Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Journey of HOPE: Hope in Celibacy

I have shared with you that I am a recovering addict and I didn’t have just one vice, no I was a multiple vice kinda gal: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and men.
Because of God's redemptive work in me and through His strength I have been clean and sober from all of these vices for years.
Each of these issues was a separate battle to sobriety and I often say that cigarettes was the hardest to break and even though I only have one functioning lung and spend most days so exhausted and out of breathe I can’t leave the house I would have another drag if I really knew I only had a few moments left on earth. The truth is men were the hardest to quit. I never cared for relationships, I have seen my share of love gone wrong; instead I loved the chase, being able to enthral a man through my sharp wit, beautiful face and interesting life experiences. However, I never cared much for the physicality of men, for sex. I was technically a virgin until I was 24 and it was mostly because I liked the control it gave me over men. I would only let things go so far and then would watch them suffer. I never planned or wanted to be married, I never experienced that part of growing up where I obsessed about Mr. Right and nor dreamt about my wedding day. To me love meant failure, abuse, conditions, confusion and pain. I never imagined a man would come along and save me either; it was me against the world.
However, when my marriage fell apart in such a colossal, albeit unique way and even though I had opened myself up to Jesus and started a relationship with Him the first 22 months of my relationship with Jesus I was my most salacious. I went from finding love in a way I never thought possible after spending most of my life punishing my conquests for the failings of the men in my life to losing that love and then letting men use me. I knew exactly what I was doing and why, I knew that I wanted to be chastised for the life I had lived, for failing my husband and baby brother who also finally had a man in his life he loved and trusted. My brother died never knowing what had really happened between Mark and I because I was that desperate to keep my brother from being devastated by yet another man. Because I love to learn I knew what I was doing with my body was devastating to my Lord, I would spend hours, sometimes even overnight in a heap of guilt, shame and tears on my kitchen floor afterwards. My behavior was so over the top my first home church and my small group\Bible Study asked me to leave until I changed my behavior and them first and then God.
I walked into Heartland Community Church October 2010 with this scarlet letter A on me but I was also desperate to get out of that sin cycle. I wanted a real relationship with Jesus, I wanted what I had read about in His word to be true for me, I wanted to honor and glorify Him with my body and life. I knew that I was being deceived and wanted that liar out of my life. That first Sunday Pastor Roger Pryor’s message was on Luke 15:1-2 and how Jesus hung out with, ate with and ministered to sinners; even tax collectors and prostitutes and I certainly felt like a prostitute at that point in my life. Less than a month later I was in two new small groups\life groups\Bible studies and even though it was not in her character to call someone out in front of others my leader looked at me and said, “I know you are hiding something, God wants you to confess and promises we won’t abandon you because He hasn’t.” I confessed that night and in my other life group found my first ever forever friend and accountability partner and as Heaven and God rejoiced over my confession and with the help of those new friends, a Christian Counselor and a magnificent God who redeems, forgives, love and offers grace and mercy I ended my last sexual relationship. I still struggled with flirting, was confused at the promise of unrequited love - it took another year of dying to myself every second of every day, digging deep into Scripture and accepting God’s forgiveness before I hear God’s calling on my life: celibacy.
The time I have left on earth is more precious to me than to most, while God is capable of healing me completely now I truly feel He has given me this time limit for a reason. I am due home sooner than the world deems acceptable. I don’t always do a great job of utilizing this time I have, I have wasted days “resting” while I let the TV play mindless garbage. I have harbored unforgiveness for my past and toward my family or origin and to others who have hurt me more recently. I still even struggle with doubt even though I know I am chosen, anointed, appointed, equipped, loved and God’s child. Because of the shortened time I have celibacy means more to me than just abstaining from sex or marriage for the rest of my life. Celibacy frees me to truly be married to Jesus, to be free of the worldly desire to find love because I am already more loved than I ever dreamed about as a child. It allows me to be Christ’s bride every day, to wake up each morning and know that my husband protected and renewed me as I slept, is waiting anxiously for me to wake up so we can have glorious time together before I face the world and it has freed me from the social pressures of being a single, 30 something gal.
I do not think celibacy is the answer for every single\divorced\widower out there but my journey to celibacy began as a calling to purity. I set a boundary for myself and commitment to God that I would not actively engage with men for a set period of time and knew my interactions with men would be limited to group settings and that I had to be completely transparent with my accountability partner, and God gave me tough but loving accountability partner! I wore a purity ring during that first year everyday as physical reminder of my commitment that says, “Today, I promise I will wait agreeing to stay pure, because I know God loves me and His blessings is in store.” I had never been with a Godly man, had never experienced a romantic relationship that the Lord had set up and I knew I first had to be pure, in preparation for the possibility of that experience before I ever would be ready for any man the Lord may have for me. Instead of being made right for just any man I was being made right for Jesus.
As I spend time with Jesus and pray over what to write about, knowing that God wants me to share my journey of HOPE with you I realized that my HOPE was most strengthened by my choice and God’s calling of celibacy on my life. That I have never loved myself more (even though i still have my moments of doubt), wake up each morning feeling God’s presence right there in bed with me and love life, which until three years ago had never felt before. I woke up most every morning disgusted with myself, not feeling I should waste the space on this planet and wishing I had never woken up.
Is there something God is calling you to give up that will strengthen your relationship with Jesus but  you just can’t imagine living without? Something that even seems crazy? I know when I use the word celibacy in conversation with those who don’t my testimony their eyes go wider and their mouths drop+ a bit. Hear me, it isn’t crazy as the world defines it - it is radical obedience to the one who gave His life to be in relationship with you!

