Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From "Good Girl" to "God Girl"

It's been over a month since I have posted.  It's not because I haven't been writing, and it's certainly not because God hasn't been moving.  It's just that I fall back into the fear of being vulnerable.  I guess that's really pride when it comes down to it, and I struggle with this sin.  Our culture teaches us to be "image builders," and it takes courage to be authentic and transparent.  But the truth is....I want to bring my Father glory more than I want to guard my reputation.  So I will bare my soul once again in what feels like a very public forum, knowing that my story once again shows my sinfulness and the darkness that lurks in my own heart but it magnifies my God who is bigger and more powerful than my darkness!!!  What follows was written almost a month ago, and I am still marveling at the work of the LORD!  Read and marvel with me.

"This past weekend, I joined seventeen other women from Hope-Covenant in Crystal Lake as we traveled to Covenant Harbor in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for Fall Fellowship.  Many prayers were lifted ahead of time, for God to get a hold of hearts in new and fresh ways and asking Him to bind hearts together in the unity that is only available through Jesus Christ!  Boy, did He ever answer!  While I prayed those prayers anticipating a closer connection with the women from my church, God had a much bigger, better, more beautiful answer in mind!

Praise God.....He dealt with me this weekend, shining His light into the deepest, darkest places of my heart and revealing to me the UN-God (i.e., sin) that dwelt there.  Oh, how badly I wanted to be good.  I wanted my heart to be full of love for all people.  I so wanted to be like my Savior!  But all the wanting in the world did not make it so.

The truth is....I was taught bigotry and prejudice as a child.  People that were in positions of authority above me and claimed to be following Christ and proclaiming His Word used Scripture to plant seeds of hatred or superiority in my heart.  When they noticed that I seemed to be color blind, they took me aside and brought me to Genesis 9 and the sons of Noah.  They read to me the story of Ham and the shame that was upon Him for viewing his father's nakedness and how Noah pronounced a curse upon Ham and his descendants and sentenced them to be slaves to the other brothers.  I was then told that black people descend from Ham, and they are a cursed race; this is why they have been enslaved throughout history and to intermarry is forbidden by God and would be to bring that curse upon yourself.

Oh, how it grieves my heart that the very Word of God is used to promote Satan's agenda!  The father of lies who seeks our death and destruction is behind every form of division and strife and hostility.  I remember something inside of me rebelling at their words, but I was too young to identify those words as lies so they sank into my soul with the ring of truth because of who they had come from and in whose Name they had supposedly been spoken.

As I grew and my faith became my own and I started to seek God for myself, I knew that what I had been taught was indeed wrong!  I read in the Bible that God is no respecter of persons and that His children include people from all nations, colors, tribes and tongues.  But the bad seed had already been planted in my heart and taken root.  The problem is that I had become blind to it.

I had deceived myself (or perhaps, more accurately, the enemy of my soul had deceived me) into thinking that no vestiges of that sin of bigotry remained in my heart.  But on a subconscious level, I can see that it was always there.  When I had contact with an African-American, even my niece, Laylah, who is half black......I won't say that I did not love her because that would be untrue.  But I was not open to fully loving her, if that makes sense.  There was a part of my heart that held back somehow, and when I would brush up against the edges of that coldness, when my gut-level reaction would be to see the "other" as "less than," I would inwardly recoil from the ugliness inside and deny it or try to talk myself out of it.

The only problem is:  You cannot talk yourself out of sin.  You cannot "manage" or "control" the sinfulness of your own heart.  There is only one cure to take care of sin once and for all, and that is by taking it to the cross.

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, as I sat by the soothing and peaceful water of Geneva Lake and surrendered my heart to a thorough examination by the Great Physician, He made His diagnosis.  I saw as clearly as if viewing an X-ray held up to the light; my "spiritual X-ray" revealed a wall or barrier present in my heart.  It was subtle.  No one on the outside could have seen it.  Imperceptible to the human eye, it was not imperceptible to my God!

I feel as if so much of the rest of my life, who I will become and how God will be able to use me, hinged upon my response in that moment of divine revelation.  With His power and strength inside of me, I was able to overcome my denial and embrace His truth.  Right there in that boat house, I prayed a prayer of confession:  "Honestly, God, I admit there is a tiny part of my heart that sees 'other' as 'less than.'  I can't change that about myself, God, but I admit it.  I confess before You that it is SIN, and I ask YOU to take my racism and prejudice from my heart.  Purify me and make me into YOUR image."

And I am writing to tell you that God is still in the miracle-working business!  God is in the business of life transformation!  He is alive and moving and at work in this world!  Praise His Holy Name.....He heard my prayer and answered!  Immediately the "barrier" or "wall" (that even the day before I was not consciously aware of) was GONE!  And not only that, but He is flooding my heart with His love for the very ones I used to see as "other."  Oh, He is good beyond belief!  HODY TOW!!!!  I feel so alive and free; places I didn't even know were dead and in bondage are now vibrating and pulsating with resurrection power, and I feel like I am going to explode from the sheer joy of it all!

I want to proclaim His Goodness from the rooftop....to shout my testimony in a voice loud enough that all the people of this world would hear and praise the WONDER and RIGHTEOUSNESS and POWER and MAJESTY and HEALING TOUCH of my God who can bring dead things back to life!  What unbelievably Great News!

