The Freedom of Forgiveness

Although it was six years ago, it’s still fresh in my mind- the day that the man who murdered my father received his official guilty sentence- life in prison. He was sentenced to 60 years of his life, not free, but behind bars, given a great opportunity to think on his actions for the rest of his life on this earth.

The murder occurred in November 2008, so it took many years for the sentence to be finalized. While many of my dad’s side of the family still doesn’t fully understand, I chose not to become involved in the pursuit of making sure that this man “paid for what he had done.”

There was much commotion and to be quite frank, drama, via social media between family members over the course of a few days that resulted in hateful and bitter comments regarding events in my dad’s life that occurred almost 20 years ago- my parent’s divorce being one of them. My heart was heavy to think that in the midst of such tragedy, people would choose to argue over issues that they have no control over any longer, and truthfully, no business being involved in whatsoever. The tragedy of losing my father actually paled in comparison to the unforgiveness and bitterness that surfaced between my family members.

Unforgiveness is bondage.

It is a yoke that slowly tightens around our neck and chokes the life out of us.

Bitterness is like a cancer that spreads throughout your whole body and affects you completely and everything and everyone around you.

We are given many opportunities every single day to take the bait to become offended and hold grudges, but it is so important that we hold onto Jesus and His powerful Word- God’s perfect truth.

The Apostle Paul explains to us the freedom we find in Christ and urges us to not become entangled in sin in Galatians 5:1:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (ESV).

Although Paul is not speaking of unforgiveness specifically in this verse, we do know that unforgiveness is sin that will separate us from God.

Jesus explains to us at the end of the Lord’s Prayer:

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Matthew 6: 14-15, NIV

Allowing unforgiveness to hold you captive keeps you from fellowshipping with your Heavenly Father and keeps you from walking in total freedom that Jesus died for us to have.

When He was crucified and His blood poured out to accomplish God’s ultimate salvation plan for the world (John 3:16), our sins were thrown as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and we no longer had to be slaves to sin- we were made free! 

When we stand before God in prayer (and eventually at the end of this life here on earth), He sees what Jesus has done. He sees His Son’s precious blood, and the price that Jesus paid with His very life just so that you and I could have a relationship with Our Heavenly Father through Christ.

So why would we deliberately choose bondage by allowing unforgiveness and bitterness to plague our hearts and hinder fellowship with God and the love of others?

I don’t know who you may need to forgive. I don’t know how deep the pain goes, how big or small the offense may be. I don’t know how long you have carried that burden with you, but I do know that you need to forgive, and you don’t have to do it in your own strength. God has given you the Holy Spirit to help you, to heal you, to change your heart. You are given the choice to be the one to make the move. You must choose to forgive. Don’t wait. Do it today. Do it right now. You will experience such great freedom that Jesus so passionately laid down His life for you to have.

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Eternal Gains

A year and a half ago, my brother-in-law was involved in a tragic drowning accident. He was only twenty-five years old and had only been married for a little over a year. I watched my husband, his parents, and my sister-in-law experience the deepest pain imaginable – pain so difficult that it physically hurt. Through this great loss, we’ve learned to walk through the pain with Jesus, trusting that He will continue to heal our broken hearts and believing we will see our precious brother again in heaven someday.

As Christians, we are not ones who grieve without hope because, ultimately, our hope is set in eternity. Because of the cross, we do not have to taste death because our spirit lives on and we live forever in eternity. 

It is the cross that accomplished the forgiveness of sin and made a way for us to have peace with the Father, which is the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Believing this gospel sets our hope towards the life that is to come. This place is not our home.

The Bible is full of truth about eternity and wisdom on how we should live our lives while we are still here on earth. Jesus doesn’t promise that we will escape pain here on earth, but He does promise that He will be with us always (Matthew 28:20).

The Apostle Paul shows us in Philippians 1:21 how we should view our life here on earth:

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

NIV

While we are here, we know our mission is to live to glorify Jesus and tell others about Him by preaching the glorious good news to all those God places in our path. When we face great pain and loss of loved ones or are facing our own mortality because of a terminal illness, we can find hope and rejoice that heaven is our reward.

The honest question is do you focus too much on this life? Do you believe it is better here on earth? Are you only concerned about your legacy you will leave?

When we die in Christ we live forever.

Yes, there is pain.

Yes, there is great sorrow and many questions as to why now, Lord? We have lost loved ones what felt like way too soon. We’ve had a lot of ‘whys’ just because we are human, and humans have a very difficult time processing death. But the Bible is very clear about the glorious hope we have that awaits us as believers in Christ and the truth of God’s Word is what gave us great peace in the midst of our pain. Our faith is forever set on our sovereign Lord, knowing the cross has the final word in the end.

