The slow change. 

This is very serious. And funny. And ridiculous. But hear me out…

Anyone who knows me well enough knows how I’ve talked trash about Country music. About the twangy annoyance that is the core of Country. The “something happened to my truck, my dog or my woman so-let-me-get-drunk-and-sing-about-it” music…ugh I hate it. But since I moved to Tennessee 3 months ago, and honestly even before I got here, I started listening to artists like Ben Rector, Andy Grammar and Taylor Swift. Mumford & Sons and Rascal Flats. And now Sam Hunt. Randomly on the radio here I’ll hear a song that catches my attention. And of course, its a Country song.  Slowly, but surely, my thoughts toward (some) country and folky styled music has changed. I don’t hate it all. I enjoy some of it…the poppy, the fun, the easy-to-dance to Country music, a lot of which is barely or not at all considered Country. I like line dancing. Actually, I love it. Always have. I’m the goofy person at weddings dancing to every line dance, country or not, heels or not.

What I realized today is that my enjoyment of some Country music didn’t come over night. It came as I embraced certain artists. It came as I have lived in the South longer (and actually again) and the fact that its a part of the culture here.  I live an hour away from the country capital of the world. What’d you expect? I have some friends who love it, therefore, I’ve had no choice but to listen to it when I’m with them. I’ve danced to Country. I’ve had those Sweet Home Alabama, Hope Floats, marry me charming- southern-country-cowboy ideas. When I was living New Jersey, I actually had a few friends tell me that they think I belong in the South because I look like a country girl (that’s still to be debated). Slowly, but very very surely, Country music  is growing on me.

What I actually realized is that this is exactly how we are with sin. It’s never overnight. Regardless of the type of sin, sin is a creeping, deceiving, and dangerous thing to have.  We compromise. The compromise may not happen fast. It may be years of slowly deciding something: to take glances at pornographic websites which eventually lead to an addiction; to flirt with that woman who is not your wife which leads to an affair; to cut corners at work which lead to fraud; the list could go seriously on. We surround ourselves with people who pull us down. We settle. And sure enough, one day, we find ourselves addicted porn, cheating on a spouse, lying on the job, committing a crime, etc. The people we put in our lives are so crucial. Our friends, our inner circles, our closest, most intimate people in our lives ultimately determine the direction. It may seem like nothing, but think about it for a minute. When you are deciding on asking a person out, who do you usually talk to first? When you are thinking about a new job, who do you ask for advice from? When things are rough, whose shoulder do you cry on?  When life happens, we usually have people alongside us. The problem that some of us find ourselves in, is that when life happens, we don’t have an actual solid support system. We have people who tell us mediocre or, dare I say, stupid advice. We trust the wisdom of other people who have no idea what they are doing, people who make poor decisions, etc. For me, I don’t get dating or guy advice from friends that have a track record of dating a guy for a short time then having things end. I don’t go to those friends, not because they aren’t friends, but because their advice won’t help, unless I want to learn the “what not to do”. What many of us do is surround ourselves with people that aren’t a support at all. I’m not saying everyone has to have all of life’s answers. What I am saying is that, the company we keep influence our direction for life. Scripture says a few times that “bad company corrupts good character”.  If you’re in AA and abstaining from alcohol, the wisest advice I can give you is to not be around alcohol or those that drink. How can the alcoholic get sober hanging around drinkers? How can student do well on all their exams when they only spend their time goofing off with their friends never studying, only to find out they failed? How can a Christian grow in their faith in a world where our faith is challenged, when that Christian doesn’t have a community of believers in their life or a sustainable prayer and devotional life?

Friends, look at those people in your life and the choices you make. Are you in good company? Are you a better person because of those friends? Or possibly, do some changes need to happen because of those relationships and negative changes?

Christian friends…I don’t go to friends, Christian or otherwise, about wisdom on scripture, life or current events from people who aren’t in the Word figuring out and discerning God’s will for our lives. Christians, when I struggle with areas of my life and sin, I can’t be surprised when I am in it deep, if I never had safeguards to protect me from getting there. It is the slow compromise of faith, of behaviors, of actions publicly and privately, of choosing something other God as a priority. It is the allowance of negative influencers in our lives. Christians, I challenge you, give people great access to your life- your dreams, your passions, what excites you, and what breaks you. But use wisdom with those people. Use wisdom in how you respond to things going on around you. Be in the Word, and don’t just read it. Let things in life change you and challenge you, but make sure they are things that are Godly, good and matter.

Happily never after. The idol of a spouse.

