Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Freedom in Forgiveness

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Colossians 3:13

Forgiveness is something required of us from the time we are children, and a lesson we learn earlier than our minds can probably even remember. It's required when a sibling accidently breaks your toy, or when someone calls you a name on the playground. As young as we might be when we first learn the importance of forgiveness, it never seems to become easy. As we get older, the offenses against us become greater, and so our ability to forgive becomes seemingly more difficult. Forgiveness is always a difficult decision to make and even more difficult to genuinely do, no matter how many times you've had to forgive.

I was bullied a decent amount in middle school. I was called fat, ugly, annoying...and it affected me. Yet ultimately, I came to see those instances as more petty than cruel, so I was able to label them as middle school immaturity and forgive them. When I began my 7th grade year, though, I was tested in my ability to forgive. I had a classmate who, every single day of that school year without fail, said to me, "Nobody likes you. You should jump off of a bridge and kill yourself." It was a much more cruel sentiment than calling me fat. It seemed so much more hateful, and so it hurt much more. It wasn't a random immature comment in passing, but a constant and intentional effort to hurt me. I couldn't write it off as I had in other instances of verbal bullying. Each day I would hear those words again, and then again the next day, for over a hundred days. My hurt grew with each day, as well as my bitterness towards that person. Forgiveness wasn't even a thought, because he seemed so undeserving of forgiveness. He threw those same hurtful words at me day after day, so I knew he wasn't sorry. Of course there are other, more intense situations where forgiveness was more difficult than this, but this was the most severe situation I felt comfortable publishing.

I never knew the true importance of forgiveness until I gave my life to God. It wasn't until the God of Heaven and earth forgave me, every sin, every wrongdoing, every hurtful act against others or my own self, that I understood the power of forgiveness. Yet, even in that knowledge, it is still so unbelievably hard to forgive. We suffer time and time again from the words and actions of others that seem to cut us like knives. So many times, we plead, "But God, you don't understand how much they hurt me!" We act as if God doesn't understand the difficulty of forgiving those who hurt us most, those who offend us so severely without having remorse. Yet God does understand, because Jesus Christ walked this earth and experienced the human condition. To me, one of the most powerful sentences to come from the mouth of Jesus is said in the most unforgiving of circumstances. Jesus was humiliated, spat on, mocked, brutally flogged, had a crown of thorns shoved onto his head, forced to carry his own cross up a hill on his wounded shoulders, before being painfully and horrifically nailed to that cross. Then, as his torturers and murderers gambled for his clothes at the foot of the cross he was hanging on, broken and bleeding, Jesus spoke these powerful words:

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Luke 23:34

Reading that red text in my Bible is a true conviction when struggling with unforgiveness. How many of us could endure so much cruelty and torture, and in the midst of that, be forgiving? We'd all like to believe if we were in Jesus' place, we could say those words. Yet how many of us truly could? Yes, there are people on this earth who endure injustices where forgiveness is near impossible. Yet Jesus proved anything can be forgiven when he endured torture and pain that was so great that it was enough to cover the sins of all of mankind, and in the middle of it all, forgave those who inflicted that agonizing cruelty upon him.

When we live in unforgiveness, we live bound in heavy chains that keep us from living in Godly freedom. Unforgiveness prevents us from experiencing the joy, peace, and blessings that God has for us. Our perfect Heavenly Father forgives us, so how much more should we as imperfect people forgive one another? I have the life that I have because of forgiveness that I did not deserve.

It was at the altar that I forgave my classmate for the months upon months worth of telling me that I should end my own life. There were people and situations where I felt the hurt and bitterness for so long that I had become numb to my own unforgiveness...and I forgave those people and situations at the altar, many years later. I became free when God forgave me. I became free when I forgave others. Forgiveness isn't easy, but when we break the chains of unforgiveness, it is so worth all of the goodness that comes from it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Time Is Now

When you're in your early twenties, it's a strange time in life. You're an adult, sure...but you're in the very early stages of adulthood. You are in college or fresh from it. Chances are you're not yet in your desired career field, or you are at most in one of the lowest positions in that field. You just aren't quite "there" yet. Obviously, that all makes sense, but what I have come to see, at least in myself, is that sometimes my young age causes me to underestimate myself and what I can accomplish, even as a young adult. 

I, like countless others, was always the person who constantly changed their mind over what profession I aspired to be throughout my childhood and teenage years. I wanted to be a veterinarian, a teacher, a marine biologist, a rock star, a psychologist, a social many different things. Of course, I am now in ministry school majoring in Ministerial Leadership, aspiring to work in the church full-time. Through every change in my career dreams, there have always been two different things I aspired to be on the side of whatever profession I held. Those two aspirations are to be a mother, and to be a writer. 

I loved writing from a young age. Seeing the author's name on the front of a book always fascinated me. I always read the short biography of the author in the back of the books I read as a child, because it completely amazed me that the book I was so engaged in had come from the mind and hands of an average person. I quickly realized that maybe I too could one day be that name on a book cover. Over the course of my life, I grew in my passion and skill for writing. There were times of discouragement, such as when a particularly tough English teacher barely passed my essays, and I stopped writing for years. Yet when I finally picked it up again years later, I found that I still, despite the discouragement, loved putting words to paper. It was a passion that refused to go away. 

