Posted in Faith

Finding Hope in the Dark

holding candle

She stood at my front door. A young woman I guessed to be in her late teens, she looked a little cold, or maybe nervous. I couldn’t quite tell. She had frantically rung our door bell in the early morning hours, waking our household from deep sleep. My husband, Jonathan, did the honors of answering the door.

She had just gotten off work. Her car had broken down. The battery in her phone had died. Could we please help her?

Jonathan went to fetch me to help, closing the door behind him, leaving the young woman outside. I hastily threw on my bathrobe and tied the sash in a knot as I scurried down the hall. I opened the door, leaving the screen door latched, as she repeated her story. As she spoke, I felt strangely drawn to her. She was beautiful with long flowing dark hair. She carried herself with a sense of intelligence and charm. But there was something more. Could this be a divine appointment? The compassion of Christ welled up within me, and I felt compelled to offer more than the use of my phone. There was something special about this young woman. I wanted to find out more about her.

I opened the screen door and invited her inside. I asked questions about her situation. The answers didn’t quite line up. She dropped my phone while attempting to call her mom. “Why is she so jittery?” I thought.

As she started the task of calling again, I wondered what I should do if nobody answered. It would certainly be too dangerous to send her out into the darkness alone. I imagined myself pouring her a hot cup of tea and encouraging her to stay a little while until the sun came up. Then we could take her where she needed to go. My plans were suddenly interrupted as she thrust my phone back into my hands. “I have some friends that live around here,” she blurted. “I’ll just go there, and they’ll help me.”

She ran out of the house into the shadows.

Her sudden departure shocked me. I was worried about her safety. I decided I would run outside, barefoot and all, and convince her to return to the house. She could wait there until daylight. I hesitated for a moment, the screen door still ajar.

My world was instantly shattered as two masked gunmen appeared out of nowhere, forcing their way into my home and my life.

It has been fourteen months since that horrific morning. The Lord has graciously carried my family and me through the healing process, as the pieces of this criminal case have come together.

From day one, my prayers have been extended toward the gunmen and the young woman who opened the door to this attack by her deception. Yes, their actions harmed my safety and my psyche, but I have never doubted that the Lord is with me. He is my strength moment by moment, day by day. My life is full of meaning, because He fills my soul with His gracious love. I am not concerned about myself. No matter what happens to me, I am secure. But I am not so sure about the three invaders, and that makes me deeply troubled. I have not stopped praying for them to experience God’s love, to open their hearts to forgiveness through Christ, and for their lives to be restored. But I continued to be haunted by why I invited the young woman inside. Did I misread the Lord’s prompting and open my family up to danger?

It was emotionally difficult to attend the sentencing hearings of the two young men. Jonathan and I were able to share the impact their actions had on us and then speak words of forgiveness. We talked about God’s love for them and urged them to make a better life for themselves. That wasn’t the hard part. We saw them caught in a generational cycle of poverty, lack of education, and family dysfunction that, barring a miracle, they will repeat again. That was truly devastating. I keep praying for the Lord to break through the perceived hopelessness, and that these young men will yield their lives to Him, allowing Him to change them as only He can do. God’s heart is to restore broken people. That’s where I find hope.

Sometimes God’s surprises us by showing larger glimpses of Himself at work. During those times, hope shines a little more brightly.

In April we attended the sentencing hearing for the young woman. She was fortunate to be transferred to the juvenile system and given opportunities to better herself. Jonathan and I again discussed how her actions continue to affect us and then extended forgiveness. We again shared our wishes for her to experience God’s love, and that she would use her beauty, intelligence, and charm to better our world rather than cause harm. This time the scenario was drastically different. The judge spoke to us words of affirmation and encouragement. She shared about the positive progress the young woman had made during her long detention and since her release. The young woman will be graduating from high school in June with plans to attend college. She has a part time job, and has been volunteering as an intern. At the end of the hearing, I extended my hand to the young woman before she passed. She embraced me and cried, “I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.”

We continued a conversation for ten minutes outside the courtroom, and I sensed the same compassion of Christ as I did fourteen months before. Things had come full circle, this time with a far better outcome.

I don’t know if I will see the young woman again. It’s likely I will run into her somewhere in the community. One way or another, I pray the Lord uses our brief connections to influence her to continue to make positive choices and ultimately to open her heart to His love. It has been a powerful reminder to me that God is the God of restoration. He is at work even when I do not understand and I cannot see it. My calling is to keep praying and to not lose heart. There is always hope, even in the dark.

The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:4-5, NLT).

 

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Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Love…No Matter What

love-pexels-photo-195364

On my flight to Chicago last week, I sat next to a young woman and her boyfriend. We introduced ourselves and exchanged some social niceties. Then she turned toward her boyfriend and the two of them engaged in conversation, while I began to read a book. Within a few minutes the couple’s discussion became quite robust. The noise in the cabin drowned out their words, but their body language spoke loudly. I prayed under my breath for the Lord to help them, and wondered if I should intervened.

The young man’s arms made exaggerated gestured. The young woman wiped tears from her cheeks and her body quaked as she tried to stifle her cries. I could hold back no longer.

“Is everything okay?” I asked. “I can’t hear what you’re talking about, but you’re clearly involved in an intense discussion.”

They looked at me in surprise, sheepish expressions on their faces. The young man explained.

