Still Looking Back and Moving Forward

The Light Behind Us photo by Cheryl Thompson

The darkness of the past can paralyze the bravest warrior.

Wisdom moves full-steam ahead and never looks back. Why dig up old skeletons and risk people judging?

The optimist who fritters the day away in the depths of my mind pipes, “God can use the past for good.”

My doubt blares like a siren.

Lord, don’t You remember the shameful moments riddling my past? Don’t You recall the poor decisions damaging, and sometimes destroying, relationships? What about the careless words I’ve spoken, the hurtful words of others that I can’t seem to forget? How can You use the painful things that happened to me, and the horrible things I’ve done, Lord?

Fear and shame morph into an iron shield, separating me from people and from God.

Still, the Holy Spirit breathes truth that eventually begins melting my steely heart.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves we have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

I respond.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD, my God, I will give you thanks forever.” (Psalm 30:11-12, NIV)

Dwelling in the past differs greatly from using the past to give God glory.

Like my friend realized when she snapped this picture, beauty pierces through the darkness we’re leaving behind.

The unconditional love of the One who knows and wants to be known creates a powerful healing balm. In mercy, He turns heart-wrenching circumstances into testimonies of His faithfulness.

Because God knows our purpose, we can thank Him for using hardships to reveal our great need for Him. Because God works for the good of all who love Him, we can appreciate the longsuffering that magnifies the truth of His power made perfect in our weakness. Because God redeems, we can share our story and point to His power and grace.

A wise psalmist penned these words:

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy. What God is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:11-14)

Faith roots deep when watered by witnesses of God’s faithfulness in our lives, in the lives of others, and in the Bible.

Every child of God is a living testimony of His life-transforming grace. His Light pierces through the dark parts of our past and uses our story to shine hope into the lives of others.

Lord, please give us opportunities to share our testimonies with others. Use our experiences to encourage someone to place their hope in You. In Jesus’ name, Amen

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Reflections:

What has God done for you in the past that can refresh your faith or shine hope into a friend’s dark situation?

What’s stopping you from sharing your testimony and giving God glory for what He’s done?

If you’ve shared your testimony, how have you and others been blessed by your courage to be transparent and honest about your past struggles?

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Photo taken by Cheryl Thompson and used with permission. Portions of this article previously published at www.xedixon.com, June 2014 and at FBCVV.com January 2015.

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The Apology (Short Story – Fiction)

 

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (1 Cor 13-13) - Blog - The Apology

I adjusted my duffle bag over my shoulder and held the letter at arm’s length, not impressed by the gray-speckled business stationary. My father’s name overpowered the custom logo: Elias Whitaker.

Each word jabbed me straight in the gut. “I love you. I miss you. Please forgive me.” Wadding up the paper, envelope and all, I tossed it into my wastebasket just as Mom passed my room.

“Brandon.” She slipped through the doorway, dropped to her knees, and sifted through the trash. “Trust the Lord to work things out, Son.”

How could I tell her I was on the outs with God, too? “Elias is dead to me.”

“He’s still your father.” She stood, wiped her cheek, and unfolded the wrinkled wad of worthless excuses.

I scowled, torn between comforting my mother and wanting to bash a lineman into some turf. “Game’s at seven. Gotta go.”

My father had let me down again and again. My heavenly Father’s record wasn’t much better.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.

“Yeah, right!” I threw my gear into the passenger seat, swept a half-empty bag of barbeque chips onto the floor, and slid behind the steering wheel.

Elias traded us in for a new wife and their baby, born a month after the courts made the divorce official. Even without Honor’s classes, I could do the math.

I downed an energy drink as I sped to the stadium. What if I never made it to the game?

The thought of my mom alone in the bleachers slammed me back into reality. That wouldn’t make things better, for me or her. I crushed the empty aluminum can and hurled it at the dashboard.

***

A month later, Elias moved to the East Coast with his new family. He called less, making it easier for me to stay mad.

