Friday, February 13, 2015

No Fear in Love

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

My cousin Tina and I were born on the same day, May 25, three years apart.

Through our childhood, we were frequent companions, sharing birthday parties and being playmates and giggly girls, trying hard to be good for Grandma.
The climbing tree in Grandma's backyard always beckoned us to sit in it's high branches and play 'house'. A trip to the store might mean an ice cold Coca-Cola in the bottle and a box of Barnum's Animal Crackers to share.
All in all a life filled with the innocent fun of girls who were oblivious to ugliness and pain and abuse.

Or so I thought.

It was a visit to Tina's home when I was 13 that opened my eyes to the truth of her world.
Her home was not the safe harbor that I knew and my most distinct memories of that visit are of fear and silence.
She was 10 years old.

Soon after, her sister Leasa was born.
Barely surviving her birth, she was deprived of oxygen during the process, and a victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, her precious life was tragic from the start.

Over the next several years Tina and I began to drift apart as we each grew into our own teenage lives. The Summer and Holiday visits were different now - we were different now, each of us shaped by our singular circumstances and personal choices.

My path took me down a road where my heart was yearning to be loved and I lost my innocence in the process.

Her path took her down a road of drugs and alcohol in an effort to escape the actions that were forced upon her. Her innocence long shattered.

After high school, we as individuals seemed to find our inner strength and sense of purpose that compelled us to try and make something of our lives. To walk away from the former and leave the memories behind.
I was entering the police academy as she graduated high school and began work in a dental office, eventually working her way up to a skilled dental hygenist.
She moved away from home and seemed to be building a better life, with different friends and different goals.

But as in so many cases of abuse victims, Tina met the man she would eventually marry and who would eventually be her complete undoing.

April 1990.
I made the two hour drive to Tina and Gregg's small apartment in Richmond, VA.
It was a happy occasion, their wedding was in September and we had dress shopping to do. After spending the day among satin, lace and tulle, reminiscent of our girlhood trips to the dress section of my Grandma's favorite department store, I stayed overnight to extend our visit. It had been too long and I missed the close companionship we'd once had.

The two of us stayed up long past midnight, talking and sharing memories when our conversation turned to her fiancé.
What Tina shared with me that night - trusted me with that night - should have been enough for me to pack her up and get her far away from her nightmare life.
Once again, the lies abuse victims tell themselves in order to survive won out as she assured me that he was different now. He had changed. He promised her that he'd never do those things again.
Lie after lie after lie until she had me convinced to leave it alone. It was her life to live as she chose.

I woke up the next morning to the stench of drug smoke and alcohol in the living room - where he had spent the night - and I cowardly made my exit.

If this story had a happy ending, I'd take you there now.
My heart hurts and my thoughts are dark as I unpack this tale for you here. It's almost too hard to tell it knowing now what I should have known then.

But I never had to worry about having a Father that loved me.
A Father that protected me.
A Father who had control over himself and his actions.
A Father that would have given his life to see mine preserved.
I hadn't yet met my husband, but because my Father was the kind of man he was, he provided the blueprint for the man I needed to marry.

Tina didn't have that privilege and it was never more evident than on her wedding day.
As I look back, I can see her stuffed pain, her hidden tears, her wounded soul, her crushed heart. All pushed aside for her determination to make the most of her fairytale day.
It was to be her only taste of any fairytale.

Years later, Tina's sister Leasa graduated from her special high school.
I drove my Mom and Grandma down for the ceremony and party afterwards.
It was the first time I'd seen Tina face to face since my wedding day in December of 1991.

She was a shell of her former self. Her face and body ravaged by years of alcohol and drug use and the suffering of unspeakable acts of violence.
I couldn't even look at her husband.
It was with a superhuman effort that I'd even agreed to make the trip and stand in their house to celebrate Leasa's accomplishment.

You see, it was only a few years earlier that we learned through my Aunt, Tina's Mother, that Tina's husband was not only a drug abuser, but he was a sexual deviant.
It was discovered that he had sexually abused Leasa multiple times in their home.
Times when she would stay with them overnight to give my Aunt a break from her care.
He was arrested and charged with the crimes, but because of reasons still unknown to me, he wasn't convicted of the crimes that should have put him away for life, but merely placed on short probation and allowed to go home.
Apparently the testimony of a mentally challenged victim isn't enough. And her sister, a victim all her life, was unable to break free of her own cycle of abuse in order to speak out and change the outcome.

So, as victims do, Tina chose to stay with him.
And I couldn't comprehend it.
Couldn't comprehend personally how that kind of fear rules your life and causes you to make choices that are appalling to most.

