Fight, fear and faith: The journey to find true faith.

mustardMy story, taking days to tell,  includes a horrific divorce, being cast aside and rejected by a church and an excruciating custody battle.  The journey I walked sent me on a discovery leading me to dig deep into my faith.  It was a roller coaster of events in which Jesus got a hold of me and changed me from the inside out. He took a broken hearted, faith doubting girl and totally transformed her.  I have become desperate for Him and it has changed my world and who I am in every way.

The part of my story I would like to share started back in 2008 when I prayed a prayer that led me on a journey I was unprepared for. It began when I was reading the story of Abraham and Isaac.  I was overwhelmed by the enormous faith of Abraham when asked by God to sacrifice his only son.  I remember that morning very clearly.  I wanted to trust God for all things.  I wanted to know Him the way in which Abraham knew Him.  I yearned for that kind of faith.  In fact, this was the prayer in my journal that day,

“Father, help me to relinquish the hold I have over my own life, the lives of my children and the things that I do. Let me not doubt when you speak or move in my life.  Make me Your servant, righteous and faithful, ready to say “Here I am” when You call.”

Never would I have imagined the course my life would take over the next four years. In 2009, the battle began.  The nastiness of divorce entered my life, but that situation alone was only the beginning. Divorce is nasty and ugly, but not as ugly as the custody battle that ensued. It was a battle full of fear and devastation. But God had a purpose and a plan for it all and because I trusted His word completely I was able to tread water without drowning.

In January of 2011, my pastor preached a sermon that changed the course of the path I was traveling. In his sermon, he used the verse “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.”  (Romans 12:17) My heart was heavy.  As I sat listening, God was tugging and asking me to trust Him.  After several years of lawyers and multiple court appearances, I knew it had to end and I had to walk away.  God was leading me to depend solely on Him and nothing else.   As I read and reread Romans 12:17 I could not ignore the words, “do not repay evil for evil” but even more so the words that followed; “Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.”  There is NOTHING honorable in the throes of a custody battle.  Nothing.  It is one parent doing everything in their power to destroy the other parent.  No attorney if doing their job correctly can help you win without you doing something that is not honorable.  I could not escape that truth.  I had prayed a prayer in 2008 for a faith like Abraham and God was now asking me to trust Him completely to fight on my behalf.  This was a scary step to take and those around me did not understand my choice but I knew God was a big God. I knew He loved me.  I knew that He not only cared about me, but even more so for my innocent children.  I knew I had to trust Him.

I was scared.  I was so very afraid.  These were my children.  There was no one standing by me with the ability to communicate physically or verbally with another attorney.  The opposing side had no concern for the well-being of my children.  For this attorney it was the sheer thrill of victory.  The day we entered the courtroom was terrifying.  I walked in with only my mom and a young girl who had spent years babysitting my children.   It was the three of us against at least a dozen people.  As I walked in and sat down at the table a Bible sat before me.   I opened the Bible to Exodus and found chapter 14 verse 14. “The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”  I claimed it.  It was mine.  I just needed to be still.  For the next few hours I sat and listened as each person placed their hand upon the Bible swearing to tell the truth but chose to lie.  I remember thinking this is not honorable.  I will not repay evil for evil.  God will handle it.  Those are two days of my life I will never forget.  They were scary, but at the same time, I felt the presence of God in such a way that to this day, I shake in awe of His incredible faithfulness.  I never felt alone.  It was as if He was sitting next to me throughout the entire process.  I left not thinking I had won the battle but instead knowing I had glorified my God and He was pleased.

The next month my world was shattered. On October 31, 2011, I received the document that stated that my children were no longer mine.  In a matter of seconds, the time it took to open a document, my world ended.   I remember the phone calls with my mom and now husband as they both sat in disbelief at what was happening.  It did not make sense. None of it made sense. That same evening I also remember the different people God placed in my path and around me to love and minister to both my children and me.  He continually made Himself known.  He was there.  He was in control.

