Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Two Reasons to be a Forgiving Person

release butterfliesToday I am writing about a loved one. Before we get started, don’t try to guess who it is. And if you are reading this, don’t assume it is you. The truth is this dear one is no longer alive, so it’s highly unlikely he or she will be paying attention to my blog. The sweet wonderful lady (now I’ve gone and given a little of it away) had a lovely heart and endeared many people to her. But she had a very scary habit of holding grudges. If someone offended her, especially the people closest to her, she would cut off all communication. She refused to forgive and she refused to try to work things out. If you hurt her, you were stonewalled, sometimes for life. It was hard for me to understand how someone so gracious, generous, and kind could also be so hard and unforgiving.

Today I am also writing about a subject that affects us all. Forgiveness. It’s human nature to hold grudges. It’s an instinct to protect and preserve ourselves from further harm. Isn’t it fascinating that we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to our own motives and intentions? However, when someone else does the same thing to us, we react with doubt and suspicion. The Lord, in his perfect wisdom, knows that relationships are messy and he asks us to forgive.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).

The Lord, in his perfect wisdom, also has our best interests in mind. Here are two of many reasons we should pursue forgiveness, even when it is difficul

It is healing for us.

Unforgiveness is like pouring poison into a cup and then drinking it yourself, hoping to get back at the person who hurt you. Does this analogy sounds ridiculous to you? It does to me. However, it is what happens when we refuse to forgive. We get stuck in the past. Bitterness takes root and makes us toxic. However, when we forgive, we open the door to God’s forgiveness in our own lives. We realize we ourselves deserve no forgiveness, but the Lord extends his grace to us liberally. When we extend the Lord’s gracious forgiveness to those that have harmed us, we loosen the chains that grip our souls.

We take the high road of hope.

When we refuse to forgive, we pass a condemning sentence. In our minds, the offenders will never change and the damage they created can never be undone. That can be the case apart from the intervention of the Lord. But, take a moment and think of your own past. Has the Lord delivered you from bad habits or unhealthy ways of relating? Are you the same person as you were five, ten, or twenty years ago? God has been patient and views you through the lens of who he created you to be. He sees you with the lens of possibility and potential, that transformation he has planned. Don’t take the low road of judgment. Take the high road of hope. As long as there is life, there is hope. Hope for a change of heart. Hope for a change of lifestyle. Hope for a change in perception.

A word of caution…forgiveness does not mean subjecting yourself to on-going abuse. Yes, God can do great things in the heart of the offender, but you aren’t required to be close friends. Sincerely wish them well, and continue to pray for their transformation. Take the high road of hope and freedom.

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! (Matt. 18:21-22).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me and forgiving. In the midst of painful and difficult relationships, help me to walk in forgiveness. Remind me that you have poured out abundant grace on me, and empower me to extend grace on my offenders. Give me the assurance that You protect my heart and keep me safe from harm. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

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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).

 

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Following the Way of Peace

amazing-beautiful-beauty-blue

The other day I overheard one of my volunteers talking about me. “Who wouldn’t get along with Joddi-Jay? Everyone likes her.” I smiled to myself with gratitude that I enjoy good relationships with my paid and volunteer staff members. I also smiled, because while I love people and work hard to foster positive connections, the reality is not everyone likes me. As hard as I try, there are still people who don’t get along with me, and it is deeply painful when my attempts for unity fall short. For some reason I believe that everyone should just get along and play together nicely.

We all know that’s not the way it works in the real world. People don’t always see eye to eye, whether it be with families, churches, or other organizations. So what are we supposed to do?

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

The Lord expects His followers to pursue the way of peace. We are to practice kindness and humility, encourage others, promote understanding, and work toward reconciliation. We are to take the high road, even when it feels self-sacrificial or lonely. We live to please the Lord by being peacemakers.

However, the bottom line is this: You can only control your own actions. You cannot control the actions of others.

Despite your best efforts to live at peace with everyone, not everyone will choose the way of peace. They may continue to be angry and divisive. They may be deceptive and try to sabotage your work. Or, it may not be quite so dramatic. They may decide to cut off the relationship with no further communication. And then what?

One of my friends leads a large pregnancy center ministry in another state. A meeting that was intended to build collaboration among various life-affirming organizations in the area quickly turned nasty. My friend became the target, as one by one the other leaders railed against her. I asked her what she did. Her reply: “I simply sat and listened to what they had to say. And I prayed. Within two years, every one of them was gone — either fired or moved on — and others who truly wanted to work together took their place.”

My friend followed the way of peace and trusted the Lord to work on her behalf.

When your best efforts to live peacefully are rejected by others, there are two things to do.

Keep your eyes on the Lord. As hard as it may be, don’t allow other’s responses to distract you from what He has called you to do. Don’t carry the weight of their choices. Focus on the mission He has placed before you. Trust Him to work mightily in spite of and in the midst of any opposition you face.

Keep an open heart. Forgive, and keep forgiving. This doesn’t mean minimizing or excusing their behaviors. Instead release all your hurts to the Lord. Don’t speak negatively about others, but rather pray for the Lord to work in their lives. Assume the best and not the worst. Believe that, no matter what it looks like, change is possible.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being the God of Peace. Help me to follow Your example and be a peacemaker. When others oppose me, empower me to stand strong and continue serving You. By Your Spirit, may my responses be gracious, kind, and loving. May I thrive in the midst of difficult circumstances. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.