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Archive for May, 2012

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“What have I told you about taking notes in class?”

My head jerked up to find Mr. Lawson towering over me, arms folded across his chest, glaring at my incriminating paper. He was clearly annoyed at having to interrupt his lecture on traffic signals and roadsigns.

“I… I’m sorry, sir. I was just doodling. I didn’t mean to…” My face grew hot as I could feel the eyes of the entire driver’s education class on me.

“Hooligan! I’ve told you not to write anything in class! I want you to listen to me when I’m speaking! Go stand in the corner for the rest of class.”

Horrified, I stared at Mr. Lawson, thinking he must be joking. Would he really make an 18-year-old stand in the corner? But he merely pointed to the far end of the room, waiting for me to move. Utterly humiliated, I quickly gathered my books and slunk off, trying to ignore the laughter and whispers of the other students.

It’s so unfair! I steamed. I’m a good student. I’m NOT a hooligan! And I WAS listening to him. That’s such a stupid rule. Taking notes helps me to pay attention in class! I hate him.

It’s been years since that humiliating experience in driver’s ed class, but each time I replay that scenario in my head, I dredge up those painful emotions again and stoke the fires of bitterness. I feel the burning shame of being falsely accused and the anger of the injustice. I’ve never forgiven Mr. Lawson for what he did.

But I don’t WANT to forgive him! My heart protests. He had NO right to treat me that way. He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.

If I stay angry, somehow it feels like I’m punishing him. But if I ever want to be FREE of these painful memories, I need to consciously and specifically forgive him. Though it’s been more than 15 years since that driver’s ed class, this morning, in my living room, I take some time to walk through the steps of forgiveness, with the Processing the Issues of My Heart booklet.

When I finish, there are no choirs of angels singing, no bright pools of light or warm electric tingles. But deep in my spirit, I know something significant has happened today.

After all these years, I have finally relinquished my spot on the “judge’s seat” and torn up my list of offenses and injustices. That painful experience doesn’t have a hold on me anymore. That shame and humiliation doesn’t define me. That anger and bitterness doesn’t control me. Shame OFF me, in Jesus’ name! I will have to forgive again and again if these memories came back, but I will continue to CHOOSE to forgive, because Christ has forgiven me and set me FREE!

Going Vertical!

MJ

“Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me. Make haste, O Lord, to help me. Since I am afflicted and needy, Let the Lord be mindful of me; Thou art my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God.”

Psalm 40:13, 17

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“Who do you need to forgive?”
 
Our youth pastor’s question hung in the air as we shuffled our feet and looked at the ground. Someone coughed. A girl in the back giggled. No one knew how to respond.
 
 
Thinking this message didn’t apply to me as a “mature” fifteen-year-old, I’d been only half-listening when suddenly a face and a name popped into my head from a couple of years earlier in junior high.
 
Charlotte.
 
I was the new kid in a new school in that seventh grade year, shy and awkward. Charlotte, with the permed blonde hair and glasses, was one of the first to sit with me during lunch, partner up with me for volleyball practice in P.E., and pass notes during history lectures about cute boys in our class. A bit older than me, Charlotte started to introduce me to some of her friends, who all seemed much cooler and more popular than me.
 
One day as Hannah, a spunky red-head from my class, and I walked into the classroom together, I could feel the eyes of Charlotte and the other girls on us. Giggles, whispered comments, and averted eyes made it clear that Hannah was not on the “approved” list of cool people in seventh grade.
 
“Why are you hanging out with her?” one of the older girls asked me, followed by snide comments and jokes aimed at Hannah, and, by association, at me.
 
I looked to Charlotte, waiting for her to stand up for me. But she nervously laughed along with the others, avoiding my gaze. Hannah shot back a retort in our defense and stormed out of the room, pulling me with her.
 
“Don’t pay attention to those girls,” she fumed. “They’re stupid.”
 
But I was stunned by Charlotte’s deliberate snub. I kept replaying that scene in my mind, trying to understand what had happened. How could she completely reject me overnight like that? From that day on, Charlotte acted as if we’d never been friends, avoiding me and refusing to talk with me, joining in the other girls’ mocking laughter of Hannah and me.
 