About a month ago, I shared my heart a little bit with you all in my post Honest Words From A Single. In that post, I wanted to both encourage singles and the Church. Single-hood is valid. It is part of what helped launch the Early Church. But at the same time, marriage- Gospel centered marriage, is just as valid. When we begin to think one is greater than the other, we miss out on a large group of people that God has invited to be a part of his story. So today, I wanted to write another post, focused on spouses, whether you’re a single person in search of a spouse, or someone married who already has a spouse, this blog is for you.

For so many of us single people, we long for spouses. I can’t honestly speak for everyone, however, I know how I feel. I know that for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be married. Maybe that came from the Disney fairytales…you know the ones about the princess or damsel in distress who captivates the heart of some prince charming. We have Ariel who charms the human and gives up life in the sea to be happily ever after. We have Belle who falls in love with a mysterious man…more like a case of Stockholm syndrome. We have Snow White, Mulan, Rapunzel. Aurora, and so many other Disney fairytales that share with young kids- primarily young girls- about falling in love (usually at first site and at creepy young ages) with some “prince” who will fulfill them, meet all their needs, rescue them, or give them a castle. I mean, on one side of it, who doesn’t want to be treated like royalty, live in a castle, and have a handsome man/beautiful maiden by their side? However, what these stories do, though cute and enjoyable, is show such an unrealistic expectation of a spouse: that a spouse can fulfill and complete you.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney and love the Disney classics. But I want a real love story, not a fairytale. I don’t want a story that has me falling in love at 15 (I’m well past that!) and being taken away to a castle by some man I hardly know. I don’t want a story that has me relying on my worth and value and beauty through the opinion of someone else. I want a real love. A true love. A love that is for life.

It is a such a myth…or dare I say lie…that we will be fulfilled, completed and made whole by getting married. Marriage is not about being made whole at all. Single person reading this: if you’re searching for love- for a spouse- because you think your life will be made perfect, think again. If you think that person will complete you because it is “so right” or “perfect”, you might want to think about being single a little while longer. Without a doubt, if you go and ask married people if their spouse is still completing them after 15 years of marriage, 30 years of marriage, or to their deathbed, they would tell you that marriage is more than being with the right person, more than being completed and more than a fairytale. Marriage is hard. Those vows actually mean something. When a spouse gets diagnosed with cancer, its hard on both of them. When a spouse cheats, its hard on both of them. When a spouse has an addiction, becomes distant, or wants something new….I guarantee you that marriage is not about completing anyone at all.

Fairytales don’t exist. Covenant marriages do.

As Christians, when we live our lives to honor God, he becomes our priority. He becomes the thing that we should love most. In my years of being single, I have learned that when I place the idea of a husband on a pedestal- like a Prince Charming- that idea, that man, becomes an idol and starts to replace God. Instead of letting the Creator, my God, fulfill my life and heal my brokenness, instead of letting the redemption that I received through Christ be my priority in everything, I allow for a man, a person, another failed individual, to take the lead. And that, dear friends, is a dangerous place to find yourself. If you are single, be in a place where God fulfills you, where he heals your wounds, strengthens you in your weaknesses, and gives you passion. I am not saying don’t desire marriage or a spouse. I am just asking that you keep things in the right place of priority. God first, always. Anything that comes before God is an idol, and that definitely can include a spouse.

Married friends (and friends who want to be married), whether you’ve been married for a day or 60 years, keep God at the center. Keep Jesus as the thing your life fuels on. You will always blame your spouse for everything, whether right or wrong, when your life is solely centered on them instead of God. You’ll praise them for the good, and hate them for the bad. But when Christ becomes your center- your focus- where you both find fulfillment in and completion, then and only then, will your marriage be one that reflects a Gospel-Centered love. It is when you have this kind of completion and living out the Gospel in your marriage, that the world will want to see because it’ll be rare. Its hard, don’t get me wrong, but it is completely possible when Christ is the lead and center focus of your story.

Don’t desire the fairytale, for it will only be a tale and not a truth. Desire a love that is so deep and so pure, that in spite of the failings and mistakes and heartaches that will come in a marriage, you can overcome. Desire a love that is made whole through Jesus instead of each other. Desire a marriage that reflects the heart of the Creator, instead of Man. Find your wholeness, fulfillment, completion in a God who loves you more than you spouse ever possibly could. Isn’t that a story worth telling, far more than some child’s fairytale?

 

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“So as we stand here today and as God joins you together in marriage, there is something bigger going on. Its not just a special night but its a sacred night. And its a sacred night because its not just any ceremony- your heart, my heart, our hearts collectively is that the Lord Jesus Christ would be honored. And I can promise you this: that the world will marvel at what it looks like when two people live out a Gospel centered marriage. Its one of sacrifice, its one of love, its one of honor, its one of respect and its one that the world longs to know more about.”
[taken from a wedding video sermon I saw a few years ago]

Honest words from a Single…

I’m 27 and somewhere along the way, dating sort of missed me, or at least serious dating. I am not one of those twenty-somethings that enjoyed dating throughout college and early career. No bars. No clubs. No coffee shop dates. No wedding dates. A few pursuits, but that’s all.

