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Archive for the ‘Becoming Relationally Free!’ Category

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“Hello? Hello?”

An eerie stillness met me in the semi-dark apartment as I tentatively pushed the door open. Maybe my roommate had come home early from her babysitting job and forgotten to close the front door…

But then I saw that the back door was open too. Something was not right.

“Anyone here?” Peeking around corners, throwing open closet doors, jabbing behind the shower curtain, I explored every room in the house. But when I saw the clothes strewn on the floor in my bedroom, boxes pulled out from the closet, and my jewelry box dumped out, I couldn’t deny it any longer.

Someone had broken into our apartment.

“Anything else missing?” Officer Mills asked, checking his report. “Electronics? Laptop? Cash?” I answered his questions mechanically while a detective dusted for fingerprints and snapped photos, and his partner interviewed the neighbors.

“No, I don’t think so…” Then I remembered. My iPad. I almost always took it to work, using it in my classes to show videos, enter grades, or plan lessons. But that day I didn’t need it and had left it home, plugged in next to my bed… I rushed back into my room. Of course, it was gone. That and one gold watch and two valuable necklaces of my roommate were all that were taken.

Finally the detective and the police officers left, my parents and the neighbors went home, and my roommate Maira and I were left alone in the house. Though we locked and barred all the doors and checked all the windows several times, I still didn’t feel safe. Strangers had broken into our home, rifled through our personal belongings, and stolen things from us! I tried to imagine them pulling socks and underwear out of my dresser, dumping out my desk drawers, escaping out the back door… It gave me chills.

“We need to pray.” I didn’t FEEL like praying. I was still in shock. Yet more than the loss of the iPad and the jewelry, it was the loss of my sense of safety and security that I was concerned about. Maira and I had specifically chosen this apartment because it’s in a quiet, safe neighborhood. We’d never felt concern for our well-being here. Until now. Now I was starting to get angry – angry at the enemy who comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). I couldn’t let him steal my peace. It was time to fight back.

“Jesus, we declare Your peace in this place. This is YOUR house, and we are YOUR daughters. We know we are safe in Your hands.”

As we agreed in prayer, I felt a strange calmness. He is still here. I don’t understand why this happened. I don’t like it. It doesn’t make sense. But I have to trust that God is still good.

Yes, I’ll double-check the doors tonight to make sure the deadbolt is secure. But I don’t have to live in fear. Because even if I get robbed again, I know my Daddy’s holding me. My peace is not dependent on my circumstances. It’s based on the security of my relationship with Him. And that’s never going to change.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.”
Psalm 4:8 (NLT)

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I hate running. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

When I hear friends talk about the “adrenaline rush” of running a half-marathon, I’m convinced that they’re not fully human. What normal human being would willingly put themselves through the punishing physical torture of pounding the pavement mile after mile? It’s not right.

Now I consider myself to be in pretty good shape. I rarely eat fried food, desserts, or red meat. I enjoy biking, or walking forest trails, and I have even been known to jump “double-dutch” with my students at recess! But recently I was appalled that my favorite black dress pants have started getting a wee bit too snug. So with the motivation of fitting in my bridesmaid’s dress for a friend’s wedding next month, I drag myself out of bed this Saturday morning, put on my tennis shoes, and head outside for some exercise.

There’s a refreshing hint of fall in the air, and I fill my lungs deeply as I start off on a light jog. After just a few minutes, however, I’m already panting for breath. I tell myself, “I’ll only go to the next lamp-post, and then I can stop.” But at the next lamp-post, I decide that I’ll go to the lake. “I’m almost to the end of this street,” I think when I get to the lake. “I’ll just round the corner and go a bit more.”

By this point, old ladies walking their poodles could easily overtake my painfully slow pace. And I avoid eye contact with any serious runners I encounter, embarrassed at my wheezing and puffing. My lungs feel like they’re going to explode, and my legs feel like jello.

Around the bend, I finally see it – the river pier. Out of somewhere deep within me comes a sudden final burst of energy. I find myself picking up the pace. “I’m almost there! I’m actually going to make it!” It seems there should be a marching band and helium balloons in honor of my accomplishment. At the end of the pier, I pause for a moment to soak in the morning sun sparkling over the still water. For one who despises running, I’ve just proven that miracles do happen – I CAN run.

Now this isn’t one of those underdog stories where I suddenly am able to compete in the Ironman triathlon. I doubt I’ll ever really ENJOY running. It still seems like cruel and unusual punishment. And it’s definitely not in my nature to keep doing something that’s painful and uncomfortable.

But I hate to say it – running is actually biblical. Paul writes in I Corinthians about “running to get the prize”. He says he “beats” or “punishes” his body, because it’s all part of his training (I Cor. 9:27). I can relate to that. Multiple times during my short run, I came very close to stopping. I started to feel sorry for myself, and felt like I “deserved” a break. It would have been so much easier to just stop.