Her life came to an unimaginably horrific end seven years ago.
Tina's husband had kicked her out of their home and for over two years, she had been living either out of her car, or with another man who was prostituting her for drugs and money.
She was found dead on the side of the road on a cold early spring day.
The physical cause of her death is unknown to me, but in all honesty, I've often wondered if she was dead before she was even given a chance to live.

I write this story today because as many of you know, the highly controversial movie "50 Shades of Grey" premieres this weekend.
Valentine's weekend.
A time when love is celebrated.

50 Shades of Grey is not love.
It portrays an outward personification of hurt and pain and fear.
It is a portrait of dark desires and deviant actions that have been fed by fuel that should burn no one.
It is not a love story.
It is a fear story. It is a pain story. It preys on our emotions and the dark places in our hearts that we more often than not don't choose to explore.
It is a story of desperation and sadness if you but choose to see it.

Those who see Christian Grey as a romantic figure might do well to ask themselves what caused him to discover and then feed the deviance he embraces.
Those who see Ana as the girl who saves him should perhaps ask why she is drawn to him at all.
This is escapism some say. This isn't reality, it's harmless fun between two consenting adults.
But the people who live these lives outside the pages of a book or the scenes in a movie might not be all that they seem. Some may be hiding pain and hurt and anger so deep inside that they either aren't aware of it or are unable to acknowledge it as they pursue anything to fill up the empty void in their lives.

As a police officer I learned the importance of asking why. Of digging deeper into a situation until I found the underlying cause.
Those whys take you to some very dark places.

To this day, I wish I'd asked why more often for Tina's sake. And for Leasa's.
I didn't, but it's made me more determined to pay attention to what's unsaid. To what's observed when it seems out of place. To persist even when assurances that all is well are present.
It's that regret that brings me here today.
To share their story to hopefully make you think about the dark places in our human hearts.

We all have them, and in truth the only thing that can permanently break through that darkness is the One who is Himself light.

There are no shades with Christ, only light.
Truth and light and a love that never causes pain or fear.

If you are reading 50 Shades of Grey, ask yourself why.
If you are planning to view the movie, ask yourself why.
The only path for the temporary high of a dark thrill is another dark thrill.
And another.
And another.
Until you find yourself trapped in a world of darkness that causes pain and more darkness.

I can only urge you to look to the light today. To find a place of freedom from whatever has you in chains today.
Christ waits for you with open arms and a grace that allows no darkness to invade.
No shades, just light.

With a Courageous Heart,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I Feel His Pleasure

There's that moment, in the middle of what to some would be a mundane task.
The moment that you know you are right smack dab in the middle of God's purpose for your life.
You know He's working out His plan and you feel His pleasure.

To others it's a motion that deserves no more than a passing thought.
It's a stop in time that could, by many, be done on auto-pilot.

But not you.
Your heart catches in your chest and you feel your eyes become wet with tears of joy and the only thing you can do is stop.
You close your eyes, hold your hands up to the sky and tilt your head back and you can feel your Creator smiling right into your soul.
He's singing His song over you and it rolls in waves over your heart.

And you just whisper "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

The tears roll down your cheeks in the small miracle of that moment.
When everything is at peace in your heart.
When all is as it should be because you know you are where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to do and it is bringing Him glory.

My heart is bursting wide open today.
I was just granted one of those moments of precious, joyful worship of the God who loves me more than anyone deserves to be loved.
Because I know, I know, that I'm right where I'm supposed to be and He's working out His plan for my life.

I am reminded today of the Olympic runner Eric Liddell.
He's probably most well known because of the movie about his life - Chariots of Fire.
He knew he was called to the mission field in China, but God had also made him a gifted runner. And as he worked out his faith publicly - refusing to run the race he had trained for because it fell on the Sabbath - God honored his faithfulness and in an unforeseen turn of events, Eric Liddell ran an entirely different race.
One he had not trained for.
But he won Gold.
And gave the glory to God.
And the whole world witnessed it.

He is often quoted as telling his sister - whom he would eventually join on the mission field in China, "I believe God made me for a purpose - for China. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt. You were right, it's not just fun. To win is to honor Him."

Eric Liddell had felt the small miracle of his moment of worship as he used his talent for God's glory and he knew that the world could see Christ in him.
Another quote says this -
"We are all missionaries...Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ 
or we repel them from Christ."

And that's all I ever want anyone to see in me - Christ Jesus.
Nothing I ever do is for me or my glory or fame or renown - but all to make Jesus famous.

