Thursday, April 14, 2016

The day I trusted human grace.

This has been a difficult season.  One consisting of way more downs than it has ups. Some of them far beyond my control, and yet some I formed with my own hands, words, or actions. The ones that are my own doing- well they bring a special sort of angst. If only I had kept my mouth shut. If only I had said this instead of that. If only I had used my brain before I acted. If only I had thought about them before me.
If only… If onlyIf only.

I’m in an interesting place in my spiritual journey because I feel like I’m finally getting better at believing God forgives- the biggest and the “smallest” of sins... And realizing there is no such ranking in His eyes. I’m finally starting to quote Scripture to fight the enemy’s attack that I’ve messed up far too greatly and frequently for God to forgive. I’m finally starting to overcome that fear and live in the daily grace God gives.

Yet one day, not so long ago, the grace that God gives wasn’t quite enough. Not actually of course- we know God’s grace covers all.  But mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually, I needed human grace.  You see, I had sinned against a human. Not just God. My sinful words hadn’t only hurt God, they had hurt a dear friend. As God commands us to, I had asked forgiveness of Him and them, and had mercifully received it from both God and man. But…. 
I couldn’t believe in the human form of grace.  I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t trust that a person meant the words “I forgive you.”  I couldn’t show them the real depth of my sorrow. I couldn’t tell them enough how sorry I was. I couldn’t stop dwelling on it until they verbalized what I “just knew” they were actually thinking “You messed up big time. I’m not sure our friendship can recover from this.”  Because that’s what I deserved.

When I had was exhausted from the mental sumo wrestling war with my self-condemnation, God’s grace showed up by letting me read Romans 8:6 in my quiet time. It says “For to set the mind on the flesh is death. But to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” In that moment, God whispered to me, “Holly, you are trusting their flesh. Instead, start trusting My Spirit inside of them.”

In that moment, I caught a glimpse of the freedom found in this truth.  A Christian brother or sister has the same Holy Spirit working in them as I have working in me. So then, just as I am commanded to forgive, even the vilest of offenses, so are they. When I am trusting in their flesh, their “natural” state, of course it brings death! Death of a friendship at the least!  Instead, I’m called to trust in something far greater. I am called to trust the Holy Spirit’s work in their life, and when I do that, then I am setting my mind on the Spirit…. And setting my mind on the Spirit brings life and peace.

So, I started being obedient. I started trusting the Spirit every time I wanted to trust the flesh.  You know what I discovered? It works.
I started believing in the human form of grace.  I started letting my past go. I started trusting that a person meant the words “I forgive you.”  I started to walk in the freedom of forgiveness. I started dwelling on my friend’s wonderful qualities instead of my inadequacies. I started forgiving others more freely. All because grace transforms.

As I was contemplating the peace that grace brings, I suddenly understood…. There are not two forms of grace- human and Divine: 
It’s all divine grace just like it’s all God’s forgiveness.  
He simply invites us partake.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Some big lessons....

It's been a while since posting due to some big news that I'll talk more about soon!  (No, not pregnant.)

I've been thinking a lot about past lessons that I've learned with God- largely due to the fact that I'm having to re-learn quite a few of them it would seem.  

So, I thought that I would post some of the links from some of the blogs that have been most meaningful to me along the way.  If you are anything like me, sometimes we need a refresher on what God has taught us and a reminder that He is teaching us still.

I roar.
I've struggled with accepting my personality for years.

Ginger | Black.
I'm a red-head. My husband is African American.  Racism and the effects of it will forever be part of our lives.

I am insecure.
Not in every area. Probably not even in the areas you would expect.

Man Truths.
Hints are worthless. Every single time.

I started to grasp how many teen girls are struggling with this... (not suitable for children).

What no one ever talks about
Depression isn't talked about. 

If any of those topics relate to you, please let me know!  Also, if you have some blog suggestions- leave me a comment so I can check them out!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

7 Thoughts of a Woman During a Marital Fight

Sometimes you fight in marriage {or life}.  There are some things that you just never ever think, say, or do in the heat of the battle- despite what romantic comedies, Pinterest, or any other romantic notion you had as a 17-year-old girl tells you. BUT there are also things that you typically always think, say, or do in the midst of the battle.

For women, those two extreme reactions often happen back to back.  In the same fight.

So to close out the Love Month, here’s a chronologically- ordered tribute to fighting with your spouse.

