Give Grace…to Yourself


Grace CardI’d be willing to bet that it is harder for us to give ourselves grace than it is to believe God will. We can ask God to forgive us, but forgiving ourselves is often much harder.

Unless you are psychotic, living with guilt is something you have to deal with to one degree or another almost every day. Guilt is a part of the human condition. Sometimes it is appropriate, in which case it should lead us to repentance. Too often though the guilt is of our own warped sense of justice that keeps us from living the full, free life God intended. We punish ourselves for things that are not punish-worthy, especially those things that God has already forgiven and redeemed (the past being one such thing).

Despite all the stellar things God has done in my life, I still have a hard time giving myself grace. I combat the drive to be strong even when I know I’m weak. Just yesterday I had to give myself grace to be sick, to lose my voice. I was beating myself up for not being able to do what I had planned. I literally had to say in my whisper-loud voice, “Give yourself grace.”

Only as I said those words did I realize that I was striving to put up a false front and to undermine the beautiful dependency I have in God. By withholding grace or forgiveness from ourselves, we take the place of God and cut off connection to him. We say to ourselves that we are sufficient. Rather than driving us to God, our weakness limits us because the conduit of grace is broken. We cannot remain connected to him when we withhold grace.

Losing my voice, a very physical thing, showed me how often I beat myself up for much more intangible things. Since this is the year to “Go Deep” I have a tendency to beat myself up relationally. Decades of being reserved and self-protected make it difficult for me to show others how I feel or to express my emotions as fully as I could. Even just talking on the phone can be hard. (It is not lost on me that losing my voice highlighted this little lesson). I fail far more than I like. Yet all beating myself will do is shut down any hope of moving forward. By taking the hand of grace, I have the ability to stand back up and start moving again. I guarantee failure by withholding grace. I guarantee success when I extend grace to myself. There are only two options.

So if you are like me, if you beat yourself up for not succeeding in the areas that mean the most to you, give yourself grace. In doing so you will find the strength to learn, to grow and to move forward.


Overcoming Bitterness in 10 Not So Easy Steps


Ravello, ItalyWhat does it take to overcome betrayal and a broken relationship in a Godly way? Is it possible to do it without additional regret and pain? And is it possible to not just recover but actually thrive?

A few years ago, after sharing my own sad saga, I was asked, “How did you not become bitter?” The question was asked because the person needed to know for themselves how to avoid bitterness. Yet their question also revealed the truth that I was indeed not bitter. Despite the betrayal and attack I had endured, I was free. So how did I find freedom?

Below are the 10 not-so-easy steps I took to overcome bitterness. By the grace of God, I made some good choices that set me up to heal and eventually to thrive. Understand, however, the process of recovery was almost harder than the breaking of the relationship. There is no magic pill and nothing fast about it, but a joyful future is possible if you are willing to do the hard and often painful work.

1. Honesty is mandatory.
Complete honesty with yourself is the foundation of relational and emotional recovery. Even the smallest of subterfuges and white lies will derail you from healing. Until you are willing to be brutally honest you cannot begin. Something to note about honesty: it is like an onion. Just when you think you are as honest as you possibly can be, you find another layer that needs to be unpeeled and exposed. Yet with each layer uncovered, God gives you the strength to see the next. It is painful to be honest with and about ourselves, but there is no other alternative if healing is the goal. Can’t be done. You should also know that once the honesty stops, so does the healing.

2. You are responsible for your sins.
We all sin. In a broken relationship, there will always be mistakes you made and issues you brought to the situation. They are there in stable relationships! So own up to them. Until we take responsibility for ourselves, we won’t be able to move forward either on our own or in a new relationship. That “stuff” from that other relationship comes with you into a new one, unless you deal with it and repent of it. Deal with your crap because no one else will.

3. You are NOT responsible for other people’s sins.
Just as we need to own our own sins, we cannot nor should we take responsibility for other people’s issues. In the Book of Job, his friends tried to lay certain sins at his feet, but he kept denying they were his. He was innocent, at least of what they said. It wasn’t until God spoke the truth, naming his real sins, that Job owned them. Own your sins, not what someone else thinks you did. This is part of honesty too.