“I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” Romans 7:15-24 The Message

Sunday, September 27, 2015

My Journey of HOPE

“For the word of God is alive and powerful.
 It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit,
 between joint and marrow.
 It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”  
Hebrews 4:12 NLT

My heavy heart is in desperate need of a HOPE reboot.
I have been frustrated this past week and frustration is not an emotional I handle well. To me it is the opposite of HOPE and goes against the core of who I am in Christ. The more frustrated I am with my health the weaker I become physically. I learned this years ago, I normally have my moments with frustration but find freedom in my time with God. That has not happened.
I am currently experiencing the life God has for me to live, have been blessed to serve with #P31OBS this past year and led my first #BibleStudyLife event from the start of one of my most Holy and Joy filled weekends of my life. Which is exactly why I am frustrated with my frustration.
Oh and my current state of frustration has brought friends along for the ride: shame, guilt and isolation. Shame that I dare feel this way when all of these amazing blessings are happening. Guilt that I am not living my current unhealthy state for God’s glory but instead sulking in what the exhaustion and lung stress have taken away from me. I am choosing physical isolation because the deep, dark secret is that while God did make me the bubbly, social butterfly who loves to flit around encouraging, motivating and empowering others with God’s word and in God’s strength I also have this social anxiety riddling me with social fatigue at the thought of having to face anyone else anytime soon.  
The truth is I know why this bout of illness feels so different. Why I have held onto this frustration longer than I ever have as a Christ follow. My Mom and her most recent visit.
Before I share that heartbreak with you (which will be in my next Blog Post) I want to share that even though I feel so “blue” I know these are feelings I am choosing to have. I have not given up my time with the Lord, I still begin each morning with Him and I do hear and receive His life giving words. I still have worship music blaring throughout the day and today was blessed to get a sneak peak at the first three chapters of #WorthyofaMircle by Linda Kuhar. I still spend the last hour or more with God to wind down and I am still falling to sleep as His word is being read to me thanks to the YouVersion APP; after all that is the only way I can sleep soundly and not be bombarded with flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms.
I have not lost my HOPE nor do I feel HOPELESS. I know these feelings are fleeting and fickle. While spending time studying the #P31OBS #TameYourList verse of the week I was encouraged and motivated knowing that God knows this deep sorrow, He understands my pain and longs for me to stop choosing darkness when I have so much light around me. No matter how long I hold onto this my Lord is there, shining that light over me and waiting patiently for me to abandon this hurt. I am choosing bondage in this moment but the process of walking in Faith gives me HOPE knowing I am free In Christ, that by putting my faith in Jesus everyday I can trust Him to be the same, yesterday, today and forever. My Quest NIV Study Bible gives this insight about Hebrews 4:12, “God’s word is more than letters on a page, it is alive with God’s Spirit and power.” I love knowing that even when I am in an emotional funk like this, I still have unlimited access to His word and even if it isn’t showing, spending time in  His word is filling me up and equipping me to make the next right choice.

This Worship song, “Everything Is Mine in You” by Christy Nockels was performed by Christy at the “Love Life” Women’s Conference I was blessed to attend and I knew it would be special to me, I just didn’t  realize how special until this emotional pit started to get deeper.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