And you know what…that’s perfectly okay.

But somewhere along the way, as a single, I have still somehow become that person people come to for advice and counseling regarding relationships, dating, and marriage.

What I have found in my 6 years of being single, is that, my singleness is not only valid, but I have some things to share with those of you who will listen. I hope you’re okay with my honesty and openness to things I will share in this post. I think we could all use some honesty and vulnerability and willingness to listen…and I’m preaching to the choir here. All I ask, is that you hear me out, and some of the things I have learned along the way in my near lifetime of singleness. Prepare yourself, because this blog is a bit lengthy.

I went to a Christian college. Everyone wanted to date and get married before graduating. And believe me, plenty of my peers did just that- date, get engaged, and married all within the 4 years of college. I learned quickly on that so many (not all) of these couples were rushing the process because they had waited (sexually) until marriage, and now that they had found the one whom their heart loved, they would just get married. What we really had, in many of those cases, 20 year olds that couldn’t control their hormones anymore with the person they loved, yet at the same time, was terrified of having sex before marriage and being tainted goods. In other cases, there were friends that dating and didn’t rush. They took their time and they got to know the person. Some of those people got married before graduation and some did not quite get their “Mrs. Degree” (only you Christian college kids might get that reference). And still others, got married after graduation to someone they met along the journey of their life.  None of these paths were wrong. But none of these paths have been mine.

I dated one guy very briefly right before graduation of high school. That relationship didn’t last long…But what do you expect of silly high school relationships? In my early years of college, like really all college students, I had my crushes. Of course I had my hopes of falling in love and starting my married life by my early 20s. Also…not my story. I wasn’t even asked out in my entire 5 years of college and graduate studies. There was a chapter in the middle of my college years where I dated a childhood friend. It didn’t work out and that’s okay…he’s happily married now. That was six years ago, and I have remained single since.

I have a point in all of this commentary of my history.

I have not been without near failures, indiscretions, and mistakes. Most people who know me, know there is a shadow of darkness upon my story. I was a porn addict for my years of high school.  I am human and have those natural desires like anyone else. Let’s be adult and not need an explanation. But the beauty of grace is that He redeemed me from that addiction my first year of college, and now, I get to counsel people with addiction, tell porn stars and strippers they matter, and show people that regardless of their story, Jesus can redeem them.  Somewhere in the midst of my desires for marriage, minimal dating life, my earlier years of addiction, and years of singleness….I have found some wisdom to which I’d like to share with you.

As I said, I am 27 years old and haven’t been on a date in over 6 years. I am actually one of those unicorns- you know…the ones who are waiting for marriage to have sex. As I have gotten older, my desire for marriage and intimacy has only grown stronger. Please listen to me when I say this: I understand a sense of waiting and patience that few really can understand. Myself, and those who are likewise waiting, can offer something tremendous to the Church and Body. We can show what waiting through desires, controlling our flesh, and loving Jesus more than an idol of a longing for a spouse can really look like. We can show you what it looks like to serve the Church and Jesus Christ utmost the way Paul encouraged, without distraction of a spouse or children. We can show what it looks like to serve those who are broken when we are also broken.

I have invested so much time into the Gospel and serving others, like so many others, but I do it without the pleasure of having my spouse on the journey with me. For 4 years I was a youth pastor and, honestly, those were some of my loneliest years of my life. There’s something so lonely (sometimes) about doing ministry without getting to share joy, heartache, loss, excitement, passion, and vision with a spouse. I don’t get the privilege of going home after church or work and sharing my day with someone. I don’t get to plan a wedding (yet!). I don’t get to prepare for pregnancy. I don’t get to plan my kids’ birthday parties. I don’t get a lot of things that my married friends have been able to experience. What I do get, is an opportunity to find my strength in Jesus through my absolute greatest longing. To turn my longing toward Him instead of him. I don’t know if or when God will allow for me to be married. I do believe that God has a man out there in the world for me. I have believed that since as far as I can remember. But I also believe that God has me waiting, for whatever reason, for His timing.

