Looking Back So I Can Move Forward

The Light Behind Us photo by Cheryl ThompsonI swallowed hard when I saw this picture, posted on Facebook by my friend, Cheryl. My chest tightened. There was no way she could know this random moment caught on film represented the hardest moments in my spiritual journey.

 

 

 

Most people would say it’s wiser to press-on, full-steam ahead, and never look back. Many people believe it’s best to try to forget what’s behind us, declaring the past doesn’t define us so it’s futile to bring it up. Why dig up old skeletons so people can judge?

 

Over the years, I’ve discovered that many of those excuses stem from fear, shame, or denial.

 

There’s a huge difference between dwelling in the past and using the past to give God glory when we proclaim we’re no longer where He brought us from.

 

Like my friend realized when she decided to snap this picture, there is beauty piercing through the darkness we’re leaving behind.

 

The more we realize our value is in Christ alone and the more we trust His sovereign plan, the more we can accept that what’s behind us can fuel our hope and faith for the difficult twists and turns that may surprise us on the road ahead.

 

When everything around me feels dark, it helps me to think back on what God has already done in my life, in the lives of others, and in the Bible.

 

My faith is strengthened by testimonies.

 

There are many moments in my past I’m not proud of. Hurtful things that happened to me that I wish I could forget. Horrible things I’ve done that I would like to keep hidden. Things I’ve said that I know can never be taken back. Things that people have said to me that I wish I could ignore or totally erase from my memory. Decisions I’ve made, or decisions made by other people, that damaged or even destroyed relationships.

 

I ran away from God and people, trying to escape my past, but never managed to get away from myself.

 

Even before I knew the Lord, He protected me through every single one of those experiences.

 

When I saw Cheryl’s snapshot from the side mirror, I thanked God for rescuing me from myself. He saved me from self-help and self-destruction when He opened my eyes to see His glorious Light of love, grace, acceptance, and forgiveness.

 

Being honest about what God’s done in the past strengthens my faith and frees me to move forward into the unknown of my future, without being limited by fear or shame.

 

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)

 

Spiritual growth is a lifelong adventure. I’ve still got a long way to go. But I’m no longer afraid to face my past, or to embrace it. I share my testimony in hopes that God will use my experiences to encourage someone to place their hope in Him.

 

No matter how dark or scary our past may seem, a quick glimpse in the mirror will remind us how much God has already done for us. His grace fills our tanks with Spirit-empowered courage to persevere on the road ahead.

 

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Reflections:

 

What has God done for you in the past that can be a light of hope to help someone who is struggling or to help you trust God through your current circumstances?

 

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 by Cheryl Thompson

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When Instant Gratification Isn’t Gratifying

Cheetos PhotoI opened the refrigerator door. Blink. Blink. Do I really want to go through all the trouble of preparing a healthy snack when there’s a small bag of chips in the pantry, less than 2 feet away?

 

 

It would be easier and quicker if I snagged some Cheetos instead of taking time to pull out lunchmeat, mustard, cheese and an apple.

 

Easy. Quick. Now.

 

Sure one snack would make me feel sluggish and would probably have my stomach growling within the hour, while the other would satisfy my hunger and most likely give me a boost of energy. But at that moment, I wasn’t thinking about future repercussions.

 

I wanted my needs met. I wanted to be satisfied. Immediately.

 

I chomped each crunchy stick, reasoning my choice as acceptable. After all, the package declared Cheetos are “made with real cheese.”

 

Digging into the crinkling bag, I claimed every last crumb of Cheetos dust from the crevices of the silver lining.

 

Orange-stained fingertips and the empty bag only confirmed my suspicion. I could’ve made a better choice. I could’ve listened to that “voice in my head,” the voice that pricked my conscience and warned me that I’ve been down this road before.

 

My instant gratification wasn’t gratifying at all.

 

Somehow I knew, my feeling of dissatisfaction had very little to do with my snack choice.

 

In Acts 5: 1-10, Luke shares the story of Ananias and Sapphira. The Bible says the apostles Peter and John were filled with the Holy Spirit and were speaking “the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31b). God was growing His church. “[There] was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).

 

The people weren’t forced to give. Their needs weren’t compromised by their generosity.

 

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and held back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles feet” (Acts 5:1-2).

 

The Lord had proven that He would meet the needs of all His people. All they had to do was trust Him with everything and be patient. Still, Ananias and his wife wanted their bag of chips upfront.

 

Easy. Quick. Now.