So remember the prayer I prayed in 2008?  Surprisingly enough, it was the furthest thing from my mind.  I was not thinking in that direction.  Instead, I was on my tiptoes searching for any sight of God I could find.  Then the moment came.  I received a phone call in which I was told a family member had stated that “she had to have done something wrong in order for a judge to take away her children” and it began. The crushing wave of hurt and rejection was the motivation I needed in that moment.  I no longer had to stand on my tiptoes looking for God because He walked into the room and revealed Himself in the most majestic way.  Suddenly my prayer from 2008 resurfaced .  I had asked for this moment.  I had prayed for this moment.  I wanted the faith of Abraham and God was going to answer my prayer.  One of the hardest things a mother can endure is being separated from her children and that is what had to happen.  I came to realize throughout the course of my divorce and custody battle I had trusted God for many things.  I had relied on Him and listened to Him but still held back a piece of myself.  Part of my heart was His but the rest belonged to my children.  The fear of losing my children kept Christ from sitting completely on the throne of my life.  My children had become my idol.  Much like Isaac had become for Abraham when God asked Him to sacrifice his only son.  God was in control.  He knew my prayer and He knew my heart.  God knew what I needed.  I needed Him.  I was desperate for Him.  I had been holding back, but the time had come to turn it all over.  He had to take my children. Peace came to rest in my heart.

In 2012, things in my life began to take a turn. On a Sunday in January, I felt God clearly calling me to become part of a church plant. There was a moment of hesitation and doubt, but I knew I had to follow.  A couple weeks later, God placed an incredible young couple in my life who were also part of this church plant.  The husband was a young attorney who had just passed the bar and after sharing some of my story he took on my case pro-bono.  This was the second time God sent someone to be a physical reminder that He was there and fighting for me.  Now I am sure you are wondering why the attorney now?  This situation was different.  This attorney followed Jesus.  He sought direction through prayer from a God who controls all things.  For him, it was not about winning.  We were fighting for the safety and welfare of my children.  This attorney became my “guardian” and my brother.  His purpose was to deflect the evil that came my way, to pray with me and to help strengthen me in weak moments with the truth of God’s word.

Throughout our times in court, my case was never heard.  It was continued repeatedly as behind the scenes, God worked out the details.  As He continued to shape my character, heal my heart and grow my faith I became stronger.  Wonderful things started happening in my life.  In August of 2012, my now husband proposed to me on the beach in South Carolina.  It was magical! The tide began shifting.  Less than four months later, we were married in the sweetest of ceremonies.  On that same day, as we celebrated our marriage with family, I learned that I would be an aunt for the first time.  By Christmas, I was greeted with the exciting news that I would be an Aunt of twins.  But the greatest of all events occurred less than two months later, when my children were back home…for good.

You see sometimes in the darkness of our storm we cannot see God or feel His presence. His plan is unclear.  We doubt and worry with fear forgetting He has everything under control.  His plan is perfect.  I never thought the pain would end.   But it did.  God allowed the wounds that cut so deep into my heart to break me into a million pieces.  His purpose;  for me to become so desperate for Him that He alone could make me whole and heal my every hurt. And He did.  He took all the broken pieces and turned them into an amazing tapestry of His love and grace.   It is amazing. But not only did He heal me, He restored to me not just the things that had been taken through the pain but He gave me back even more.  More love, more grace, more knowledge and understanding of who He is, a longing to be more like Him and a desire to share more of Him with others.

I now have a life I would have never dreamed possible.  It is not perfect, but it is a life full of blessings.  My life is full.  It only took thirty-eight years and a lot of heartache, but God has now given me more than I could have ever asked.  I am a living example that no matter how many wrong turns your life may take, there is a “happy ending.”  All you have to do is choose to surrender your broken pieces, your life, to the only One who can turn it into a beautiful masterpiece of His amazing grace for His glory!



God's will: The tightrope effect

“God’s will is not a tightrope.”  Those six words said by my pastor caught my attention.  No they grabbed my attention.  My eyes and ears focused on him.  The words that followed drew me in and met me right where I needed.

Trying to decipher God’s will has left me confused more times than not.  Bringing God glory is my purpose but is there a plan as well?  A road map I am to follow?  Specific things He wants me to do?  A way in which He wants to use me?  If so, I have screwed it up.   I want nothing more than to bring Him glory.  I crave it with the entirety of my being.  But sometimes, for the life of me, I cannot figure out what it entails.  

Looking back over the last five years I have confidence God is going to use my battles for something.  Visions.  I have visions of things to come.  I know that may sound weird or freaky to those who are reading this but I have them. God gives me a small glimpse every now and then of something He has for me.  Just enough to keep me focused on the road ahead.  I am restless.  I know He has something out there for me and I am ready to move ahead and do whatever, and I mean WHATEVER, He wants me to do.  But what?  I ask.  I pray.  I continue to wait.  

I know waiting.  I have experienced waiting over the last five years.  I know what it means to want something so much you can taste it but having to wait until the perfect moment for it to be yours. That moment when you’re ready to receive it and He places it in your hands. The moment the waiting ends. I’ve been there too. So waiting, I get.