Don’t we often feel that way when we’re faced with hard things? That nasty co-worker who seems set to make your life miserable. The difficult child who tests every boundary you set. The family member who knows exactly which buttons to push to get you riled up. Jesus never promised us that life would be easy. In fact, He assures us the opposite – “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

Life is tough sometimes. But we can’t just sit it out because it’s too hard. So we press on. We forgive those who have offended us. We confront in love. We ask for grace in our difficult relationships, not responding out of anger or hurt, but out of a heart of forgiveness and freedom. Not because it’s easy. But because our Coach, our loving Heavenly Father, has already run the path ahead of us. He’s cheering us on. And it’s His whisper in our hearts that says, “Just a little bit more. You can do it. You’re almost Home.”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside.”
1 Corinthians 9:27 (TLB)

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“So, what have you learned about Jesus today?” Ed, the leader of the small group Bible study, looks around the circle expectantly. The air conditioner hums. The girl from Kyrgyzstan fixes her eyes firmly on the carpet. The two Taiwanese girls intently study their printout of the story. The Polish girl twists her hands in her lap.

This handful of international students have come to learn more about who God is and what the Bible says. We’ve been looking at the story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy in Mark 1. While the guy from Ukraine seems to have had some exposure to the Bible, the girl from Kyrgyzstan said at the beginning that she didn’t know anything about Jesus. So we’ve been reading over the verses slowly, explaining words or concepts that may be new to non-English speakers.

Finally the enthusiastic young Ukrainian next to Ed speaks up. “I learned that Jesus can heal people. Just by touching him and speaking!” He beams at the rest of us. Others follow his lead.

“I learned that Jesus has compassion,” someone offers. “He cares about everyone,” another pipes up.

“What about you, Andrea?” Ed asks. The tall blond girl from Poland had been eagerly asking questions during the study. Now her voice is quiet, slow.

“I feel… that Jesus is real.”

No one moves. I feel my heart pounding. My breathing sounds loud in the heavy silence.

“I don’t know why,” Andrea continues, as if she can’t believe it herself. “But right now, I feel that Jesus is real and He’s alive.”

After the study ends, Andrea seeks out one of the American college students to talk more. And that night Andrea makes the decision to give her life to Jesus.

When next week’s study comes around, Andrea excitedly flies around giving out the paperback New Testaments, drawing in people who are hanging around outside. Her excitement is contagious. “You need to come to this study! You need to read the Bible and learn about Jesus!”

No one has to ask Andrea to tell others what she’s experienced. She’s met Jesus, the One who shows compassion, the One who heals and transforms. And she wants to tell everyone about Him!

What about you? Have you had an encounter with the living Jesus? What has He done for you? Don’t keep it to yourself – give it away!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Freely you have received; freely give.”
Matthew 10:8, NIV

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“As I watched my father’s mistress put her suitcases in his car, an animal rage came over me. I felt I could tear her apart with my hands.” Yagmur, tall and elegant with perfectly styled blond hair, spoke evenly to the audience in the church, but the pain of that childhood memory was evident. “That day I made a decision to hate my father for the rest of my life.”

Yagmur’s mother was also angry, and took out her anger in the form of physical abuse toward her daughter. “As a young girl, I had scars and bruises all over my body from my mother’s beatings. I hated my father for his unfaithfulness. And I hated my mother for her helplessness.”

“Every day my mother told me I was ugly and stupid,” Yagmur continued. “Faith comes through hearing. And I started to believe in what I was hearing.” Escaping to her room and pulling the blankets over her head, Yagmur would dream of being a beautiful princess in a long, sparkling gown. And she would imagine her mother and father smiling at her, proudly. She longed for their love.

Immediately after college, she married a charming and passionate young man, desperate to escape the abuse and pain of her home life. But soon another nightmare began. Her husband began beating her too, accusing her of unfaithfulness, demanding to know why she was a few minutes late coming home from work.

Then one day her husband held a knife to her throat, insisting that she jump out of an eighth-story window. Yagmur clung to his ankles, sobbing and pleading for her life until he let her go.

In desperation, Yagmur fled to the U.S. to start a new life. But when her second husband’s drug abuse got out of control, she found herself becoming more and more hopeless, wanting to end her life. “There is hatred and pain everywhere I go,” she thought in despair. “I can’t escape.”

Eventually Yagmur found a job working for a Christian company. Wanting to impress the boss, she joined the early-morning Bible study at the office. They were reading the story of Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman. Yagmur couldn’t help blurting out, “Why did he forgive her? She was not worthy to be forgiven!”

“None of us are worthy,” a co-worker explained. “But Jesus forgives us because he loves us. Even if that woman had been the only person on the earth, Jesus still would have come to earth for her and died in her place, because he loves her.”