1. Do NOT even THINK about kissing me right now.
All those scenes in movies where a couple decides to forget everything they are intensely arguing about and suddenly start showing copious amounts of affection is FALSE.  I’m pretty sure I’ve literally thought: “I would be so mad if he tried to kiss me right now. Clearly the screen writers of those scenes have NEVER been in a serious relationship.”
3.7 seconds later…
2. All I want is a HUG right now. Why won’t he just hug me?
Forget about the fact that my previous point was do not even think about kissing me- I don’t understand why it’s so confusing that sometimes I just need a hug? Clearly the look on my face is screaming “I need physical touch- but only in this very specific and exact way!”
4.2 seconds later…
3.  How can he joke at a time like this? Does he not know we are in the middle of a FIGHT?
There is absolutely nothing funny enough to deserve a smile right now, much less a laugh. I guess that shows how trivial this is to him.  So now we’re just fighting for laughs…. I see how it is. ….  Actually… what are we fighting about again? Shoot. I can’t let him know that I forgot why I’m mad.
2.6 seconds later…
4. Why won’t he laugh at my joke? Does he not know that I’m trying to lighten the mood?
Goodness, he’s certainly in a very dark place right now. He can’t even smile.  I guess me poking fun wasn’t what he wanted to hear {never mind it was at him}.  Last time we fought, he said he tries to make jokes to lighten the mood. But when I do it, it just worsens the mood.  He needs to make up his mind!
7.9 seconds later….
5. I just want him to understand what I’m really saying.
Let’s be real, if he actually understood me, he would agree with me. How can you hear my arguments and not see the validity in my points? He clearly isn’t listening.  Maybe I should repeat myself again- to the 10th power.
Literally 1 second later…
6. Is he pacifying me?
I don’t want him to just agree with me! Why won’t he tell me what he’s really thinking? He knows he can disagree with me and that I value his opinion.
And then to finish the fight…
7. Why doesn’t he apologize? I just said nothing was wrong!!!

I really don’t understand why men think women are that complicated… 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Day I Murdered My Friend

I’ll never forget the night I was talking with my friend about her upcoming deadlines and projects. As she was telling me her plans, I responded with something like, “Well that was dumb planning. You know you never get through things as fast as you think you will.”

As soon as the words finished charging out of my mouth, I could see her expression change into one of surprise, hurt, and then deep disappointment.
I tried to back-pedal as my mind frantically searched for new words that could replace the horrible ones that I had just uttered. But, as we all know, once words are spoken, there are no take-backs. It was as if I had just taken a shot at my friend and now I was trying to put the bullet back in the gun. Useless and absurd.

The conversation died after that. And a little part of our friendship did too. 

All because of my words.

A particular proverb in the Bible is hauntingly accurate on this topic:
The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.  Proverbs 18:21
The past few weeks I’ve been reminded of the cold brutality- the murder- that words bring.

The murder of hopes and dreams:
No …..   |   You can’t….
The murder of relationships:
You never…. |  You always ….
The murder of our self-confidence:
Did you really think… |   You’re not….  

If I asked you if you could think of a time that you were deeply hurt by words, you could probably think of numerous times within mere seconds. Why? Because Solomon had it right when he said: The words of the reckless pierce like swords Maybe not physically, but certainly emotionally, mentally, or psychologically. We all know that childhood saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” isn’t true. If we were being honest with kids, we would teach them:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will end up killing me!”

However deadly as words can be, here is the paradox. Words also bring life.
The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.  Proverbs 18:21
The words of the reckless pierce like swords but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

Why don’t we let that sink in- what exactly our words can bring.
 HealingJoy… Smiles… Laughter… Forgiveness… Courage…  Life.

My words can inspire in the same areas they used to kill.

The inspiration of hopes and dreams:
 You can …   |   Yes…
The inspiration of relationships:
I care…  I love…    |   I appreciate…    |   I forgive…   
The inspiration of confidence:
I’m proud…   |   I trust… 

So, in closing, let me ask you the same question that I had to wrestle with-
Which side of the verse do you land? Are you speaking death or life?
Or to put it more realistically:
Are you a word-murderer?

Regardless of whatever you think the answer is, listen to yourself speak the next few days to your husband, your child, your friend.  If you will honestly weigh the words against the Biblical standard, you will see where your words fall.  But fear not if you’re a word-murderer like me, God can change us.  Read His life-giving words to us:

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.* {Furthermore} Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life {or the words we speak}… neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow… indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.** And I {Jesus} will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. …  But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.
*1 John 1:9 **Romans 8:38-39 *** John 14:16-17

God can resurrect your deadly mouth into a life-giving one. After all, resurrection is His specialty.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

He is NOT a threat.

