Radical Forgiveness Frees Innocent Victims

MEME - Only God Can Judge - July 24, 2017As I listened to the woman sharing how God helped her forgive her abusers, my heart ached. Her story mirrored some details in my past, but I couldn’t pretend to understand exactly how she felt. I couldn’t duplicate the ways she processed her pain, either.

Every innocent victim’s journey toward healing is complex and unique. There are no pat answers or secret formulas to help victims work through emotions and move forward.

Each one of us needs our healing path and pace to be respected. We need support from family, from friends, and often from professionals. We need understanding and, most importantly, patience and prayer.

There are no normal timelines in a person’s road to healing.

When we arrive at that crossroad moment and are faced with the choice of forgiving or clinging to unforgiveness, we need grace . . . especially God’s life-changing grace.

While that woman shared her heartbreaking story, I realized I’d been deceiving myself for years.

I’ve moved on. I’ve gotten over it. I don’t think about it anymore.

I was wrong, so wrong.

Although I’d went on with my life, I’d never forgiven those whose actions made me an innocent victim.

Without even realizing it, I’d settled for a guarded life behind a self-imposed prison of unforgiveness and armed myself with fear, bitterness, and denial.

I had allowed unforgiveness to control me and hinder me from embracing the completeness of my freedom in Christ, making my past an anchor.

But as I continued to get closer to God, the more I loved Him, believed Him, and trusted Him, I couldn’t escape that crossroad decision.

Would I forgive as I’d been forgiven? Could I?

As I listened to the woman’s sharing about what forgiving her abusers had done for her, I wanted so badly to experience that peace.

Forgiving wasn’t about letting my offenders off the hook, but being freed from them for good.

With support from my husband and God’s limitless power and patience, I finally understood radical forgiveness was hinged on learning what forgiveness is and isn’t.

Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4In Total Forgiveness (pp. 11-19), R.T. Kendall states forgiveness is not approving, excusing, or justifying the hurtful actions of others.

Forgiving is not pardoning the offender, because we’re not authorized to do what only God can do as the only rightfully crowned Judge.

By forgiving, we’re not denying what happened, turning a blind eye to the offense, or even forgetting how we were hurt. The Lord never asks us to minimize our hurts by not taking the offenses seriously or pretending the scars don’t exist.

When we choose radical forgiveness, we’re breaking down every wall of denial and facing the facts of what happened to us or the person we care about, so that true healing can begin.

A false belief about forgiveness is that reconciliation is mandatory. But reconciliation means both parties admit the offense and agree to restore the relationship, which is not always possible, healthy, or safe.

However, we can be blessed with restoration.

Restoration: a personal revival, the restitution of what was taken or lost, a dignified process of renewal that no one can prevent us from experiencing through the love of Christ.

God’s goodness is not tainted when bad things happen and innocent people are hurt in this fallen world.

Our compassionate Father grieves with us and remains close to the brokenhearted. He affirms nothing will remain hidden, that all people will have to give an account to Him for every action and every thought (Matthew 12:36; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

In light of all Christ has done, in light of all He promises to do, in light of His perfect love for us, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven . . . even when it feels impossible and even when it doesn’t make sense.

Whenever I have a hard time placing offenders in God’s hands, I think about Joseph (Genesis 37-50).

His jealous brothers sold him to slavery and lied to their father about his disappearance. When Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attacking her, Joseph was imprisoned for years. He suffered abuse, endured betrayal, and bore the negative consequences of someone else’s actions.

We don’t know everything that happened to him during those years of enslavement and imprisonment, but we know how he responded to God.

Joseph lived in freedom and peace, despite his past or his current circumstances.

No matter what happened to him, Joseph trusted God, praised God, and obeyed God.

The Lord remained with Joseph and, at the right time, placed him in a position of power over Pharaoh’s house. When famine struck Egypt and his brothers showed up to ask for help, Joseph forgave them and everyone else who had hurt him.

Joseph knew God hadn’t wasted his journey.

Though he had every right and reason to be angry, Joseph had placed the past behind him and didn’t even bring up the past or seek revenge on those who had hurt him along the way.

Only healthy processing and peace through God’s power could have kept Joseph focused on the Lord’s purpose and allowed him to trust God to choose how justice would be served.

Radical forgiveness is impossible without God’s help.

Radical forgiveness doesn’t make sense.

Radical forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender or the offense.

By faith, we’re acknowledging that sin is sin and admitting we’re all sinners compared to our perfect and holy God, not one another.

As we place ourselves and our offenders in God’s hands, we’re accepting our freedom and declaring our trust in God’s character.

By forgiving we’re proclaiming our belief in God’s sovereign care and our confidence in God as the only rightful and completely trustworthy Judge.

We can trust God to bring all things to light, to right all wrongs, to hold all accountable in His way and in His time.

Through radical forgiveness, innocent victims break free from the bondage of the hurt that threatens to steal the joy, peace, and hope that is rightfully our inheritance as God’s beloved children.

Lord, there are some offenses and some offenders that feel impossible to forgive when we’re working with the wrong definition of forgiveness. Please help us remember Your command to release offenders into Your hands is intended as a first step toward restoring what was taken from us. Please help us trust You, as You make us more like You, so we can live the new life promised through You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Radical Forgiveness is Loving Obedience to God

MEME - Forgiveness is letting go of the hurt - Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Quote - July 2017“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

When I started planning this series a few months ago, I’d been asking God to help me forgive a few people in my life who had not admitted their sins against me or repented.

I wanted to obey God. I wanted to forgive. Period.