“I was that unworthy woman,” she recalled. All the shame of her childhood, the memories of being called ugly and stupid, the feeling of being worthless, the abuse of her marriages, the abandonment and emptiness and thoughts of suicide – it all culminated one day in a desperate cry in the office restroom. “Help me, God! Have mercy! I need You!” As she dried her eyes and walked to her desk, she wondered if He even heard her.

Before she could even get back to work, Yagmur’s boss called her urgently to his office. “I’ve never done this before,” he explained hesitantly. “But I feel Jesus prompting me strongly that I need to tell you something. He says that He has heard your prayer in the bathroom. He saw you when you were a little girl. He’s been with you all this time. And He loves you and forgives you.”

Yagmur crumpled to the carpet, weeping. “Do you want Jesus to be your Lord and Savior?” Her boss was asking kindly. “YES! YES! YES!” She sobbed. Finally she had found the love she had been searching for.

Eventually Yagmur was able to forgive her father and mother for all the pain they caused her for so many years. And today Yagmur has a ministry of bringing hope and healing to girls and women around the world, through TV programming and radio broadcasts. “You are loved. You are valued. You are beautiful,” she tells them. “God has a plan for your future. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” She knows it is true – she is living proof.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1b (NRSV)

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“Lai Lai! Hello! Come!”

Eager hands grasped at my suitcases and tugged on my arm, yelling their offers of assistance. The taxi from the East Asian airport had dumped me within view of the train station with my two 70 lb. suitcases, one rolling carry-on, and a backpack – all stuffed to the limit with gifts and teaching supplies. But as soon as I stepped out of the taxi, I was bombarded by eager porters and pedi-cab drivers. Finally I gave in and accepted the help of a bicycle-pedaled cart.

Loaded down with multiple bags and one weary traveler, the cart wove between speeding taxis, fleets of bicycles, and crowds of pedestrians. Closing my eyes, I tried not to think about the seemingly inevitable collisions.

Miraculously, we made it across the busy street unharmed. The hair-raising trip had taken just a few minutes. Thankful to be safely at my destination, I pulled out a couple of bills from my wallet to pay.

“Bu, bu, bu!” The driver shook his head vehemently. Apparently there was a misunderstanding. I thought he’d said 2.5 Yuan, but he’d asked for 250 Yuan! In my town in the northeast, 2 Yuan would get you anywhere you wanted to go on the bicycle-pedaled carts. But 250, just for taking me across the street?? That was a rip-off!

He wouldn’t budge, no matter how much I protested. Soon a curious crowd gathered, shouting encouragement to the driver. “That’s right! Tell her! Don’t let this foreigner get away!”

Physical and emotional weariness from the long hours of travel and very little sleep were making me cranky and irritable. I couldn’t believe that no one would help me or defend me. Finally I snapped. Angrily I threw the 250 Yuan at the driver and stormed off.

Tears streaming, I stumbled over the broken pavement, lugging my heavy suitcases. Looking around desperately, all I could see were Asian faces. All the signs were in Mandarin. I couldn’t even tell if I was in the right place. For all I knew, the taxi driver and the pedi-cab driver had taken me to the wrong place. How would I ever find my train?

There was nothing to do but sit down and cry. A few of the hurrying travelers stopped briefly to gawk at this bedraggled American girl, collapsed on a pile of suitcases in the middle of the pavement, bawling her eyes out. But no one stopped to ask what was wrong or to help. I felt so utterly alone.

“Are you OK?” The voice sounded like it was in a German or Dutch accent. But it was in ENGLISH! Looking up, I saw a tall, blond young man.

“No, I’m not OK!” I sniffled, wiping at my nose with the back of my hand. I poured out my whole story to him, ending with, “And I don’t even know if I’m in the right place! I can’t find the entrance to the train station!”

He smiled gently and pointed over my shoulder. “But it’s right behind you.” Surprised, I turned around to see a very clear entrance just a few feet from where I was sitting. How had I missed it earlier?

“Thank you so much!” I turned back to my new friend… But he was gone. He had been there, standing right in front of me, now he’d completely disappeared! I scanned the crowd, but there was no sign of a tall blond man in the sea of Asian faces.

Was it an angel? Or had he just melted into the crowd? Whoever it was, I knew with great certainty that God had sent him to me. At my moment of desperation and helplessness, my loving Heavenly Father had given me a reminder that I am never alone. He is watching me. He sees me in my distress. He is able to rescue me. And He will do the same for you.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”
Psalm 18:6 (NIV)

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Dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, Bella apologized for her tears. “I’m sorry for unloading on you. It’s just been so hard recently.”