I had tried to forget that painful seventh-grade year, but now as I sat in the high school youth group several years later, the hurt Charlotte had caused seemed very real again.
 
I knew that I had to do something. Feeling a bit foolish, I whispered an urgent prayer. “God, I want to forgive Charlotte for rejecting me and turning her back on me and mocking me…” By now the tears were coming. It still hurt more than I had realized.
 
“I choose to forgive Charlotte right now in Jesus’ name! I’m not going to hold on to that hurt any more!”
 
As I said the last words, I had a strong sensation of a physical weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I felt so much lighter! I hadn’t realized how much weight I had been carrying around until it was released. And now I felt so free!
 
Though it may seem insignificant, though you may brush it off as something that happened “a long time ago” and doesn’t matter, though you may have tried to bury the memories for years – every hurt you’ve experienced is significant. Identify the source of those hurts and decide to forgive the offending person today. Don’t carry around that unnecessary weight a minute more!
 
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
John 8:36 (NIV)
 
 
Going Vertical!
MJ

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It’s hard not to blame myself. I thought I was doing the right thing.

Mornings are always hard for my 100-year-old grandmother. It takes her awhile to wake up and figure out what’s going on and get enough energy to sit up and ease out of bed. But this recent Sunday morning she was moaning every time I touched her right leg or tried to move it. It’s her bad side, affected from all the strokes, further weakened by the fall and hip surgery she had earlier this year. And some days are worse than others. So this morning when she was reluctant to move her leg at all, I gave her some liquid pain medicine we’ve received from the home health nurses for that purpose.

Finally we managed to get her up and dressed and ready for church – it was Mother’s Day, so we didn’t want to miss the service. But she was falling asleep at breakfast and hardly ate any cereal or drank any of her orange juice – unusual for her. Even after a four-hour afternoon nap, Grandma still couldn’t stay awake long enough to finish chewing a couple bites of cracker with tuna, or to swallow sips of her favorite chocolate-flavored protein drink.

It wasn’t until late in the day that I figured out the problem. Apparently this pain reliever is much stronger than I realized, and Grandma’s only supposed to have a quarter of the recommended dose on the label. The medication I gave her this morning was the cause of the extreme drowsiness all day. And I’m kicking myself for not knowing that.

Too many times I’ve done what I thought was the right thing in a certain situation, only to find out that I’d committed a social faux pas or done something culturally unacceptable in that context. I’ve opened my mouth and put my foot in it many times by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. And then I dwell on what I should have done or shouldn’t have done for days and weeks and months… and sometimes for years.

“Why did I SAY that? That was so stupid!” “I can’t believe I did that! What was I THINKING?” “Why do I DO things like that?” Conversations replay in my head in the middle of the night like a movie stuck in an endless loop, as I relive awkward moments and painful scenarios. And I just can’t and won’t forgive myself for what I did.

But beating myself up about my mistakes only leaves me sleepless and miserable. Just like it doesn’t do any good to feel guilty for giving the wrong dose of medicine to Grandma. I learned from my mistake and marked the bottle accordingly for next time. And Grandma was fine. She was sleepy, but we just let her go to bed early that night and the next day she was back to her normal self.

Are there regrets and mistakes that keep you awake in the middle of the night? Are you having a hard time forgiving yourself for things you’ve said or done that you shouldn’t have? Quit the cycle of shame and blame. Our God is always willing to forgive. Give it all to Him and let Him help you have a fresh start today!

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” I Peter 5:7 (NLT)

Going Vertical!