I thank God because I know that He desires to use me for His Glory, and I have to be pruned before I can be useful.  I thank God that His pruning process, though momentarily painful, yields a harvest of abundance and blessing beyond anyone's imagination.  I thank Him for His discipline, because I know it's a sign of His great, great love.  And I thank Him that He still answers prayer.....that He responds to the cries of desperate, needy people unable to save themselves.

My second prayer out by the side of that lake came as I grieved over how much damage has been done in the Name of God, wrestling with the fact that the "Christians" I knew and loved in my youth could be so misguided.  How, Lord?!?!?  How can people who claim to follow You use Your Word to propagate hatred and bigotry?!?!?

"Heavenly Father, Keep me from seeing what I want to see in the pages of this book.  Help me to see with clear and Holy Spirit-filled eyes.  Interpret the Scriptures for me.  Teach me by YOUR Holy Spirit!  It is so easy for people in general and me in particular to justify my positions and use the Bible to back me up.....to authorize mywords, my thoughts, my deeds, my actions and reactions instead of the other way around.  May I come seeking TRUTH.....not "self" or "approval" but YOU.....not twisting truth to match my agenda!  Thank You for meeting me, Lord!  Thank You for revealing to me my "Nineveh."  Use my "awakening" to further Your Kingdom purposes here on earth!  I ask this in the precious and holy name of Your son, My Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen (Let it be so!).

Oh, let me tell you....nothing feels better than a clean heart before God.  I would encourage anyone reading this to not be afraid of the pain of conviction and confession because true life awaits on the other side of that pain!"

1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  But verse 10 goes on to say, "If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives."

John 8:36, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

To God Be The Glory!!!!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Child's Thanksgiving

If we are open to it, grace is all around us.  "All is grace," as Ann Voskamp repeats over and over in her "take-your-breath-away-it's-that-good" book, One Thousand Gifts.

I found this prayer last night while cleaning my daughter's closet.  I am so thankful that my little girl's eyes are open to Grace!  And my prayer is that she does not lose her "grace-eyes" as she grows.  Oh, Father....cause her to see.  Cause her to see YOUR fingerprints everywhere she looks!!!

From the heart of my little girl to her Heavenly Father:

Thank you for being such a giving God.  I am so blessed.  You didn't need to be so gracious.  We all often forget how blessed we are....but I don't want to.  I want to embrace all You have given me....even the smallest things.  Like the five senses.  You didn't have to give me sight, but You did!  Thank You!  If I didn't have the gift of sight, I would never have been able to see the vivid colors of a blossom tree in the springtime. Also, You didn't need to give me the gift of being able to hear.  But You did!  Without it, I would never be able to hear the birds chirp in the morning.  Thank You so much for giving me this gift.  And thank You for giving me the gift of taste!  If you didn't give me this gift, I would have never been able to taste a sweet, juicy watermelon on a hot summer day.  And thank You for giving me the gift of smelling!  If I didn't have this gift, I wouldn't be able to smell the sweet aroma of a newly bloomed rose.  And last but not least, thank You for giving me the gift of touch!  Without this wonderful gift, I would never be able to feel the soft fur of a newborn puppy!  So my Lord, please give me a thankful heart that wants to praise You and thank You 24/7.  I thank You again, Father, for ALL You have done for me!
In Jesus' name, Amen."

I can think of no other way to end this post than with a Scripture that echoes what's in my heart right now:  "Nothing could make me happier than getting reports that my children continue diligently in the way of Truth!" -3 John 1:4 (The Message)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Finding Grace in the Public Schools

Fifteen years ago, I became a wife.  Fourteen years ago, I became a mother.  For thirteen years following the birth of my eldest, I allowed my children to define me.  My life revolved around them.  Wanting to shelter and protect them from this world, I decided to homeschool them.

Last year, I was prompted by God to release my children.  During prayer time, I sensed Him asking me to trust Him with their lives and demonstrate that trust by enrolling them in the public school system.  I cannot adequately express in words my sheer terror at even the thought of loosening my grip on my daughter and son.  I struggled with God for months on this issue.

Don't get me wrong:  I think homeschooling can be absolutely awesome, and I applaud the many many men and women who are doing it and doing it well.  However, for me personally (though I could not see it at the time and would not have been able to admit it), my motives for homeschooling had become impure.  I wanted to keep my children in my own "Garden of Eden," separated from the "big, bad world."  But God gave up His only Son for that world; Christ died for that world.  The people I saw as "other" and wanted to distance my precious babies from....God asks me to see those very people as potential brothers and sisters in Him.  He desires that I "move in" (as He instructed the Israelites when they were taken captive to Babylon in Jeremiah 29).  In other words, contrary to my fantasy of running off to join an Amish community, God is asking me to be culturally relevant in the time and place where I have been divinely positioned so that I can have a spiritual impact.

Ultimately, I surrendered my will.  Isaiah 55:9 is a verse I'm building my life upon, and this could be no exception.  I still didn't like His decision, but I was determined to obey anyway.  I felt akin to Abraham, asked to sacrifice his son, to lay Isaac down on the altar and offer him up to God.  (Yes, I know I'm being a bit melodramatic here, but I am a woman of strong emotion!)