When my anger erupted into punching walls, Mom shipped me off to a boot camp, for my own good. At the Mount Calvary Youth Retreat, under a sky splattered with stars I never bothered to notice before, I asked God to help me believe Him again.

Mom accepted my apology without a hitch when she picked me up from the church a week later.

I grabbed my dusty Bible from my closet as soon as I got home. She’d stashed the crinkled, gray-speckled envelope between the crisp pages. Good try, Mom.

Shoving the letter in my sock drawer, I set the black leather book on my nightstand.

I read Scripture daily, went to youth group weekly, and served in the sound booth once a month.

As a master at tuning out sermons and skipping over verses that taught forgiveness, I clung to bitterness like a fourth quarter lead on the scoreboard.

***

A few months before graduation, Mom got a call from Elias’ cell phone. After two full weeks of praying, I hopped onto an eastbound plane. I unpacked my carry-on in my aunt’s guest room and thanked her for letting me borrow her Cadillac.

I inhaled the scents of new leather, coffee, and my aunt’s fruity hugs, as I obeyed the GPS lady. Pulling into the parking lot, I glanced into my rearview mirror. “Too late to turn back now.”

Scattered oak trees, their gnarled branches hardened and scarred, stood firm against the bullying wind. Glaring at the manicured lawn, I hunched out of the car, staggered by a slap of cold air.

I zipped up my letterman’s jacket until the collar choked me, followed the directions I’d been given, and mumbled under my breath. “What am I doing here?”

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Slumping onto the designated concrete bench, I blew into my palms and rubbed them together. “Lord, help me.”

Nothing.

Billowing clouds darkened the horizon. Why would God answer me? All this time, I gripped hate like a game winning catch. I shut my father out. Always disappointed, defiant, demanding.

But today? Defeated.

Boots clump-clumped on the cobblestone walkway.

My grace is sufficient for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I prayed for the courage to let go, as the steps stopped behind me.

How could I be forgiven for all the times I’d spoken without considering the serrated edges of my insults?

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.

Shifting winds hacked away the last of my resistance. I stood, head lowered. Turning toward the stranger, I whispered, “I’m sorry, too.”

He stooped just long enough to place flowers on a neighboring, weathered headstone.

Facing the pale marble in front of me, I read the words carved across its polished surface: Elias Whitaker, Beloved Husband and Father.

My slow obedience always had me lagging three steps behind and, this time, two weeks too late.

Jaw clenched, I plodded past the stranger. I bet he didn’t miss out on the years replaced with a dash on his loved one’s grave marker.

Crackling leaves whipped around me, scraping across the cobblestones as I trudged toward the lonely parking lot. I squinted as the sun pierced through the gray clouds, rays of light cutting across the dark canvas.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I placed my hands at ten and two. “I really do forgive you, Dad.” A breathed prayer slipped over my lips. “Help me forgive myself, too, Lord.”

The stuffed yellow bunny I’d picked up at the airport smiled at me from the passenger seat. I adjusted the floppy ears and lopsided pink bow. Not perfect, by a long shot. But, it was a start.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

“All right.” I turned the key in the ignition. “It’s about time I meet my little sister.”

 

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The original version of “The Apology” by Xochi E. Dixon, First Rights only, previously published by ENCOUNTER – The Magazine, Sept 16, 2012

An edited version of “The Apology” by Xochi E. Dixon, published in Inspire Victory, 2014.

This version of “The Apology” by Xochi E. Dixon, edited to under 1000 words, as is customary of Flash Fiction, January 2016.

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Scripture Used (In order of appearance):

 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. (Psalm 34:18; 2 NIV)

 

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Corinthians 12:9a NIV)

 

My grace is sufficient for my power is made perfect in weakness. (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

 

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him. (Luke 6:37)

 

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)

 

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (Romans 4:8 NIV)

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The Circle of Forgiveness: The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Circle of Forgiveness - Photo by Begona Jan 29, 2016

I sat at the kitchen table and folded the crisp pages of the bill we received after my last shoulder surgery. We owed over forty-eight thousand dollars.