4. Integrity is more important than reputation.
It sucks when people think you are the one who broke the relationship and didn’t want to make it work. It especially sucks when it is an outright lie. My situation was a little unique since there were facts I was unaware of at the time. I was clueless why the relationship had disintegrated as it had, though I could see some blamed me. It hurt so badly, yet all I could do was trust God to defend me and my reputation. God knew. My close friends and family knew. Everyone else was either told a lie, allowed to believe a lie, or chose to speculate a lie.

Then as now, the most important thing is that WE know the truth – for good or bad – and we know God knows the truth. Integrity is what we know to be true about ourselves and live up to it; reputation is what others think they know about us. Integrity is more important than reputation. Let God defend your reputation; you protect your integrity. God will honor it.

5. Lies must be denounced calmly, respectfully and by living out the truth.
When presented with a lie, I spoke the truth. I didn’t fly off the handle, breakdown in tears or scream, though I really, really wanted to sometimes. I spoke the truth simply and then let the other person be outraged on my behalf. When possible I confronted the lies with words, but most often words were not possible, especially since I refused to go on the offensive. Instead I let my life reveal the truth. I gave myself over to the deepest desires of my heart which were to care for the least of these. In nursing homes, homeless shelters, mission trips and inner city ministries, I was able to live out the life God had called me to. The truth was revealed more through actions than through words.

6. Kindness is the greatest vengeance – and it’s God approved!
Whenever I felt a deep urge to yell, confront, or bite back, which was often, I remembered Romans 12:17-20.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

When tempted to be mean, my “wicked” response was to be nice. I visualized the coals falling with each grace-filled word I said. It was rather fun. Over time the kindness had its own reward because it helped me not become bitter. My actions were able to influence my thinking. Despite how hard it was, and how I sometimes failed, I do not regret being kind to the one who broke my heart. Not one regret.

7. Forgiveness must be given freely and often. Forgiveness does not absolve us from the consequences nor does it mean trust is restored. Forgiveness allows us to move forward. If we have been honest with ourselves, then we need to ask forgiveness from God and from ourselves for the things we did wrong. We will probably even have to go to the person who had wronged us to ask forgiveness of them knowing they may never reciprocate. It’s what is required of those who want to walk as Jesus walked. Taking the first step is painful, but only the brave will find freedom.

We must also grant forgiveness to the person who hurt us so deeply. Betrayal and abandonment have a way of hitting us where we are most vulnerable, especially those of us who have a ’til death do us part’ mentality. The pain and anger rise up when we least expect it. No matter how many times we might forgive, it is necessary to forgive again – and again – and again. Until the rage and anger no longer rise up. Until that bitter taste no longer comes with the very thought of the person who hurt us. This could take years, and probably will. Yet each time rage flairs, forgive. Forgiveness is the road to freedom.

What happens, though, if the person who hurt us doesn’t ask or seek forgiveness?

8. Forgiveness is your responsibility, not theirs.
Granting forgiveness, and even asking for it, is our responsibility. If we want to be forgiven ourselves, we must forgive. The Bible is very clear here. Yet demanding to be asked for forgiveness is not something we can expect, though it would be nice. Think of it this way, you are giving a great gift to someone, but they are unwilling to reach out for it. You know this gift would save their life, yet still they resist taking it. All you can do is place it before them and walk away. You are no longer burdened with carrying this gift around and can move forward with life. Give forgiveness for your sake. Ask forgiveness for your sake. But do not feel guilty or hurt if they never seek it or acknowledge it. That’s their problem, not yours.