With a Courageous Heart,

Monday, February 2, 2015

How We Live

It's the greatest challenge for us to care more about how God wants us to live, than we do about how the world views us. 
Our lives are not meant to be lived out in a popularity contest, but in following the calling God has given each one of us.

This is how God says we are to live.

The world says it's important to be proud, self-promoting, fame-seeking.
Humility is an invitation to be a doormat.
The world says it's important to speak your mind, be heard, be seen. 
Gentleness is for wimps.
The world says life is short, make things happen now.
Patience is for the un-motivated.
The world says you need to love yourself first.
Loving others is futile.
The world says it's ok to be different unless you are different than they are.
Unity is for those without knowledge.
The world places inner peace above living peaceably with all.
Peace is for fools.

Dear Jesus, if it serves you best; if it allows me to live out the calling You have on my life, allow me to be a doormat, a wimp, un-motivated, futile, un-educated, foolish.
I would rather be a fool in the eyes of the world than to live a life un-worthy of Your call. 

With a Courageous Heart,

Thursday, October 16, 2014

For A Moment

Today I'm sharing a guest post by my friend Shelley Fisher. 
Shelley is a Wife, Mom to four boys (God bless her) and teaches in Christian Child Care. She has a heart for children and for sharing the love of Jesus with them whenever she can. I'm excited to share a bit of her heart with you here today. 

“We do not see through our eyes or hear through our ears, but through our beliefs.  To put our beliefs on hold is to cease to exist as ourselves for a moment." -Lisa Delpit
This quote rings especially true for me as a Christian believer and how my beliefs affect me as a teacher and as a parent.   
My beliefs not only dictate how I behave personally, but how I interact with children overall.  Teaching children is an extremely high calling and one God takes very seriously.  He places a huge emphasis on this, as He himself said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  
He also states in Luke 17:2, “It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to sin.”  In literal terms, this means to show children the love of Jesus, bring them to Him in the light of our own love and belief in Him, and do not harm them in any way that will cause them to sin.  Sin, in this instance, means to cause them to not believe because our actions prove He is not who He says he is.  
Unbelief is a sin in and of itself… blasphemy.  This command is given to every “teacher” of children...any person who has ever encountered or engaged a child has the opportunity to positively or negatively impact their lives forever.  That’s a long time.   
I work in a Christian childcare center and so I am able to exercise my beliefs in an open environment.  
I’ve also worked in a secular childcare on many occasions where my beliefs are not openly accepted.  To put my beliefs “on hold” is to deny my God and “cease to exist as ‘myself’”.   Even “for a moment” can be life altering to a little one.  I haven’t been allowed to pray during mealtimes with them, read bible stories to them, or, in most cases, even say “Jesus loves you.”  
But…I can for myself.  
I can bow my head and pray for my food quietly.  
I can bring my bible and read during quiet time or lunch break.  
I don’t have to push my beliefs on anyone.  
I simply have to be myself and they will see Him in me.   
Even still, I can show them His love for them through my love for them.  I can pray for them as I go through my day with each one.  I can look for those special moments as I sit and play or dine or even through toilet training, that I can smile, laugh, talk and just be completely devoted to them even if… “For a moment.”  A brief moment in time, that hopefully will plant a seed and they will remember me and see Him.  
Because I wasn’t called to see through my eyes or hear through my ears, I’m called to see children through His eyes and through His ears.  
And so here, I confess, I have blown it.  I’ve blown it big time, both personally and professionally.  
I’ve had bad days.  I’ve said things under my breath and out loud in the confines of my own home.  
I’ve “ceased to exist” around those who I love, who love me, and with the children God has entrusted to me.  
Such a contradiction, isn’t it?  Here I say it’s unacceptable, yet I’ve done it on many occasions and even willingly in the heat of the moment.   
But, I’m not perfect.  I’ve never claimed to be.   I’m a sinner, like anyone else.  So, how do I reconcile that?  
Simple.  I understand and allow the children to see that part of me too. It’s not something I’m proud of or that I like about myself, but it is part of my nature and part of theirs, as well.   Because I do blow it, and so will they.  I do yell at times, and so will they.  I don’t want to share, or obey or honor my father and mother always, and neither will they.  
I teach them by my imperfection, that to be human, is to be imperfect.  But, I’m also able to show them that adults act like fools sometimes, and that adults, too, need to be sorry and ask forgiveness… even by the little children.  
 “For it is by Grace we are saved, through faith, and this is not of ourselves- but a gift from God” and it is by Grace that I intend to lead them. 
It is by Grace I’ve been saved and it is by Grace that I lead them.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Definition of You (and Me)

What is it that defines you?

