Could You Forgive a Murderer?

Could you forgive someone who killed your loved one? A few years ago, I reconnected with a long-distant friend on Facebook and phoned her to catch up. She told me about her husband’s heinous murder and the heartache that followed his death which included her grown son’s drug addiction. I sat there, glued to the phone. But it wasn’t the details of his murder or her son’s addiction that captivated me as much as her response to these events.

Time passed and I was inspired as I watched my friend get involved in prison ministries. I asked if I could write her story and share the message of God’s grace and forgiveness with others. This is Wendi’s incredible story Inside Job that was published in the online magazine: Now What?

Self-Condemnation not Allowed

You’re a horrible person. When will you ever learn? How can God love you?

Those are some of the nagging, ugly voices in someone’s head who wrestles with Self-Condemnation. They’re stuck. Unable to let go of their mistakes and sin. Or they view themselves as an ongoing failure.

I’ve been there, and I wonder. Did Eve live in condemnation because she listened to Satan instead of God, and ate the forbidden fruit?

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  • Did Eve justify her sin and continue to blame Satan?
  • Feel bitter towards Adam who blamed her when God confronted him?
  • Beat herself up whenever she thought of that fruit which was pleasing to the eye, but didn’t live up to Satan’s promise?

Or did Eve recognize God’s grace and praise His name? Aware that God could have struck her dead and taken another rib from Adam to create another, more perfect woman.

Instead, the Lord loved Eve and sought her while she was hiding in the garden. He listened to her explanation. Then—despite Eve’s guilt—God sacrificed an animal to provide skins to clothe her. And He promised that one day, her seed would bruise the head of Satan.

Did she receive God’s forgiveness…and forgive herself…even though she bore the harsh consequences of her actions?

I regret words and actions that happened decades ago. But there’s no place for loathing myself or living in self-condemnation. It’s also not good to overlook our wrong behavior with a flippant attitude that “nobody’s perfect.”

Even so, the enemy loves to wag his finger and lying tongue at us.

You’re a failure. Nobody loves you.
How many times will God forgive you?
You’ll never reach your goals.
You’re a horrible excuse for a wife and mom.

The only way to stop the lies—and condemnation—is to take our every thought captive. Then squash negative thoughts and emotions with God’s Word as we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to transform us.

Barb Ravling’s book, Renewing of the Mind Project, helped me. It’s filled with introspective questions to reveal what we think and believe about God, ourselves, and our circumstances. She also provides tips and ample scripture—God’s Truth—so we can gain victory over our negative emotions and debilitating habits.

  • “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”(Romans 8:1)
  • “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8:35)
  • “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9)

Condemnation is an insufferable place to live. So is bitterness, anger, worry, stress, and emotional eating. Barb Raveling says, “If we want to be victorious over our habits and emotions, we need to take time to renew our mind.”

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After all, self-condemnation is “condemning someone God loves very much…even in this moment…YOU!”

 

Are You Working in Vain?

 

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“Be still and know that I am God.” I love Psalm 46:10, but being still isn’t in my DNA. I like being productive.

My organized photo albums and the needle point pictures on my wall happened because I couldn’t be still when I watched television.

Yesterday was no exception.

My twenty-year-old son called me from college. I loved hearing his adventures, but my body squirmed after fifteen minutes. With phone in hand, I strolled to the gravel pathway behind our house.

During the winter, weeds had sprouted between the pea-sized pebbles. I held the phone near my left ear and yanked a tall blade of grass with my right hand. I tackled another. Then another.

“Sounds great,” I told my son. Little did he know Mama was working like a field hand while he talked about his summer plans.

I should have taken my Flonase because the pollen made me sneeze. Thankfully, my son couldn’t see me wipe my runny nose on my sleeve. I also should have worn garden gloves. Red dirt caked beneath my chipped fingernails. Bloody scratch marks marred my hand.

Two hours later, we said goodbye. By then, my husband had arrived home and found me weeding the garden. He frowned when he saw me. “Where’s your gloves?”

I shrugged. “Doesn’t the pathway look great?”

“You didn’t need to pull those weeds,” he said. “I sprayed weed killer this morning.”

I wiggled my scarred hand and envisioned the toxic chemicals seeping into the pores of my skin. If I’d been still while my son talked to me, I could have avoided all that unnecessary work.

However, there’s a spiritual lesson even in this.

When I was my son’s age, I was afraid I’d lose my eternal salvation. I worked hard to be the perfect Christian. I didn’t understand Ephesians 2:8. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Jesus died for our sins and He said, “It is finished.”

Once we’ve call upon the name of the Lord to be saved, NOTHING can snatch us from His loving, nail-scarred hands.

Just think of the effort I could have been spared if I’d been still and known God, instead of striving to earn what I already possessed.