My journey of HOPE

I haven’t met with you in far too long. I have perfectly valid excuses why I haven’t been able to write but the truth is I haven’t made my blog the priority. God has called me to share my thoughts on HOPE with you over the next couple months and instead of rejoicing in that calling I have, for the most part, treated it like a task to complete and not something I am equipped, anointed and appointed for.
I can honestly say that ends right now.
During my morning quiet time with Jesus (which for me was at 1 o'clock) I realized I had put certain rules in place that were keeping me from being free to write and sharing my heart with you and that were keeping me from obeying God.
I must always strive to apply God’s life giving word in my Blog but today He wants me to vulnerable, transparent and even brief. I don’t have to have a certain word count, I don’t have to make Jesus graphics or find a Worship song I need to just express myself and be obedient. When I let go of the list of self imposed demands on what my Blog needs to look like before I can sit down and write an excitement started to take over. In the next few posts I will be sharing with you what God laid on my heart this past weekend at the “Love Life” 2015 Joyce Meyer Women’s Conference in St. Louis, MO but I am also going to be open to how the Spirit moves.
         My Blog is and will always be about two things: my LOVE for Christ and the HOPE He gives me through wisdom, faith, love, grace, mercy, trails, pains, praises and thanksgiving. I am not writing for anyone of you but am grateful for each one of you who reads this. I am writing because God called me 34 years ago to write, I didn’t know it was Him then and didn’t see Him working in my life as He grew the dream of my four year old heart but I know now God’s plan started in that small dream. I am writing for Him, I am writing to express the redemption that came from one messy life. I am writing to share the HOPE I have in Christ to obey my Lord.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My journey of HOPE

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.”
Psalm 91:14-16 New Living Translation (NLT)

HOPE is a promise and gift from God but it is also a choice. My HOPE was once found in cutesy but fleeting things: stickers, butterflies and smiley faces to name a few. My HOPE is now rooted in every line of the Bible, the greatest love story ever written. Today I want to apply God’s character and promises to my life, to share with you how even in the hardest trail HOPE is waiting for you to embrace and live it out.
I most likely won’t have what the world considers a long life on earth but I believe the quality of this life God blessed me with matters far more than the number of years I have. Every day I have on earth I wake up knowing I am dying, I am blessed to know how precious time really is. However, as my friend Linda often reminds me we are all dying and that fact helps me to understand the rescue God is and promises in verse 14 and 15. Our ultimate rescue is in dying because of all the ways God is HOPE in my life the greatest is the promise of eternal life which is what verse 16 means to me.
 God is also protection and the world would define that protection as not having to experience trails but you can’t live on this planet, surrounded by the curse of sin and not have trails. God’s protection comes in the form of faith, of knowing that no matter what we face here, in our temporary home we have more than we are capable of imaging in Heaven, our true home.
Every moment of every day God is in my presence from the Holy Spirit living within me to Jesus at my side. The Holy Spirit prays for me and others even when I don’t have the words and I can speak to God at any moment and confidently know He is not only listening He is responding and answering. Those answers may not come in the way I would have chosen or in the timing I prefer but no prayer goes unanswered.
I often pray that I honor God and others with my words but until this moment I don’t think I realized that God promises to honor me! I had to look up the definition for honor and while I was sure it meant respect I couldn’t truly accept that is what God is saying here in verse 15 but it is! 

The Message Translation
The last word of Psalm 91:14-16 is salvation. My dictionary defines salvation as, “liberation from ignorance or illusion, preservation from destruction or failure and deliverance from danger or difficulty.” My favorite study Bible gives us the deeper, Godly meaning, “Deliverance from danger or death; especially deliverance from all that separates people from God.” I catch myself often saying, “the moment I was saved that just fell away.” I am referring to things like: rage, a decade long grudge, a fear of the dark and death and obviously my hatred of God. Because the moment I let God take over and I accepted Jesus into my heart I received salvation and while I still have moments of sin and doubt I will never again be separated from God!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Journey of HOPE

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, 
who gives generously to all without finding fault,  
and it will be given to you.” 
James 1:5 Verse of the Week for #P31OBS #TameYourList