So, I asked for a heart-check and began studying what God says about forgiveness.

In my B.J. (Before Jesus) days, I boasted being a master at casting blame on the people I’d hurt. If I hurt them, they must have done something to provoke me. Besides, what they did was way worse than what I did. Right?

After Jesus exposed my plank-in-eye syndrome, I saw how justifying, minimizing, and excusing my sin worsened the hurt I’d caused others and pushed me further away from them and from God.

I’ve always had a hard time letting go of the hurt when receiving surface-apologies. These poor attempts at repentance usually begin with a phrase like, “I’m sorry you feel hurt, but . . .”

It’s painful when someone claims you caused their hurtful actions. It’s like an abuser saying, “I’m sorry I hit you, but you made me do it.”

Not only is that a lie, it’s passive-aggressive manipulation.

It took me years to realize the victim mentality, common in one who has not processed or healed from past pain, often resembles an abuser’s mentality.

My heart grieved when God began to help me recognize those destructive behaviors in others close to me, and even in myself.

Learning how to embrace the art of radical forgiveness required me to learn how to process my own pain in a healthy and holy way.

I used to slip on my victim-jersey, look for hints of offenses against me, and eagerly tell the world how I’d been wronged.

I named names and shared details with whoever would listen.

I disguised my gossip as prayer requests and enjoyed when people felt sorry for me or took my side. It felt good when people admired me for being so strong or so kind after being so wronged.

But in 2005, when I first read Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, God used the following statement to convict me on how I processed my pain:

“If you must tell another person what happened‒because you can’t contain the pain‒tell only one, and choose someone who won’t repeat it.” (p. 10)

By the time I re-read Total Forgiveness in 2009, God had carried me through plenty of tough ordeals that required me to put this skill into practice.

In one situation, mutual friends informed me someone was gossiping and slandering my name.

While I wanted to come to my defense, God stilled my tongue.

Oh, how I wanted to pray for vengeance like the psalmists who stood on the retribution principle.

But God made it clear I wasn’t supposed to tell Him how to fix my offender, prove how wrong they were, or demand everyone be told the truth about what really happened.

Instead, often through sobs and a few layers of stubborn pride, I remembered how Jesus prayed for those who cheered as He was crucified.

I asked Him to help me forgive.

The Lord wants none to perish. If my desire is to be more Christ-like, I would want none to perish, too, wouldn’t I?

Surely a trustworthy King would provide healing care, perfect justice, and fight on my behalf.

He did. He does. And He’ll continue to do so.

Being committed to radical forgiveness is a lifetime process of learning . . . and failing.

With my identity more secured in Christ, I re-read Total Forgiveness in 2014 after being hurt deeply by someone close to me. I praised God that I no longer felt the immediate need to play the victim and demand justice when I’d been hurt.

He helped me process my pain through personal prayer and Bible study. I shared minimal details with a couple of prayer partners who promised not to judge, who desired reconciliation and prayed for restoration, and who weren’t afraid to tell me when I was in the wrong.

By God’s grace, that relationship is now stronger than ever! Hallelujah!

I don’t always handle situations perfectly, but I’ve finally accepted I’m not defined by my sin or controlled by the sins of others.

Being rooted in my relationship with God makes forgiving a demonstration of my confidence in His trustworthiness and loving care.

In Matthew 18:21-35, the apostle Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. Jesus’s answer is interpreted as perfect forgiveness, ongoing and complete, just like Christ has forgiven us.

Jesus shared the story of a servant begging for mercy when confronted with his insurmountable debt to the king (vv.23-26). Once forgiven, that servant went out and found another servant who owed him, demanded payment, and refused to extend the mercy he’d received from the king (vv. 27-30).

In referring to how the king responded to the unforgiving servant (vv. 31-34), Jesus said: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (v. 35)

As Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune so eloquently said, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting, it’s letting go of the hurt.”

When we’re committed to living in radical forgiveness, God helps us realize our sin is no better or no worse than the sins of others.

He’ll help us trust Him to protect our reputations and heal our wounds, even when the scars run deep.

God will handle every offense and offender justly.

So, we don’t need to tell everyone how someone wounded us. We don’t need to prove we’re right and someone else is wrong. And we don’t need others to admit their transgressions before we forgive them.

When we submit to God and truly believe His grace is sufficient and His love unconditional, we can be freed by forgiveness, expecting and extending mercy . . . unlike that wicked servant.

Radical forgiveness is simply loving obedience to God.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, minimizing, justifying, or accepting sin.

Forgiveness never requires us to pretend we weren’t hurt or to allow the offender into our personal space to hurt us more.

On the contrary, forgiveness demands an honest look at the situation as we trust God to work.

It’s important to remember that we don’t always play a part in the sinfulness.

Yet, even when we truly are innocent victims, we can forgive because we trust God’s sovereign goodness and love will prevail as we’re all brought to account before His throne.

I’ll share more on how God is helping me accept this hard truth next week.

Until then, we can admit embracing radical forgiveness is hard and sometimes feels impossible.

But we can also expect God’s help.

Why?

Because forgiveness isn’t a preference or a choice.

God gives us a mandate, not an option, to forgive as we’ve been forgiven . . . because He equips His followers to be freed by submission to His authority and empowered by His Spirit to live in courageous obedience and faith.

Lord, thank You for loving us, forgiving us, and empowering us to forgive. Please help us process our hurts in ways that honor You. Help us recognize our sins and repent without excusing or blaming others for our sinful behaviors. Please prepare our hearts as we continue to dig into Your Word and discover what forgiveness is and isn’t. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4Photo taken by and used with permission from Dr. W. A. Dixon, Sr., my amazing husband and best friend.