 

Peter reminded Ananias that the land was his, given to him by God. It was his to give or keep. Yet, instead of admitting that he wasn’t willing to trust everything to God, Ananias lied.

 

Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God”(Acts 5:4b).

 

Ananias died right there on the spot. His wife came to the apostles a few hours later. She had no idea what had happened to her husband. Peter tried to give her a way out of her self-made pit, but she lied, too.

 

This couple thought they could deceive God. They took what they felt they deserved, what they needed to gratify their immediate desires, and held back from the Lord.

 

Maybe they were greedy. Maybe they were afraid God wouldn’t meet their personal needs, even though they witnessed His amazing provision in the lives of all the believers in their congregation.

 

Regardless of their reasons, Ananias and Sapphira took the easy route, the sure thing, the self-help path, the way devoid of integrity and faith, the deceptive road of denial.

 

They experienced how instant gratification can often lead to self-destruction. And at the end of their journey, they found no satisfaction.

 

While my snack dilemma didn’t cause me to face a life-and-death decision, it did remind me that my choices shouldn’t be made in an effort to meet my immediate fleshly desires.

 

Settling for instant gratification can pull us into the pit of despair, discouragement, or dissatisfaction, whether were talking about food choices, relationships, decision making, or trusting God to keep His promises.

 

But when we believe God meets our needs in His timing and according to His perfect will, we can give to God and others without fear of being in want.

 

Lord, thank You for reminding us that waiting on You is a sign of wisdom and faith. Please help us avoid the temptation to settle for instant gratification, which often leads to dissatisfaction, discontent, or destruction of self, relationships with others and our intimacy with You. In Jesus’ name, amen

 

In what area of your life is it hardest to avoid the temptation of settling for instant gratification?

 

What are some things we can do or some verses that can help us trust God to lead us, transform us, or provide for us, even when we’re tempted to speed things along for Him? 

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My Unsavory Surprise

DSC_0101I was sitting at the dining room table, checking email on my phone, when the black blur skittered up my purple sleeve and across my shoulder. The tickle of eight scurrying legs traveled up my neck, across my cheek, and onto my hair.

 

 

Quicker than a frog tongue snapping up a fly, I hopped to my feet and did the one-arm-slap-myself-dance. My flailing swats sent the spider flying off my person and onto the tablecloth.

 

I cried out for help as I watched my dime-sized attacker zipping down then up the table leg and under the tablecloth at lightning speed.

 

Enter husband to the rescue!

 

After a minute/felt-like-and-hour search, the pencil eraser sized spider was curled up on the carpet.

 

Hmm. It looked much bigger when it was invading my personal space.

 

Alan looked at me and shook his head. “You’re going to be hurting after hopping around like that.”

 

I chose silence. But in my mind, I seethed with sarcasm.

 

Why didn’t I think about that, Honey? Maybe it was because I was being attacked by a spider the size of a nickel! At least that’s what it felt like at the time.

 

Yes, like a fisherman’s tale of the morning’s catch, the spider got larger every time I thought about it. And the more I thought about it, I realized that by reacting to unsavory surprises I caused myself pain more times than I would like to admit. In my overreacting, I often hurt others more than I hurt myself.

 

In 1 Samuel 25, Scripture shares an example of David reacting instead of responding to an unsavory situation.

 

David sent some of his men to ask Nabal for supplies. He was shocked when the rich man refused to help. After all, David and his men had asked nicely, even though they had the power to take what they wanted by force. They had protected Nabal’s shepherds and their herds. David expected a little gratitude. Nabal was anything but grateful.

 

The Bible says that David immediately reacted to Nabal’s refusal in anger. He gave the order to slaughter Nabal and every one of the men under his charge (vv. 21-22).

 

Thank goodness God is always working behind the scenes!

 

Nabal’s wife, Abigail, became the voice of peace. She reminded David that hasty reactions can result in painful, long-lasting consequences (vv. 26-31).

 

David pondered Abigail’s words, which is a beautiful expression of his humility considering how women were viewed in his culture during the Old Testament times. He chose to respond by trusting the Lord to handle the situation as he proceeded to live in obedience and faith (vv. 32-35). And God continued to bless David.

 

When we’re surprised or upset by circumstances like David, it’s tempting to react without considering future consequences. This can lead to regret and a long list of apologies required.

 

God gives us the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and the church to guide us in wisdom and truth.

 

But it’s hard to hear anything, much less honor the Lord, when we’re reacting to situations based on our feelings alone.

 

We can avoid much pain and hardship when we stop to think about how our actions might affect others. When we listen to wise counsel and pray before we make decisions, we can avoid reacting in anger or fear.