Back to the tightrope. Tears flood my eyes as I envision the tightrope.  The burden of the tightrope effect has left me crippled for far too long. As I heard the words, God’s will is not a tightrope, a humongous weight fell off my shoulders. There are days when I realize that I am still held prisoner by the chains of legalism.  Too many years spent chained to a religion has made it hard to grasp parts of the Bible. It has made it difficult to understand God.  Add to it the scandal of divorce and I am left struggling to walk the tightrope of God’s will. I feel defeated every day.  So the realization that God’s will consists of more than walking “from point A to point B” is inspiring.  My pastor said God’s will is like a freeway.  There are different lanes, with many choices along the way. Good and bad choices.  Decisions we have to make. Yes poor choices lead us in the wrong direction but they do not negate us from being in God’s will altogether. Do you understand how freeing that is?  

Romans 11:36 says, “For all that exists originates in Him, comes through Him, and is moving toward Him; so give Him the glory forever. Amen.”  What do I take away from that verse?  I am God’s creation.  He created me for His glory.  My purpose in this life is to bring Him glory through the life I live.  To me, it means that in every choice I make, I need to seek after Him.  Follow Him. When I have a choice to make, I turn to Him and choosing to follow Him in obedience brings Him glory.  Yes I will fall.  Yes I will make wrong turns.  But He will redirect my steps when I seek and ask for direction.  

Was God’s plan for me to end up divorced?  NO.  I am fully aware God’s hand was not in my divorce. However God’s hand was on me as I trudged through the battle and trusted Him throughout everything I experienced.  He was there.  He is still here.  It was through those battles that I recognized His voice for the first time.  Experienced His presence.  It was in the loneliness of being cast aside by friends and family that I found Him.  Though my marriage was ending, my relationship with Jesus did not.  Instead it became more real.  More intimate.  I craved Him because I was desperate to hear His voice and sense His presence and He made Himself known.  

Something else my pastor said that I love, “You will never accidentally hear God’s voice.”  That is so true. In the midst of pain and the darkness of battle, His presence, His voice is not an accident.  It is in those moments when you are searching for Him that you will find Him.  Searching through scripture, through music looking for His wisdom and direction is when it happens.   It is when you are in the trenches of a fierce battle and become so desperate for His help that you recognize His voice above the noise. You realize that you cannot take another step on your own and you call out to Him and He answers. You fall into His arms.  And you know what?  He catches you.  He catches and grabs a hold of you.  You finally recognize His voice and experience His peace.  The noise of the world falls away and you hear Him call your name.  And you know He has you.  He has your situation and is there.  Everything changes.  

Freedom in Christ is something I am experiencing and understanding more and more every day as I follow Him.  His grace is enormous. It is more than I can comprehend.  But so is His will for my life.  His plan.  He has given me this life.  He allows me new breath every day. With it,  I am to live a life that aligns with His character which brings Him glory.  My mind is blown.  I am overwhelmed with the idea that my entire life is not ruined (For God’s purpose)  by one wrong turn

So now God I am ready.  I have been restless for so long.  But now  I understand. SO many feelings of unworthiness from not walking the tightrope perfectly.  Thinking I had to DO something to get back into Your good graces. So misled by the enemy.  Distracted by so much untruth.  But I get it.  I asked and You answered. Oh how  I crave You.  I crave to live my life for You.  Here I am.  I am ready.  Tell me where to go.  
You may be reading this and wondering what in the world?  Where is she going with this post?  If you are, this post isn’t for you.  This post is for those who have been where I have been.  This is for those who have made those wrong turns and been left to feel that God no longer has a place or purpose for you in His plan.  His will is more than a tightrope.  He can take those wrong turns, those falls, those horrible choices and restore what has been broken.  Your messed up story is His opportunity to bring glory to His name by making you shine as His grace covers your broken pieces.  Just ask Him.
Thank you Pastor Jimmy for pointing me towards Jesus!

Judas, Religion and Relationship: How close are you to 30 pieces of silver?

Have you ever sat and pondered the story of Judas? His relationship with Jesus and the role he played in the story? 