Death doesn’t have the victory because in Christ, we are given eternity with Him!

Death doesn’t lose its sting on our human hearts, but our spirits should be so full of joy at the thought of being in the presence of Jesus where there is no more suffering. What great gain!

Take some time and pray this prayer if you are struggling to fix your eyes on eternity: Father, help me to see this life with eternal lenses and embrace the promises of everlasting life with Christ. Help me through times of pain and suffering as I hold onto the hope I can find in Jesus. I will continue to hide my life in Christ until I take my last breath here on this earth or until Jesus returns in His glory.

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From Suffering to Glory

Even though I have so many wonderful memories during the holiday season, this time of year also holds some painful memories of experiencing the bitterness of death and loss. Sadly, I know this is the case for so many people. For me, November is the month that my dad was murdered (actually it will be 11 years on the 17th) and the month my husband and I lost our first baby early on in my pregnancy. Those were times where I had to endure some pretty heavy emotional suffering. Even though I was a Christian during those times, the pain was still very real and I struggled in my faith. I had to constantly press into God’s truth and surround myself with other believers who loved me and encouraged me during those dark times.

Pain and suffering are not something any of us look forward to, but while we live here in this fallen and broken world, it is inevitable. It is so easy to get caught up in the storms of our life and lose sight of the hope that is available to us through Jesus Christ. He is the anchor in that storm and promises to never abandon us. 

The suffering may not disappear, but the good news is that Jesus is right there with us to walk through it together. In the midst of the pain, the temptation is to give all of our focus on the battle we may be facing. I believe it is so important for us to keep a heavenly and eternal perspective when we are in the midst of a painful situation or even a painful season. We have to remember that our life here on earth is not all that there is to our existence.

There is a life to come where we are promised no more pain or suffering when we see Jesus face to face and when He returns in all of His glory. This is the glory that Paul tells us about in Romans 8:18:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Romans 8:18, NASB

We will experience God’s glory in all of its fullness one day and what a glorious day that will be! Let us hold fast to that hope of eternal life that awaits us, free of all pain and suffering!

So take heart! We must press into God’s promises of what lies ahead.

Jesus is the anchor of our souls; He helps us not waver and is secure and strong.

We must remember that this place is not our home…we are just passing through!

The suffering you are experiencing cannot stand against God’s glory. Let us keep our minds fixed on heaven and fixed on Jesus Christ our Savior, in the midst of our storm.

Sadness and grief will come, sometimes like a tidal wave, but you have an anchor of glorious hope and His name is Jesus!

If you are currently experiencing a trial that seems too much to bear, take that pain to the throne of God. He hears every cry; the Holy Spirit is our great Comforter. Also, fight the temptation to isolate yourself and try to find a friend whom you can share your heart with and confide in. God never intended for us to walk through the valley alone. He is always with you, and He will send someone to be a listening ear and shoulder to cry on if you ask Him. 

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“You Put My Tears in Your Bottle”: Drawing Close to the God Who Sees Our Pain

I laid on the cold, sterile exam table feeling uneasy from the moment I parked my car.

I thought to myself, “Paul and I were just here 2 weeks ago. We got to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time and got pictures to show our family. Why did the doctor need to see me again for an ultrasound?”

I told my husband he didn’t have to come with me to this appointment since it would just be a quick routine checkup on the baby’s growth, which is what I was told. Since this was my first pregnancy, I didn’t think anything of it when I put the appointment on my calendar, but the closer I got to the doctor’s office on my drive there, I was starting to worry and question why I needed to be seen again so early on.

Within the first few minutes of the ultrasound, the doctor got very quiet and simply said, “Oh, I hate when this happens.”

“What?” I asked, my heart racing faster and faster.

“There is no heartbeat. I’m so sorry.”

That Kind of Faith

I sat up, tears streaming down my face and let out a big sigh. She asked if I was going to be okay.

With a shaky voice, I pointed her to the One that has always been near to me during times like these.

“I have been through a lot in my short life. I have had some serious valley experiences.  My dad was murdered several years ago, two divorces ripped a part my family, serious family illnesses, anxiety, depression…but my faith in God has always gotten me through it. This will be no different. Jesus is faithful.”

She sat across from me still, nodded her head, and said “I’m glad you have that kind of faith. I will give you some time alone…just get dressed and come out whenever you are ready, and we will talk about our options.”

“I knew that I was not alone in my sorrow. God saw me in my pain and did not overlook it.”

Although this baby went on to be with the Lord early on in my pregnancy, Paul and I did not believe this would be the end of our story; we strongly believed God would give us a child, and we would rest and trust in His timing. God was faithful to us and we now have two sons. But do those two sons erase the pain of losing a baby? No.

