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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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“NOOOOO!!!!” The happy hum of preschoolers enjoying their snacks is instantly shattered by three-year-old Thomas’ screams of rage.
“I don’t WANT you to put the straw in my juice! I can do it MYSELF!!!” Crossing his arms, Thomas glares at me. “I’m MAD at you!”

It’s going to be a long day. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. This is more than I bargained for when I agreed to sub for the three-year-old preschool class today.

All day long, Thomas throws screaming fits when something is not exactly to his liking. “But I don’t WANT to color the T!” “I don’t WANT to sit next to Samuel!” “He’s touching MY crayon!” “NOOOOOO!!!!!” I’ve never seen a preschooler put in time out or sent to the principal’s office so many times in one day.

“Thomas’ family just moved to the area,” the other preschool teacher explains to me in a whisper. “His dad’s in the military and gone a lot. Plus his mom just had a new baby. He’s mad at the world right now.”

My heart goes out to this angry little boy, but I don’t know how to handle his fits of rage. So I start to ignore Thomas. When Allison needs help with her letter T worksheet, I gladly show her what to do. When Gregory wants me to read to him, I pull him onto my lap and cheerfully start “Curious George at the Dentist.” But I avoid even looking at Thomas, afraid that the smallest thing might set him off.
Almost done, I sigh with relief at the end of the day. We are letting the kids run off some energy in the gym before their parents pick them up. Like clockwork, after a few minutes Thomas plops down in the middle of the gym and screams, for no apparent reason. None of the other kids seem concerned.

This little boy needs a lot of love, I realize with a pang. He needs consequences too, but if I only give him attention when he does something wrong, isn’t that just reinforcing his bad behavior?

I don’t really want to do it. But I know I need to. I walk over to him and force myself to smile.

“Thomas, would you like me to swing you around?” He looks up, surprised, and agrees hesitantly. I pick him up, and he quickly wraps his legs around my waist and holds tightly to my neck.

“Ready?” I ask. He nods. As I start spinning around, I’m surprised by a sound I haven’t heard all day. I stop and look at Thomas. He’s actually giggling!

“Want to do it again?” He grins. Once more I spin around, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until we’re both dizzy and laughing. Amazing. Thomas isn’t throwing fits. And I’m actually enjoying myself!

As the preschoolers gather their coats and backpacks for the carpool line, I think of another friend in my life who sometimes acts like Thomas. Deeply wounded by life’s hurts and disappointments, she reacts in anger, verbally attacking anyone who comes near. Recently I’ve started to avoid contact with her completely. To keep from being hurt, I’ve been withdrawing from the relationship.

But aren’t there times when I, too, react out of pain and anger, hurting those around me? Yet the Heavenly Father always takes an interest in me. Not because I’m always acting lovable. But because He loves me unconditionally. Right then I decide to make an effort to reach out to my friend. Because I’ve been forgiven, I can forgive. Because I’ve been given grace, I can extend grace. Because I am loved, I can love.

Do you know someone who is throwing a tantrum at life’s injustice? Do you have a friend who’s been hurt deeply and is lashing out in pain? Though the temptation is to back away from someone like that, consider how you can reach out to that person this week. Even a screaming fit of rage is no match for forgiving, grace-filled, unconditional love.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 86:15 (NIV)

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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 apologize in advance for bringing up an indelicate topic. Miss Manners may not approve. But I have to say that there’s no sound I hate more than the sound of someone clearing the mucus in his throat and getting ready to spit. Just the thought of it makes me convulse involuntarily. Unfortunately, in the four years I lived in east Asia, I had to get used to that sound as a part of everyday life.

“It’s because of the pollution – that’s why people spit so much,” local friends told me. “It’s the dust in the air from the Gobi Desert,” others explained. “The wind blows it here and it irritates people’s throats when they breathe.” “It’s just a cultural thing,” some said, “We’ve always done it.” Whatever the reason, I didn’t like it. But I couldn’t make it go away. So I had to come to peace with the fact that people spit in this area of the world. And I tried to focus on all the wonderful things I loved about that country and culture, and ignore the spitting.