I think somewhere along the way, my children had become my idols.  God read my heart.  He asked me the same question He asked the rich young ruler in Luke 18.  For me, it wasn't money that I had to give up, but it was something.  I was holding onto my children more tightly than I was holding onto my God.  He asked me to release my grip on everything but Him.  I could not do as the rich young ruler did and just walk away because I had experienced enough of God to echo the words of Peter in John 6:68, "Where else can I go?  You (Lord) have the words of everlasting life."

On the day I registered my children for public school, I cried all the way to the district office.  Reminding God that HE was the reason I was taking this step, I begged Him to bless my obedience by blessing my children.  I pleaded for His protection over Erica and Liam.

In hindsight, I can say that He has more than answered my prayers!  He has indeed blessed me beyond my wildest imagination!  One of the greatest gifts to come into the life of our family as a result of this act of obedience is the absolute privilege of welcoming precious young adults into our home and our lives.

I am ashamed to think of my old perspective and how myopic and self-centered I was.  Considering all the pros and cons of public education, I only thought of my family....weighing every decision by how it would affect the four people in my family of procreation.  Is that "taking up my cross, denying myself, and following Him?"

By entering the public school arena, God has expanded my sphere of influence.  I absolutely love my children's friends; they know that so it should be no surprise that they enjoy spending time with us.  People like to be around people who like them!  That must be why people clamored to be with Jesus.  He loved them, and that love was shown and felt and drew the crowds to Him.

My daughter's friends open up and talk to me.  They ask my advice.  They go to church with us.  They volunteer with us.  They listen to my stories; when I relate a passage of Scripture and how God spoke to me through it, they are hungry and thirsty for more and ask questions and engage in conversations.  For some of these young people, it is their first exposure to the God of the Bible.  They don't know about King David or Daniel or Esther or Ruth or Joshua or Elijah, and (truthfully) they are more enthralled and listen more attentively than my own children do!

I praise God for expanding my sphere of influence and doing "exceedingly, abundantly above all that I could ask or dream or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20)!  I prayed "keep them safe," but He made them lights!  I prayed, "don't let them be hurt!"  Oh, why was my vision so short-sighted?  Why didn't I pray that God would make Erica and Liam healing agents in the broken lives and hurting hearts of their fellow classmates?!?!?!  I was sending them into the trenches of warfare with a survivor mentality when God has a vision for them to not just survive but to thrive!

Father, give me Your eyes!  Cause me to see!  I want Your vision....for myself, my loved ones, and our world!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Re-Discovering Grace in Honduras

I spent a week in Honduras at the end of March.  My heart was broken countless times on that trip.  The first incident occurred shortly after arriving.  On the drive from the airport to the missionary retreat where we were staying, we peppered Valerie (our host and driver) with all sorts of questions regarding the people she and her husband serve, the issues they face, the obstacles to their work, et cetera.  In the course of that conversation, Valerie related the story of a local Honduran woman (I'll call her "Maria.").

"Maria" discovered a terrible truth about her husband....He was sexually abusing their two young daughters.  Maria approached a local missionary for help.  The missionary responded by taking Maria to the police department to file a report.  The husband was arrested and put in jail.....for one night.  The very next day, he was released, returned home, tied his wife to a chair, beat her within an inch of her life, and then forced her to watch as he performed despicable acts on her precious babies.  To this day, that man is in his home.  The police refuse to do anything.

Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Valerie share the truth of Maria's life.*  As the tears cascaded from my eyes, I was railing to God:  'God, where does that woman go?  Is there justice for her?  God, I accept that You are the "Ancient of Days," that You see every act of injustice and You will judge righteously.....if not in this life, then in the life to come.  But my heart wants "justice" for that husband now!  I think that surely in this case, Lord, You would not hold it against me if I took this man's life.  I'd be doing everyone, even You, a favor, right?  If he's murdered, then the "good guys" win, right?  God?'

I continued to wrestle with God in the days to come.  Finally, I stopped accusing and started listening.  The answer I got was, frankly, not what I wanted to hear!  God revealed to me HIS heart towards this "monster," this "child molester," this "abuser," this example of "depravity"............and the answer was love.  I didn't want to accept this answer!  Love?!?!  No, he deserves punishment, he deserves Hell, the lake of fire, agony and "gnashing of teeth."  He doesn't deserve love!

Slowly, the magnitude of God's response penetrated the hardness of my heart.  Tears again flowed freely at the rediscovery of grace....grace for the one who doesn't deserve it, grace for the object of my scorn and rage, grace for him even while he is still committing his crimes and flaunting it!  Oh, the depths of God's love!  There is truly nothing we can do to cause God to love us any more or any less!  He loves because He is love!  He loves because it's His nature, and He cannot deny His own nature!

The all-encompassing nature of God's grace was something my heart rebelled against at first (I silently screamed, 'not for this man! not for this situation!' ).  But when I let the truth of this sink in, I saw that it's good news!  Glorious news!  The John Wayne Gacys of this world are just as loved by Him as the Mother Teresas!  If that does not sit well in my soul at first, it is only  because I think of myself as better than "those people," better than the really wretched sinners!