Meme created by X.E. Dixon.

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You can join me in reading Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, as we continue this journey toward experiencing the freedom of radical forgiveness.

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Radical Forgiveness Begins with a Prayer

MEME - Christ's love leads to Radical Forgiveness - July 7, 2017(Suggested Reading: Luke 23:32-43)

Though a friend accused me of something I didn’t do, made hurtful comments, and chose to sever our relationship, I continued praying for her and believed we’d work out our differences when she was ready to discuss the situation. When a mutual friend referred to me as this person’s ex-friend, I decided to forgive her as I began to process my shock, anger, and sorrow. Still, resentment and bitterness began to take root in my heart.

Although I knew the answer and didn’t want to hear it, I cried out to God. “What do You want me to do, Lord?”

Forgive.

But she hurt my feelings.

Forgive.

But she’s gossiping about me.

Forgive.

But she hasn’t even apologized.

Forgive.

As I wrestled with the Lord, He reminded me of the countless times He’d extended undeserved mercy toward me and led me to Luke 23:32-43.

While Jesus hung on the cross, He willingly submitted to the nails that pierced His hands and feet. As an atonement for our sins, He paid the insurmountable debt our wickedness earned.

Christ’s love paved the way for a clean slate through His unfathomable offer of radical forgiveness.

Looking on the ones who cheered for His execution‒those who mocked the King of Kings without remorse or repentance‒Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).

The ones He asked the Father to forgive weren’t remorseful . . . at all.

Yet, R.T. Kendall states that “[asking] the Father to forgive them showed that not only had [Jesus] forgiven them and released them from their guilt, but also that He asked His Father not to punish them or take revenge on them . . .” (Total Forgiveness, p. 3).

I considered the words Jesus cried out while hanging, bruised and bloody, on the cross . . . paying the price for my sins.

Have my attitudes or actions ever hurt the Lord or others without me knowing, or worse . . . without me even caring?

Have I ever gossiped or left a friend feeling abandoned or betrayed?

Have I unintentionally spoken unkind words or deliberately wounded someone with well-crafted harsh words?

Have I cast blame or refused to take responsibility for my wrongdoings?

Have I damaged or severed a relationship when processing my bruised feelings or healing from past hurts?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

As I imagined Christ hanging on the cross because of my countless offenses against Him and others, my complaints gave way to conviction.

I sobbed and asked for forgiveness.

The Lord didn’t need me to tell Him I’d been wronged. And I wasn’t helping or changing my situation by sinning in my anger or wallowing in my grief. So, I asked the Lord to help me release my offender into His loving and merciful hands.

No more pleas for payback.

No more daydreams of dishing out a cold bowl of revenge.

No more harboring resentment.

And no more pity-parties.

The more we pray blessings over our offenders, the more God helps us see them through His eyes of loving grace . . . and the more peace reigns in our hearts.

When we place the offense and the offender into God’s trustworthy hands, we no longer feel the need to demand apologies before forgiving.

We can choose right relationships with God and others, over insisting on being right or gloating in someone else’s remorsefulness.

We don’t have to miss out on God blessing us because we’re too busy being resentful, angry, or afraid over something we can’t change and something the offender isn’t losing sleep over.

In the situation with my ex-friend, I prayed for her to be overwhelmed with God’s love and blessed by His outpouring of kindness. We weren’t best buds when we saw each other again, but I wasn’t uncomfortable around her.

I was happy to hear how the Lord had blessed her since we’d last spoken. Not because the hurt didn’t matter or because I’d forgotten or healed completely, but because the Holy Spirit had empowered me to truly forgive her, even though she never apologized.

Choosing radical forgiveness enabled me to appreciate the time we shared as friends and freed me to trust God to empower me to love like Jesus loves.

Forgiving isn’t easy or natural to our self-centered flesh. But when we choose to forgive, the peace of God reigns and allows us to enjoy life without being derailed by tooth-decaying bites of bitterness.

There are some relationships I’m struggling with right now.

Forgiveness and reconciliation doesn’t always mean the restoration of a relationship.

Still, I’m asking God to reveal my part in the conflicts, to help me seek forgiveness for my wrongs, to forgive those who repent and seek forgiveness, and to empower me to prayerfully release all offenders to Him . . . even when they’re not remorseful.

As an imperfect human in desperate need of my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, I’m sure I’ll need to forgive others and ask for forgiveness all the days of my life.

So, as I pray over my current relationships, I’m submitting to the Holy Spirit and digging deeper into Scripture.

Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4I’m also rereading Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, a book God used to help me understand what forgiveness is and isn’t, as well as what He says about forgiveness in the Bible.

I look forward to growing with you, praying with you, and living in the freedom and peace only possible through Spirit-empowered radical forgiveness.  

Lord, thank You for forgiving us and for empowering us to forgive. Please prepare our hearts to receive and submit to Your truth and love.

Show us our wickedness and lead us into the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). Help us recognize, confess, repent, and turn away from our sins. Please help us reconcile, even if restoration of the relationship isn’t possible, as we embrace the peace and freedom of living in radical forgiveness. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Rejoicing Because God is God

MEME - Psalm 5 v 11bOn Thursday morning, I woke up praising God for blessing me with minimal instead of high-level pain. I thanked Him with grateful tears for over twenty-four headache-free hours. My body ached after a week of constant muscle spasms and nerve pain that caused debilitating headaches.

Though the painful days are an expected part of the recovery process after my recent nerve ablation in my neck and injection in my upper thoracic back, the journey often wears me out physically and emotionally.