After incurring extra expenses when serving as my mom’s live-in caregiver, we depleted our savings. Still, God provided every time a need arose.

Not once did my husband hesitate when I asked him to send supplies or told him about unexpected expenses during my time away. But this?

I pressed my face into my hands. I don’t know what to do, Lord.

Considering that my husband had recently taken a severe pay cut after nearly a year of unemployment, even paying half the amount of this medical bill would require years of payments. I mulled over my minimal options, unfolded the letter, and laid it flat on the table.

Help us, Lord.

I called the office, explained our situation to the billing clerk, and asked her for a payment plan as I held back tears.

She sighed. “Hold on a second.”

As the on-hold music played, I prayed. Your will be done, Lord.

The music stopped. “Are you there?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She cleared her throat. “We zeroed out your account.”

I swallowed hard. “Excuse me?”

“The doctor zeroed out your account.”

My voice quivered. “But we owe you−”

“Not anymore. He said focus on recovery.” Her voice softened. “We’re sorry about your mom.”

I stared at the bill in front of me. Zero balance? “Thank You, Lord.”

The clerk chuckled.

After we said goodbye, I called my husband to share the good news. His response mirrored mine.

For a brief moment, I considered saving the bill. But why would I want a constant reminder of what I used to owe?

The doctor had forgiven our debt. Completely.

In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus shares “The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant.” In this story, a king decided to settle his accounts. When a servant realized he was unable to pay the amount owed, he pleaded for mercy. The compassionate king canceled his debt of ten thousand talents.

The servant immediately left the king’s presence and went looking for a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii. When he found his fellow servant, he choked him, demanded full payment, and refused to offer mercy.

He had forgotten the mercy the king had showed him for a debt much higher than what his fellow servant owed.

In New Testament times, ten thousand talents equaled to several million dollars. A denarius compared as chump change, a whopping sixteen cents. One hundred denarii could be earned and repaid with three months wages. But ten thousand talents amounted to an overwhelming debt.

When the king heard about the unmerciful servant, his anger burned. He rebuked the man and threw him in jail to be tortured until he could pay back all he owed.

After presenting the shameful behavior of the unmerciful servant, Jesus says, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35, NIV)

Whenever I struggle with forgiveness, I ask God for a reminder of what forgiveness means.

Forgiveness is an ongoing choice empowered by the Holy Spirit, a difficult journey requiring a daily commitment. Forgiveness is a conscious choice of freeing the forgiver, not pretending the sin never occurred.

Forgiveness isn’t an act of minimizing or justifying the sin of the offender. Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the guilt of the offender.

Forgiveness is a direct reflection of the heart of the offended and their personal relationship with God.

When we forgive, we’re trusting the Lord to judge and offer mercy to whom He chooses. We’re taking responsibility for our own sin, recognizing our need for grace and forgiveness, and understanding others have the same need.

Sometimes, it seems as if evil reigns and sins go undetected. But, the Bible teaches we will all be held responsible for everything we’ve done, including our willingness or refusal to forgive others.

The King of Kings will settle every account when He returns. But will we be willing to follow His example and obey His command to forgive, no matter what the personal cost?

When my doctor wrote off our account balance, he forgave our overwhelming financial debt out of the goodness of his heart, not because of my actions or words. In the same way, God offers forgiveness to those who repent and turn from their sin, because of His own goodness.

The circle of forgiveness begins at the cross.

An intimate exchange that begins with us, as individuals, in loving surrender to God, forgiveness is a command, not a request or a good idea.

This hasn’t always been an easy concept for me to grasp. In the past, I excused my unforgiveness by comparing my sins to the sins of those who hurt me. I justified my unforgiveness as a response to being hurt.

When forgiveness feels impossible, we can ask God to help us see ourselves and others through His eyes. We can ask Him to give us compassion for others who, like us, desperately require God’s grace.

When we consider all Christ did for us, all He gave for us, all He has forgiven us, our icy hearts melt into submission and loving obedience.