So here’s my wisdom and words to you, whoever you are:

  • waiting is painful
  • serving Jesus has been the greatest joy in my entire life
  • Churches and pastors need to stop being scared of talking about sex
  • God created sex and marriage and said it was good!
  • its okay to long to be married
  • its okay to be sad about being single
  • its okay to want certain things in life…but it can’t become an idol
  • even a desire for a spouse can become an idol
  • the more you give your heart away, the more broken or fragile it will be
  • for those of you in ministry…I get you and I’m here if you need a support system
  • whether you’re married or single, don’t forget to have adventures
  • porn is never good for you
  • honor your spouse now while you’re single
  • honor other people as they are not your spouse
  • avoid compromising situations
  • it is possible to wait for sex
  • it is worth it to wait for sex
  • if you’re single, work on your struggles and weaknesses now
  • let your patience in the waiting become a virtue, not a burden
  • let your self-control be an encouragement to others
  • being single doesn’t mean you’re broken
  • being single isn’t bad
  • if you’re married, invest in the singles around you and in your churches
  • if you’re single, find friends and invest in them
  • if you’re single, find married couples you can learn from
  • if you’re married, love your spouse in spite of their failings
  • if you’re single, love your spouse now- it doesn’t start at the altar
  • mistakes happen
  • redemption is possible
  • your story isn’t over until your last breath- don’t give up
  • love Jesus more than you could ever love your spouse, your kids, or anything else

I am sure there are plenty of other things I could share with you. I am sure I missed a few thoughts tonight. But I hope you understand that for people like me, the single (who doesn’t always feel so young anymore), that single-hood is both awesome and annoying, painful and beautiful.  A lot of the Early Church was advanced by single people dedicated to telling the world about Jesus Christ. A lot of people in the Early Church were married. The point: we all have a part in the bigger story that God has for us if we are willing to be obedient in the journey. Whatever your story- single or married- God loves you and He is not done with you yet.

  

End of the desert years.

For anyone who knows me well enough, you would know that my last several years have been less than my plan. I have faced challenges, financial struggle, consequences of poor decisions, and I have simply faced life. Sometimes that is what happens. Sometimes we just do what we think is best, we try to live right, and still life happens. In October 2010, I made the decision to move back to New Jersey from Florida. I had just finished college and was near completion of my Masters Degree. I was offered an opportunity to work at a church as a youth pastor. In my mind, I didn’t really have many other options. I knew I needed job experience. I knew I needed to pay off the student debt that would soon be my burden. So I left Florida behind. It wasn’t so much a leap of faith as it was just taking the opportunity as it was presented. But in those 4 1/2 years between then and now, I have seen a lot of the depth of what that decision really meant.

In 4 years I have worked in 2 churches alongside also working in 2 different coffee shops (one I which I am still employed), a school, a temp position, and free-lance photography. I have been actively engaged with a young adult community, among which I have met many of my now best friends. I committed to working in adult industry outreach. My schedule was often busy. My life was more than often hectic and busy simply to be busy. I think I partly chose to be busy because I like having a lot on my plate. I also think I chose to be busy to cover up the fact that I hated waiting. I have known for years what I wanted to do in theory, I just couldn’t necessarily put my finger on what exactly that would look like. So I kept busy wandering through my life of the past 4 years. It hasn’t been bad…by no means am I saying that these past few years have been terrible. However, I am saying that when found in the waiting, it can be hard to push through the mundane and mediocre daily occurrences of life.

I think of the Hebrews (Israelites) and their journey to the Promised Land. They were not allowed to enter the land because they weren’t obedient to God. So for 40 years they wandered through the desert, through life, through the mundane. For 40 years….Its hard for me to fathom that time frame simply because I haven’t lived 40 years yet. What I find crazy about it is that God chose to let them wander in the desert, in a state of just waiting for the promise, because he wanted to show them that He knows what he is doing. Sometimes God using time…time that can be boring, discouraging, frustrating, and not what is desired, simply because he wants us to get it. He wants us to understand that he is God, that he loves us, that he has a plan for us. For 4 years, I have been waiting for God to give me direction on the next thing, next step, next chapter of my life. For 4 years God told me to wait and be obedient with where he has placed me. I feel as though now is the time where the Promised Land is attainable. I don’t necessarily mean life will be easy from this point on or that I’ll get everything I’ve ever wanted. I do believe that I am seeing a lot of God’s faithfulness right now. I am seeing a lot of his clear favor and blessing. For me, I think this is the turning point where I get to move into the next phase. He has been doing a lot already, don’t get me wrong, but I think a lot of the desert years might be behind me…the years of just wandering and wondering what he was doing. In a quick leap of faith, I transferred my job at Starbucks to Fort Campbell in Tennessee, stepped down from all volunteer and leadership commitments, ended memberships and began apartment hunting.  In a matter of three weeks, my life was turned upside down (queue Fresh Prince haha). I still don’t really know all that is ahead.  Now I get to walk in obedience and faithfulness and honor of what he has done and will still do.

 

Wherever you find yourself, don’t give up. Life is hard, difficulty happens. Things occur that can be disheartening. Don’t give up. Think of your life, at this moment, as a teaching moment from God. Be attentive. Be listening. Be hopeful that God isn’t done with you yet. The Promise could be just ahead.