By mid-afternoon, I praised the Lord for allowing me to enjoy a wonderful time of reading His Word and writing for His glory.

Then, I received bad news over the phone.

After sobbing prayers, God comforted me with His promise to be with me every step of the way, even if I wasn’t sure what my next step would be.

The Lord assured me He had already planned ahead for my needs and made a way for me to follow Him, if only I would be willing to place my confidence in His unchanging character and integrity.

I called my husband to let him know about what had happened and together we made a decision in the matter. As we trust the Lord to provide in ways we can’t even begin to figure out, we remain certain He’ll care for us. He always has and always will.

A few minutes after hanging up with my husband, I checked the mail and smiled when I saw a card from a friend.

Her timely, encouraging note felt like a hug from God.

I spent some extra time reading my Bible and shed a few more tears when the Holy Spirit drew me to this familiar verse:

“But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You.” (Psalm 5:11, NIV)

Soon after, I received another call. This time, the news was great.

After a roller-coaster-day of emotions, I praised the Lord with yet another sobbing prayer.

Those tears expressed an unexplainable joy.

My pain hadn’t gone away or improved, but it hadn’t gotten worse. My bad news hadn’t changed, but God had revealed His care once again.

Even as I type this blog post, my focus isn’t on the ever-changing good or bad circumstances in my life, the uncertainty of the future, or the complex emotions the inevitable changes evoke.

When we take refuge in God, we can rest in the knowledge of who He is and who He always will be.

When we place our hope in knowing God won’t change, we can feel secure even when the world around us feels totally out of control, which it totally is.

We can be glad because our good and loving God is constant, present, dependable, trustworthy, and faithful.

We can sing for joy because He is our Protector and Provider.

We can love His name, as revealed through Scripture, because His name affirms His unchanging character.

God is Jehovah, the Existing One, the Lord who wants to be known (Genesis 2:4).

He is Elohim, Creator (Genesis 1:1).

He is El Shaddai, The Almighty (Genesis 17:1).

He is Jehovah Jireh, Provider (Genesis 22:14).

He is Jehovah Rapha, Healer (Exodus 15:26).

He is Jehovah Shalom, “The Lord Our Peace” (Judges 6:24).

He is Jehovah Rohi, Johovah Raah, “The Lord Our Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).

He is El Roi, the God who sees (Genesis 16:13).

He is El Olam, The Eternal God, everlasting (Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:31).

Because God is the Great I AM (Exodus 3:14), the Beginning and the End, we can call Him Adonai, our Lord and Master (Genesis 18:2).

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for Your infallible truth through which You reveal Your unchanging character. Please penetrate the deepest corners of our hearts and minds with Your loving, God-breathed words.

Help us seek You and rely on You to transform our hearts and minds, as You strengthen our resolve and deepen our faith. You are our peace, our refuge, our quiet strength, even when we feel our weakest. You guide our steps and make a way where there is no way, as far as we can see. 

You will never change. You will never grow weary. You will never abandon us. You will never forget us or ignore the cries of our hearts. Thank You, Lord. Thank You for loving us in ways we don’t even see.

Hallelujah!
In Jesus’s name, Amen 

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

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For further study on the names of God, you can visit Bible.org or the Blue Letter Bible websites.

(At the time of this posting both of these websites were active and God-honoring. Though I am doubtful this would be the case, I would appreciate readers informing me if there is any questionable content on these sites in the future.)

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Emma’s Dancing Socks (Faith in Flash Fiction)

MEME - Psalm 30 v 11 - Photo by Karen B. for Emma's Dancing Socks - April 22, 2017My jaw clenched as I smoothed Emma’s yellow satin dress. “Hold still.”

Fighting a frown, I ignored her giggles and tied the orange sash into a bow. Precisely aligned front and center. At least I could still control some things. My fingertips lingered at the hem of her dress.

“Isn’t it perfect, Mama?”

“Of course. It’s the perfect length for showing off long multicolored, mismatched socks. The perfect style for twirling.”

The perfect reminder of my helplessness after my only child begged me to sew the orange sash under the empire waist. Orange was the new black in my world.

Emma’s arms quivered like sprigs in a cool spring breeze as she adjusted her yellow knitted cap until its orange bow rested over her right ear. “How do I look?”

I prayed the sting in my eyes wouldn’t trickle into reality. “Peautiful!”

Her naked brows lifted over wide maple-syrup eyes. “You mean beautiful?”

“Nope. Peautiful! Perfect and beautiful.”

“You’re so silly, Mama.”

“Let me get a better look at you, Emma Bear.”

“I’m too old for nicknames.” She pinched each side of her skirt between her thumbs and pointing fingers, spreading the material into a fan. She swished her arms right to left, gazing into the full-length mirror. “I’m almost thirteen, you know.”

Almost. Not thirteen, yet. I bit my lip. “Does that mean I can’t call you Princess, either?”

Emma placed one palm flat on her chest. “Only a princess can dance with the King! That’s not a nickname. It’s my life.”

I turned toward her canopy bed and preoccupied myself with a wicker basket full of colorful patterned socks.

Emma hugged the white bedpost. “So, when are you going back to the studio?”

“Leave it alone, Sweetheart.”

“Miss Sarah’s a great dancer, but you’re the best teacher.”

I held up a matching pair of blue socks with pink polka dots and purple triangles. “For the umpteenth time, I’ll go back when I’m ready. We can’t rush God’s timing.” We couldn’t slow down His timing, either.