Are you working in vain?

Photo: JennyWredePhotography

Emptiness Allows Room for God

My mentor, Loretta, texted. “God has this. It’s not all on you.”

I tossed a package of decongestant pills and cough drops into my suitcase. “I hope so because I’m empty.”

I’d been ill for two weeks. My friends prayed I’d be well enough to attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. My health improved in the nick of time. Whether I could endure the nonstop, four-day conference remained a mystery.

The first afternoon, I sat outside on a bench with a plate of meatballs and diced cheese. Writers, editors, and agents mingled beneath the budding trees. I scanned the smiling faces. There were people I knew. Others I wanted to meet. However, the thought of small talk exhausted me. I leaned back and stared at a tree adorned with pink blossoms.

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“Lord, I can’t do this.”

And a small voice whispered. “I got this. Go rest.”

If I’d been less empty, I might have argued. “God, I payed a lot of money to come here. I need to get the most from this conference. I have to talk to….”

An empty person doesn’t get far on their own strength. I went to my room and napped.

emptywwordsAt dinner, I went through the buffet line and searched for a place to sit. I had no agenda. My energy remained low. That’s when I saw an editor I wanted to meet. He sat at a table in the corner of the room. I asked to join him. We talked for an hour and he prayed for me.

I went to sleep that night, assured God had my back. It wasn’t all on me.

That’s how the weekend unfolded. I never plotted or panicked. I’d walk into the crowded dining room and notice an empty chair and clean placemat at one of the tables as if the Lord had reserved that one spot for me.

During coffee break, I’d turn around and find someone I wanted to meet or thank.

It’s difficult for a control freak to stay empty. However, emptiness kept me from being full of myself. Oh, that I’d be empty more often!

Emptiness allowed room for God to fill me and lead the way. I experienced…

“God’s grace that is sufficient when we’re weak.”
“The joy of the Lord is my strength” when someone prayed for my renewed energy.

Then God surprised me beyond my imagination. I met Francine Rivers.

She’s written many books including one of my favorite, Redeeming Love. Her book made a huge impact on me. And I’ve given Redeeming Love to many women especially when I served as a jail chaplain for female prisoners.

Meeting Francine Rivers blessed me. She’s a genuine lady. But the opportunity to talk with her felt like another God moment. My empty jar overflowed with love for Him. I wanted to stand on my chair and sing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Lord knows that would have emptied the room!

 

http://francinerivers.com/books/redeeming-love/

http://writers.mounthermon.org

Jar photograph: http://jennywredephotography.com

 

When Rebels and Rules Clash

The Confederate flag is disappearing…

From National Park gift shops, state buildings, and license plates.

And because I descend from Southern blood, I feel the rebel rising in me. Don’t touch that flag. Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do.

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Lately, I’ve seen more confederate flags waving in California. Whether these flag owners have Southern roots or empathize—I do not know. But, 

A rebel lives within each of us. Does “forbidden fruit” ring a bell?

Raised in a military family, I grew up with rules and regulations. Then I temporarily joined the Air Force and “Yes Sir” became part of my vocabulary even when rules didn’t make sense.

No rebellion in this heart. Rules is what I do!

So imagine my frustration when I first read the Bible.

All I saw was the LAW: things I’m supposed to do; NOT do.

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The Book of Leviticus alone had so many rules, my head spun. What if I break a rule and don’t even know it?

As a youth, I didn’t have much Biblical knowledge, but I knew the Golden Rule. Jesus called it the second greatest commandment.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Talk about an impossible rule.

In longing for God’s favor, I became like the rich, young man who asked Jesus, “What must I DO to get into heaven?”

Reading the New Testament didn’t make life easier. For Jesus took the rules up a notch. Not only are we to avoid certain actions like adultery we’re not even suppose to think about it.

My formula for eternal salvation and a well-lived life disintegrated.

By God’s grace, I discovered His grace. 

He knew I couldn’t keep the rules.

Once I acknowedged what’s “impossible for man is possible with God,” I was in a position to receive His grace.

And allow God to do what I could never do: Redeem my soul.

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Since then, I still study the Bible and meditate on His precepts. Only now, I understand that I can’t even begin to live God’s way. 

Thankfully, Jesus is more than my teacher. He’s my Savior.

When the rules overwhelm me and I fail the rules, I remember God’s Spirit changes me from the inside out. He’s molding me  into His image one day at a time.

On those inevitable days:

  • When the rebel within me wants to have my own way.
  • When I start waving my flag—whatever that looks like—particularly in someone else’s face.

The Holy Spirit directs my attention, not to a Biblical rule or a civic law, but to my unchecked motives which tend to be self-seeking.

Then If I’m listening, and willing to obey, the One who redeemed my soul does more of the impossible. He suppresses my inward rebellion.

