Freedom

This week, we celebrated Independence Day. Like everyone else, I spent the day with my family and watched fireworks and thanked God for this beautiful country and what it represents. Even in our nation’s horribly divided state, I am still thankful to live in the United States, where I am FREE. I can be what I want to be.  I can worship freely in our little church whenever I want with no worries of persecution. If I want to stand in the streets and proclaim my faith, no one will take me to jail or beat me for it – which is much more than my Christian brothers and sisters from many other countries can say. I am thankful for the men and women who have given their lives to give me that freedom.

I am working my way back through the Old Testament, reading stories I’ve heard since I was a kid – stories of Biblical heroes. Stories of men chosen by God to do His great work. But one thing I’ve noticed that means a lot more to me as an adult is that those “heroes” were anything but heroic at times.

Jacob, who is considered a man of God for his great trust in Him, was a deceiver. He tricked his brother, Esau, out of the inheritance he deserved and tricked his blind father into giving him Esau’s blessing. Yet God used him anyway. He didn’t wait for him to be a “good guy,” didn’t wait until he had it all together before he spoke to him and worked through him. And Jacob repented of those mistakes. He humbly sought his brother’s forgiveness and depended on God to restore their relationship.

Moses is one of my favorite stories. He had somewhat of a rough start, as he was born in a time when newborn male Israelites were to be put to death by order of the Pharaoh. I can’t imagine being in his mother’s shoes as she tried her best to hide him and ultimately decided to leave him in a basket in the tall grass by the water to let the Pharaoh’s daughter find him and raise him. She took him in as her own son, which could have changed his fate forever – he could have been royalty. But Moses knew the truth about who he was, and after he grew, he couldn’t stand to sit back and live in luxury while he watched his own people beaten at the Egyptian’s hands. One day, it became too much for him. His anger overtook him as he watched an Egyptian beat an Israelite, and he attacked and killed the Egyptian. Moses went into exile, terrified he would be killed for what he did and ashamed of his own confusing past. But that’s when God spoke to him and told him he would use him to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians. Moses used excuse after excuse not to go. He told God he was unfit to be a leader – who was he? Who would listen to him? How would he even talk to the Israelites with his speech impediment? But God didn’t care about any of that. He would use Moses just as he was – flaws and troubled past and all. And when Moses finally gave in and let go of his fears and baggage, God used him to do amazing things. He delivered the Israelites from slavery, just as God promised he would.

I am not even trying to compare myself to one of the Biblical giants we read about in the Old Testament. I am not a Jacob or a Moses. But like them, I have flaws. And I have a past. I remember a time in my life when I would think about talking to God again, after a very long absence from Him. But then I would think about the sin I lived in and say to myself, “When I get it together, I’ll come back to Him. Some day.”

I had it all wrong! God doesn’t want us to wait until we’re “good enough” to come to him. He’s ready to use us, just as we are, flaws and all. And He wants to give us freedom from that past that haunts us. So many people think that life with God is about rules – do this, don’t do that. But when we reduce it to that, we’re missing the point. It’s about FREEDOM. Freedom from those chains of past sins and mistakes. He can and will forgive anything you’ve ever done, and you’re never too far gone to come to Him. When He looks at you, He sees love. He sees the person He created and the person He made you to be. People will remember your mistakes. They will remember your past. But the Bible tells us that God doesn’t see us the way people see us. “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

So while I’m thankful for the freedom we have in this country, I’m even more thankful for the freedom that comes from life in Christ. He’s ready to give you that freedom, no matter who you are, where you come from, and what you’ve done. You don’t have to fix your life before you come to Him. He is waiting with open arms to take you in, just as you are. Don’t do what I did, wasting your time living in the chains of sin, thinking you will “fix yourself” before you come before God. Let Him work in you today, messy past and sin and all.

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Filling the Void

The message I have tonight is a simple one. But it’s something God put on my heart days ago, something I feel He wants me to share. In fact, He actually gave me the opportunity to talk about this with two different people – two totally different situations – in the past four days. If that doesn’t tell me He wants me to share this, I don’t know what will.

I want to share a small part of my testimony that comes from my time in college. I enjoyed my time there – loved my classes, my professors, and most of all, my friends. The girls in my sorority were my family away from home. But I would suspect that many of those girls who knew me then wouldn’t even recognize me now.

During that time, I was searching for something – trying to fill a void in my life I didn’t even realize existed. In the freedom that came with living away from home for the first time, I made my own choices.

One of those choices was to leave church.

It wasn’t like I woke up one day and thought to myself, I’m not going to church anymore. It happened gradually. Late Saturday nights out with my friends led to sleeping in on Sunday mornings and laughing over late breakfasts.

When guilt pangs arose, I justified it. This is college. It’s normal. 

I remember a few specific moments, wandering out of the club at two a.m., thinking, You should go to church tomorrow. Get up early – drive home. And I actually did it several times. But when I walked into the church and looked around at all the “good” people, my bar stamp still faintly present on my hand, Satan whispered in my ear. You’re a hypocrite. Who are you kidding? You don’t belong here. God can’t love you when you’re living like this.

I let his voice keep me away until eventually, those guilt pangs stilled. After all, you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, right?

But my hectic lifestyle left me “too busy” to read my Bible. I don’t think I even had one in my room in the sorority house – all my study Bibles from high school still rested on my nightstand back home.  More than once I eyed them while visiting my parents, but I never took one back to school with me. The idea of opening it, of trying to connect with God, seemed daunting. Days passed without prayer. Those days turned into weeks, into months.

