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Archive for February, 2013

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“You’re worthless! You’re stupid! You’ll never amount to anything!”

The clanking of heavy chains punctuated the harsh taunts as Gloria dragged Pastor Steve around the room of our East Asia Fresh Start seminar. Her sagging shoulders and pained expression revealed that this was more than just a role-play. Squirming in my seat, I cringed as the scenario was played out before me.

It had started with a question. “Who has hurt you the most in your life?” Pastor Steve had asked Gloria.

“My father,” she had responded without hesitation. “He is always criticizing me, always telling me I’m not good enough.” Though Gloria said she had forgiven him, it was clear that she was still affected by his negative opinion of her.

“I’m going to represent your father,” Pastor Steve had then explained. “I want you to wrap this chain around me and drag me around the room.” With a slightly skeptical look, Gloria agreed. But quickly the painful reality of what this represented became apparent. Gloria’s normally cheerful face clouded as Pastor Steve voiced the negative comments and criticism of her father. Soon she was in tears, as were most of the others in the room.

After what seemed an eternity, Pastor Steve told her she could stop. “Do you want to keep dragging your father around with you?” he asked her gently. “Do you want to keep defining yourself by his opinion of you?” Gloria shook her head emphatically.

“Are you ready to forgive your father and let him go?” She threw down the chains she’d been holding as if they were poisonous snakes. “Yes! I want to forgive him.”

At Pastor Steve’s encouragement, Gloria prayed aloud, voice quavering with emotion. “God, I forgive my father for rejecting me, for criticizing me, for judging me. I don’t want to carry this bitterness anymore! I let it go right now!”

“Now do you want to hear what your Heavenly Father thinks about you?” asked Pastor Steve softly. “He says that you are beautiful. He says that you are precious. He says you are valuable. He says He has good plans for you. He says you are His beloved daughter, in whom He is well pleased! You have the best Papa! He loves you so much!” Tears rolled down Gloria’s cheeks as the truth of the words began to take effect.

“I have the best Papa! I have the best Papa!” A smile broke out as she repeated the words over and over. “I have the best Papa!”

What about you? Are you dragging around someone that you haven’t forgiven? Is that person’s opinion of you drowning out what God says about you? You can’t fully receive the truth of who your Heavenly Father says you are until you FORGIVE the one who has hurt you, RELEASE the person and the effects to God, and allow Him to heal those deep wounds in your heart. Let go of bitterness and unforgiveness today and receive the love and acceptance that your Papa has for you! You have the best Papa anyone could ever have!

“I have loved you with an everlasting love…”
“…and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Jeremiah 31:3a (NRSV), Deuteronomy 33:27a (NKJV)

Going Vertical!
MJ

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“I love how much you cry.” Heather gave me a sheepish grin. Outspoken and straightforward, Heather was one of the thirteen foreign English teachers at this Fresh Start retreat in East Asia. I was drawn to her adventurous spirit and appreciated her questions and perspective.

“Well, I certainly cry a lot,” I said half-apologetically. I couldn’t tell if Heather was teasing me. She had a great sense of humor and was always laughing at something.

“I think it’s great!” Heather assured me. “Seeing you cry as you share your stories makes me feel like its ok for me to cry.”

I was taken aback. Heather gives the impression of being pretty tough. An outdoors girl. Athletic. Adventurous. No-nonsense. Not one that strikes me as needing permission to cry.

I don’t usually think of my tears as a good thing. No matter how many times I share about going through a period of severe burnout and depression a few years ago, the tears always flow when I get to certain parts of the story. Some of it is still painful to talk about. And I’m often embarrassed at my sniffling and nose-blowing and snotty tissues. I worry at times that people will think I’m being overly emotional. I’m tempted to think I should compose myself and cover up my tears. In Psalm 56:8, it says God collects our tears in a bottle. For my tears, I think He needs an Olympic-sized swimming pool!

Yet because I was willing to be vulnerable in sharing my emotions and some of the painful parts of my past, Heather realized she didn’t have to keep her tears hidden. She was able to honestly begin to face her hurts and let the healing process begin.

Our Heavenly Father sees your tears. He knows your pain. He cares about your heart. Don’t be afraid to be real with God. Begin to process the issues of your heart today!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God, on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.”
Job 16:19-21, NIV

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“What’s wrong with me? I have no right to be sad. There are so many people who have it much worse than me. Think of Jennifer. Her sister was killed in a car accident at 21, and then her son had cancer at age four. Or what about Sarah, who just had a miscarriage after praying for and waiting for a baby for so long? My loss is nothing compared to that.”

Shifting in my chair at the beautiful mountainside retreat center in Hong Kong, I try to pay attention to the Fresh Start seminar. Just days before I left for the East Asia trip, I got the news that my sweet 101-year-old grandmother had gone to be with Jesus. It wasn’t really a great surprise. We all knew it could be any day. And it wasn’t a great tragedy. I know she is now in heaven, and is no longer limited by her frail physical body or weakened memory.

Yet I still miss her. For the past four and a half years, I helped my mom to care for my “Abuela,” who lived with my parents. Every day we got her up, helped her get dressed, and took her to the table in the sunny yellow living room for a breakfast of shredded wheat cereal with sliced bananas and 2% milk. Abuela loved to watch the cardinals and chickadees and goldfinches that came to peck at the birdseed in the feeders my mom placed by the windows.