A message signed in BLOOD to the nation of the cross…

Kidnapped. Beaten. Bruised. Broken. Carried to the shores after one to two months of captivity. Along the shoreline, marched like sheep to the slaughter. Wet, soft sand under feet. Trembling lips, quickening of hearts. Raw skin and flesh rubbed by rope on wrists. Cold metal of sword to neck. Orange jump suits and black masks. An image of such collision of good and evil…

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A message directed to the church of the 21 coptic Christians of Egypt taken prisoner in Libya by ISIS/ISIL. I nearly threw up tonight as I went on Google to pull up some more information of these atrocities. I saw, without intending, an image of one of the 21 beheaded men- Christians- who refused to recant and deny Jesus Christ. His head laid on his lifeless body. Their blood spilled out on the sand and coloring the water.

LET’S GET ONE THING VERY CLEAR:

The 21 men who died brutally and viciously on those shores were not men who devalued their lives. They were, in fact, men who recognized the value of the eternal life they had attained through Jesus Christ, a recognition so great that they knew they loved Him more than their own lives.  “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:11) They knew that their lives had value because the God- the creator of everything- said so in the beginning. They knew that God loved us so much- despite our flaws, our failures, our imperfections, our evil- that he would send Jesus Christ to stand in our place for our wrongdoing. They understood that Jesus’ blood held much power that even the sword, the machete, the bullet, the knife couldn’t stop it from victory.

….the Blood sacrificed by Jesus Christ holds more power than blood shed by any man regardless of weapon. Though I’m not Egyptian, I am a Christian and you better believe that I hold firmly that the cross holds more power than sword, gun, or any other tactics. Whether in this life or eternity, Jesus will be honored by the sacrifice of those Christians who refused to recant the one True God. Those Christians lost their lives in such an evil, violent way. It saddens me to know that people chose to watch the video, look up pictures, and think that it doesn’t matter.

THIS DOES MATTER. This has to matter to you. It has to matter to me. This matters because people are being murdered. This matters because people are taking lives. This matters because that blood that soaked the shore was not spilled in vain. Christians, first, let’s stop pretending that this doesn’t affect us elsewhere in the world. These people dying- being martyred for their faith- share in the story of Jesus Christ. They are our brotherhood being killed. Christians, we need to stop being shocked by such evil. If we remain lazy and lethargic in the Bible- the Word God provided for us- we would be aware that He warned us that the Gospel would not be accepted, that people who serve Jesus Christ would be murdered, persecuted, and mistreated. He warned us that people would dislike us for our values, our convictions, and especially our speaking of the Gospel…the truth of salvation.  If we did indeed study the Word, we would know that Jesus Christ wants all people to know His love and redemption- that the Gospel is an inclusive message. We would know that He wants us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Does this make sense to you? Think about it….those 21 men beheaded knew that Jesus loved them, redeemed them and wanted to redeem their oppressors also. My hope is that as the deaths were imminent and near, they were praying for their captors. 

Non-Christians, this matters to you too. Whether you believe in the Jesus and God I serve… this most certainly still matters to you. People are being killed, others are committing the killing. Its a crime against humanity, at minimum. That is why you should care. But I also believe that this story is bigger. Whatever your reason for not believing in Jesus, that is your decision, but understand this: Jesus loves you and because of his great love, his was killed. His blood was poured out on the ground. His flesh was ripped open brutally. His body was beaten and almost broken. He was unrecognizable. Then he was brutally nailed to a cross. That cross represents to this day this one man standing in the gap for you and I, taking on the the punishment that is rightfully ours. We are imperfect, and at our core, have evil and sin. Without Christ, without his love and salvation from our evil and sin, we are no better than he who held the swords of those men on the beach. We are no more saved than them. It is only through the grace and mercy that is offered through Jesus that allows for us to have a clean slate and life in eternity with Him forever. It is only in Him that we may have hope in the midst of such trial, evil, and suffering. It is only in Him that even when the sword be on neck, we can stand tall knowing that no matter what would happen, we are His and will remain with an eternal life with Him.

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So, as ISIS said in their video, “a message signed in blood to the nation of the cross”. The blood that saved me, the blood that poured out, the blood that came from Jesus Christ is the most powerful blood their is or ever could be. His blood can heal. His blood redeems. His blood is the very thing that makes someone whole again, even if they die. The nation of the cross….I’ll take that, not as a warning, but a compliment for the men who died. They were recognized for bearing the image and imitation of Jesus Christ so much that these terrorists felt threatened and, dare I say, afraid of what that image and power could hold. Those men who were killed gave the greatest sacrifice any of us could ever give…life for that of Jesus Christ.

 

The blood of the Cross is everything. That is the power “the nation of the cross” holds.