Women pulled their purses tighter when he walked by. 
At 2:30 in the afternoon.  
In a popular department store.

My husband evidently was viewed as threatening. 

The mere thought that the man who loves me, protects me, honors me, and cares for me, was being perceived as potentially dangerous would be laughable if it wasn’t actually thought. Actually considered. Actually believed.

The women had no basis for this belief for he neither said anything nor did anything to them or around them.

He simply walked by them as he shopped for clothes. 

He, the man whom I have seen help total strangers time and time again, simply walked by them.

He, my black husband, simply walked by them.

I know it’s a seemingly small and subtle form of racism that is not newsworthy but this one hit home for me. The absurdity of such a bogus reaction simply because he has a beautifully dark skin tone was hurtful.  As he told me the story, there was no anger in his voice or disgust in his temperament- it was more incredulous. He was dumbfounded that it happened.  He almost found it interesting, initially. Almost. Until it kept happening.

As I heard the story, I, on the other hand went from incredulousness, to anger, to frustration, to despair, to bewilderment and back to anger again. In about 1.78 seconds.

It’s been a little while now since it happened, and I still experience all those emotions every time I think about it. I think I’ve landed in heartache, however.  There’s something especially painful at having the person you love and respect more than any other, be so horrifically misjudged.  I wish I could believe that 2016 will be the year of no racism. No microagressions. No hatred. No subtle prejudice or blatant bias.

But the reality is that we aren’t there yet. Our country, our state, our city simply isn’t there yet.  Your state, your city simply isn’t there yet.  To deny that there is still racism is to only add to the problem. To deny that there isn’t racism within the church is to only break the heart of God. To deny that there isn’t bias within my own heart is to only help the dividedness instead of the healing.

You see friends, as much as I wanted to give those women a piece of my mind, I was rebuked in my spirit. God reminded me that I too am guilty of prejudice. Of horribly misinformed stereotypes. Of bias. They might look different than clutching my purse as a black man walks by, but they are just as serious and just as wrong.

I know I’m not alone.

Maybe you judged someone who wore a Muslim dress. Maybe the Indian woman in her sari. Maybe the white man with sagging jeans. Maybe the Asian woman who didn’t speak English fluently.  Maybe the Taco Bell employee. The Target cashier. The anorexic girl. The heavyset boy.

Should I continue?

I’d ask for you to consider doing two things.  Two things that I have been doing myself. If we all committed to these two things, we would see our city start to change.  Then our state. Then our country.

1) Ask God to show us our own areas of bias and racism.
Spend time asking for His forgiveness and grace to change.

2) Start speaking truth.  
Start telling your friend who makes the racists jokes that they aren’t funny.

Start explaining to your parents why you disagree with their view of people with a different ethnic background.

Start reminding your siblings that the person they are making fun of was created in the image of God and they have no place to mock that.

Start engaging your coworkers in conversations about the beauty in diversity.

Start researching the subjects you don’t understand so that you can speak truth instead of fiction.

As much as I wish I could, I can’t change the women’s minds in the store that day. But I can let God change me. And that’s enough to change the world.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Beautiful Weight

Every time the scale goes up, my beauty goes down.

That’s what, if many of us were being honest, we would have to admit that we believe, isn’t it?

I’ve been in a staring contest with that false reality for months now.  To be honest, I’ve blinked and lost. More than once.
If only we grow into self-confidence the same way we do our shoe size- automatically and without thought.

If only we believed our family, friends, husbands, and God when they tell us our unique beauty is beautiful. It’s not conditional nor is it based on our current jean size.

I believe that for others- I sincerely do. I just don’t allow myself to believe it for my own body.

I think most of us fight to hold onto the truth that our value isn’t based on our bodies. We know that our worth as women (or men) goes far deeper than our weight. Many of us lose the battle, however, when the fight is whether our actual beauty is defined by our body’s shape or weight.

My struggle keeps taking me back to Proverbs 31:30: 
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

The root of the Hebrew word for “fleeting” in that verse means transitory and unsatisfactory. Solomon spoke truth to the women of his world hundreds of years ago- chasing beauty is chasing something that is ever changing. As I reflected on that, I realized how true it is, even now. Especially now.  The world’s standard of beauty is always changing. Be boyishly skinny. Be slender with a nice butt. Be curvy. Have straight long hair. Have a short angular bob. Have beach waves. Be proud of your body. Change your body.  Size 6 is perfect. Size 4 is the new 6. (Devil Wears Prada anyone?!)