Think about it.

What do the lines that draw the box of your life say about you?

We all have them.

These boxes.

Our 'safe' zones.

Imaginary lines that surround us in the comfort of our personal definitions.

Because that's what they are - personal, imaginary, comforting............limiting.

Are you defined by your pants size?

Your hair color?

Your acne scars?

Your waistline?

Your height, weight, shoe size, curvy, short, tall, skinny, big nose, small ears, round belly, ripped abs?

Or maybe you are self-defined by your college degree, or lack thereof.

Your salary?

Your job title?

Your office size, cubicle space, locker or desk drawers?

Your bank balance, unpaid bills, new car, old clunker, 1, 2, 3 or 4 bedroom house with a 2 car garage and a white picket fence or your cardboard home under the bridge?

How about your kids?

Your husband? Wife?

Do their accomplishments or failures define you?

Does their status or grades describe what makes you unique?

The truth is that none of these things, or any other labels we apply, define who we are.

We like to think they do and we've become very skilled at wrapping ourselves up in the pretty patterned paper or plain brown wrapper of perception.

The truth is that sometimes we cling to the comfort of our self-definition - even when it hurts - because it's easier and more familiar to us than the beauty and freedom offered by the definition of our Maker.

Our Creator.

The one who spoke us into existence.

God Almighty.

This is how He defines you (and me):

we are "...fearfully and wonderfully made." Psalm 139:14

we are " his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27

we are "...God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved...." Colossians 3:12

don't miss this "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!..." 1 John 3:1

When I see how we are defined by God, when I read the love He has for us in the words He's spoken to us, I have to ask myself how much longer can I thumb my nose at Him and say:

"I don't believe you."

"You're wrong."

"I'm not good enough."

"I'm not smart, pretty, funny, thin.......worthy."

I really don't want to be defined by the perceptions of the world around me anymore, I want to be defined by who God says I am -

"fearfully and wonderfully made"

" His own image"

"dearly loved"

"child of God".

It's time to re-draw the lines of my box.

Time to break out of the limits and barriers I've placed around myself and allow the story that God has written about me to be the truth that defines me.

Psalm 45:11 says:

"Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your Lord."

Define myself, or honor my Lord.

What will be your choice?

With a Courageous Heart,


Friday, September 26, 2014

Because - A Five Minute Friday Post

It's been a while hasn't it?
I've not met you here since the beginning of August and honestly, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find my voice again.
But I'm back and I'm staying and it has made my heart infinitely happy today to write again.

Today I used the word prompt from the Five Minute Friday Blog.
It was perfect for what was tumbling around in my heart and my head this morning.

I was chatting with a friend today about extending grace. 

Giving grace to someone when we don’t want to. 

And not just the ordinary don’t want to, but the digging in our heels, gritting our teeth, fighting with everything in us to not have to be the grace-giver. 

It’s hard isn’t it? 
So very hard to be graceful to someone who has hurt you deeply. 
Someone who continues to hurt you deeply even when they’ve beaten you up and left your heart in a broken, bloody mess on the ground. 

We may never know what drives someone to lash out in anger. 

To deliberately cause pain to another, especially those they claim to love. 
To enjoy the power and control that their words and actions have over our hurting hearts. 

But as much as it hurts us, as much as it grieves our soul, Jesus says we are to extend grace. 

To forgive and continue forgiving. 

Why Lord would you want me to show grace to someone who has hurt me so deeply? 

Because, He says, you know what grace extended can do to change a life. 

It changed yours. 

With a Courageous Heart,

Friday, August 8, 2014

Fill - A Five Minute Friday Post

It's a challenge to sit down and write. To create pictures in the mind from words on a page, from the heart. It's even more of a challenge to explain it all in just Five minutes.
Once again I've stepped out of my comfort zone and written based on the word prompt from the Five Minute Friday Challenge. I invite you to walk with me today and see if you can envision what I'm seeing in my mind's eye.
Soli Deo Gloria

I fill the hours of my days with tasks that carry me from place to place.
In and out of doors.
Up and down stairs and roads and emotions.

Each day starts with my mind filling up with ideas and plans and dreams, almost all to be left behind in the aftermath of my place to place.
My in and out.
My up and down.

I want to be filled with You, Lord.
Filled to the brim with your grace.
Your peace.
Your purpose.

Too often I am filled with everything but....

Fill me up today Lord.
Fill me with vision to see what you see.
Fill me with heart to love what you love.
Fill me with more of you Lord.

Empty me of......

With a Courageous Heart,

 "For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things." 
 - Psalm 107:9 (ESV)