I admit I am guilty of the typical stereotype.  I picture this weasel looking man with tiny beady eyes who was not a “part” of the group.  I envision someone who always did his own thing.  In my mind, he was distant from the other disciples carrying around a lot of baggage from a messed up childhood.  For someone to betray Jesus for money would entail several seriously deep rooted issues reaching way back to their childhood, right? But then I ask, are my assumptions correct?
My knowledge of Judas comes from what I read in the Bible and stories learned in Sunday School.  It is easy to jump the gun and assume he was an outsider always causing trouble however, something grabs my attention making me second guess myself.  Remember reading the story of the Last Supper (Matthew 26:19-25) and the way in which Jesus specifically says one within His group will betray Him? Notice when reading the story none of the disciples point to Judas as the obvious choice. In fact, they ask, “Is it me?”  
Labeling Judas as the corrupt, dishonest perpetrator becomes easier since the ending of the story is well-known. The assumption that he was disliked or a “weasel” makes the story easier to read since no one enjoys a villain.  So quick to judge. The assumption that Judas lacked a sparkling personality is easier to swallow knowing he is the betrayer. What if, however, his friends loved him? Maybe Judas was personable. The answers to these questions can’t be simply assumed because we weren’t there to witness the relationship.
Replaying the story in my head, I suppose a conclusion could be drawn that something was missing in the “relationship” between Judas and Jesus.  How else does one betray one of their closest friends for 30 pieces of silver? He traveled with Jesus, met Him in the flesh, however, it appears he did not “know” Him.  He heard Jesus preach, except it seems the words spoken did not permeate the heart of Judas. Judas had a religion, but did not have an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus.  
As I imagine the Last Supper, it is simple to visualize the enemy at work.  He knew the exact man he needed to exploit to betray Jesus.  He needed someone whose eyes had seen Jesus, yet whose heart had not.  Judas wore the cloak of religion, but failed to grasp the heart of Jesus. It requires little effort to claim the name of Jesus.  Many do it every day.  Unfortunately, they miss the mark and fail to understand the mission and heart of Jesus.   Similar to Judas, they bear His name, yet serve a religion.  
In life, it is normal to seek out wisdom, encouragement and support when struggles arise.  The search for those who appear to hold it all together or appear godlier gives false hope that they may hold the answers to the questions that surround life.  Many people live out religion.  They know the right words to say, the answers to all the questions, can quote scripture and are spotted at church on Sunday although that is where it ends. We each possess what it requires to follow Jesus.  We recognize the dos and don’ts, what to say and who to follow, however, oftentimes our hearts are not in it.   A personal relationship with Jesus is missing.  We “recognize” Him, nevertheless neglect to “know” Him in a personal way.
Oftentimes it is easy to be misguided by our thoughts when looking at those around us. It is typical to compare oneself to others with misguided thoughts, wishing one could be as “godly” or as knowledgeable as it is assumed about others.  However, people are not always as they appear and at times it is tough to spot the wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Judas type people surround us every day. There is a lot of “religion” walking the earth. When fluff is spoken yet actions speak something else, then it is surmisable a relationship with Jesus is lacking. Many claim His name, however, have never truly known Him.
This morning I once again came across the passage in Luke 11:42-44 which led me to consider Judas, religion and relationship.  What do people see in me? How do people see you?  How close do we come to being Pharisees? Do you claim His name but live your own way?  It is probably something we should consider every once in a while. How close are we to accepting those 30 pieces of silver?
“Woe to you, Pharisees! Judgement will come on you! What you really love is having people fawn over you when you take the seat of honor in the synagogue or when you are greeted in the public market.
Wake up!  See what you’ve become! Woe to you; you’re like a field full of marked graves. People walk on the field and have no idea of the corruption that’s a few inches beneath their feet.”

Luke 11:42-44

The lesson from two young children, a net, a bucket and a small little fish

While sitting on the beach I noticed a boy around the age of ten cast his fishing net into the rough ocean waves.  I sat with eager anticipation waiting to see what filled his net.  He found success on his first try as he discovered a small fish caught in his net. He turned and quickly ran back to the place where his young sister stood and placed it in her small plastic bucket. She squealed with great delight when seeing the small fish and he grinned with pride at his accomplishment.  As quick as he arrived at the bucket, he made his way back to the edge of the water.  As he fought his way through the waves he cast his net again.  My eyes stayed fixed on the net as he pulled it back in from the water but this time, it was empty.  He cast it out again.  I suppose I observed this process at least fifty times each without any success but never without the greatest determination.

As I sat watching I was left to think of another fisherman I have read about in stories.  This fisherman “fished” for men.  He fished for men who one day would become great world changers.  Ordinary men, some with shady pasts and others just simple fishermen, were the ones chosen to follow this fisherman.  Jesus didn’t seek after the “preachers” and great theologians of His time but instead the less qualified.  People much like each of us. One of my favorite sayings, “God doesn’t call the qualified.  He qualifies the called.” says it all.

Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.
Matthew 4:19

I love imagining the picture of Jesus with the men He chose. What did those first evenings consist of as they all hung out together.  How did these men fresh off the boats behave around Jesus?  They were normal men with normal lives until Jesus came in and turned their worlds upside down. So in the beginning did they act like their normal selves?  These men chosen by Jesus to help change the world did not become miraculously perfect the instant they accepted His invitation.  Instead they were a work in progress just like each of us.  Every day spent with Jesus was a day of learning as they began to live a life different from the one they lived before meeting Him.  None of it happened overnight.  Peter is a great example.  At the end of Jesus’s ministry Peter cut off the ear of a soldier and denied knowing Jesus three different times.  Peter turned his back on Jesus.  Even those closest to Jesus got it wrong but something brought them back. There was something about Him that was different.  Something so special about Jesus that even in their mess-ups, they still felt safe enough to return to Him, choosing to follow Him and in the end died sharing His message.  

Have you ever stopped and wondered why?  What did Jesus do differently? What was so different that made these men follow Him and trust Him? How did Jesus draw the hurt, broken, shameful and sinful to Him?  I’ve seen “the church” fail at this more times than not and so I’m left wondering, how? Here are my conclusions.  These are my conclusions.  Yours might be different but this is my discovery.

1. Jesus was not judgemental.  He met people in their present condition.  It didn’t matter their sin, their past or their life status.  He loved and He spoke in love the truth that needed to be heard without judgement. Jesus personified great love, grace and kindness.

2. He was not egotistical.  Jesus is God.  He could boast all day long about who He was, the books he had written but he didn’t.  He was humble.  A scarce trait in this world today. Born in a stable,  He was a carpenter who lived life loving, healing (physically and spiritually) and sharing God’s love with those who needed to hear.

It is not difficult when reading through scripture to understand our calling,  We are to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind, to be like Jesus and love as He loves.  We are to be His hands and feet to everyone.

“Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is nearly as important, Love your neighbor as yourself. The rest of the law, and all the teachings of the prophets, are but variations of these themes.”

Matthew 22-37-40

Following Jesus has been a learning experience.  I used to believe that to effectively follow Him I had to be involved in every Bible study offered, serve in every capacity at church and spend the rest of my waking hours with my nose in my Bible.  That is no longer my belief.  I am however the girl who believes that time spent with Jesus softens our heart to accept and embrace what He wants us to hear.  I’m the girl who sits to pray with her Bible in her lap asking as she reads, for the Holy Spirit (not someone else) to permeate her heart with truth.  I am a firm believer the best Bible teacher is the Holy Spirit Himself.  Ask Him and He’ll show you.  From there you take what He shows you and you live it out.  It is that simple. The more time spent with Jesus, the more we become like Him.  Jesus didn’t make it difficult for His followers.  He taught them through practical stories that related to life and lived a life they could follow.  He spoke truth in love to each of them and those He encountered listened to what He had to say.  It’s not hard.  Many Christians make it hard.  Make it into work. People are turned off when Jesus becomes a project.  

I have five great kids.  Four have chosen  to say yes to Jesus and follow Him.  I would love to tell you  we do a devotion time each day.  We don’t.  I also cannot tell you I sit my children down and force them to read their Bible every day.  I don’t.  Instead I use everyday life and scripture to teach them who Jesus is in our interactions. My husband and I try to live lives in front of them that reflect Jesus.  Throughout my christian life, being forced to study my Bible, turned me off to Jesus.  The more I saw Him as another person who required certain things of me in order to love me, the less I wanted of Him.   It took reaching adulthood to realize all He wanted from me was me and my surrender.  As I realized there were no strings attached I craved time with Him.  I wanted to know Him more.  That is my desire for my children.  I want them to crave Him.  I want Jesus to be real to them and not someone they were forced to believe in or follow. I want their faith to be their own and their journey of following Jesus to be one they can look back on and call their own.   Over the course of the last five years, I have learned my children do not belong to me.  My children belong to God.  I cannot be the Holy Spirit of my children. I can speak truth into their life, discipline when needed and help steer them in the right direction but ultimately they belong to God.  

Just as those men that Jesus chose made the decision to follow Him, I want my kids to choose to follow Jesus out of their own desire.  To say yes because He is real to them.  It is amazing how real Jesus becomes in our lives when we surrender and allow Him to lead the way.  When we surrender everything (including our children) to Him and let Him do the work in lives, He changes lives.  

I’m thankful for the fisherman who changed my life.  I’m thankful for the hellish circumstances I had to endure  to learn to trust him.  I’m thankful for every lesson He taught me about His character so that I can live a life that reflects who I follow.  Most importantly I am thankful that though I may have slipped from His net more than once, He never quit fishing.