MJ

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By day five, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Once again I woke up with a headache, stuffy nose, chest congestion, and deep hacking cough. I’d already missed almost a whole week of work. And even after staying in bed most of the day for several days in a row, I still felt miserable. I was ready to be done with it all.
So I finally gave in and went to see a doctor. He listened carefully as I gave a description of my symptoms, punctuated by coughing fits.
“What you described sounds like that nasty virus that’s been going around,” the doctor said. “This antibiotic may or may not help. You may just have to let the virus run its course. And that could possibly take 2 to 6 weeks. In the meantime, get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and don’t go to work yet. You’re contagious.”
Even though the diagnosis wasn’t encouraging, I left the doctor’s visit feeling strangely relieved. For days I had been feeling lazy for wanting to stay in bed, feeling guilty for calling in sick, and wondering why in the world I couldn’t dredge up the energy to do simple tasks. Now there was an official medical diagnosis – a physical explanation for it all. I have doctor’s orders to stay home from work and sleep!
I remember the last time I felt this way. In 2008, when I returned to the US after four intense years in Asia, I was burnt-out and depressed. All I wanted to do was sleep for days and weeks. I had no desire to see friends or go out of the house. And if anyone asked me about how my time had been in Asia, I would burst into tears. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t “get over it.”
When I met the Fresh Start team in 2009, Pastor Steve and the others helped me do a “heart exam” to find the root of the problem. I finally realized, to my shock, that I was harboring bitterness and unforgiveness against my leaders for hurtful decisions they had made. Only after I identified the main offense, admitted how it had affected me, and chose to forgive and let it go, could the healing process begin. It was a huge relief to recognize the source of my anger, hurt, and frustration. It wasn’t an instant cure, but it was the beginning of the cure.
Do you struggle with anger, fears, shame, guilt, rejection, or depression? You can try to mask or minimize the symptoms, but they won’t go away until you find the cause!

The psalmist David says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Ask the Holy Spirit to do a heart exam and discover the root of the problem. He will lead you “in the way everlasting” – the road to freedom!

Going Vertical!

MJ

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Pulling into a space in the familiar parking lot, I turn off the engine and lean back in my seat. I don’t want to think about how many years it’s been since I’ve walked those halls. Yet looking at the brick and cement building looming before me, I feel all that painful awkwardness of being seventeen and on the outside of the popular circles. Sitting at the “outcast” table at lunch. Knowing that everyone was going to a party that I didn’t get invited to. Wanting to hide in the bathroom and never come out. High school was not the happiest time for me.

Now, years later, I’m back at my old school. But this morning I’m going to be speaking about forgiveness to the 300 high school students. And all at once I feel like that painfully shy, terribly insecure, completely uncool kid again. “They’re going to laugh at me,” I tell myself. “They’re going to think I’m stupid.” I briefly consider driving back out of the parking lot and giving the whole thing up.

I shake my head to dissolve the old memories. “Snap out of it, Michelle. You’re not in high school anymore. This isn’t about you anyway. It’s about the message God has given you for these kids. So get over it!”

Gripping the steering wheel, I slowly let out my breath. “God, you’re gonna have to help me do this. Speak through me today.” 

Standing in front of the assembly of 300 students, I share about a difficult friendship and the hurt I suffered from it, The rustling and fidgeting quiet down as the students get wrapped up in the story.

“I was holding on to a list of what this person ‘owed me’,” I explain, holding up a sheet of paper. “I thought she owed me an apology. Saying she was sorry. Admitting she was wrong. Undoing the damage she caused. Changing her behavior. But when I made the decision to forgive, I was choosing to cancel that debt and let it go.” I begin ripping the paper into smaller and smaller pieces. “She owes me nothing.” I throw the pieces on the floor. 

Something’s happening to me as the pieces of paper flutter to the ground. I’m finally letting go of those long-ago hurts from when I was in high school – the rejection of being left out, looked down on, and made fun of. God, I’m letting it go, I pray silently. It has no hold on me anymore. I’m a new person.

“This was a message we needed to hear today,” the principal says to the assembly as I take my seat. “The Holy Spirit has spoken to our hearts, and we’re going to take time to respond.” Though it’s already past time for chapel to end, he announces that they’ll be breaking up into small groups for discussion and application, using the steps laid out in “Processing The Issues of Your Heart.”

I’m so thankful I didn’t drive off earlier this morning when I was confronted with those doubts and insecurities from so many years ago. I’m not the same girl I was in high school. My confidence is not in myself, but in Christ. And it’s only because of what He has done in me that I can share this hope and healing with others.

Going Vertical!

MJ

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” II Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

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