Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Comes but Once a Year ...

This post has been weighing heavily on my heart for weeks now. Several factors have pushed me to write it. It may offend some of you who are not Christians. I apologize if you do get offended, however, I will not apologize for my faith just as you should not have to apologize for your faith.

Forgiveness. That is what Easter is all about, forgiveness and salvation. Jesus, pure and with out sin, took the punishment for our sins... the punishment the we deserved, not Him. God's wrath was satisfied. We did not deserve to be forgiven, but we are because of this great sacrifice.

Grace - getting what you don't deserve. As was aforementioned, we received forgiveness that we did not deserve.
Mercy - not getting what you deserve. As was aforementioned, we did not receive the punishment that we deserved.

You may have already known or heard all of that before, maybe you haven't or maybe you have but you don't believe it.  Either way, this is just the introduction to what I have to say.  The story, make that journey, that I wish to share with you now started not that long ago for me.

Hopefully, you can follow me as I take you through a journey over years of growth and learning.  I will share with you experiences and attitudes from my life and share with you how I define a few words.

I was raised being told that God existed.  I had a children's favorite bible stories book (which my children now have).  I did not go to church, I was not taught about Jesus and knew nothing about prayer and forgiveness.  I knew that when you were mad at some one, you held a grudge until they did or said something that satisfied you enough to take away that anger.  Sometimes ... that never happened.  I had a short temper and was very good at being angry.

Jump forward several years.  I met my husband, Jon, in 1999.  He eventually convinced me to come to church with him.  At first, it was just something I did.  Eventually, though, the words started to sink in.  This may sound cliche, but that movie "The Passion of the Christ" that so vividly portrayed the sacrifice that was made for ME ... blew me away!  It was the beginning of a turning point for me.  I finally understood that there was more to life and more to me than what I had been experiencing.

I signed up for a women's bible study at church.  I can not for the life of me remember the name of it, but it was Beth Moore.  Being so young and still new to the idea of Christianity, I didn't take a lot away from it.  There is one thing that hit me so hard that it is permanently imprinted in who I am as a person.
When you hold a grudge against someone, it does not affect them.  The only person it hurts is you.  You spend much time thinking about the person and how they hurt you.  It is like taking a rope and tying that person to your back.  All the while, the other person is clueless to your struggle.
Whoa!  Can you say ton of bricks!  You see, I had been bullied quiet a bit in school.  I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, rather I wish to explain why I was a target.  I was very thin, though I didn't have an eating disorder I was very underweight.  I was an excellent student.  I was at school to learn and obey the teachers, so that's what I did.  I obeyed, did my homework and got good grades.  I may as well have had a huge bulls eye on my forehead!  For years, I carried those bullies with me.  They had probably long forgotten about me, but the pain that they caused affected my daily life, actions, attitudes and choices.  I decided that day to begin the process of getting over those hurts and forgiving my bullies.  Skip forward a couple years and I have very amiable relationships with all but one of them (whom I do not know how to contact).

Next up, I got involved in teaching Sunday school.  I planned lessons and crafts for 3 and 4 year olds and along the way I learned the lessons that I was teaching them!  It was so fulfilling!  I did eventually have to step down from Sunday school, but I did not stop working with ministries.

Soon after getting married, Jon and I found out that we were going to have our first child.  I decided that I wanted to be an example of Jesus' love to my child, so I started working on myself even more.  I joined a ministry called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).  This ministry supports women in their mothering, their sense of self, their walk with Christ ... all aspects of their lives.  It was amazing!!!  I found a wonderful mentor, Sally, who is still one of my biggest inspirations.  The following "MOPS year", I joined the leadership team.  I was always the quiet one in the corner, afraid to speak up or try out for the team because, "I wasn't good enough and I would just get laughed at."  Now I'm on a leadership team!?!?  What a life changing experience!  I met wonderful women and learned so much about myself!  Six years later, I am still on that same leadership team.  After 20+ years of searching, I finally "fit."  I truly believe that God placed me here for a reason. He stretched me, to realize my potential and to share about Him and His love.

I was baptized as a baby in a Catholic church.  After my few years of studying and learning in my new church home, I made the decision for myself to choose Jesus as my Lord and Savior!  What and amazing thing that was!  My mentor, Sally, baptized me ... I asked her because I felt that she was place in my life by God to help lead me down this path.  I love her like I love my family members!  After being baptized, I continued to study, serve at church in the children's area (though not as a Sunday school teacher), and volunteer on the MOPS leadership.  I grew in my faith a lot over those years through various trials, blessings and answered prayers.

One year ago, my grandpa died.  It was extremely difficult to deal with.  I knew that he loved the Lord and would go to Heaven, but I still felt much more grief and sorrow than joy.  I still miss him very much, but I think of the happy things and remind myself that he is now is a magnificent place that was created especially for him by the Lord himself.  How amazing is that!?!?

Now to share my nerd stamp with you.  I watch documentaries for fun.  I enjoy them, especially historical ones.  I was watching a movie called "Forgiving Mengele."  It was about a Jewish woman who was experimented on by Dr. Mengele at Auschwitz during WWII.  He performed experiments on twins because he felt that it gave him the perfect built in control group.  This woman decided that she was tired of living with the pain and made the decision to forgive the Nazis and Dr. Mengele for what they did to her in order to heal herself and move on.  She was met with so much opposition!  I could not believe what people where saying to her!  People were saying things like, "how can you forgive such horrible things!?" "doesn't forgiveness mean that the person has shown remorse and made some action to make amends?!"  She kept telling them, "forgiveness is a choice! it is not about them it's about healing for myself!"  They just would not hear her!  I ended up yelling at the tv and turned off the show.  She was saying what I had been feeling for years!