Emma plunged her hand into the basket and pulled out a purple sock decorated with neon green-and-black zebra stripes. She snatched one of my polka-dot socks and held her creation at arm’s length. “Now these make me feel like dancing.”

“The clashing patterns?”

“The color of joy.” Emma closed her eyes and tilted her head toward the ceiling. “The kind of joy we can’t lose, even when we’re sad.”

Forgive me, Lord. Please, help me with my unbelief. I coupled a rainbow-striped prize with the abandoned polka-dot sock. “How about this mismatched sensation?”

“I could twirl across the clouds in these.” Emma grabbed the socks and scooted to the middle of the bed. She stretched the cotton to her knees before blessing me with jazz hands and a tired laugh, complete with a soft snort.

I placed the laundry basket onto the floor and eased onto the bed. Leaning into the oversized pillows nestled against the headboard, I invited her into a side hug.

Emma settled next to me, smoothed her dress and adjusted her sash. She wiggled her toes and crossed her hands over her chest like Sleeping Beauty. “I’m ready now.”

I wasn’t ready. I would never be ready. I pulled away from my daughter, slid off the bed, and stumbled across the hardwood floor until the garage door closed behind me. Crumpled on the cement floor, I inhaled the fading scent of my father. The sunset pouring through the windows painted his tool wall with a soft peach glow.

Emma entered the garage. She clutched a mismatched pair of neon socks in her small fist. “Do you remember what you told me when Poppa Joe went to Heaven?” Her voice flowed like a hymn, soft and sure.

I pressed my cheek into the cold cement when I felt her frail body against my back.

“You said perfect healing comes when we get to Heaven with Jesus.” Her fingers combed through my hair. “You said Poppa Joe wasn’t hurting anymore.”

I pushed myself into a sitting position, slid my hands down my face, and turned toward my daughter. Emma’s smooth bare brows and relaxed grin kissed my heart.

“Don’t you believe what you told me, Mama?”

“Of course I believe.” I pulled her close to my chest. “It’s just hard.”

“God’s with us, Mama. I feel Him.” She handed me the pair of socks she’d been holding. “May I have this dance?”

I helped her to her feet, kicked off my blue ballet flats, and pulled on one rainbow striped sock and one yellow sock with hot pink hexagons outlined in neon green. I stood and extended my hand.

Emma’s laughter bounced off the walls when I twirled her in two complete circles. Her skirt rose and fell like gentle waves lapping onto a sandy beach.

After our dance, I tucked her into bed and knelt beside her. “Would you like me to pick out a pair of fresh socks?”

“I want to wear these tonight.” She placed her hand in mine. “Will you wear your dancing socks, too?”

I tapped the tip of her nose with my pointing finger. “I just might have to start my own collection.”

“I would like that very much, Mama.” She huffed a chuckle. “Will you sleep with me tonight?”

“Anything for you.”

“You promise?”

“Of course.” I lifted her pink Bible off the nightstand.

“Go back to the studio. Teach them to feel the music, just like you taught me.” She closed her eyes. “Imagine Poppa Joe and me dancing with you.” Opening one eye, she grinned. “Freestyle!”

My laughter was like an abandoned gold mine. “It’s getting late. What do you want me to read today?”

Emma clasped her hands together. “Psalm thirty. Verses ten to twelve.”

I flipped through the crinkling pages. As the words blurred, I prayed for the strength to read without wavering voice or faith.

“Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help. 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.”

I set the Bible on the nightstand and said a short prayer before curling up next to my daughter and wrapping her in a hug.

“You’re holding on too tight, Mama.”

I forced myself to loosen my embrace and kissed the top of her head. “I’m sorry, Baby Girl.”

“It’s okay.” She leaned into me. “I love you, too.”

***

Emma took her last breath less than three months later, a week after we rang in the New Year.

The yellow tulips in our backyard didn’t bloom as bright when they popped out of the ground the following spring. The warmth of the sun pricked my cheeks like pine needles. Still, I kept my promise after the summer haze surrendered to the nip of autumn.

When I lugged a cardboard box into the dance studio, Miss Sarah had the girls lined up at the bar in front of the mirrors.

“You’re back! You’re back!” A gaggle of prima ballerinas, ages ten to thirteen, bombarded me with hugs as soon as I dropped my cargo in the corner. Every one of these girls had attended the funeral. Everyone was grieving the loss of their friend.

“I have a surprise for you, Ladies.”

My hands trembled as I opened the box of brand-new socks.

Please, help me feel Your constant presence, Lord. I can’t do this without You.

I passed out the colorful mismatched creations. My breath quickened as the girls stretched socks over their ballet shoes.

Giggles erupted when I tossed my assistant a turquoise sock with lime green swirls and a black sock with red hearts, purple squares, and yellow triangles.

I half-skipped to the stereo and plugged in my iPod. “Drumroll, please.”

The dancers obliged.

“Let’s begin with a classic.” I selected Emma’s favorite song. “Freestyle!”

Miss Sarah dabbed the corner of her eye with her finger and slipped her feet into the unconventional dance attire.

I miss my baby girl, Lord.

I swallowed hard before starting the music. We danced, arms flowing and hips shaking to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

A belly laugh followed by a loud snort bubbled up out of my heart as I slid across the floor in my own pair of Emma’s Dancing Socks. This time, the sound didn’t squeeze my chest.

I twirled across the floor, ending in a graceful curtsey before my King.

The young ballerinas followed my lead.