"Oh, Father, forgive me for ever thinking that I would make a good God, sitting as judge over others.  I thank You that I am not God for surely "your ways are higher than my ways and your thoughts are higher than my thoughts."  I have been so stingy with your grace, lavishing it upon those I deem worthy of it.  I know the root of this gracelessness is centered in my forgetting how much I have been forgiven.  Keep me ever mindful of my position as undeserved recipient of Your unfathomable grace.  The vast riches of that grace defy words!  Then, cognizant of Your grace to me, empower me to extend Your grace to the people in my life, every. single. one.  Amen."

*I remember sitting in that van looking out the window at the beautiful mountains, marvelling at the glory of God so visibly on display in the stunning landscape that surrounded me, yet feeling the dichotomy of heaviness and oppression in the midst of this magnificence.  On the one hand, this small country in Central America is so blessed; God's fingerprints are apparent everywhere you look.  How I wish that was the whole story!  Unfortunately, there is a spiritual darkness that hangs over Honduras.  The third poorest country in Latin America, poverty wreaks havoc in far too many lives, in a way that is difficult for most North Americans to imagine.  (Can you imagine living on top of a massive pile of garbage, scouring through trash to find anything you can use or ingest just to stay alive one more day?  Can you imagine birthing a baby here where children fight vultures, cows and stray dogs for anything edible?  People who are made in the image of God and have inherent worth and dignity woven into their DNA are forced to live like animals!  Even if you've seen it with your own eyes, it's still extremely difficult to comprehend.  How can one reconcile that life in the dump of Tegucigalpa and life in the wealthy suburbs of Chicago both exist on the same planet?  It feels like a gigantic tear has occurred in the cosmos.)  The poverty affects all aspects of life and is a contributing factor in so many other social ills including corruption, crime, gangs, drugs, devastation following natural disasters, disease, the list just goes on and on.  I just remember the power of that moment, having my eyes opened to the dual realities and trying to somehow fit this new information into the world as I knew it......an impossible task.  Instead, this trip became a defining moment for me, forcing a paradigm shift.  I pray I never again return to what I once called "normal" but now see as ignorance.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"And a little child will lead them...."

Today much-needed grace came to me in the form of a three year old girl.  Her name is Arianna, and I've been considering a request to start caring for her on a regular basis.  I've been putting off the decision....wanted to wait until my children were both back in school (Liam starts next week.), then Ed has a week long vacation and I'm looking forward to that time together, just the two of us.  But last night the phone rang; Arianna's father was on the line.  Due to a change in circumstances, he had no sitter for Thursday and Friday this week; would I be available?

Truthfully, I felt put on the spot.  I didn't want to do it on such short notice.  I was planning on preparing first:  a trip to the library to check out books that would interest a preschooler, craft supplies bought and crafts planned out, my closets all organized, the carpets professionally cleaned, etc. etc.  My emotions shouted, 'I'm not ready for this!'  But I listened for God's whisper, and I felt prompted to say, "yes!"

God knew what He was doing.  Without this "encouragement" of being faced with a pretty dire need that I could help meet, I could have postponed my start date indefinitely.  The house would never be clean enough.  I would never be organized enough.  I'd never feel one hundred percent "ready."  I just had to jump in and trust God; what I lacked in lesson plans or structured schedule, His Holy Spirit could supply through divine intervention.

Truthfully, I've been feeling kind of down lately.  Depression is something I have always struggled with, and it didn't just automatically disappear the moment that I got saved.  I carry a great unnamed sadness in my soul, and it has haunted me since I was young.  Tears are rarely far from the surface.  According to Psalm 56:8, God enters each tear in His ledger.  I have a feeling my ledger is one of the thickest in His possession!  (Jeremiah's might come close!)

On top of this perpetual aching, I've carried the weight of condemnation.  I have felt so guilty for feeling this DIScontent.  Isn't joy a fruit of the Spirit?  Do I not have the Holy Spirit?  What's wrong with me, Lord?  I'm such a mess!

Recently, I have come to realize that there IS a reason for this melancholy!  There IS something wrong, but it's not me...it's called "the fall."  It's a part of the human condition here on earth.  Some people just feel it more deeply than others, but the Bible tells us that the whole earth is groaning with the weight of sin and its terrible consequences.

Enter Arianna.  How I thank God for little children; surely the Lord is with them in a special way!  When Jesus walked the face of this earth, children were drawn to Him.  His love, His joy and delight, must have been so evident in the presence of little ones.  He welcomed them and held them and blessed them.  I don't think much has changed in 2,000 years.

Today with Arianna, I was given a gift....the reminder that though there is much wrong with this world, there is still much that is right!  Today with Arianna, I was with my Lord.  To see the world through a child's eyes is to see hope and wonder and excitement and joy.  Only three and a half years on this earth, Arianna is fresh from heaven and still carries with her the innocence that we have lost.

We spent two hours at the park this morning, and the highlight of her day was....the birds!?!  How often have I walked that same path, ignoring their song?  It's just background noise to me; absorbed in my own thoughts and concerns, I don't even notice the beauty of their singing.

But Arianna.....she was spellbound by the bird songs.  She thought they were singing just for her, and she starting singing back to them.  She called them her "best friends."  Arriving at the park, she bypassed the playground equipment to "play" with the birds.  As they swooped and soared in circles around the field, she ran below them, chasing them and calling for them to "chase" her.  To a child who sees "friends" in wild animals, how precious will life be under the rule and reign of the Great Redeemer!