We all have something we love, that we have unworldly passion for, that was weaved into our DNA when God created us. Like an artist loves to paint, like vocalist loves to sing, like a motivational speaker loves to encourage. Everything you do with that kind of love and passion has a piece of you within it. In the words of Gollum, every piece of writing that I create is "my precious". When you love something, you don't just do it for others, you do it for yourself. It's actually easier to do it for yourself, because then no one else can judge it or reject it. If you were to look in my blog post archive, you would see as many as six or seven drafts at a time of posts I didn't think were up to the standard needed to press the publish button. I reject my own work, but that isn't the same as someone else, a professional in the world of writing, rejecting a piece of writing that I put not just my effort, but my heart into. 

 I'm only writing isn't good enough to be published. I have no right to even attempt to get my work published anywhere at my age. That's selfish of me. That's a conceited thing to do. I need to write a good twenty more years before it would make sense to try to become a published writer at any capacity. I shouldn't begin writing a book at this age. No one will take a book seriously that was written by some kid in their early twenties that has the audacity to think she could have her work on the same shelf as genuinely successful authors. Those are just a few of the reasons I have continuously refused to put my writing out there and attempt to be published. Those are the types of thoughts that keep many young people from even attempting to make their dreams into reality.

God gives each of us gifts and talents. Some have beautiful voices to sing, some can compose flawless music, some can sketch and paint in ways that intrigue both the eye and the mind. I have been given the ability to write well. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that our gifts and talents are only for ourselves. Nowhere does it say that we have to improve upon our gifts and talents well into our forties before we can share them. Contrary, our gifts and talents are meant to be shared with others. To be blunt, it's selfish to keep our gifts and talents to ourselves, to not use them to glorify God as He meant for us to do when He placed those passions/talents in us. Besides, there is no question that God uses the young. God used a sixteen year old to bring Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, into the world. Therefore, God can use the singing of a 13 year old. He can use the paintings of an 18 year old. He can use the writing of a 21 year old. There is no guarantee on the length of one's life, so why put your dreams off for a day that isn't promised to you? When you discover your passion and talents, don't let your age be your blockade. Don't place restrictions on yourself out of fear. Dreams aren't meant to be thought of today and put off until tomorrow. The time to make your dreams into a reality is now. God gave you the gift and talent. God will provide the opportunities. The only thing that stands in our way is ourselves. Get out of your own way, take chances, and don't be discouraged when it takes try after try. Know that you can be successful and you can make an impact, no matter how young you are. Age is but a number when you have God on your side.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Strong, Courageous, Fearless & Encouraged

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 

There are many times where I feel overwhelmed, so burdened that I can barely stand, and I feel nothing but weakness in those moments. 

There are times when I see the mountain in front of me and I am too scared to take that first step, because I can't see what is ahead of me. It is a moment where I must decide to stay where I am or to move ahead into the unknown, yet I don't have the courage to choose the unknown. 

There are times when I think of the future, or even my current situations, and I feel fear, fear of being stuck where I am, fear of failure, fear of not ending up where I dream of going...fear that plagues so many aspects of my life. 

Then there is the discouragement, the part that ties the weakness, cowardice, and fear together into the dangerous notion that you will never measure up...your works aren't enough, your heart isn't enough, and you will not succeed because of everything you are and everything you are not. 

Weakness, cowardice, fear, and discouragement are human emotions. There is no human alive today who has never felt those emotions plague their mind, heart, and spirit. To not be any of those things is a difficult, nearly impossible command to's certainly no "Thou shalt not murder". They are emotions that can come up at any point, because life is filled with struggles and uncertainty. When I first read Joshua 1:9, I thought it was the most unrealistic command. How am I supposed to never feel weak or discouraged? How am I supposed to never feel cowardly or afraid? That is an impossible command! If I could just snap my fingers and never feel any of those things again, I absolutely would. No one wants to feel that way, so how can God just expect me to not feel that way? Doesn't He know how unrealistic He's being? Did He miss those years where I struggled with horrible things in an attempt to survive those feelings? Yet He wants me to just not feel them?! Now to feel them is going against God's commands?! What am I supposed to do? 

The misunderstanding I felt for this verse and those like it is simple, really. I took this verse to mean that I needed to summon up every pathetic drop of human strength and bravery I had in my body and try to overcome every struggle with that. My strength, my courage, my fearlessness, and my own sense of encouragement needed to be enough, and I knew it wasn't. I thought those feelings in and of themselves were sin. I was wrong. Those feelings aren't sinful, they're human. God isn't commanding us to just find something in our own humanity to give us strength and courage. God is commanding us to lean on Him, to let His strength and courage and fearlessness and encouragement become our own. He is commanding us to depend on Him and to let Him sustain us. When God asks us to do what is impossible for us, it's so that we will depend on Him to make it possible. 

With God's strength, I can face the trials of today. 

With God's courage, I can be brave when I have to take a step into the unknown. 

With God's fearlessness, I can find peace in the knowledge that He has everything under control. 

With God's encouragement, I know that no, alone I am not enough. Yet He created me and chose me for a purpose that will come to pass. 

With God's spirit, we all have it within us to be strong, courageous, fearless, and encouraged no matter where we are or what we face.