Shattered lights and black ice.

This morning around 4:45 am I got into a car accident. What a way to start a Monday. The past few days have already been emotionally exhausting- read my prior posts to see why.  I’m emotionally drained. I’m mentally exhausted. Now I’m physically sore.

It could have been worse.

As I woke up my normal time at 4:23 am [with multiple alarms to follow assuring my waking up by 4:30am], I got ready for work at Starbucks. It was any other Monday. Despite my baggy eyes and exhaustion from lack of sleep and mourning over the loss of a friend, I got up for work and left by 4:45am. Immediately I was aware of icy conditions and chose to dry extra careful this morning. In fact yesterday as I drove to and from Pennington- about 80 miles round trip from my house- I saw over a dozen serious car accidents. The roads were terrible and incredibly dangerous in certain parts. Having seen the conditions yesterday, I wanted to drive safe, so I did. Even though I did everything right….it did not matter.

Weather doesn’t care about a perfect record for driving. It doesn’t care whether or not you can’t afford an accident. It doesn’t care about you, good or bad. As I drove toward my job, and was less than 5 minutes away [2 miles], I saw the thick sheet of ice covering the entire width of the road. I slowed down even more, prepared for my tires to possibly lose control, and had both hands on the steering wheel ready to take necessary action. As both of my right tires hit the ice, the spin started, and I did everything right but even in doing everything right, nothing could really be done.

In my head, maybe even out loud, I prayed for protection all the while controlling the spin as best as I could to avoid hitting nearly head on a telephone pole. My car had spin around completely and then some more before it stopped. I took a minute to breathe before getting out of my car to look at the damage. To my surprise it wasn’t terrible. It is still a few hundred dollars to fix, but it could have been worse...it could have definitely been worse. Had I not controlled the spin, I would have hit the pole, I would have been injured, and it would have been more serious. Had I not been paying attention to my speed and the road conditions, the accident could have been far more serious than a broken bumper and shattered lights.

Thank God.

As I was standing in the 20 degrees in the dark on the phone with police, I couldn’t help but think about yesterday, specifically last night. Last night before bed I posted a blog stating that God is good regardless of situations or circumstances. God is good. And as I stood in the cold, really mad and shaken up, I remembered my own words that God is good. What a test of my own beliefs. If I believe that God is good when things are going well, if I believe that he is faithful and steadfast, that means when things don’t go my way, when things are frustrating, sad or enraging, God still is good. His goodness never fades and never leaves, we can just choose to not see it or believe it.

I saw as several cars spun out in the exact same way as me. I saw as one truck came close to hitting me. I saw the potential for things to be worse, but in the midst of it…I saw His goodness. I saw that God kept me safe. I saw that God protected me from injury. I saw that God protected other drivers. The cop who arrived on scene saw that somehow I missed the telephone pole. Yes, yes….God is indeed good.

I don’t have answers for bad things. I don’t have understanding of His ways all the time. But if I have learned anything in my past year of many trials, struggles, and difficulties is that God has been by my side giving me strength and perseverance in spite of my situations. I have learned that he loves me and his love is constant and unwavering. Whatever you struggle with, whatever you face in your life right now, know that God is here with you waiting for you to rely on his love and peace. With him, you can have rest, peace, joy, comfort, and strength. Life comes as at us fast and sometimes painfully. I’d rather do life with God as a part of my story than trying it on my own.

He is good. I know this to be true.

Good morning.

With much sadness, I write tonight, hoping to share my heart with you. I don’t have wisdom to share beyond my own experiences and the faith that I have learned and gained.

I don’t know why people die.
I don’t know why bad things happen.
I don’t like death. Ever.
I don’t like sadness.

Yet today, today is a day full of much sadness. Today is a day that I write through teary eyes. A man from my church passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack. He was a good man. His family is so precious. I can’t say that I knew all things about him, but I can attest to the legacy he left behind. In the year I have been at my church, I have seen the impact he has made on those around him: A loving husband, loving father, generous boss and owner, and passionate worshipper. As I sat in church today on this somber, rainy and icy Sunday, I could hear the cries of those in church. I could see the worship team singing through tears and cracking voices. I could see brokenness and loss that brought such heartache.

Where do go from here? Where do we go when bad things happen…when things take place that are out of our control? What do we do? What can we do? It is so easy for us to become bitter, angry, resentful, and even turn our hearts from God. When tragedy strikes, when sadness happens, when the tears coming rolling down your cheeks, and when the crying hurts so much…we can easily be filled with emotion. And that is okay. But know that in the midst of your pain and struggle, in the midst of your suffering, in the midst of what looks like your darkest hour, God is there. He is present. He is steadfast. He is unwavering.  I don’t have the answers as to why God doesn’t stop things from happening. I don’t understand why some things happen, but I do believe in a greater, bigger story taking place. I believe that God is not a God that is watching on the sidelines of our lives. I do not believe that he is just sitting there without feeling for us. He loves us tremendously. He does have a plan, even if we cannot see the full picture. He is working out his goodness.