I was too far gone, too far away from Him. I couldn’t come back to Him when I knew I was living a life He never intended for me. I would come back to Him someday – when college was over. When I could get my life together. Then I would get back in church…start praying again…read my Bible.

If you talked to anyone who knew me in college, they would describe a very different person. I don’t think most of my friends knew the emptiness I felt inside. I filled it with so many other things – school, work, friends, parties. I fooled a lot of people. Especially myself. When that emptiness rose from my stomach into my throat, threatening to choke me, I rationalized it. When _____ finally happens, you won’t feel like this anymore. Until it happened, and I still felt incomplete. When you get _____, things will be right. Until I got it, and I was still lost.

That magical day when my life would “come together” never came. College came and went, but I only continued to distance myself. My life spiraled out of my control, and one bad decision led to another until I hit a point so low I had no choice but to cry out to God. Finally, I surrendered. And in the midst of the chaos, He restored my peace.

It wasn’t until then that I realized how messed up my old logic was. God didn’t want me to wait, to get my life together and THEN seek Him. He wanted me just as I was – broken, searching, living a life that didn’t include Him. The Bible tells us that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). If I had come to Him, just as I was, He could have filled that void so much sooner. He would have opened His arms and taken me in…flaws, sin, and all. He could have begun a work in me way before I finally allowed Him to. He could have saved me from a lot of bumps and bruises along my path.

I’m sharing this message tonight in case there’s anyone out there – even one person – who’s going through what I went through. Who knows there’s something missing inside of them, but isn’t sure what it is or how to fix it. I can tell you from years and years of mistakes and false glimpses of happiness that He is the only answer out there. His love is the only thing that will truly fill that void.

And above all, don’t wait to come to Him. Don’t wait for the day when you are “worthy” to come to Him – when you are a “better person” – because the truth is, that day will never come. We aren’t allowed to come to Him because of anything we’ve done…it’s His unchanging, unfailing love that gives us that opportunity. It’s because of His grace alone, grace that is offered to anyone who accepts it, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done. As someone once put it, you don’t wait until you’re healthy to see a doctor; you go when you’re sick. Come to Him when you’re broken. Let his power be made perfect in your weakness. Jesus didn’t come here for perfect people. He came for the damaged, the wrecked. The ones who needed a Savior.

I am one of the lucky ones: I found Him before it was too late. But the reality is, many won’t get that same luxury. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. Seek Him now, just as you are. He’s waiting with arms wide open.

Motherhood

Sometimes I feel like I’m failing at this whole “motherhood” thing.

My oldest son is five years old. And, well, he’s all boy. He’s rough, he dirty (he is filthy by the end of every single day – somehow even on those rainy days when we have to stay in the house), he’s loud, he’s goofy, and he’s wild.

But he’s also loving. He gives the tightest bear hugs I’ve ever received. He loves to read the Bible and pray and talk about Jesus. When his little brother cries, he hurries to find a toy for him or tries to make him laugh.

I try my best to teach him the things he needs to know – what it really means to love others, how to treat people, how to be the kind of person that I hope for him to be.

And most of the time, even at this young age, I can see that he is becoming the kid, and eventually the man, that I know he is capable of being. Under all that rough-boy exterior is a sensitive little boy who loves to hug and kiss and make others feel good about themselves. A little boy who includes others and protects the people that he loves.

But like every kid, he makes wrong choices, too. I see those wrong choices when we’re alone from time to time, like a few nights ago when his ten-month-old brother was crying, and he told him to “shut up” – something he knows he’s not allowed to say but he thought he was far enough out of my earshot to get away with it. Sometimes he talks back to me. He can be rude. Hateful, even.

I can honestly say that when we’re at home, I see a whole lot more of the GOOD stuff than the BAD stuff. But for whatever reason, as soon as we get around other people, my son can turn into a different person. Like today, at my mother’s house, when he got mad at his older cousin and left a scratch on his face…and then turned around and got too rough with his younger cousin and upset him, too.

Today, as I paced outside the door where he sat in time-out, I felt so disappointed. I just kept thinking in my head, Why does he act like this? This isn’t the way I’ve taught him to behave – why doesn’t he listen to what I’ve said? Why can’t he be the sweet boy that I know when we get around other people? Why does he have to do something to get in trouble ALMOST EVERY TIME we have a family gathering?

As I asked these questions in my mind, a still voice spoke to me. Are you perfect? Are you the person that I want you to be at all times? Tears came to my eyes when I recognized HIS voice and I realized that just as my son acts out against me, I act out against God. I know what He wants for my life. I know what He expects out of me. And yet I find myself repenting of sin – the same ones, it seems – almost daily. I could picture God pacing my doorway, asking Himself the same types of questions I asked myself about my own child: This isn’t the way I’ve taught her – why doesn’t she listen to what I’ve said? Why does she keep making the same mistakes? Why can’t she be the woman that I created her to be?

Just as I began to really feel down about myself –for both my failures as a mother and my failures as a child of God – I heard that still voice again: I love you anyway, just as you are. My kids aren’t perfect, and neither am I. But the same way I love my child no matter what he says or does, no matter how trying some days may be, God loves me, too. He doesn’t love me less when I mess up and I don’t have to “earn” His love any more than my son has to earn mine – He gives it freely.

Being a mother is my favorite part of God’s plan for me. The love that I feel for my boys is greater than anything I’ve ever known. And today, God showed me that motherhood is His way of giving us a glimpse of the infinite love that He has for us.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the giving, hard-working, beautiful mothers out there!