And it worked for awhile. I would still grimace and shudder when people passing me on the sidewalk started clearing their throats. But I told myself it didn’t bother me.

In my fourth year of teaching English in east Asia, however, everything started getting on my nerves. The mobs of people pushing to get to the ticket counter in the train station. The crowds jostling each other to get on or off the bus. The taxi drivers charging three times the normal rate just because I wasn’t a local. The kids staring at me as I rode my bicycle to school, and shouting “wai guo ren! wai guo ren!” (foreigner! foreigner!). But the thing that irritated me the most, like fingernails scraping on a chalkboard, was the clearing the throat and spitting.

One particular day as I was walking to classes, I was inwardly seething at the seeming rudeness and insensitivity of people around me. “If ONE MORE PERSON spits on the street,” I vowed to myself as I clenched my fists, “I’m going to PUNCH HIM!”

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I was appalled at myself. “How could I even THINK such a thing? What is WRONG with me?”

Sadly it took me many months to identify the root of my angeryears of building frustration from feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, overworked, and not listened to by those in position of authority over me. But the threatening explosions of anger and feeling out of control of my emotions were the warning signals that something in my heart wasn’t right. And as I began to process the hurts that had led to this point, and to repent of my wrong responses, finally I was able to conquer my anger as I released my pain to God and chose to forgive those that had hurt me.

“Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). Do you feel like your emotions are out of control? Are you letting the hurts and challenges of life tear down the protective walls around your heart? Have you allowed anger, bitterness and unforgiveness to move in and take residence?

Examine the walls of your heart today. Forgive those who’ve offended you. Pour out the pain of your heart to God. And allow Him to repair the broken-down places. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you to guard your heart, so that your anger doesn’t get out of control!

“Above all else, GUARD YOUR HEART*, for it is the wellspring of life.”
Proverbs 4:23
(NIV)
*emphasis mine

Going Vertical!
MJ

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Smoothing her skirt for the hundredth time, the little girl with straight black hair and big brown eyes sat primly on the front porch, dangling her feet over the edge. Her hair was neatly combed and held in place with a bow that matched her new ruffled party dress. It was her tenth birthday, and everything had to be perfect.

“This is the day my daddy’s gonna call,” Bianca thought to herself. “I know it. He’s going to call me and he’s going to wish me happy birthday and tell me that he loves me.”

Since the day her father had walked out of her life, Bianca had struggled with feelings of abandonment and being unwanted. For years she kept hoping and praying he would come back.

“This is the year,” she had decided on the day of her tenth birthday. “This is his last chance. If he doesn’t call me today, I’ll never expect him to call again.”

So she sat on the porch and waited. And waited. And waited.

He never called.

More than twenty years later, as Bianca was recounting the story to our Fresh Start team, her emotions were still raw.

“I decided then that my father didn’t love me,” she told us. “And I felt that maybe even God didn’t love me.”

But over the course of the week-long Fresh Start seminar, Bianca’s heart was touched by the message of forgiveness, and though it was difficult, she decided to fully forgive her father for the pain of rejection and abandonment. The burden of all that hurt and pain was lifted off her shoulders, and she actually felt love towards her father, even though he had never apologized or changed.

“It’s amazing!” She beamed through tears. “I feel such peace now. And God has shown me that HE was there all those years that my father wasn’t there! God was the Father that I needed as a little girl. He never left me. He fills that hole in my heart.”

Have you ever felt rejected or abandoned? Have people in your life let you down? Our Heavenly Father wants to fill those empty places in your heart. Take your pain to Him. Forgive those who have hurt or disappointed you. And let God reveal to you how He’s always been there, even in those lonely and painful times. He will never disappoint you. He is a father to the fatherless.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”
Psalm 68:5 (NIV)

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