This morning, as I greeted the church, I said “Good Morning”…then I paused to realize that it was indeed a good morning. It wasn’t good because of the weather. It wasn’t good because of the circumstances of loss. It wasn’t good because of so many things. It was good simply because God IS GOOD. When we go through our lives, we can choose to go through tragedy, brokenness, sadness, pain, and anything else by ourselves. Or when we go through life, we can choose to let him be a part of the story. He can give us strength, courage, perseverance, peace, comfort, and complete joy. Despite everything, each day is good, each night is good because HE IS GOOD. His goodness is what has gotten me through every battle, struggle, and difficult time in my life. He surely is good.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his,
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, 
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him, bless his name!

For the LORD is good!
His steadfast love endures forever, 
and his faithfulness to all generations. 
[Psalm 100]

Vengeance is not mine.

My heart is saddened again tonight as I hear more of the brokenness and loss that happens in our world. Even more, I am angry. I do not even think angry is a sufficient word for how I am feeling. I could think of a hundred words to describe my feelings tonight and I still believe it would be lacking. I am angry because of entitlement. I am angry because of hate. I am infuriated by the self-righteous, bigoted, racist, hateful things I am witnessing in the news. Let’s get one thing clear right here, right now. I am white. I am blonde. I am female. I am a Christian. I am straight. Your skin color, hair color, gender, orientation, religion or anything else will not change my opinion of you. Your behavior and attitude will change my opinion of you. The opinions I form about others are based on character, integrity, and heart of the individual. Just because I disagree with you does not mean I hate you.

That being said, tonight, I am angry. I saw on the news about a shooting that took place in NYC in retaliation of those who bear the color blue- specifically the NYPD. Regardless of your opinion on what has taken place regarding the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, the death of Eric Garner in NYC, or anything else in relationship to these, I still maintain that the solution starts with me and you. I wrote just a few weeks ago on this subject and that still will be the bulk of my opinion. Read it here. In the meantime, I beg of you, for the love of God, to stop.

Stop the quick judgments.
Stop the hate.
Stop the racism.
Stop the unforgiveness.
Stop the vengeful attitude.

These things will not get you anywhere. The shooting of the NYC police is outright ridiculous. That is not justice. That is furthered hate. The looting in Ferguson and violent protesting are furthered hate. Not justice. Not peace. More hate. Revenge is something that will destroy. It does not bring wholeness. It is poison that will inevitably bring destruction. When injustice happens, we cannot take let an attitude of revenge be our fuel. Vengeance is not mine to bring. It is not yours. When we retaliate, we irrationally respond, when we violently act on our emotions, when we let the cancer of unforgiveness continue, we will bring our own destruction. Even more, we will further the problem.

If you really care about this race war, stop being a racist. Stop referring to people by ill-conceived judgments, the color of their skin or the history of their people. Don’t refer to Germans as Nazis. Don’t refer to Russians as Commies. Don’t refer to Middle Easterners [of any nation] as terrorists or Al Qaeda. If you really care about bringing unity to Mankind- to all people- than treat every person…as a person. Everyone matters. Again…black lives matter. So do white lives. So does every race in the world, regardless of skin color, religion, nationality, or lifestyle. People always matter.

If you really care about peace, then try to bring peace…in your home, in your job, in your family, in your marriage. Bring peace on earth by how you act in your everyday life. In your speech, let it reflect a heart of someone who wants to bring peace, not destruction.

“Sick to my stomach about the killing of these NYPD officers. More people dead, more families hurting, more division. A foolish act of vengeance is not Justice. This doesn’t help the cause of equality or unity. It drives a wedge of hatred deeper. All these deaths show very clearly we have work to do.” (Lecrae)
…We have all been hurt by someone. We have been betrayed. Beaten. Some killed. Some tortured. Some raped. Some molested. People are bullied and people are bullies. Murderers. Bad things happen and often there is someone to blame. But friend, it is not your job to bring your own form of justice on those who have harmed you. I urge you, from the depth of my being, to realize that justice is more than a quick or emotional response. It has to be more. It just has to be more. We have so much to work on…there just has to be more than vengeance. If we foolishly take vengeance and “justice” in our own hands…we only perpetuate the same crap we are trying to stop.