Imagine....."the wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid.  Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them.  Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.  Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.  The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide."  (Isaiah 11:6-9, The Message)

I praise God because He is bigger than my brokenness!  He reigns over depression!  He is mightier than the "blues!"  This innate knowing of "all-that-is-not right" will one day be put to rest.  In the fullness of time, He will make all things right again.  Earth and all living creatures will experience life the way He intended it from the beginning.

I can hardly wait for the return of Christ, for the one thousand years He will reign here on earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  I look forward to the day when all His enemies are defeated, even death itself!  What joy!  What celebrating!  What gladness there will be!
     me........................without the depression!
     Jim........................without the wheelchair!
     Sharon...................without the arthritis!
     Isaac and Elijah......without the autism!
     Michelle.................without the braces!
What a glorious, glorious, glorious day that will be!  How I pray that Christ returns quickly!  The whole earth is groaning and in pain without Him!

I thank Him today for the hope that this life is not all there is!  A better day is coming!  I thank Him for His good work of restoring and redeeming and rescuing and renewing.  Truly, He does make all things new, and He makes them beautiful in His time.

I am humbled that it took a three year old child to remind me of that truth.  Being with Arianna today gave me a foretaste of that coming Kingdom.  God used her to rejuvenate my weary heart and breathe life into my spirit.  Her father thanked me profusely when he picked her up, but the truth is....I'm the one who is most grateful.  Amazing grace indeed!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Prince Charming vs. The Prince of Peace

When I was a little girl, I used to fantasize about being married.  I had a name for my imaginary husband ("Ryan"); lying in bed at night, I would pour out my heart to him.  I couldn't wait to find my soulmate.  I pictured him as a best friend that would never leave me or forsake me.  I thought the highlight of married life would be that time at the end of the day when it would be just the two of us.  I dreamt about having somebody to listen and see and understand me, someone with whom I could share my hopes and dreams, frustrations and disappointments.  It would be us against the world!  Maybe then I wouldn't feel so alone and achingly lonely.....

In my study of Daniel, the point was made that Antiochus III the Great was not the savior that Israel had hoped for.  Immediately, my thoughts turned to my own search for a savior.  Surely, I had expected my husband to "save" me.  I looked to him to fulfill me; I expected that married life would cure that insatiable ache and soul-crushing loneliness inside of me.

In fact, marriage did just the opposite; instead of finding relief for my great sadness and yearning, I found that my sorrows were multiplied.  Sometimes there is nothing lonelier than lying next to someone and still feeling miles apart.  At least when I was alone, my loneliness was not mixed with the devastating disappointment of broken dreams and shattered illusions.  The stark reality of dysfunction and suffering in what I had hoped would save me was almost more than my heart could bear.

The truth is that our marriage was drowning in my unrealistic expectations.  The fact that I had exalted Ed, placing him on a pedestal and essentially making him my counterfeit God, may be the very reason that our relationship was so rocky.  No one can ever live up to those expectations.  Did he feel the weight of my need to be saved?!?!  Did it frustrate him and drive him to anger because he innately knew that he could not carry that type of a burden or meet that need?

I know now that God will not share His glory with another.  My "worship" of my husband must have been so insulting, so obscene, in the eyes of my God.  Yes, my marriage left me almost totally devastated, but perhaps that was necessary to kill some things in me and to bring me to a place of humility and need.  In my NEED, I sought out God, desperate for Him, pursuing Him relentlessly.  The pain in my life made me hunger and thirst for truth, for something solid, for that firm foundation that I could truly build my life upon.  I had experienced the opposite (the turmoil and INstability of the "shifting sands"), and it brought me to my knees;  I simply could not live that way.

In hindsight, I see so clearly how the brokenness in my marriage was actually a gift from God.  If I had had a perfect marriage, Ed may still be sitting on the throne of my life.  If he had done all that I wanted and treated me like a princess and met my every need, satisfying and fulfilling all my longings, my foolish heart may be idolizing him still.

Thank You, Lord, for giving me a difficult man and a painful marriage because in that, I found You.  Thank You for revealing Yourself to me.  Like my friend Megan is always talking about, I see so clearly the beauty and blessing of "unanswered prayers."  You could have answered my prayer for a Prince Charming, but at what cost?  At the cost of settling for Prince Charming and missing the "Prince of Peace."  I hope that in sharing my story, I can bring glory to Your Name.  I marvel at Your ability to breathe new life into what was once dead.  I stand in awe of a God whose grace shines brightest in the midst of the most painful circumstances.  My prayer for the future is only this....that You would give me nothing that would rob me of You.  In the precious Name of the Only Savior who is worthy of my absolute and complete trust, Jesus Christ, Let it be so (Amen).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An Open Letter to my Fellow Participants in Marriage Matters

I am so glad you are here.  I hope you find, as my husband and I have, that this is a place of healing and restoration.  You will be given tools to strengthen healthy marriages and repair broken ones.