“We just spent the weekend with some really good friends. We’re from Chicago and are very liberal. Our friends are very conservative. We had some arguments with them. Now my girlfriend and I are talking about what happened. It’s really hard.”

Now it was my turn to be surprised. I had imagined several scenarios, but I hadn’t imagined this.

My heart went out to them. A dear friendship was threatened by differences in political ideology. Sadly in our nation, this is becoming increasingly common. Belief in a cause or the adherence to a particular faith takes precedence over decency, even when those closest to us are involved. This great divide can be excruciating.

Too many people are choosing their beliefs over kindness, respect, and love. This shouldn’t be, especially for Christ followers.

We can believe wholeheartedly in the teachings of Jesus and still treat unbelievers with kindness. Cruel and rude words must have no place in our lives.

We can adhere to moral standards and still respect those with whom we don’t see eye to eye. Caring for them does not equal moral compromise.

Followers of Jesus are called to love people. Period. In fact, Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, those who stand in opposition to our beliefs or wish for our demise. Lest we forget what love looks like, take a stroll through 1 Corinthians 13 or Matthew 5 where our Lord teaches us to turn the other cheek, give your shirt to someone demanding your coat, and bless those who curse you.

Think about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A man looked beyond religious and racial differences, and treated an injured human being with compassion. He tended to the victim’s wounds, brought him to an inn, paid for his room and board, and offered to provide for other expenses if needed. The Samaritan was a neighbor to one who was culturally an enemy. Shouldn’t we do the same? It may not be as dramatic as saving someone’s life but we can certainly treat others with decency and respect.

And what about those who are closest to us? If love transcends political affiliation and religious beliefs (and it does) and if every human being is priceless because they are created in God’s image (and they are), how much more should we love our family and friends without strings attached? Differences must not be divisive. We can take a stand for our beliefs and do what we know to be right without rejecting others for thinking differently. We can hold tightly to our faith and convictions, while still holding tightly to our loved ones.

I have recently adopted a phrase from my granddaughters’ story book:

“I love you, because I love you.”

I try to say and show that often.

As I got ready to exit the plane, I offered encouragement to the young woman and her boyfriend. “Don’t let go of your friendship. Listen to what your friends say. Try to understand where they are coming from. Make it a learning opportunity. And hopefully they will do the same.”

Will we do the same? Let’s approach our relationships with grace, committed to extend kindness, respect, and love no matter what. Let’s love them simply because we love them. After all, isn’t that what our Heavenly Father does with us?

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other (1 John 4:9-11).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me when I struggle and do not honor You with my choices. Thank You for walking with me, as I live imperfectly and try to figure things out. Help me to treat others with the same grace You give me. Teach me how to balance my zeal for You and Your ways with loving others who believe differently than myself. Empower me to love others unconditionally. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Exhausted or Empowered Leader? Part Three

The last two weeks, we have focused on healthy approaches to our leadership relationships. By making three simple adjustments, we can go from exhausted to empowered leadership.

The third concept that liberated me as a leader is “Caring” versus “Carrying.”

This is really another variation of taking proper responsibility. However, it provides a powerful picture. I believe the Lord showed it to me as an illustration while I was on a journey of healing, and I use it often with people who take ownership of others’ choices.

God has called us to care about others. He asks us to reach out in empathy, and serve with compassion. It is a good thing to minister with our hearts. Jesus’ ministry was marked by compassion. He had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He taught them. He had compassion on them and healed them. He had compassion on them and provided miraculous fish and bread. Our Lord cared deeply about people, and we follow His example. Caring is good. It is what we were made to do. However, we were not made to carry people. It is God’s job to carry, not ours. When we are carrying, it gets too heavy. We get weighed down by this person’s bad choice, that person’s failure, this person’s poor attitude, that person’s family crisis. We become frustrated, angry, bitter, resentful, and eventually cannot move.

Rosemarie Kowalski tells a story which Joanna Weaver adapted in her book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. It’s about a man who willingly receives an assignment from the Lord to pull three stones in a wagon up the hill. As his journey progresses, in an attempt to help others, he adds more and more to his wagon–other people’s rocks, pebbles, and stones–until the weight is too heavy to bear. He can go no further.

“Let others shoulder their own belongings,” God said gently. “I know you were trying to help, but when you are weighed down with all these cares, you cannot do what I have asked of you.”

The man jumped to his feet, suddenly realizing the freedom God was offering. “You mean I only have to take the three stones after all?” he asked.

“That is what I asked you to do.” God smiled. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light. I will never ask you to carry more than you can bear.”

We often carry others because we care. But Jesus hasn’t asked us to carry them. Thankfully we can go to Jesus. He will unsaddle us from the weight of carrying. Then we will be free to care again.

A simple adjustment in perspective makes such a powerful difference!

Do you struggle with carrying others?

If so, identify some people you are carrying.

In what ways will your relationships change when you care about them rather than carry them?

To recap the last three weeks:

  • A goal is solely under your control; a desire is not. Goals for self; desires for others.
  • You are responsible to others, not for others.
  • God has asked you to care about others, not carry them.

May our Lord Jesus Christ fill you with His wisdom and knowledge to approach your relationships in healthy ways. May you walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and lead others from a sincere heart of love.

Joanna Weaver, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (Colorado Springs, Waterbrook Press, 2002) 48-51.