9. It’s not about you.
Until my life blew up, I didn’t understand David’s statement in Psalm 51, “against you, and you alone, O God, have I sinned.” Um…hello, David…what about Uriah and Bathsheba? Only when I was ripped apart did I see that the sin was not against me but against God. And ONLY God. I was simply collateral damage. Of course, collateral damage can still kill you, but I was not the real target. Once I realized that, I also realized that Jesus had suffered for this very reason. He knew what I was going through because he was experiencing the exact same betrayal. As I read the passion of Christ over and over again, I knew that my pain was only a small portion of what Jesus felt. See Jesus took on all the betrayal in all the world over all time upon himself. In fact, he even took my betrayal upon himself. Still he loved and forgave me. I found great comfort in sharing my sorrow and grief with the only one who could really know it.

10. In time you will know who God made you to be.
In the end, if you are honest and you give yourself time, you will find the beautiful, powerful, grace-filled person God made you to be. His child, born of God and co-heir with Christ. Nothing can take that away from us. We are his and that is what makes us who we are, not our sins, betrayals or hurts. Our identity is grounded and made whole in Him, when once it was shattered and broken.

I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anyone, but I cannot deny the beauty that has come from it.

How can I be bitter when I’ve received so much?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20



There is something cathartic about simply stating the truth of how one feels. I did that the other day. As I wrote and was able to articulate how I was feeling, I knew that those feelings were easing with each key stroke. Faith was returning even as I conveyed my great weakness.

Thinking of faith and weakness always makes me think about Elijah. He lived for three years by the miraculous provision of God, held off the rain during that time and then decimated all of Ahab and Jezebel’s prophets of Baal. Here was a man who lived in the power of God like few others have in all of history. He is a man whom I want to be like one day. Yet immediately after that great victory he fled in fear, praying, “I’ve had enough, Lord.” (I Kings 17-19) What did the Lord do? He fed him and gave him rest. He took care of him and brought him to the mountain of God. It was there that God spoke to him and gave him a new mission, with a vision for the future. Yes, God corrected some wrong perceptions, but what stands out most is God’s continued care for Elijah.

Just because God met every need does not mean it was easy for Elijah. Faith is an emotional, as well as mental and spiritual issue. God didn’t chastise Elijah for his fear or his feelings. If you look through the psalms there are continual cries to God for help, for deliverance, for vengeance, for mercy. God wants our emotions. He already knows what we are feeling and thinking, so to express it is not going to shock him. As I like to quote, “Better out than in!” It applies to all that is poisonous and needs to be expelled in order to maintain health. Keeping poisonous thoughts inside creates death and despair.

I needed to expose my weakness so that Satan could no longer use those as weapons against me. Satan loves to keep us bound and unable to live fully in the grace God has so freely given us. I don’t want anything to get in the way, so if I need to say I feel alone or talk about my confusion over finances, it’s worth it. It’s worth it not just because it works – I have my strength, equilibrium, right perspective and power back – but also because it irks Satan to no end! This is the greatest adventure I could have ever dreamed of: living in mission, completely by faith . . . and learning to live in the total freedom God has available to his children.

There is potential danger in being honest about one’s feelings. As mentioned in the previous post, I didn’t want people to feel pity for me. And I certainly did not want to feel any self-pity. (The bile is rising just mentioning it). Another danger is that people might think less of me. But who cares?! I certainly don’t! I’m far more concerned about God’s view of me than I am of anyone else’s. My family’s is probably the only opinion that matters, yet even then God still has the final say. Another real but serious-in-a-humorous-way danger is that all my single guy friends might hold back a bit of themselves from me. Don’t worry! God will pretty much need to bash me aside the ahead before I look at my friends in any other way but as friends. Any switch will not start with me, guaranteed. I value my male friendships near and far too much to mess with them. I learned that lesson the hard way decades ago and will not repeat the mistake. So you’re safe, and I need my friends.

Those potential dangers are worth it, though, because I have my equilibrium back. I know it was because people were praying. I also know it was because I released the pressure and confessed my weakness. My openness has prompted lots of discussion – both serious and incredibly humorous. The facts remain the same, but the emotions and thoughts are in balance. I can return to enjoying the adventure with its massive waves and gut-wrenching drops. There really is no other place I’d rather be . . . because I’m right where God wants me.