In His power and by His grace, our forgiveness toward others will begin to flow freely, more often than not.

Lord, thank You for knowing how hard it is for us to trust You to decide who deserves mercy, especially when we’ve been hurt. Please reveal our own sin to us and help us to stop comparing ourselves to others. Give us courage to commit to living a lifestyle of forgiving, as we remember You alone are qualified to be judge. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

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A version of The Circle of Forgiveness: The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant by Xochi E. Dixon was previously published on the FBCVV Blog in March 2015.

Photo take by and used with permission from Begona Maier.

Meme Created by X. E. Dixon

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The Joy of Serving as a Guest Writer at Deeper Waters

Deeper Waters - Meme for Bible in a Box - published Jan 20, 2016God blessed me with an opportunity to serve through the ministry of Deeper Waters this week.

If you want to know a sure fire way to grow deeper in your personal relationship with God, please check out my devotion “Bible in a Box,” published on the Deeper Waters website.

Join this wonderful team of women as they encourage others to read through the book of Joshua and experience the life-transforming power of meeting God face-to-face in Scripture.

If you’re encouraged by any of the devotions on their website, please take a moment to comment and/or share them through your social media links.

We never know how God can use the stories we share to minister to the heart of a sister we didn’t even know was struggling or longing to know God more.

Thanks for your continued prayerful support and encouragement. It’s a blessing to be growing with you, Sisters.

In His love and by His grace,

Xochi

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Meme created by and used with permission from The Deeper Waters Team.

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The Conditions of Forgiveness (Book Giveaway)

Blog - Begona -Conditions of Forgiveness Jan 15, 2016“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” −Matthew 18:21-22

As I study these verses again, my husband and I are preparing to celebrate our 21st anniversary.

 

While I thank God for helping us stay the course under circumstances that would dissolve many solid marriages, I hate to admit that one of the most challenging areas of our life together revolves around the conditions of forgiveness.

It seems I’m much quicker to forgive hurt initiated by people outside my immediate family.

Even strangers seem to receive more grace than my loved ones.

Whenever my husband causes me pain, even the smallest wounds cut to the bone. The gash remains open, the perfect breeding ground for resentment and fear.

For years I held grudges against my spouse. I stored up past pain and sharpened verbal attacks like poisonous spears. I excelled in target practice with my tongue. I struck with words, aiming for kill shots, maiming breaks and shiny scars.

Where grace overflowed toward others, I spit criticism toward my husband.

I sought refuge in my relationship with God, asking Him to change my spouse. “If only You’ll change him, Lord. I wouldn’t be so angry.”

But as God’s Word penetrated my heart, I surrendered to the Holy Spirit’s guiding voice. His truth magnified my own guilt.

I thought staying married meant I had forgiven my husband. The tension in our relationship proved me wrong.

My mirror revealed the fool who relentlessly worked to destroy my home from the inside out.

As God plowed through years of resentment, He readied my heart for closer inspection. At first I resisted. Until one day, pain glimmered in my husband’s eyes.

His words shattered every wall I’d built to protect myself. “How many times do I have to say I’m sorry for that? I wish I could take it back. But I can’t.”

In that moment, I realized the immensity of my error.

Holding on to old hurts rooted me in the pit of the past.

When I focused on my husband’s shortcomings, I missed out on celebrating his spiritual growth. I failed to see what he was doing right because I couldn’t let go of the things he had done wrong.

Little offenses seemed monumental because they piled onto a foundation of ancient war wounds.

My unforgiving attitude blinded me to my own sinful habits and threatened to dissolve my marriage.

I cried out, “But how can I keep forgiving when he repeats the same offense, Lord?”

God’s still small voice responded, “Have you ever repeated the same offense toward him? Have you ever sinned against Me repeatedly and expected grace and forgiveness?”

“But my sin pales in comparison to his, Lord.”

“Are you sure about that? Aren’t you compared to Me, the One True and Holy God, not him, a fallible human being like yourself?”

