I had to awaken my son, walk the dog, and go through my regular morning routine. I also had to ensure my husband did not oversleep since he had to get up early for another work trip. I did not have time to study the Bible, but I did recite the Book of 1 Thessalonians from memory later in the day so I could be in the Word, even without a physical Bible in front of me. And then after I dropped my son off at school, I engaged in praise & worship while driving my car to my appointment. So, even though I did not have my allotted hour of quiet time with God, I engaged the same spiritual practices in a modified way.

I was overjoyed to recognize the progress I have made in my walk with God because I now know that even when I mess up by oversleeping, God is bigger than my sinful nature. I had a wonderful day and felt God’s presence. I marveled at all God had brought me through that week and thanked Him for being so faithful to me, even when I was tempted to be unfaithful to Him.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and running through a banner that says, “Finally!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing between Submitting to God or Selfishness

why_am_I_the_way_that_I_amContinued from here.

I wonder if perhaps I am so confident that I would (and have) stand up against group wrongs specifically because of my deep awareness of my propensity to do evil if I follow my sinful nature. I have no illusions about being a “good person.” I am painfully aware of the wickedness inside of me and that it’s only through God that I am able to choose a different path. I do not “do good” because it comes naturally to me: I “do good” because I love God! It’s a choice I make in spite of how I feel.

I am just as selfish as everyone else and perhaps even more so because of my painful history. Pain naturally turns our focus inward and keeps us thinking about ourselves – about how others have wronged us, how we deserve to be treated better, etc. I endured an enormous amount of emotional pain throughout my childhood because of the child abuse, and I grew into a bitter, self-focused woman who justified my own selfish and rude behavior as a result. I lived in “death” for decades, and I never want to return to that mindset.

The antidote to living a self-centered life is submitting to God’s authority and making my choices based upon how He says to live, and nothing about the Christian lifestyle comes naturally to me. It does not feel natural to spend the first hour of my day with God … or to defer my preferences to the people around me … or to pray blessings over people who harm me. None of this comes naturally or easily to me – it’s all a choice, and I choose it because I love God, not because I am good.

Now, here’s the really cool part – As I make the choice over and over to live life God’s way rather than my own, the Christian lifestyle becomes easier. For example, I have been tithing the first hour of my day to God every morning for over 4.5 years, so it now feels natural to start my day with God. In fact, it would not even cross my mind not to do so any longer. This is not because I am “good” – it is because I have been obedient in this area for so long that tithing the first hour of my day to God has become my “new normal.” It is now a habit.

The same applies to forgiving those who hurt me. I used to stew and complain about it – now, I pour my hurt out to God and prayer for them. As this has become my habit, I don’t find my feelings getting hurt very often. I choose not to take offense, and because I have already decided I am going to forgive everyone who hurts me, I don’t bother putting energy into negative feelings toward them.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking at herself in the mirror and asking,  “Why am I the way that I am?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

“Group Think” and Being a “Good” Person

im_goodContinued from here.

When I awoke on Thursday, I simply felt better. I had a peace that I could not explain: I simply knew in the deepest recesses of my soul that I was OK – that God was in control. My son asked politely if his discipline was over yet and received my “no” without incident. My husband awoke with a determination to choose to positive mood, even though his circumstances had not changed. God was clearly at work in my family.

I had an interesting meeting on Thursday that got me thinking about a couple of topics over the next couple of days. The first was the topic of “group think,” which is when people go along with whatever the group thinks, even when they disagree. I stated firmly that I do not allow groups to drive my actions – that I would likely have been among the first resistors taken to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany because I am not going to mistreat people just because the group is doing so. The other person cautioned me against being too certain that I would go against the dynamics of the group (or, in this case, society) because most people do not, despite their good intentions. I responded by sharing my story of being fired for refusing to engage in false and deceptive practices back in August, which definitely involved going against the flow of the group and came with a cost.

Later in the conversation, this person called me “good,” to which I responded that I am not good – all that is good within me comes from God. This is a conversation I have had multiple times with a close friend. She loves to call me “good,” and I always tell her that I am painfully awareness of my lack of goodness. All she sees within me as “good” is a reflection of God’s goodness. I am well aware that I do not have even one emotionally healthy bone in my body. This person said we were going to have to agree to disagree on this topic, which is pretty much where things stand with my friend.

This got me thinking about whether there is a perhaps a correlation between the two topics. Most people believe that, at their core, they are “good people,” which may be why they believe they would not go along with the group to trample on other people. However, when all of these “good” people come together as a group and the leaders provide the opportunity to tap into the evil inside of themselves (their sinful nature), they are blindsided when their sinful nature takes over. Even Paul was vulnerable to his sinful nature, despite all he did to build up the Christian Church.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and saying, “I’m good.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing Not to Go Down the Emotional Well

Continued from here.

I did a lot of praying on Tuesday and asked a few friends to pray for my family and for me as well. I felt disconnected from God, which was ironic after having such a strong time of praise & worship with Him that morning. I ran through my four fundamental beliefs multiple times and recognized my vulnerability was doubting that God was in control. I also kept praying 1 Cor. 10:13. I told God I was tempted to sink into an emotional pit, so I needed Him to show me the way out.

I was certainly not in a “good mood” on Tuesday and kept praying for God to help me simply make it through the day. I thanked Him that His mercies would be new in the morning and asked Him to get me from now to then. I did what I could not to focus my thoughts on feeling sorry for myself despite being very tempted to do so. I thought I would be OK if I could just make it through the day.