(But please keep praying). 🙂

For Granted: The Big Picture


I’m constantly being reminded of how much we take things and people for granted. I’ve paid heavily for that sin in the past. Be assured I have learned that particular lesson, but too often I find that I have fallen into it unawares. It is so easy to do. We expect certain things to be constant in our lives, to be “no brainers.” We become comfortable and lazy. We lose our first love. We lose the passion that first drove us. We lose. Period.

This is the first Thanksgiving in six years that I have spent with my family in Iowa. The last time was 2004. I made it through that Thanksgiving, but since that emotional upheaval, I have made plans to be elsewhere for Thanksgiving, preferably in England with my friends the Smylie’s. It’s not because I don’t want to spend time with my family, I do. But in 2002 Thanksgiving in Iowa served as a watershed in a long series of events, which I call my “mini Job period.” How I made it in 2003 is still unknown, but 2004 was horrid. Leading up to that week, I couldn’t figure out why I was always crying. It made no sense. Then I remembered 2002. It then became crystal clear why I was grieving.

In September 2002 my husband resigned from his position as youth pastor, a decision I knew was necessary even if I didn’t know just how necessary it was at the time. Immediately after that I found out I was pregnant for the first time in our 11 year marriage. In October my husband arranged to have a friend buy our house. At that same time I learned that my mother who was living in Alaska had broken her collarbone for no apparent reason. Shortly after that, I miscarried my baby. The day after Thanksgiving my mother had a biopsy. The Saturday of Thanksgiving my husband called me in Iowa to tell me he had left and that there were divorce papers waiting for me. He also left his wedding ring for me. A week after my mom’s biopsy, we were told it was cancer. The next Wednesday I discovered she was in the hospital and that the cancer was in her kidney, bones, liver and lungs. That Friday, on December 13,  I flew to Fairbanks, Alaska to take care of her. On December 27, I prayed with my mother to receive Christ. On January 4, 2003 my mother died.  So in the space of four months I lost my church, my home, my baby, my husband and my mother. This is why it has taken six years to come home for Thanksgiving.

Let me close out that part of the story. Because I would not sign my husband’s divorce papers, he finally went to court, two days before our twelfth anniversary, on August 29, 2003 where a judge rubber stamped it. I never signed a thing. I know for a fact that God told me to let him go, to let him have what he wanted. God knew what I would only learn years later. But that is someone else’s story to tell, not mine.

At times I didn’t know how I could be alive. It felt like I no longer had any lungs or heart; my chest was a void, hollow and empty. Virtually everything of real value was stripped away. What remained was God. He was the source and foundation of my life before I ever met my husband, and he is still the source and foundation of my life. While I lost all those other people and things, I also received the greatest gift of all: I lost my sin of pride.

To be freed from sin is the greatest gift of all. The yoke of sin that bore down on me had been there so long that I didn’t realize the weight until it was lifted. Such utter freedom! I had taken so much for granted, expecting it to be there no matter what. Yet we can take nothing in this life for granted. I remember sitting by my mother’s hospital bed in the dark of an Alaskan December knowing that I would probably never have a child of my own to sit by my bedside when I die. Yet what God showed me through my trial is that I would never be alone. In those times when I couldn’t understand how I was alive, God revealed himself. I remember him surrounding me, breathing for me, making my blood move through me. I had taken even God for granted. Yet I found him not just waiting for me, but actively moving to bring me fully back to life in him. I was as one dead but was raised to new life. My pride was dead yet I was alive!

My life is truly not my own. Over the last eight years God has brought me to the place where I can really live that out. I get to live out his life for me. The purpose he created for me. Some may think that my sojourn in mission since it is here in suburban America is fleeting or an experiment. This is no experiment. This is my life and my future. I have personally invested in this mission, God’s mission, using what little retirement I have built up.  This is God’s life and I’m living it. I’m still learning what that fully means, but there is no question or doubt in my mind. My life is not my own; it is His.