As I have shared, growing up I had obstacles (in the form of people) blocking my journey of HOPE. Of all the differences I had from my family: skin color, religion, political parties, sports teams, the hardest on them was my need to know…everything! My passion for learning began as a love to read. The books I escaped to offered me a place where I could cry and laugh as loud as I wanted, where I could disagree with the characters but they would need me to open the pages of the book to bring them to life. As a professed atheist I had even read through the KJV translation of the Bible knowing I had to be armed to rationalize (a nice way to say bully) people out of their faith.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago in a small city neighborhood THE worst thing you could hear was, “you are a born northsider.” That insult may seem harmless but what it meant was: you think too much, you talk too much and if we have to hear your mouth another moment we are going to leave you on the Dan Ryan (the closest Expressway that led to the North Side)! It surprised no one when I joined the High School paper and within a semester was an Editor. I proudly shared my bylines knowing I would be met with hostility and guilt for not minding my own business. School was a safe place for me, a place where I was surrounded by activities that earned me appreciation, attention and in my warped and emotionally stunted youth that meant LOVE. Education was the place I wasn’t a burden or an embarrassment but the star. I am sure it won’t surprise you when I say I am the first person in my family to attend and graduate from a four year college and I majored in words: Magazine Writing with a Minor in Creative Non-Fiction.
Yes, it was my dying HOPE from life’s trails that brought me to my knees, to prayer and on a journey with God but Jesus wooed me with knowledge. The Lord met my curiosity with ready answers through a gentle whisper in my heart, opening the Bible to the passage I needed, encouragement in fellowship and Worship music. Each time I questioned God I was met with love, grace, mercy and peace. The day I was saved I hoped online, opened up Google and typed in these words: I need a case for Christ. Not only is there an amazing series of books called a Case for Christ, For the Real Jesus, For a Creator, a Case for Christ Study Bible and now even a Case for Grace but they are written by a man I grew up reading, Lee Strobel (! I would spend hours in the library hunkered over the microfiche reading his crime stories, he was a real news man who I respected and admired and now he was also a believer and exactly who God knew I would need to help me understand what I was feeling, learning and desiring!
 I have the ultimate HOPE in my Lord and Savior, I live by a blind faith in God but blind does not mean uninformed but rather willing to let Jesus do His work in me in His time, in His way and for His will. Unlike the environment I was raised in, afraid to speak up and ridiculed for always rocking the boat, I am now free to speak to God whenever I want about anything I need. I have always been known to call myself a lifelong student because I love to learn but I have never had more passion for knowledge than I do as a Child of the Most High!
You may not own and regularly read from five study Bibles as I do, or search for even more commentaries online either but a quest for knowledge with God simply starts with opening His word. As it says in our verse today, James 1:5, the Lord rewards our pursuit of wisdom generously. The Bible may have been written thousands of years ago and by men but it is a gift to us today, the ultimate user manual but you must crack it open and that is not just in print form anymore! I have an APP on my phone that reads the Bible to me, so even when I am so sick I can’t open my eyes or sit up I can still have His word wash over me. Don’t believe the lie that you are not smart enough to understand what you are reading or hearing, ask God for insight and help and He will honor that prayer every time. Before I read and study the word I pray Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law” and He has never failed me. Just a few short weeks after coming to Faith I sat in a room with thirty women who knew their Bibles and the sound of them turning right to the passage we were reading was deafening and keeping me from what God had for me in that Bible Study class. I closed my eyes and prayed in my heart for God to help me let Go of that distraction and the next thing I knew the Bible was opening to the exact page I needed! God longs for time with you, Jesus died to have a relationship with you and the Holy Spirit lives inside of you guiding you and praying for you! Open yourself up to the greatest love story ever told, yours and Gods and it is written for you in His word, called the Bible.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

My Journey of HOPE

Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. 
Be gentle with one another, sensitive. 
Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. 
Ephesians 4:31-32 The Message (MSG)

Over the past couple weeks I have shared how HOPE in Christ has equipped me to walk in Victory over addiction, mental illness and grief and I will continue to share the healing and redemption Jesus has brought me on my Journey of HOPE but there is one part of my life that I haven’t handed over to God and I want to share that struggle with you. When God brought me these words earlier this week I wondered why now and actually thought I can’t write about  this when I am writing a blog about HOPE but I realized that for all the victory and healing I have had this issue is weighing me down and keeping me from my greatest potential.

                                                                          Dear Unforgiveness,

I am breaking up with you. It is you, it is me and it is over. 
The truth is there are three sides to our story: yours, mine and God’s and the only side that is “right” is God’s. 
The merry-go-round of distorted details and specifics is running on our desire to be heard but we have grown deaf in the back and forth of it all.   
I am exhausted from the pain, I am sick over the hurt and I can’t grieve the loss another moment.
God himself is asking me to let this go and I will no  longer choose breaking His heart over holding onto my side of the story. 
Abba forgive me for my disobedience that started us down this destructive path. Lord help me to forgive so I can release the anger, squash the bitterness and eliminate the fear.  Help me to walk confidently as the girl you love. Jesus I need the biggest dose of that peace only you can offer and that surpasses our understanding. I need courage to not cower, divert my eyes in panic and shame and I need your strength to look upon those who have hurt me with love and mercy. Spirit guide my steps and empower me with Your truth so I can stop depending on my fickle feelings and bruised ego. Jesus, You paid the ultimate price for my salvation, You forgave the worst of me and pursue a relationship with me. In Your mighty name I declare myself free of unforgiveness; I choose to FORGIVE those who have hurt me and ask that You move in their hearts to find forgiveness as well but don’t need their forgiveness to live in victory. AMEN!