I posted something [read here] about a POW who survived a WWII Japanese imprisonment only to return to Japan 4 years after he was rescued all to show that restoration, forgiveness, and redemption are possible. If he, a man who endured more pain and suffering than I can imagine, can forgive those who hurt him the greatness and strive to bring restoration, why cannot we at least try? Why not try to love…I mean really really love your enemy? Why not try to forgive instead of plan your revenge? Justice will be served to each of us, I believe in eternity. There will be justice for you, for me, for them. Can’t we at least try to do something greater than our own sense of justice? Vengeance was never for us to bring. Vengeance is not justice. It only equates to more evil, more pain, more hate, and far less actual justice and peace.

This…this is how we should live.

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I AM the LORD.” Lev. 19:18


“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…'” (Romans 12:17-20a)

A POW’s brave love.

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…”

President Roosevelt continued with, what I would imagine, great pain and sadness in his heart as he addressed the nation about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our nation in a single day lost thousands of men and women- service and civilians. Our nation was hurt. Wounded at our heart. Shortly after the attacks our nation retaliated in explosive force [literally] by something called the Doolittle Raids. The retaliation involved a mere 16 B-25 “Mitchell” bombers with 80 airmen total. Not much of a fight in comparison to the 300 that Japan attacked Pearl with in those early minutes. But our men- the Raiders- bombed military establishments in Japan.  Unlike any other mission, the Raiders could not return to the aircraft carriers but to land…they had no choice but to crash land in China in hopes of avoiding the Japanese that had infiltrated the Chinese border. We lost some of the Raiders that day. Most returned home. Eight men became POWs, held captive by a merciless enemy.

This is one of their stories. I cannot help but be moved by this man, one of the POWs. He experienced Pearl and the tragedy along with the rest of our nation. He experienced the bombing over Japan. Such vengeance and hatred overwhelmed his heart. He wanted the Japanese to die painfully and without mercy. When his bomber was crashing over occupied China, he and his crew had to parachute out. For 40 months, Staff Sergeant Jacob Daniel DeShazer was held prisoner by the Japanese, tortured and facing death every single day. For 40 months he had no idea when his death would happen, although he thought it was certain. For 34 of his 40 months, he awaited death in solitary confinement. Most of the other POWs had already died. Only 3 made it home when the American armies invaded and freed the camp.

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He was not the same man.

Physically DeShazer was malnourished, sick, and nearly dead. Mentally the isolation could have made him crazy. Mentally he could have given up a long time before he did. But Spiritually…something had changed. During his imprisonment, he needed a glimpse of hope to simply survive; he finally received a Bible from his prison guards. They figured it would not matter. They figured it was only a book requested by a prisoner awaiting death. Though he only physically had the Bible for 3 weeks, God began to work on DeShazer’s heart. He saw the messages and stories of the Bible as reason enough to survive, and reason enough to not give up, and as reason enough to believe in a God that was greater than his imprisonment. In August 1945, DeShazer was freed and made his voyage home to America. He would need to recover, to heal, to be restored. It would take time, but it would happen.

He soon married and attended school…to be a missionary.

How can someone who had once be filled with such hatred toward the Japanese, been a prisoner of the Japanese, tortured and nearly killed at the hands of the Japanese, decide to be a missionary to the Japanese? For DeShazer, it was the simple fact that God loves and he had to be that love to to his previous captors. It was not a matter of hate anymore. It was a matter of redemption. If God could redeem him, a man full of hate, could not that same God change the hearts of others? He loved with such a redeeming, forgiving love that Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, was brought into the same story of redemption through salvation in Jesus Christ. Let me say that again..the man who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, a broken dark day in American history, was saved by the redeeming love of Jesus Christ because a POW was brave enough to love.

“Jacob DeShazer was brave like a Japanese samurai. He was brave as a prisoner of the Japanese. He never yielded to the guards. After conversion he was braver, enough to love [the] Japanese. As a missionary, he never sought fame or wealth, just the lost. He was kind, patient, and humble, for he was a brave Christian. He was brave enough to make the Japanese commander of the attack on Pearl Harbor one of his best friends.”

—Iwao ShimadaPastor of the church the DeShazers started in Japan

 

I find his story so incredible. How can I not be moved by the legacy of a man that lived out the forgiveness of Christ? In his forgiveness toward Japan, one of the leading Japanese officers of the Attack on Pearl Harbor came to know Jesus Christ. I have to believe that because of men and women like DeShazer, that my purpose is beyond myself and my situation, good or bad, can be used to glorify God, bringing hope to many. So on this day of December 7, remember this history. Remember those who died and fought valiantly. Remember the soldiers who defended our nation in one of the greatest wars in world history. But also remember the stories of men and women like Jacob Daniel DeShazer who chose to forgive the enemy that hurt him the greatest, because just as Christ died for him, he also died for them. Redemption is always possible.

 

 

Check out this video from the man himself.

 

 

[this is an old post I updated: originally called A POW’s Forgiveness Towards Japan]