Jump ahead to March 13, 2012.  I was at a MOPS meeting having a great time!  My team was cleaning the floor with the other team at Family Feud.  (FYI ... I love games and I love to win!)  My phone rang and it was my mom.  She should have been at work and I knew it wasn't her break time.  When I answered I could hear the urgency in her voice.  I honestly can't remember the words that were spoken, but I was basically told that Grandma's time was coming very soon.  I went to the nursing home to see her.  She was in a state that the nurses referred to as being like a coma.  She was resting very peacefully.  I just sat there and watched her.  I didn't know how much longer I would have the opportunity to see her face ... so I just stared at her.  Because I have the greatest husband and extended family I could ever ask for, I was able to spend a total of about 16 to 18 hours by her side before she passed.  I remember Wednesday night that I did not want to leave.  I was getting tired, but I was so afraid to leave because I knew in my heart that this was the last night that I had with her.  At almost midnight, I reluctantly decided to leave.  I kissed her on her forehead and whispered to her.  I told her, "Grandma, I love you.  It's ok to go now, don't be afraid.  We will be ok."  I spent entire drive home crying out to the Lord.  "God, please come to her tonight!  Be by her side as she makes her trip home!  Take any fear that she may have!  Bring her home!"  You see, by that time it had been approximately 7 days since she had eaten or drank anything.  The estimated 24 hours from the doctor had turned into 48ish.  When I got home, I was so exhausted that I fell straight to sleep.  At 3:30 am my phone rang.  I knew before I looked at it who was calling.  It was of course my mom calling to tell me that it was over.  Grandma had gone home.  I will do my best to describe how I felt at that time.  First, I was devastated because my Grandma was dead.  Then I felt an amazing calm and peace come over me.  She had Alzheimer's for 4 or 5 year prior to this and was suffering daily.  My Grandpa had gone ahead of her and she also loved the Lord with all her heart.  I knew everything would be ok.  Then, joy!  Of all things, I felt amazing joy!  I knew that my Grandparents were in kingdom of Heaven that is so is beyond words!

Something that I have learned is that when someone experiences joy in the Lord, it doesn't take long before Satan attacks.  Maybe someday I will be ready to discuss those attacks in more detail, but I am just not in that place yet.  What I will share is that I had many opportunities to practice grace and forgiveness!  For me that grace was forgiving people for things that they maybe didn't deserve to be forgiven for.  Maybe they didn't feel any remorse for it, but I refused to let it affect me and bring me down.  Now I will give my my definition of forgiveness.

Forgiveness- forgiveness is not for the sake of the person being forgiven ... it is for the person doing the forgiving.  It does NOT mean that the action that you are forgiving is ok or that you are condoning it in any way.  You are saying that you will no longer allow those actions to hurt you or impact your future.  You are not the person in charge of judgement and punishment.  One day, everyone will stand before God and answer for every wrong that they every did.  Forgiveness is a way of healing yourself.  It is a choice ... you can choose to forgive someone even if they haven't apologized or shown remorse.  It's not about them!

God tells us very directly that if we want to be forgiven by Him, we must forgive others!  What better way to set an example of the love of Christ than to forgive those who hurt you, even though they may not deserve it.  God did it for us.  Do you truly believe that you can be forgiven?  I do.

Let's jump ahead a little further.  A few weeks ago I read a book called, "Not a Fan" by Kyle Idleman.  (claim to fame...I have friends who know him :)  First of all, amazing book!  I recommend it to EVERYONE!  So, I was baptized ... that means that when I sin I will be forgiven and I will go to Heaven, right?  Reading this book gave me a whole new perspective!  I had another "ton of bricks" experiences reading this book!
In the Bible, people referred to Jesus as Lord.  His followers are referred to as servants, followers etc.  In those times, Lord was the term used by slaves when referring to their masters.  As for the words translated to servants ... more accurately translated as slave.  It wasn't originally translated this way because of how offensive the word slave can be.  So look at your relationship with Jesus like this:  He is your Lord, or master ... and you are His slave.  He owns you and all of your possessions!  It all belongs to Him!  Don't be just and enthusiastic follower of Jesus that turns away from Him when times get tough or you think He asks too much of you ... be a fully committed follower, a slave to Him.
This is a short summary of the message that hit me so hard.  Do I want to be forgiven and dwell in Heaven with Jesus in the place that He has prepared specifically for me?  YES!  Am I willing to commit myself into slavery to Him?  YES!

 You know, being a Christian does NOT mean that I am perfect and I have it all together.  I make mistakes, I sin ... that is the way humans are designs and it is unavoidable.  The difference is that when I was baptized, I was given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It dwells in me and helps me to make the right choices.  I have given Jesus control of my life.  I will still make mistakes, but I can be forgiven through honest repentance.  God knows that I will continue to sin, but He also knows that I love Him.

If your child disobeyed you, but then came to you and expressed sincere regret for what he/she had done ... would you not forgive them?

I strive daily to be an example of Jesus' love to my children.  I try my best to show grace and mercy, but also punish them when needed.  I follow that up with reassurance that I love them and will always love them no matter what they do.

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