My husband returned from his day trip for work extremely stressed out. His stress level grew even higher when I filled him in about our son’s ODD behaviors and the consequences I imposed. He then had to call in to see if he had to report for jury duty the next day, which he could not afford because of his already tight deadlines. Sure enough, he did have to report for jury duty, and that was his final straw. At a time that I really needed to be comforted myself, I found myself in a position of having to put my own emotional drama on the backburner to comfort my husband and reassure Him of God’s love and control at a time when I was tempted to doubt this myself.

I awoke on Wednesday feeling hopeless, but I engaged in my spiritual disciplines, just as I do every morning. The only difference was that I spent more time in prayer about the spiritual attack on my family, and I prayed numerous verses out of Beth Moore’s Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds from the last chapter, which is focused on spiritual warfare. I asked God to give me wisdom and discernment for how to help my family.

I let my small group know that I would be unable to attend Bible study on Wednesday evening and asked for prayers. I felt those prayers throughout the day as God went to work on my family. My husband spent more time reading devotionals and watching sermons by his favorite preachers. My son was (surprisingly) compliant with respecting the discipline I imposed for his behavior from the day before. I stayed home from Bible study that night because I thought I would need to be caretaking my family, but God did the work. I have no other explanation for how our family went from being in a state of crisis the night before to having a relatively pleasant evening together the next night.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds. Courtesy Amazon. ]

 

Processing an Intense Week

this_is_not_happeningLast week was intense for me, and I’m processing all that happened. I am also celebrating how much growth I have noticed in myself and expressing gratitude for all God has changed in me over the years.

Monday of last week was the calm before the storm. My family (husband and 16-year-old son) had a pleasant dinner together, laughed, and enjoyed one another’s company. I awoke on Tuesday morning feeling joyful and grateful for my family and my life. Like every morning, I spent the first hour with God: praying, studying His Word, and worshiping Him. I looked forward to a wonderful day … and then the bottom dropped out.

My son is on the spectrum for oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD). Of course, most teenagers are oppositional and defiant from time to time, but behaviors in a kid with ODD are in their own league, and typical parenting advice simply does not work with these kids. Over the years, I have learned how to interact with my son in ways that minimize the likelihood of having an ODD showdown, but not matter what I do, these behaviors still surface from time to time, and I generally cannot see them coming. There was nothing on Monday that alerted me to having to deal with his ODD issues on Tuesday.

My son was in full ODD mode on Tuesday morning. The best way to describe the dynamic is that he becomes an emotional battering ram and will not back down, no matter what anyone else says or does. When he gets like this, all I can do is pray and stand my ground while being repeatedly “emotionally battered.” Because my son and I are close, I am typically the recipient of this behavior. (I am a “safe” person to unload these behaviors on.)

My husband can sometimes rein in the ODD behaviors faster than I can because of his authority as head of our household, but that did not happen on Tuesday morning. My husband had been stretched very thin at work for weeks and had a stressful day ahead of him, involving travel. So, I tried to handle things on my own along with the school (my son attends a private school for students with special needs) and kept my husband out of it as best I could, although he was involved in the morning before heading out of town, which heightened his stress level.

Keep in mind that the holiday season is a vulnerable time of year for me because of my childhood abuse. I am improving year by year, but I cannot yet say that I have mastered the holiday season. I told God in October that I know Jesus has already conquered this area of bondage for me and asked Him to guide me in how to walk in freedom in this area of my life. I did well in October, but the dynamics of Tuesday, with the frequent communications from my “battering ram” son via text from school, made me vulnerable to going down the emotional well that beckons every holiday season.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace spinning a vortex and saying, “This is not happening!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

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.

Continued here.

[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

Continued from here.

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.

Continued here.

[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.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of The Love Dare. Courtesy Amazon.com.]

Grace’s Story: Doing the “Love Dare” to My Husband

Continued from here.

When I received Alex Kendrick’s and Stephen Kendrick’s book, The Love Dare, in the mail, I had no plans to actually do the “love dare.” I was interested in exploring what unconditional love looks like, but my interest was more theoretical than actually having to do anything, much less change. However, God had other plans.

I frequently lead Summer Bible studies through my church. Even when I don’t lead them, I participate in them. However, God placed heavily on my heart that I was not to participate in a Bible study during the Summer of 2014. Instead, I was to work through The Love Dare.

I did not start out with the best attitude about it because I was certain that my husband was the problem, not me. However, I was willing to do the “homework assignments” if it wasn’t too much work. So, I did take action at the beginning, such as by refraining from saying anything negative and doing something nice for him.

Then, I started seeing positive results for simple things that really didn’t take much effort, such as changing my greeting when he walked into a room. I had never thought about my demeanor when my husband enters a room before. I was generally busy doing something when he entered a room and would not stop what I was doing just because he was present. So, he noticed when that changed. To this day, when my husband walks in the room, I stop what I am doing, say hello, and smile. It’s such a simple thing to do, but what a profound difference this made in the way we relate to each other!

The readings also made some excellent points. For example, the Holy Spirit convicted me about spending too much time in the “depreciation room” of my heart. The authors say that we have both an appreciation and a depreciation room in our hearts for our spouse. When we are falling in love, we spend most of our time in the appreciation room, but then we gradually spend more time in the depreciation room, which is where we ruminate on the things we find annoying about our spouses.

Here’s the part that hit me between the eyes – The information in both rooms is equally true! Yes, it is true that my spouse does X, which annoys me. However, it is equally true that he also does Y, which is something that I should appreciate. I get to choose which room to spend my time in.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of The Love Dare. Courtesy Amazon.com.]