 

Will I respond calmly the next time a spider plops onto any portion of my body?

 

Probably not!

 

But, I will ask God to keep my spirit calm and focused on Him so I can respond with wisdom instead of reacting to my feelings the next time I’m surprised or hurt by the unsavory surprises in life.

 

What helps you to respond instead of react to bad or difficult circumstances?

 

How did you deal with the collateral damage after your negative reaction caused painful consequences in your life and/or in the lives of someone you love?

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Celebrating the Inspire Victory Book Launch

Inspire Victory Book CoverInspire Christian Writers is celebrating the launch of Inspire Victory during the month of May, 2014.

I’m praising God for the privilege of serving through this awesome ministry opportunity.

My short stories, Never Alone and The Apology, and one poem, Amazing By Grace, have been published in this year’s anthology.

Praise the Lord!

 

 

Inspire Victory - Book Launch - 2I pray God will use every writer in this anthology to inspire readers to rise up with victorious praise in all circumstances.

 

 

 

Please help us spread the word so we can continue spreading God’s Word through the art of storytelling and poetry.

 

Inspire Victory - Book Launch - 7You can order your copy at Barnes & Noble or Amazon today!

Thanks for your support.

 

 

 

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Why God’s Presence is Enough

God will meet you where you're at Hawaii by LEP ask Em first Aug 2013“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1, NIV)

Over the last two years, God blessed me with the privilege of encouraging two amazing women through their chemo treatments.

 

 

One, Louise, went home to Jesus after a valiant battle with throat cancer. The other, my sweet sister in Christ, Yamilett, recently celebrated her last day of chemo.

 

I never wondered why God was giving me the opportunity to sit with these women during their chemo treatments. It didn’t occur to me that He could be preparing me for the news I received on January 21, 2014.

 

My mom was diagnosed with Acute Leukemia.

 

In a matter of hours, my life changed forever. I was no longer the supportive friend of a cancer patient.

 

Cancer hit home.

 

Throughout my mom’s healing journey, she continues to assure us that she feels God is with her.

 

For my dear friend, Louise, God’s presence was enough to keep her caring spirit focused on others as she blessed us with kind words and a radiant smile until the day the Lord called her home.

 

For Yamilett, God’s presence is enough to fill her with hope as He empowers her to persevere in her fight against breast cancer, inspiring others with her story and her artwork.

 

For my mom, our family’s faithful prayer warrior, God’s presence is enough to provide peace and infuse her courageous faith as she prepares for her bone marrow transplant.

 

The lives of these three amazing women of God, and the countless examples of genuine faith in the Bible, have taught me that God’s presence is truly enough no matter how unbearable our afflictions may feel.

 

As I begin my twentieth month in my own healing journey, these testimonies of God’s mighty presence and the words of Psalm 46:1 bring me comfort.

 

“God is . . .” Yes. God is constant and unchanging. This is a continual promise, an assurance that doesn’t lessen with the intensity of hardship.

 

“. . . our refuge and strength . . .” God is personal. This is a total package promise, an affirmation that reminds us Who is in charge of protecting and providing for us.

 

“. . . an ever-present help in trouble.” God is always with us. This is a proclamation of relationship, intimacy that can satisfy our deepest needs even when we don’t receive everything on our list of wants.

 

After declaring the promise in verse one, the psalmist explains the impact of this powerful truth.

 

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:2, NIV)

 

God’s presence trumps our fears.

 

Circumstances may make us feel like everything is crumbling all around us. Our life may feel like a raging storm. We may feel weary from the continual aftershocks that keep us falling to our knees.

 

But, when we focus on our ever-changing feelings, we can forget to tap into the power of the ever-present God Who is, Who was and always will be with us.

 

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” (Psalm 46:4-5, NIV)

 

When we surrender our life to Christ, repent, and receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, we become the “holy place where the Most High dwells.”

 

The Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Trinity, dwells within every follower of Christ. We can trust Him to help us because God is incapable of breaking His promises.

 

Hallelujah!

 

Lord, please help us feel Your constant and mighty presence. Keep our focus on Who You are and what You’ve done, instead of on who we are, what we’ve done, or what we feel incapable of doing. Please fill us with Spirit-empowered courage, peace and hope as we remember You are always with us, always working and always in control. In Jesus’ name, amen

 

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When is it hardest for people to feel comforted by knowing God is constantly present during difficult circumstances?

 

How can knowing God is with us help us during seasons of affliction?

 

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Photo by Lauren Pfahlert

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