“But isn’t there a magic number, a line in the sand, a breaking point?”

“Where do you want Me to draw that line for you, Beloved? At what point do you want Me to cut off My grace, to limit My willingness to forgive you?”

Still, I couldn’t seem to release the grudges. I continued to bring up my husband’s past mistakes.

Like Peter, I looked for a loophole, any reason to justify my inability to forgive.

When I read Matthew 18:21-22, I thought I found the perfect escape route.

“Seventy-seven times, Lord. That’s it? Let me count how many times I’ve already forgiven. At seventy-eight I can refuse forgiveness. No mercy. Just plain old wrath and vengeance.”

God’s still small voice gently retorted, “So you’ve never disobeyed Me over seventy-seven times? You’ve never struggled with falling short?”

“I can manage seventy-seven times, but not one more, Lord.”

In His faithfulness and lovingkindness, the Holy Spirit reminded me that Scripture must be interpreted in the context in which it was given.

As much as I wanted to deny truth, I knew Jesus didn’t literally put a cap on the number of times He expected us to forgive.

When Jesus multiplied seven and ten and added another seven, he dug into the local culture. The numbers seven and ten represented completeness.

Jesus lovingly commands us to forgive completely, continually, and unconditionally, just as He forgives us.

The apostle Peter failed to find a loophole in God’s conditions of forgiveness, because there are no conditions.

Forgiveness doesn’t expire or have a use-by date.

And forgiving doesn’t mean allowing people to continue hurting us or pretending the hurt isn’t real. The closer we get to God, the more we’ll be able to see and set healthy and holy boundaries without holding tight to unforgiving attitudes.

Our choice to forgive doesn’t really have anything to do with the offender. Rather, the ability to forgive reflects the trust we have in our relationship with God as Good Shepherd, Sovereign Judge, Almighty Lord, and Faithful Redeemer.

After years of insane arguments with the Lord, I finally learned to trust Him to have the final word. I repented and turned away from my sin, asking Him to help me forgive my husband once and for all.

By His grace, God’s helping me to stop living in fear of possible pain and resentment of past pain.

He’s helping me to trust Him as I surrender to His leading in the ongoing waltz of forgiveness.

The waltz.

Jesus leads. His disciples follow.

Lord, thank You for assuring us that forgiveness doesn’t excuse the offender or minimize the offense. When it’s hard to let go of the hurt, help us remember that forgiving is an expression of loving You through obedience. By forgiving, the depth of our faith is revealed when we trust You to offer forgiveness and mercy as You see fit. Please give us wisdom to set healthy and holy boundaries and the strength to forgive selflessly, just as You have forgiven us. In Jesus’ name, Amen

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Who have you been struggling to forgive? Are you ready to ask God to help you release the offender into His hands, so that you can experience the freeing peace of obedience by forgiving as you have been forgiven?

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Inspire Forgiveness Book Cover from Inspire BlogBOOK GIVEAWAY: To celebrate the release of Inspire Forgiveness, the anthology in which my short story, “Crossing the Line,” is published, I’m celebrating the ways God has helped me grow through forgiveness.

To rejoice in His grace, I’m posting this article, “The Conditions of Forgiveness,” originally published on my church’s blog in 2015, and giving away two copies of Inspire Forgiveness.

To enter the drawing for a chance to win one of two free copies of Inspire Forgiveness, you can comment under this blog post, comment on the link to this article on Facebook, like and/or share my Facebook Author Page, tag me when you share this post on your page, or all of the above. I’ll choose a winner on Sunday, January 17, 2016 at 8pm PST, and post results on Facebook, Twitter, and at the end of this post.

I appreciate your support and am looking forward to growing with you.

AND THE WINNERS ARE: Betty Ferguson and Jenna O.

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“The Conditions of Forgiveness” was previously published at www.fbcvv.com on March 21, 2015

Meme created by Xochi E. Dixon, using a photo taken by and used with permission from Begona Maier.

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