Although God answered our prayers to have children, He still saw all of those tears and was with me as my heart and body healed. I looked to the only One who could keep me from being crushed under the weight of my grief. I knew that I was not alone in my sorrow. God saw me in my pain and did not overlook it.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

Psalm 56:8, NLT

The same was true, years before, after I received the news that my dad had been brutally murdered. Honestly, my faith met at a crossroad during that time in my life. Instead of allowing the weight of that loss to completely crush me, I chose to look to Jesus. I chose to call upon the Lord and to stand upon Christ, my solid Rock, and believe He was good and He was in control. I chose to have faith in the One who is near to the brokenhearted.

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit”

Psalm 34:18, ESV

Clinging to Jesus in the Whirlwind

My family and I are currently going through another valley experience right now, and we are choosing to stand upon God’s Word and cling to Jesus for He is our anchor in this storm. Just a couple days before Independence Day this year, my husband received the devasting phone-call that his younger brother was involved in a tragic drowning accident while he was on vacation with his newlywed wife and friends. These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions and physical exhaustion. From the mere shock of this tragedy to consoling parents, friends, and relatives to responding to countless messages, texts, and phone-calls to the planning of funeral arrangements and the days following all of these events.

Although I felt the sting of this tragic loss, I watched my husband, his parents, and my sister-in-law experience the deepest pain imaginable – pain so difficult that it physically hurt. The night Paul received the news, I held him as we both cried, huddled on the couch. He kept grabbing his chest and saying, “I miss him so much. This hurts so bad.” We are all putting one foot in front of the other and walking through the pain with Jesus, trusting that He will continue to heal our broken hearts and believing we will see our precious brother again in heaven someday.

 I don’t know if you have ever experienced so much emotional pain that you physically hurt, but in those moments, as humans, we struggle to bring real comfort and healing, whether to ourselves (self- help isn’t the answer, friends) or to others. We can offer our condolences, bring them food, send cards, pray for them, and hold them when they need a shoulder to cry on (all of which we have thankfully experienced these last few weeks), but truthfully, only God can help to bring the comfort, healing, and peace we need during times like these. After all, two of the Holy Spirit’s names are “The Helper” and “Comforter.”

Jesus tells His disciples about the Holy Spirit in John 14:26:

“But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.”

AMP

The mighty, all-powerful God who created the entire universe is the same God who draws oh so close to us in our brokenness and pain. The Holy Spirit (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby) is our gift from the Father and is nearer than our very breath. Just like John 14:26 says, He will also help us remember what Jesus has told us in Scripture.  

In this season of my life, as I ask for strength and grace to help my husband and our family walk through this valley, the Lord is doing so by bringing me to the truth of His Word. After a couple days passed after the news, I was finally able to take off my mom-hat for a few minutes and be alone and process all that had happened. I broke down sobbing in the shower. Although we weren’t siblings by blood, he was my little brother for the last ten years. The pain hit me like a tidal wave, and I cried out to the Lord like I had done countless times before when the heaviness was trying to overwhelm me.

Not only did I sense the nearness of God in the moment, the Holy Spirit brought a verse to my mind that flooded my heart with hope. As soon as I left the shower, I grabbed my phone to look up the Scripture. The Holy Spirit was reminding me to keep my mind fixed on eternity.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, ESV

What a beautiful reminder to all of us who might be experiencing pain right now! We may feel pain and sorrow, but that does not mean that we have no hope! Our life is only a vapor (James 4:14), and this place is not our home. We have a promise that one day every tear will be wiped away and pain will be no more:

“[Jesus] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Revelation 21:4, ESV

The Bible is full of truth about eternity and wisdom on how we should live our lives while we are still here on earth. Jesus doesn’t promise that we will escape pain here on earth, but He does promise that He will be with us always (Matthew 28:20).

In your pain and sorrow, cry out to the Lord and walk with the Holy Spirit. Allow Him to bring you true comfort and peace, all while guiding you into truth about the Kingdom to come. Soon and very soon we will be with Him forever, where His perfect love will be all we ever experience. Until then, keep drawing near to Him and He will faithfully draw near to you, just as His Word promises us. 

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Life Upon the Rock

Eight years. It has been eight years ago today.

Eight years ago, my life drastically changed with a tragedy I only knew of through movies and TV; I never thought it would happen to me.

Eight years ago, I clung to my Jesus tighter than I ever had in my whole life.

Eight years ago, I learned to stand firmly on Jesus Christ, my firm foundation and solid Rock.

Eight years ago, my dad’s life was taken from him in the most brutal and horrific way.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my dad and the wonderful memories we shared. Although we had struggles in our relationship, I choose to embrace the good. I miss him very much.