And enables me to surrender whatever stands in the way of peace.

Feeling Salty?

Wearing frayed clothes, an old man with a scraggly beard approached the eclectic restaurant patio where I sat with my two grown sons. Shaded from the summer sun, we were the only customers out there on a Sunday afternoon.

My body stiffened. He’s going to ask for money.

The man shuffled past us, opened the screen door, and went inside. He returned with a coffee mug and sat down at the table next to us.

My body relaxed, but my mind remained on guard. He stared at us with red-rimmed, glassy eyes. Sometimes he mumbled beneath his breath.

I went inside and asked the young waitress if the man had ordered food.

“No, he only has three dollars.”

“Would you mind asking him if he’d like to order a meal? You can put it on my tab. I’d ask him, but I don’t want to embarrass or offend him.”

She smiled. “That’s nice of you.”

I wasn’t trying to be nice. I’m reluctant to share my story. Don’t want someone to think I’m patting myself on the back. Not the case.

I was being obedient.

How could I attend church that morning—hear God’s Word—and NOT reach out to someone in need? Someone within arm’s reach who had an empty belly; hunger in his soul.

The waitress brought a menu to the man and whispered in his ear.

He mumbled, “Missing teeth.”

She helped him choose something edible. Then brought him a plate of soft rolls to eat while he waited for his meal.

He guzzled his coffee; devoured the rolls.Then he took his mug inside and left the restaurant without glancing in our direction.

Within seconds, the waitress brought our food. Her right arm had a sleeve tattoo. “I offered to put his food in a to-go box, but he didn’t want to wait. So I canceled the order.”

“Perhaps the bread filled him up,” I said. “Or maybe I should have approached him myself so he didn’t feel awkward.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. You tried.”

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Yes, I tried to do the right thing—be salt and light. To the man, and young woman too.

I wondered if either of them knew Jesus—the Bread of Life. The One who feeds our souls. 

If not, had they heard the gospel? How did they perceive Christians?

Oh, Lord, don’t let my salt lose its flavor. (Luke 14:34)

And yet, while my sons and I were eating, the topic of same-sex marriage came up. Immediately, my neck hairs bristled as I thought about “those people.”

Until the Spirit hit me with a two by four:

You have no trouble showing compassion to an indigent person whom you know nothing about. What if a gay couple sat near you? 

Would you still choose to be salt and light? 

If not, why not?

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“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14)

Thankful I Don’t Have

IMG_5310Although I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, I also praise God for the many things I don’t have:

Terminal illness

Delinquent child

Empty food pantry

Rat eating my kitchen pipes…like a year ago

Some readers may be dealing with these issues, or worse. So forgive me if I step on toes. And yet, when I’m trudging through the messy circumstances of life, I believe….God’s grace pads my life in ways I can’t imagine.

Crises diverted. Grief avoided. Unspoken prayers favorably answered without my knowledge.

Doesn’t God deserve gratitude for covert blessings too?    

During imperfect days, sprinkled with more discomfort than joy, it’s natural to grumble, “Why me, Lord?” Then I hear the news, or receive a prayer request, and realize the multitude of evil and sorrow that God spares me from each day.

My perspective changed back in the day, when my five-year-old son fell from the Monkey Bars. While I kissed the bruised bump on his head, he whimpered, “Why did God let me fall?”

I responded, “Let’s thank God you don’t have a broken neck.”

It’s not just viewing a half-empty cup as half-full. It’s naming names.

Praising God that I have good health doesn’t have the same powerful imagery as thanking Him that I don’t have breast cancer when my mammogram comes back normal.

That’s because I remember driving my bald-headed friend to her chemotherapy appointment. I listened to her miserable groans afterwards. I’m thankful I still have my friend.

I’m also thankful I don’t have to walk in her shoes…at least, for the time being. But even then, God willing, I’d be glad I didn’t have to go through cancer alone.

Three weeks ago, I sprained my ankle. No big deal comparatively speaking, but rotten timing. I was scheduled to travel in two days to visit my daughter. As I lay on the floor, wreathing in pain, I wailed, “No! How will I drive to the airport? How will I get from my parked car to the terminal gate?   

I hobbled to my couch, placed an ice pack on my elevated ankle. The more I mused on my clumsiness and misfortune, the more gratitude bubbled and spilled over, soothing my taunt nerves.

Thank you Lord, I don’t have a broken ankle. As I massaged my bruised hip, I sighed, “I’m not a spring chicken. Thank you, Lord, I don’t have a broken hip bone.   

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A positive spin weaves threads of have and have not into a tapestry of thanksgiving. And gratitude enables us to look at life like a two-sided coin:

The blessings we have,

The battles we don’t have to wage in this moment.

It’s a win-win~~no matter how the coin lands.

What are you thankful for that you don’t have?