My husband and I were on the verge of ending a fifteen year marriage when we came to Marriage Matters.  The world was telling me that I had to be strong for myself and initiate divorce proceedings.  Through Marriage Matters, I heard the voice of truth.  God spoke to my heart, saying, "Don't listen to the lie of this world that says, 'be strong for yourself and divorce.'  That is the voice of the enemy who seeks to kill, steal and destroy you.  He's a liar, and the wisdom He offers is bankrupt.  Instead, allow Me to show Myself  strong!  I am stronger than your brokenness, stronger than your pain, stronger than your sin or the way you've messed up your life!"  I am so glad that we listened to that voice of truth and turned our marriage and our lives over to Him (not just in word only, but in action and in deed).

I came into Marriage Matters thinking I was the "right" one, feeling sorry for our table leaders because - boy, oh boy! - were they going to have a hard time "fixing" my husband.  On the surface, many of the problems in our marriage could be laid at the feet of my husband.  But, friends, I am telling you....being the wronged party is a spiritually dangerous place to be.  If we are not wise and mature, we can easily fall into the enemy's trap of pride and self-righteousness, feeling contemptuous and haughty towards our mates.

I didn't see it at the time, but I was a complete fool when I entered Marriage Matters.  In my heart, I sat in smug judgment over my husband.  But praise God....there is hope for fools who earnestly seek Him!  I give God all the praise for opening my eyes to my own sinfulness.

I remember well the morning I saw the "light."  I was in the bathroom getting ready for work, and my husband was ranting and raving about not being able to find a misplaced item.  His short fuse and the outbursts that ensued were such a turn-off to me!  As I silently applied my makeup, I thanked God that I was "above" such temper tantrums!

As my husband continued to rant and rave, I withdrew, retreating further and further into my stony silence.  I can't say this was a pattern that worked particularly well for us, but it was familiar.  The louder he got, the more I withdrew; the more I withdrew, the louder he got.  It was a vicious cycle, but we felt powerless to stop it.

For some reason, that morning I was given a glimpse into our future.  I saw us, old and gray and wrinkled, engaging in the same destructive behavior patterns.  The thought terrified me and brought me to my knees!  I didn't want to be seventy years old and still stuck in the same old rut.  At that moment, I was desperate for change, desperate for a better way, and I cried out to God in my neediness and pain!

Oh, praise Him!  He answered me!  It wasn't the answer I wanted, but it was the answer I needed.  He gave me a glimpse into my own heart, and what I saw made me recoil in disgust.  I saw that my heart was full of pride, and I saw it through God's eyes:  as an offending odor, a putrid stench in His nostrils.

No wonder my husband reacted to me the way he did!  No wonder my silence drove him crazy!!!  It was full of unspoken superiority.  I had sat in judgment over my husband.  I was haughty and arrogant and self-righteous.  One of my favorite verses is Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  But in humility, consider others as better than yourselves."  I had done the exact opposite!  I had thought of myself as better than my husband, and the weight of conviction pierced my heart.

Immediately, I went to my husband and humbly confessed my sin and asked for his forgiveness.  I believe our real healing began that morning as we committed to walking in truth and humility before each other and before God.  The way we relate has changed one hundred percent; when we find ourselves reverting back to old patterns and behaviors, we stop and pray together.  Prayer has changed our hearts, and I can honestly say that I love this man more richly and deeply now than on the day that we married.  Our relationship is sweeter and more tender now than it was when we were dating!

Please don't give up on your partner or your marriage.  We serve a God who is in the life-transformation business!  He is making all things new....bringing beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, peace for turmoil and love for apathy.  He is "mighty to save," and your restored marriage can be a powerful testimony, attesting to the fact that God is alive and working and moving in this world!

Please refrain from just "going through the motions."  Let's agree that for these eight weeks, we will diligently do our homework.  If we apply the tools that we are given, we will be empowered to break our old destructive habits.  We will come to see that our past does not have to dictate our future, and joyful expectation can replace our pessimistic doubts.    I have been praying for each and every one of you.  Submit yourselves to His pruning process, and your lives will overflow with blessing and abundance.

I can think of no more apt or fitting words to end this letter with than those of Paul in Philippians 3:12-14:  "I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be.  I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine.  Christ wants me to do that, which is the reason  He made me His.  Brothers and sisters, I know that I have not yet reached that goal, but there is one thing I always do.  Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me through Christ to the life above."

What glory He will receive when you are able to stand and testify that that which was once dead is now alive and thriving, all because of Him!  May our lives bring Him glory!!!

In His Grip,
Kristy Ufheil

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Letter to the Editor

To The Editor:

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington (August 11 and 12).  It was a phenomenally inspiring event that far exceeded my expectations.  The leaders who spoke were culled from diverse and varied fields of expertise, including business, academia, government and church leaders.  What an awesome event!  Religious leaders humbled themselves to sit under the teaching of secular leaders, and vice versa.  The one commonality shared by everyone in attendance was their desire to improve their skills as leaders.  As WCCC senior pastor Bill Hybels made clear, "When a leader stops learning, that leader should stop leading."

The only downside to the entire Summit was the failure of Starbucks founder and CEO, Howard Schultz, to appear as scheduled.  It was not Mr. Schultz's absence that I found so disappointing, as the insightful and dynamic Patrick Lencioni was able to fill in and delivered an outstanding and challenging message.  Rather, it was the reason for Howard Schultz's decision to  drop out of the Summit that bothered me so much.