I share this story to offer the hope that Jesus Christ has given me. No matter what storm you are facing or what tragedy you have experienced, Jesus is and always will be there for you. He is forever faithful. Stand up on Him. Stand upon the Rock.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Yielded in His Hands: Becoming a Vessel for God’s Glory:

One Sunday night, our pastor was talking about using your life to impact others’ lives for God. Towards the end of the service, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart, Why do you want to be an actress? Who are you going to help by pursuing a career in acting? Those questions were a part of a major turning point in the direction of my life. I was deeply convicted.

As I drove home, I poured out my heavy heart to Paul over the phone. I told him that I didn’t think I was supposed to move to LA at all to pursue a career in acting. “Praise God!” he said. He had been praying that God would speak to me about this because he never wanted to move to the west coast. He didn’t want to be the reason I made the decision to stay; he wanted me to hear it from the Lord instead. He wanted to raise our family in the church he grew up in and be close to our families. He was so blessed to know this dream would come true. Although I felt a weight lift from my chest, I was terrified because I had built my life upon what I had wanted and planned, not what God had planned for me. I had a plan, and it was all laid out. Now everything was completely unknown to me. God had already established my steps before the foundation of the world. This was my first attempt at walking in them and surrendering my will. I believe this was the moment I decided to stop living my life on shifting sand and plant my feet firmly on solid ground because I was trusting in God’s word and not my own understanding.

The next morning, I went to work and tried to wrap my mind around what I had just decided for my future. It didn’t make sense, but I knew it was right. Trusting God will never make sense to our human minds, but that’s because God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts or our ways. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). During nap-time, I sat down to journal my thoughts.

Suddenly, my mom called me and told me that there was a family emergency and that it involved my dad. She did not discuss any details, but told me that I needed to come home from work immediately. I called the father of the boy I cared for and explained to him I needed to go home as soon as possible, even though I had no idea what had happened to my dad. A part of me wondered if he had been in some kind of accident involving drinking and driving; it had happened before. I knew that I needed to stay calm and not let fear overtake me. I prayed the whole way home and asked God to give me His peace.

I rushed home, and looked for anyone from my family, but no one was around. I ran up to my room trying to figure out who to call. Worry and fear gripped my heart, as thoughts of what actually happened circled my mind. I immediately started to have a panic attack and fell to the floor crying and hyperventilating. Within a few minutes, my aunt, step-dad, and Paul were surrounding me trying to calm me down. I wanted to know where my mom was and why she wasn’t there. “What is going on,” I cried out.

My aunt then uttered the words, “Honey, your dad has been killed. Someone shot him in the head and killed him. His body was dragged across the street to an abandoned building and the building was set on fire. They identified his body this morning by the metal plate in his pelvis.” My mind couldn’t comprehend what I had just heard. The phone conversation he and I had just a couple weeks prior to this ended in him hanging up on me. I never got to say good-bye or tell him that I loved him. I immediately went into shock and couldn’t stop shaking or crying.

My mom was at the police station with my brother, my grandma and aunt (my dad’s mom and sister) identifying his wallet and other belongings the police had found at the scene of the crime. This couldn’t be happening. This isn’t real. This sounded like something out of a movie or a forensic science TV show, not my life. There isn’t much I remember about that day, except being surrounded by my loving boyfriend, family, and my old pastor and church family from high school. God’s love held me and carried me through it all, I know. Because of God’s amazing grace, I was able to plan my dad’s funeral and endure the days following.

I was never very close to my dad’s side of the family because of the divorce between my mom and dad, but during this time, we needed to be. Many of his siblings had no idea the kind of lifestyle he was living and wondered how I was able to handle my grief. I gave them two reasons: the man that died was not my father (a bit dramatic and extreme, yes, but the devil had truly deceived him and had overtaken his soul) and of course, the strongest reason I could endure this dark time in my life was because of my faith in Jesus Christ. At the funeral service, which was held in the church I grew up in, I read one of my dad’s favorite poems, “Footprints in the Sand”and declared from the pulpit that Jesus is the only One who could carry us through this tragedy. And He did.

Thanksgiving that year held a different meaning for me as I realized how thankful I was for my life, even though I had suffered and struggled greatly through it. Through the tragic event of my dad’s death, I saw how fragile life was. God’s mighty love shined through all of that darkness and reminded me that He would never leave me nor forsake me, and He would give me strength to overcome any obstacle or tragedy, such as the murder of my dad. The devil tried all he could to knock me down and take me out, but there I was, standing on Christ, my solid Rock.

“He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

Psalm 40:2b, NIV

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