Surrendering to peace, I whispered, “Hallelujah.” Deep in my soul I knew that my sweet angel was doing the same in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

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MEME - John 3 v 16 - Photo by Karen B - for Emma's Dancing Socks - April 22, 2017

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“Emma’s Dancing Socks” was written after my mom received her diagnosis, Leukemia, in January 2014. After a bone marrow transplant, my sweet mom was welcomed into the arms of her Savior, Jesus Christ, on October 22, 2014. This story was previously published in Inspire Promise in November 2014.

I process my emotions through prayerfully reading the Bible and writing. I never shared this story with my mom, but I wish I would have.

“When Yes Means No,” a snippet of my mom’s story, was published as my first devotion in Our Daily Bread on April 1, 2017. As I read these two stories again and share them with you, I’m grieving the loss of my friend, Suzanne Nixon Thompson.

Suzanne battled Leukemia and had a bone marrow transplant earlier this year. She joined my mom in the loving arms of Jesus on April 6, 2017. I didn’t find out until April 22nd.

As I remember these two mighty women of faith, my heart aches but beats with peace because we shared an unshakable hope in Christ.

These fierce women of faith have changed me and inspired me. Both will be missed, their lives celebrated, and their impact for Christ will never be forgotten.

Please join me in praying for those brave warriors and their courageous families who are battling cancer, those who have survived cancer, and those whose ultimate healing came when they danced into the arms of Jesus.

As my mom said, “God is good and that’s all there is to it.” Oh, how I miss her!

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Special thanks to K.B. and B.B. for providing the photos for these memes.

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God’s Loving Timetable

MEME - Psalm 130 v 5

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 130)

During a recent retreat, I sat next to my hurting friend on the cool rock bench under a canopy of redwood trees in front of a small chapel. My heart ached as she listed the trials bombarding her from all sides. Her weary smile grieved me.

Placing my hand on hers, I sighed. “I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. God is moving in and through all that’s happening. He’ll work it all out.”

Her eyes glistened. “But when? I’m running out of time here.”

“Right on time, Sister. Even when we think it’s too long or even too late, He’s going to be right on time.” I pulled her into a hug and sighed. “We won’t be able to solve any of this today, but we can pray.”

And pray we did.

As I interceded for my friend, I thought about my own struggles in the wait. We’d been praying for one another for years−waiting, waiting, and waiting.

The words that poured over my lips became pleas for mercy.

How long, Lord? How long would my friend have to suffer? How long would my pain continue? How long would we have to wait for a breakthrough?

I ended the prayer proclaiming God’s unchanging character traits. After a breathy ‘amen,’ we left the cool rock bench. We went our separate ways with a promise to continue praying, knowing we couldn’t control how long we’d have to wait.

I prayed as I strolled toward the nearby coffee house, my back injury flaring up again. I stopped to rest on a wooden bench, enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

God planned, created, and sustained every giant redwood, every fragrant blossom, every scurrying squirrel, and every person on that campus.

Surely He could handle every detail of our lives. Surely I could trust His loving timetable.

Focused on the glorious details of God’s wondrous creation, my heart-cry changed.

Use this to bring us closer to You, Lord. Use this to make us more like You. Remind us You are and always will be faithful, good, loving, and in control.

Contemplating our physical and emotional pain and interceding for hurting friends can overwhelm us if we stay focused on our smallness, our helplessness, and our weariness.

But we can experience great peace when we follow the simple prayer of the writer of Psalm 130.

We can call on God in the midst of our struggles, feeling devastated and defeated. He knows when we’re struggling and invites our honesty.

“Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD; O LORD, hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 130:1-2)

The psalmist’s surety affirms his belief that the Lord would answer because the Lord cares.

He acknowledged God’s holiness and grace (v. 3-4). His patience and hope came through his confidence in God’s unchanging character and His inability to lie (v. 5).

Waiting on God became a spiritual act of worship and trust, as sure as the sun rising each morning (v. 6).

Though there’s no indication that the psalmist received any relief or rescue from the depths from which he cried, he proclaimed the Lord’s unfailing love and trustworthiness (v. 7). He gazed past the present moment and clung to the priceless prize of redemption from sins (v. 8).

We’ll always be waiting for something in this ever-changing life.

But when we place our hope in God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, we can walk with confidence and embrace delays and detours with courageous faith.

Lord, thank You for Your unfailing love. Please help us trust You to show up right on time, every time. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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The Risen King’s Love

MEME - Mark 16 v 6 - He is Risen! - Photo by Alan

I came to Him broken, fearful, and weary.

I listened to His promises, hopeful but leery.

How could I trust Someone I couldn’t see?

How could the King of Kings love someone like me?

 

I leaned in to hear Him, scouring through His Word.

Begging for answers, I longed to be heard.

Why would God’s Son die so I could be free?

Why would He care about someone like me?

 

I came to Him hungry, empty, with scars.

Longing for love, my heart locked behind bars.

When would His mercy and grace help me see,

Christ took my place on the cross . . . loving me?

 

Jesus, my Savior, He died in my place.

He rose three days later and saved me by grace.

How can I submit if I’m supposed to be free?

How can I resist . . . if He lives just for me?

 

Come to Him broken, fearful, or weary.

He can be trusted, no need to be leery.

When trials and heartache are all you can see,

know the Risen King loves you . . . just like He loves me.

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Photo taken and used with permission by my husband, Dr. W. Alan Dixon, Sr.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Am I Really Ready for Greater Love?

MEME - John 15 v 13 - Photo by Lori Renner(Suggested Reading = John 15:9-17)

 As my husband and I recently celebrated our 23rd anniversary, I reflected on how my definition of love has changed over the years we’ve been married.

When I first met Alan, I measured love by hugs and kind words and deeds. I believed he loved me when he met my needs, when he gave me my way, when he made me feel happy, safe, appreciated, and important.