Apparently, an online petition had been started by some Starbucks patrons protesting the CEO's appearance at the Summit based on the erroneous belief that Willow Creek Community Church is anti-gay.  These misinformed patrons threatened to boycott Starbucks if Howard Schultz spoke as planned.  

As a member of Willow Creek Community Church, I can categorically state that no charge could be further from the truth.  The church is not defined by opposition to any persons or communities; rather, we are defined by radical inclusiveness.  God's arms are open wide to all people in invitation and love.  As a church, we seek to be a welcoming community where all are warmly received, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, political views, nationality, language, disability or sexual orientation.  God's heart is full of love for all His creation; as a group of followers devoted to the teachings of Christ and striving to walk in His footsteps, we aim to live out that truth.

It is unfortunate that some ill-informed people were able to block Mr. Schultz's appearance based on incorrect assumptions.  However, I am so proud of the way this situation was handled; the church's response to this disappointing news showcased the grace that we profess.  Howard Schultz was allowed out of his contract without any penalties or fines.  In a gesture of goodwill and with a spirit of reconciliation, Willow Creek Association leadership has reached out to the organizers of the petition and invited them to a round-table discussion in order to set the record straight regarding our position towards the gay community.  Mr. Schultz's book, Onward, was still promoted.  Furthermore, every attendee was challenged to go out and purchase a Starbucks coffee in a show of support for Mr. Schultz and his company.  

I sincerely hope that slanderous accusations, threats and bullying will not be allowed to rule in our society.  I am confident that a world-renowned leader like Howard Schultz will stand up to the intimidation and show us all the real meaning of courageous leadership.  I would love to see Mr. Schultz be a future presenter at the GLS.  The doors of our church are always open to him (and anyone else who wishes to enter!).

Global Leadership Summit, 2011

I had the absolute pleasure and great honor of attending the Global Leadership Summit on Thursday and Friday of last week (August 11/12).  I wasn't sure if I should be taking up space there.  Honestly, I've never seen myself as a leader.  I'm not a CEO or CFO or COO.  I'm a pretty simple woman who loves God with all of her heart, but honestly, sometimes I still feel like I'm trying to figure out what I want to "do" with my life!  I'm sure there are more qualified people with greater potential who could get more out of the Summit.  Should I really be taking up a seat?!?!

But I felt God personally inviting me, beckoning me by His Spirit, promising to do great things in my heart if I would only obey.  The night before the Summit, my excitement level was unreal.  I couldn't sleep!  I awoke at 1:00 am, checking the clock, wanting to be sure I didn't oversleep.  Again, my eyes jolted open at 2:48 am.  After lying in bed for thirty minutes, I knew my expectant excitement would make it impossible for me to return to sleep so I just got up and began my day.  I knew---I just knew!---I was going to meet God in a special way at the Summit, and Boy!  Did God ever get a hold of me and rock my world!  I was not disappointed!

Here's what I wrote sitting in my seat on Thursday morning, waiting for the event to get underway and the first speaker to take the stage:  "In this sea of humanity, who am I?!?!  Surrounded by all of this talent, so much potential represented by each individual, I am overcome and overwhelmed.  Who am I that You would even know me, let alone choose to work through me?!?  Yet, you do.  You do know me, intimately and by name, everything about me, my every thought before I even think it.  If You use me, Lord, I know it has nothing to do with me, just the fact that I believe that You can!  I believe You for it!  I believe YOU are ABLE!  And my highest aim and most heartfelt desire is....to bring YOU Glory!"

This blog is the direct result of that Summit.  Patrick Lencioni spoke on the power of vulnerability, and his words connected with me on a deep level.  Look at the third definition of "vulnerable" in the Merriam Webster Dictionary: "liable to increased penalties but entitled to increased bonuses after winning a game in contract bridge."  At first, that definition doesn't seem to apply:  contact bridge?!?!  But, actually, that's the heart of vulnerability, isn't it?

Our natural instinct is for self-preservation, to protect ourselves at all costs and avoid pain wherever possible.  Vulnerability runs counter to that because it requires transparency and authenticity that do open us up to attack or damage, rendering us capable of being wounded.  But the second part of that definition is just as true:  "entitled to increased bonuses."  It is only when we are open and honest and real that beautiful, Godly things can begin to happen.

I am done with masks.  God has gently been coaxing me out of hiding, out of the darkness, and into His glorious light.  He is asking me to "enter the danger" and bravely dare to tell the truth, even if I risk being rejected or embarrassed.  After all, Christ didn't worry about rejection!  I have to ask myself the tough question:  Am I a God-pleaser or a people-pleaser?  Oh, how I long to be a God-pleaser, living my life for that "audience of one," for nothing more and nothing less than His approval!

Why do we, especially those in the church, pretend that everything is great when the reality can be so far removed from that?  "Fake" people cannot give a "real" testimony.  How can we bring glory and honor to our Father if we cannot be honest about where we've been and what we've gone through?  Only when we are open about our "stuff" can others be encouraged and heartened in their spiritual journeys.  The reality of our "mess," while not always making us look that good, can actually showcase God's awesomeness and mighty power.  How can we tell the world that "Our God is a God who saves!" if we are not willing to be real about what He's saved us from?!?!