I’ve fallen victim to all of those beauty stages and I’m not even that old! Truly, chasing beauty is chasing a constantly shifting standard. I’m not saying we give up on trying to better ourselves to become healthy, or to never care an iota about our appearance. I am eating better and exercising more than I have in a long time! I wear make-up and love getting new clothes! 

But I am saying that there is a balance to fight for. It’s not worth giving up my “life” to chase an unattainable standard of beauty that limits living. What I mean by that is this:

I don’t want to never eat a cookie with my husband again for fear of the calories. 
I don’t want to ignore my friend’s effort in making a home-cooked dinner by being consumed with calorie consumption. 
I don’t want to pretend I don’t like my mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls at family holidays because I have to fit into my too small pants.

Ladies- I get the struggle. The fight to lose weight while not losing our identity to our jean size is painfully difficult. The fight to believe the truth of God telling us our beauty is not changed by the number on our scale is uphill. The tension to be healthy while still enjoying life is constant. 

There’s no shortcut. There isn’t a formula. There's no 3 step process to success in this area.

It’s a mental battle. An internal fight to change our thought process. A fierce contest to hold onto the truth. But the truth is… I am beautiful in every size of clothing I wear. And so are you.

The truth is as beautifully simple as that.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Popping my bubble

“I’m finding that most Christians find it easier to ask my testimony than deal with my current reality.”

As the young woman sitting across from me said that, I found myself soberly realizing the weight of the truth that one sentence carried.
My mind quickly flooded itself with examples of issues that all too often the American Christian community has deemed it easier to ignore as reality than come to grips with the brutal truth.

It exists. In subtle and not so subtle ways.
Mental disorders.
They’re real. They’re becoming common.
Domestic abuse.
It happens more than most care to admit.
Christian persecution.
Brothers and sisters are dying all around the world.
Syrian refugees.
They need a place to call home.

I’m beginning to admit that all too often I like my bubble too much to let it be popped by the reality of pain that so many people are living in. But it’s time I realized, believed, and consequently acted upon the truth that sacrificing my personal comfort or comfort zone brings about a greater good.  It’s also time to realize that Christ was serious when He said to follow Him meant picking up a cross. (Luke 9:23)

My cross in America isn’t going to be the one fleeing for my life. Maybe my cross is the one standing up for those who are. Not because of anything I can do individually. But because of the power of Christ in me.  The more I research issues stemming from places of hatred, the more I understand why I have a cross to bear.

People being dismissed as less valuable because God blessed them with a gorgeous skin tone that happens to be different than mine.
People being turned away from safety because we’re afraid that we’ll run out of room, resources, or comfort with more refugees.
People being dismissed as dramatic rather than hurting because they have a mental disorder instead of a physical one.
People being told pain is God’s will because it happens to come from the hand of a husband instead of a stranger.

I, for one, am tired. Tired of choosing myself over my world.  Jesus chose the world when he picked up His cross. It’s time that I choose the world and pick up mine.

Maybe that means…
that I start partnering with local organizations to learn about racism and work together to end it. And maybe I start confronting that friend who crosses the line. And educating that friend who makes well-intentioned but ignorant statements.

Maybe that means…
that I educate myself on resources for people struggling with mental disorders so that I can partner with hurting people instead of being scared, pious, put out, or uncomfortable around them. And maybe that I don’t instruct that friend to pray their way out of depression and instead I just listen to the pain they’re living in.

Maybe that means…
that I realize domestic abuse is a real and terrifying reality for many women in church-going homes across this country and I research ways to actually help or pray for women in that situation. And maybe instead of joking about spousal abuse, I start to invest my time helping agencies who help women.

Maybe that means…
 that I start sacrificially giving to organizations that are helping underground churches around the world so that my brothers and sisters who are fighting for their lives will receive some support from a family across the ocean. And maybe I start with something as simple as supporting a child in need through a reputable organization.

Maybe that means …
that I contact my congressmen and senators that I’m deeply saddened that they have decided we have no room in our state for those running for their lives. Especially given the fact that we’re closing in on the Christmas season. And maybe I find out what organizations in my city or state are working to help refugees and I consider going on a mission trip or opening up my home to help them.

So then, that means…

That one day, I’ll wake up and see a difference in my world, and know that it came from a single small step of obedience that God blessed into an unimaginably wondrous answer to prayer.