Then, I met Jesus.

His words touched a deep and wounded place in my heart, I had ignored for years: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9, NIV)

The Father, the first Person in the Trinity, loves completely, generously, unconditionally, and eternally. Jesus, the second Person in the Trinity, loves like the Father. The Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Trinity, helps us love like Jesus, like the Father.

The concept of such love seems too vast and complex to even begin understanding, a goal too lofty for a flawed human being to attain. But Jesus claims it’s possible if we remain in His love.

Because we’ve been given the Holy Spirit, it’s possible to abide in Christ, to spend time with Him, to stay so close that our hearts are grafted to His.

This lifetime process of intimate communion with the Lord changes us a little bit at a time. We become more like the One who loves us perfectly, as He transforms our thinking and changes our hearts so that we can respond to Him, and to others, in Christ-like love.

The more I received Jesus’s limitless love for me, the more my love morphed from selfish to selfless in my relationship with God, in my marriage, and in my relationships with others.

This is an ongoing process that’s often thwarted by my sin nature, which feeds my fleshly desires to put myself first.

But Jesus asks His followers to love one another as He loves us . . . to love selflessly, willingly, sacrificially, and unconditionally (v. 12).

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (v. 13)

That can feel impossible, especially when it comes to loving those who have hurt us, those who have rejected us, and those who persecute us.

When I struggle with showing “greater love,” I ask God to remind me of Christ on the cross.

When we truly consider how much Jesus loves us, so much that He gave His life for us, so much that He endured the shame of the cross, the ruthless and relentless persecution, rejection, abuse, and pain . . . it’s harder to be selfish.

Jesus reminds us we are loved sacrificially and intimately (v. 14). We are called God’s friends (v. 15). We are chosen (v. 16).

Being loved in such a way changes us . . . changes everything.

When we truly consider what Christ gave up, how He suffered physically and emotionally, especially when He willingly allowed Himself to be excruciatingly though momentarily separated from the Father when He took on our sins and took our place on the cross . . . how can we not respond with grateful praise as we rejoice in the life-changing power of greater love?

But greater love is risky.

Others may not love us back selflessly. Others may take advantage of us, hurt us, and leave us wounded by their selfishness.

They may demand their needs met. They may fight for their way. They may place personal happiness above all else.

I can’t even count the times I’ve accepted the Lord’s greater love, but still responded by demanding my needs be met, fighting for my way, placing my personal happiness above all else.

 But because of His greater love for us, God risks His heart for us every day.

20170326_172001When we first got married, my husband and I weren’t even close to ready for greater love.

We loved one another selfishly. We wrestled for the right to be first. We competed to see whose needs were going to get met more often, to see who would get their way more often, to see who would get to be happier, even at the detriment of the other person.

We wasted many years getting all we could from one another that we failed to see the value of giving all we could to one another.

Wising up, by God’s grace and in His mercy and power, we finally decided to submit to the Lord, and to one another, out of reverence for Christ, and longed to love like Jesus.

As we deepened our relationships with God and each other, He helped us to devote ourselves to greater love, to love selflessly, to give instead of demanding we get, to serve instead of scrounging for selfish gains.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, I began putting God and my husband first, serving the Lord and serving my spouse cheerfully as I gave generously.

I don’t always get it right, neither does my husband.

But God’s showing us the rewards of obedience (v. 14): fruit that lasts (v. 16).

Fruit . . . the bounty that results when we’re committed to loving like Jesus, giving like Jesus, and serving like Jesus.

God knows our joy will be complete, our peace will be unshakeable, and our faith will be secured when we love Him by obeying Him.

Jesus laid His life down for us, showing us how to enjoy greater love by laying our lives down for others.

Greater love requires sacrifice, knowing God is the only One who can truly meet our needs because people are fallible and will always fall short.

Greater love requires faith, trusting God’s way is better than our way.

Greater love leads to joy, which is so much better than happiness because it’s not contingent on ever-changing circumstances or the fickleness of feelings.

Greater love changed my marriage and continues to change my husband and me.

Greater love−that Jesus kind of love−saved me.

The commitment to greater love is costly, but the rewards are remarkable and reciprocal.

Thank You for loving us and empowering us to love You and others selflessly, Lord. Please help us place You first, abide in You always, and trust You completely. Give us the wisdom and courage to submit to Your way, surrender to Your will, and celebrate Your greater love, as we live for You−Jesus−the One who gave all for us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Are you really ready for greater love?

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Photo for meme taken by and used with permission from Lori Renner.

Meme Created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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The Perfect Planner

MEME - Isaiah 25 v 1 - Photo by Dee Reeves Bright

(SUGGESTED READING – Isaiah 25)

All-knowing and all-loving Father, thank You for assuring us that You are and always will be the one and only Perfect Planner.

No matter what changes we might face in life, we can be certain that every detail has been sifted through Your loving grace and purposed for Your glory.

You’ve placed flagstones before us, paving the way through every victory and every trial, so that we can be equipped for the plans You’ve designated for us.

Exalted One, adoring and faithful, Almighty God, thank You for demonstrating Your sovereign goodness through Your wonderful works (Isaiah 25:1).

You deserve our honor and reverence, Protector, Provider, and Lover of the needy (vv. 3-6).

You’ve made us victorious in light of Your love, defeating death, destroying despair and disgrace (vv. 7-8).

Though there are times when sorrow will overcome us, You gently wipe away our tears, compassionate and good Shepherd.

We need You.

We can trust You, because You loved us so much that You saved us (v. 9).