Two miscarriages in the last few months had left her raw. And as the wife of someone in church leadership, it seemed she had no one to talk to about it. “Unless you’ve lost a baby, you can’t understand how how much it hurts,” Bella explained. “And well-meaning people can say such insensitive things.”

All I could do was listen and cry with her. “It’s so hard to trust God in all of this,”
Bella confided before we said goodbye. “But I just have to believe that He’s doing something good in me in the process.”

Here’s the rest of the story, in Bella’s own words.

I hit bottom on my first baby’s due date. I felt so discouraged. Nine months, two lost babies, and still empty-handed. And now I was scared that not only would I have to deal with losses, but would I now have to deal with infertility again?

I remember one day having a very honest conversation with the Lord. I told Him that I was angry, frustrated, and tired. I felt that I was coming to a place where this burden of pain and loss was more than I could bear. I wanted this season of pain to be over. And I told Him I was so disappointed that I didn’t get pregnant, and to please have mercy on me.

And in that moment I felt His presence so strong with me. I heard Him tell me to just hang on a little longer, that this season would soon be over, and that He was holding me by my hand and would not let me go. I also felt Him say that I didn’t conceive because He was answering the very thing I had asked Him, and that was to not allow it to happen until it was His time. But then I heard Him say that my time was coming very soon and to just be patient.

I felt such a peace come over me about having another baby and the timing. Even the way I felt about the babies I lost… God gave me such a peace about that. There is no way to explain what He did. It was completely effortless on my part. I just felt different. I felt such a healing work from the Lord. It was like although He knew already what I was feeling and thinking, I needed to be honest with Him and myself first.

That night that we spoke, I didn’t know yet, but a few days later I found out that I am expecting again! Naturally I am nervous, but I must say that I feel different than with the last pregnancies I lost, especially the second one. With that second one I lost, I was in a constant state of anxiety, panic, and worry. I knew something was wrong, and I felt completely helpless to save my baby.

So here I am now, expecting again. Hopeful, but cautious. I know I have a long road ahead of me before I can feel completely at ease about whether this baby will make it. But I am trusting in the Lord. I know He is with me.

Do you have a secret pain? A private grief? Your secret pain doesn’t have to consume you. Give it to Him today. Let Him hold you and give you His peace in the midst of it. And trust Him to do something good in you and through you in the process.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Genesis 16:13 (NIV)

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My hands grip the steering wheel, knuckles turning white. “Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…” I tell myself. Yet my eyes are irresistibly drawn to the drop-off on the right side of the car. I just barely catch a glimpse of the yawning gulf stretching out endlessly in either direction before whipping my head back to the front again. Wiping a sweaty palm on my jeans, I try to take deep breaths.

“This is amazing!” Beth is ecstatic. She peers out the passenger window at the snowy ridges that seem to stretch on forever. “I can’t believe we’re here!”

The whole trip was Beth’s idea. “I have to see the Grand Canyon before I go back home,” she’d said. “And you have to come with me!”

An exchange student from Asia, Beth’s been my language tutor for the past few months. We studied the Gospel of John for our lessons, which sparked many interesting discussions. “I’ve met so many Christians in America,” Beth explained to me once. “And they’re such good people! But I can’t become a Christian. I have to go back to my country soon, and it’s different there.”

Now, driving on the snowy roads of the Grand Canyon National Park, I’m having second thoughts about the whole thing. This is a bad idea, I worry, my heart pounding. What if I hit an icy patch and lose control of the car? The car will skid and swerve and then careen over the edge of that cliff. It will all be over in a matter of minutes. And no one will even see it happen…

“Are you OK?” Concern in her voice, Beth reaches out and touches my arm gently. “You don’t look so good.”

Shaking my head to dispel the disturbing images, I snap back to reality. “Um, I guess I’m a little afraid of heights,” I confess shakily. “I didn’t think I was, but…” My voice trails off.

“What you need is some worship music,” Beth decides, scanning the radio stations until she finds a familiar Chris Tomlin song. “And we should pray. But you keep your eyes open!” She shakes a finger at me teasingly, then gets serious. “God, please help Michelle not to be afraid. Help her to trust You. Amen.”

Amazing. Beth, who says she doesn’t even believe in God, is telling ME to trust Him! I’m convicted and forced to examine my heart. Do I really believe what I say I believe? Do I really trust God to keep me safe in ANY and ALL circumstances? Is He able to calm this pounding fear that’s threatening to paralyze me?

“Just remember, God is with you!” Beth’s voice is earnest. “You don’t have to be afraid. It’s going to be OK.”

As I park the car and turn off the engine, I let out a deep breath and relax my shoulders. Here, at the edge of this cavernous depth, I face my fear head-on. I will NOT be afraid. Fear has no power over me. God is with me. I can trust Him.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” I smile at my friend in the passenger seat. “Let’s go see the Grand Canyon!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
Psalm 34:4 (NRSV)

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