Abuela loved anything pink. Her eyes would light up at the sight of flowers, especially if they were pink carnations or roses or lilies. “Oh my,” she’d say softly. “How pretty!” Abuela loved babies and young children. She’d reach out her hand and touch the chubby cheeks and smile. “Why, hello there! Aren’t you cute!” Abuela loved her family. She may not have remembered what she had for lunch a few minutes earlier, but she never forgot the faces of her children and grandchildren, and even her great grandchildren. And Abuela loved her Jesus. Each night when we prayed before bed, even if her sometimes muddled mind couldn’t say anything else, she never failed to say, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”

The tears are coming now as I picture her gentle smile and warm eyes. I wipe my face and try again to concentrate on what Pastor Steve is saying.

“You can’t compare your offense, hurt or loss horizontally,” I hear him tell the eager crowd, then pause for translation. “There will always be someone else who has it worse or better than you. Resist the temptation to compare your situation to others.”

It feels like he’s talking just to me. How does he know what I’m thinking?

“Don’t minimize the loss or the hurt,” Pastor Steve continues. “Jesus didn’t minimize it. He thought it was worth going to the cross for.”

My accusing inner thoughts are silenced. It’s true. I’ve been comparing my loss to others, and feeling like I have no right to grieve because my loss isn’t as great as someone else’s. But though I am happy that Abuela is in heaven, though I am thankful for her 101 years of life, though I am grateful that I had so much time with her at the end of her life, I am still grieving the loss of not having her with us on this earth. I need to allow myself to grieve. I need to give myself permission to be sad. I need to recognize that it’s OK to miss her. And I need to stop comparing myself to others.

Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, even though he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead a few minutes later. He allowed the time and space for grieving. He “wept with those who wept” (Rom 12:15), sharing the loss of Mary and Martha. He didn’t minimize their sadness, but joined them in their grieving process.

My loss is significant. Because my heart is important to my heavenly Father. He understands when I have moments of missing my Abuela’s girlish giggle, or her meticulous way of washing dishes, or her gentle kiss on my cheek when I said goodnight. He allows me to cry, to mourn, to grieve. And He gives me the hope that though “weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning!” I look forward to that eternal morning, when I will see my sweet Abuela again, and when my Jesus will wipe away every tear.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Psalm 30:5b (NLT)

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“I will go, I will go, I will go, Lord send me…” Sixteen thousand passionate college students sing in unison, arms outstretched. Individual faces are highlighted by the sweeping spotlights – some streaked with tears, some exuberant in worship, some quiet and reflective. As I stand in the midst of the massive crowd at the Urbana 2012 student missions conference, I’m struggling with an internal battle. Something inside me is holding me back.

“I’ve been here before, Lord,” I remind Him, as if He needs reminding. “And I remember what happened last time. I don’t think I’m ready to go there again.”

At Urbana 2000 I was a passionate and idealistic college student, ready to change the world. On the last day of the conference, I knelt down by my seat and told the Lord I was willing to go wherever He sent me. Within days after I returned home from Urbana 2000, I received an invitation to teach at a summer English camp in Shanghai, China. And that was the beginning of a new direction in my life. After graduate school I moved to East Asia for four years, where I taught English, learned some Mandarin, and made wonderful friends.

But I didn’t know some of the challenges I was signing up for. Missing engagements and weddings. Not being there for the births of my friends’ kids, or being able to watch them grow up. Unable to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I was surprised at how hard-hit I was at times by loneliness, isolation, and the waves of homesickness that hit me at unexpected times. The long hours of teaching English, the cultural and language barriers with teammates, the conflicts with roommates, and the constant turnover of coworkers over four years left me physically and emotionally dry. Eventually I reached a point of burnout and had to return to the US.

It was probably the lowest point in my life. I felt like a failure. I was depressed. I cried whenever anyone asked me about my time in Asia. And I definitely did NOT want to ever go back. But through the ministry of Fresh Start and other godly counseling and prayer, the Lord began to heal the hurts in my heart and show me how He wanted to use it for good.

And now, 12 years after I first attended the conference as a college student, I’m at Urbana again. As I listen to the thousands of students singing “I will go, I will go,” I feel jaded and cynical.

“…To the world, to the lost, to the poor and hungry…”

“They have no idea what they’re in for,” I laugh to myself. “I KNOW how hard it is. I know the loneliness, and the frustration, and feeling like you wanna quit and go home every day…” I can’t fake it anymore. I sit down and cover my face with my hands to hide the tears.

“What are you so afraid of?” I feel the question more than hear it. No audible voice, but I know God is talking to me. “God, I don’t think I can go through all that again. The loneliness, the depression…”

“Don’t remember the former things…” a snippet of a verse pops into my head. “…I am going to do a new thing.” A new thing. I exhale slowly and rub my face. A new thing. What amazing words. It doesn’t have to be like it was before. I learned from those experiences. I’m thankful for how God used that time in my life. But it doesn’t have to be the same. He’s going to do a new thing.

“…Take everything I am, I’m clay within Your hands…”

“God, I want to trust You,” I pray silently. “Even if I go through times of loneliness or discouragement, I know You will be with me. Help me not to fear. I know You are working all things for Your good. I choose to believe that You’re doing a new thing IN me!”

The cloud of fear slowly dissipates. I know there will still be hard times ahead. But like Peter, I take the step of faith out of the boat. Raising my arms I stand and sing with the crowd, “…I will go, I will go, send me!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

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