Even when we didn’t know we were lost, when we didn’t know we were hopeless, when we didn’t know what we were missing, You loved us and remained steadfast.

Thank You, Lord, for never giving up on us, even when we rejected You, doubted You, and fought You tooth and nail.

Please break down the walls of our pride, so we can discover the freedom of total surrender, the beautiful joy and peace found in placing You before our wants and above ourselves.

As we seek to know You more, please secure our faith in Your faithfulness.

You are our God!

No matter how hard the road is, no matter how high the mountains seem, or how wide the rough-terrain of the valleys, we can trust You’ve planned and purposed every twist and turn to make us more like You.

Oh, why do we doubt You, loving Savior?

Forgive us for our unbelief, as You help us walk with fierce faith.

We praise You, the one and only Perfect Planner, who was and is and always will be the same yesterday and today and forever−Christ, our Lord.

In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Dee Reeves Bright.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When Life Doesn’t Go According to My Plan?

MEME - Genesis 45 v 8(Suggested Reading: Genesis 37, 39-45)

I’ve amassed plenty of bumps and bruises as I sloshed through swamps of discouragement, regained my footing after whiplashing U-Turns, and navigated unplanned treks over rocky roads in the wilderness.

I’ve been side-lined, for what felt like forever, while learning to trust God to pick apart my well-thought-out plans and execute His perfect will, despite my complaints.

After overcompensating to nurse my original injury in 1992, I’d caused the extensive damage that led to my first surgery in 2012. I haven’t always enjoyed my current wild ride of faith toward healing or adjusted gracefully to life dealing with chronic pain.

And this definitely isn’t the first time in my life God used a delay or redirection to reveal my not-so-godly attitudes, mold my character to reflect more of His, and deepen the roots of my faith so I could blossom wherever He planted . . . or replanted me.

Change and seasons of suffering lead to love-drenched opportunities to demonstrate our trust in the Lord with our actions and attitudes, not just our words.

Shifts in our relationships, job status, living arrangements, or our physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual health can trigger a gamut of emotions, but present us with only two options: Trust God, or don’t trust God.

Of course we’ll need to accept the ongoing process of working through our ever-changing feelings, which are valid and expected. We may even need to embrace a few melt-down-moments when God’s grace is all we can depend on. But the two choices remain the same.

When we don’t trust the Lord, we’ll battle discontent, compare ourselves to others, and hoard resources and opportunities for fear of going without or having someone else receive what we think we deserve.

Fragile-Faith forces us to rely on people more than God.

It’s tempting to surround ourselves with those who don’t expect much from us, who never challenge us to grow, or who accept our neediness because they need to feel needed.

It’s easier to place our hope in man, which causes us to fall prey to insecurities, indecisiveness, and even demanding our way, often passive aggressively.

We may not like to admit it, but most of us have been there. I know I have.

But, when we choose to trust God, and ask for His help, we’ll be able to loosen the grip on our plans and encounter contentment while submitting to His purpose.

Living the abundant life Christ requires Spirit-empowered suppleness and selflessness, which goes against the grain of our sin nature.

But when we prioritize God’s purpose in our lives, the desires of our hearts transform from self-serving to selfless service.

We’ll be better prepared to embrace all the Lord has planned because our arms won’t be loaded with things He’s asked us to release.

Living in the freedom of surrender to God doesn’t lead to a pain-free journey. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Yet, bending to God’s will guarantees a peace-filled present that abounds with the fruit of the Spirit.

One of the most beautiful pictures of a surrendered life trusting God is found in Genesis.

In his immaturity, seventeen year old Joseph confidently received God’s plan for his life. Unfortunately, he made himself the star of the show and caused division in his family relationships (Genesis 37:1-11).

He suffered the consequences as sin clawed its way into the hearts of his brothers, divided the family tent with a blanket of deception, and caused his father immense grief (Genesis 37:12-36).

When faced with the temptation that comes with power, Joseph could have forced his way. Instead, he chose to trust God with loving obedience and acknowledged his sin as a direct attack on the Lord (Genesis 39:1-9).

With injustice, damaged relationships, bad breaks, and suffering trailing behind him, Joseph’s actions and attitudes reflected the Lord as the One who reigned in his life (Genesis 39:10-44:33).

As he revealed his identity to his brothers, Joseph acknowledged God’s fingerprints on every detail of his life. He rejoiced in how the Lord’s purposes prevailed for the good of all God’s people, no matter how much suffering he endured personally (Genesis 45:1-8).

God’s path for Joseph may not have been easy, but the Lord blessed him in ways he could have never dreamed possible.

His legacy of faith encourages us to welcome change and longsuffering, appreciating the shifting sands that God uses to strengthen our faith-muscles.

Though pain, suffering, grief, disappointment, discouragement, and discontent are not fun, each can become a solid stitch in the fabric of our faith that proves God’s enduring faithfulness.

Why should we love God when we’re affected by changes beyond our control, when doing the right thing leads to pain or suffering, and when life just doesn’t go as we plan?

Because every detail of God’s plan is rooted in and supported by His unconditional love.

With vision that surpasses time, the Good Shepherd provides lifelong care for His beloved sheep.

The Lord works in and through the lives of all who love Him, because His world revolves around Him . . . not us.

When we love God wholeheartedly, we’ll want nothing more than to please Him above ourselves, to see His plans prevail . . . even at the cost of our plans.

Lord, thank You for helping us remember life is so much more rewarding when we remain supple and surrendered to Your will. Please help us love and serve You and others, instead of demanding our wants served to us on a golden platter. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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