So thanks to the GLS, thanks to Patrick Lencioni's call to vulnerability, I swallowed my fear and took the plunge, and started this blog.  My goal here is to be completely honest, which means I'll be bearing my warts and all, but the wonderful truth is that His Word is true:  the truth is liberating, and it is setting me free!  My prayer is that in my honesty, God's greatness shines through.  May His Name be made famous through all the earth!!!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Finding Grace

Finding Grace

One of the things I've discovered about grace is that it hardly ever comes in an expected way.  Grace is ushered in on the wings of the unexpected....a blanket returned to a prisoner, a letter from a friend you've never met, a verse delivered by a stranger and meant just for you.   

In my life, grace came to me in a complicated pregnancy.  Bleeding, stuck on bedrest, terrified to lose this tiny life I had already fallen in love with, I felt desperate and hopeless.  Having nowhere to go, no one to turn to, being completely out of control, I turned to God.  And He met me.  He removed the veil from my eyes, and as I read His Word, He made it come alive for me and enabled me to recognize it as truth.  Grace came to me at one of the darkest moments of my life.

Grace came to me when my husband's anger left me shattered.  It was our first weekend without kids in years, and I was planning a romantic trip down memory lane.  I wanted to return to the place we fell in love.....revisit the site of that party and remember the night we met, stop at our first apartment together and relive the high hopes and dreams we had held for our future, return to Evelyn Chapel where we said our vows and embarked on the journey of man and wife and experience again the joy we had felt on the beautiful March day in 1996, see the hospital where our babies were born and reminisce about the sweetness of life with newborns, the wonder and awe we felt the first time we saw our love personified in another human being!

Instead, the weekend was ruled by my husband's anger which erupted in violence, and physical boundaries were crossed which should never be violated.

Violated is a good word for how I felt.  How dare he!  I was so angry, and truth be told, I was angry not just at my husband but at GOD!  He could stop this!  He could change that man's heart!  Why didn't He intervene?!?!?  Didn't He love me?!?!?!

I ran.  I ran from my husband.  I ran from my faith.  I wanted to run as far away as possible and never stop running or look back.  But where could I run to?  Everywhere I went, God was there.  Grace found me; even though I ran as fast as I could, grace ran faster.

How could I say that that night of violence and pain was grace?  Because it ushered in the new.  That night forced me to confront things I was much more comfortable denying.  We had to reach that bottom to admit that we needed help.

Because of that night, I entered counseling.  My counselor, Cindy, was grace to me.  She listened, she validated, she challenged, but most importantly, she brought light and truth into my situation.  Her words were life to me, and I began to come alive in ways I thought were impossibilities for me.

Because of that night, my husband and I enrolled in Marriage Matters.  We connected with other couples like us and discovered that we weren't alone.  Better yet, we were given tools to identify and change our unhealthy behavior patterns.  For the first time in a long time, we saw a light at the end of the tunnel.  Hope entered our world once again, in the knowledge that our future did not have to be defined by our past.  Marriage Matters, and our table leaders, Bill and Scottie Godar, were grace to me.

That Saturday night in November was a night of shattering and breaking.  I could see no good in what was so clearly an evil in our lives.  The pain hurt more than I thought I could bear, and I screamed at the Heavens and I cried until there were no more tears left, and I even despaired of living.  I remember walking late at night down pitch black trails, hoping someone was lying in wait to do me harm, praying for someone to end my misery....too cowardly to take my own life, but hoping that someone else would do me the favor.  

But, that cold, dark, rainy, miserable November night that I thought was the end of everything was actually a beginning.  I--we--our marriage had to shatter and break so that God could put us back together in a new way, His way, for our good and His glory!  I praise God because He is bigger than our "messed-up-ness!"  He has shown Himself mighty on our behalf!  We were powerless to change our circumstances, but we invited Him into our storm, and He is bringing the peace that only He can bring. 

This new peace is not a surface calm.  For nearly fifteen years, I was willing to live with surface calm and believed that was the best I could hope for while all the while, dark forces were bubbling and boiling just below the surface.  Now we have invited His light to shine into those deep, dark places inside of us.  We are no longer pretending that depravity does not live in our hearts.  In humility, we look straight into the Mirror of His Word, and it illuminates our hearts.  Oftentimes, we don't like what we see there, but it brings us to our knees in confession and repentance, and He is so faithful to reach down and lift us up and give us His strength which enables us to do His will.  We are asking for His Wisdom, and we can attest to the fact that James 1:5 is true....He is granting us His wisdom and empowering us to act on it.

Because of grace, I am so hopeful when I think about our future.  I've learned so much in the past eight months.  I know that God is leading us, and while I cannot see the final destination, I trust that the path we are on is leading somewhere good.  I see our story as a small part of His greater, grander story.  It's a story of redemption and restoration, and it brings me such joy to be able to add a chapter in the book of "The Greatness of Our God!"  We are evidence of grace....our lives are evidence of the fact that God is still alive and working in this world!  God is putting our broken pieces back together, and I just pray that the cracks and gaps that will always be reminders of our shattering are the very spaces that God uses to shine His light brilliantly through us and into a hurting world!

Praise Him!  Praise Him!  Praise Him!  "Only God!"  "ONLY GOD!!!"