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Forgiveness

Community, Faith, Forgiveness, God, Identity, Your Story

Not Okay.

January 29, 2016

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Written by one of our readers:

It was a typical Sunday morning as I walked into the doors of the church I have attended since elementary school. I smiled at the familiar face of a dear friend greeting me at the door and remembered all of the happy pictures on Facebook she shared. “Good morning,” I said cheerily, “How are you?”

“I’m good…” she responded hesitantly with a smile that would appear natural to anyone who didn’t know her. Her eyes appeared to be filled with a burden so heavy, she felt she couldn’t tell anyone… Not even someone she could trust.

I think this is a common story for us ladies in the brave new world of a social media saturated society. Everywhere we turn, there are highly filtered “picture perfect” moments captured and posted on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag “no filter” or “blessed.” At the beginning of this social media frenzy, photos were not at all filtered, were less than picture perfect, and certainly didn’t have hashtags attached. As time has passed, we’ve become unawaringly numb to the staged images that fill our brains on a daily basis. Now, we’ve started applying that filter to our everyday lives.

We apply a “happy” filter when we’re with good friends and telling them about our lives. We force our eyes to crinkle in a seemingly genuine smile and fill our sentences with words like “amazing,” “awesome,” or “fabulous” while on the inside we’re struggling with where we are at and questioning if what we’re doing is what God has really set aside for us. And our friends are none the wiser because they have their filter on too. We apply our “spiritual” filter at church to show everyone that we’re happy and we’re growing in our walks with Christ when really, we’re struggling with our season of singleness and wondering if this is really God’s best for us. We apply our “content” and “satisfied” filter with our spouse or our family members to show them that we are happy with where we are in life but inside, we’re questioning if there is something more for us in our career, our relationships, our household, and every other area of our lives.

We live in a world that tells us that it is not okay to be anything but okay or good or awesome. We live in a world of staged moments captured on social media and staged responses to basic questions like, “How are you?” We live in a world that tells us to always hustle and strive for perfection but at what cost? Our mental health? Our relationships? Contrary to popular belief, it is not healthy to hold all of those feelings of hurt, confusion, sadness, anger, or whatever other emotion is coursing through your precious veins. I can also tell you that you can’t build a solid foundation for a solid relationship (friendship or otherwise), based of off cookie-cutter responses to cookie-cutter questions. Can I also tell you something else very important? It is absolutely okay that right now, you’re not at all okay.

One of the things I heard in church a lot when I was growing up was, “It’s a sin to question God,” or, “You should never get angry at God because, well, He’s God.” You probably have heard some variation of those overtly religious statements. As I have grown (physically and spiritually) I have learned two really important things:

  1. Religion teaches us rules, while Jesus teaches us relationship.
  2. Part of having a relationship with Jesus means being completely honest about how we feel with Him. He already knows, so why not tell Him?

In my life, I strive to have relationship with Jesus Christ and not rules set up by religion interfering with my Christian walk. Let’s be honest, religion has a lot of rules. Base your life and walk with Christ off of Scripture and Christ Himself, and you’re doing just fine. Notice I said walk with Christ and not walk to Christ. That’s the best thing about the Gospel: we do not have to work to receive God’s gift of His Son. His Son came down to us to be with us as we journey to heaven to be with God for all of eternity. On that journey, there are going to be places where you are angry at God. Those are the places where your relationship with Him will grow and strengthen. Religion tells us to evaluate our lives and see what we’re doing wrong but Jesus tells us to come to Him, walk with Him, learn from Him, and in Him we’ll find rest, healing, and redemption (not in anything we could ever do or say). Religion tells us to grin and bear it. Jesus tells us to fall at His feet and be vulnerable before Him.

If you don’t believe me, read through the Psalms. There are so so many Psalms that David wrote where he is pouring his heart out God, getting mad at God, questioning God, and praising God for His presence and redemption. And what do people call David? A man after God’s own heart.

It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be scared. God isn’t expecting perfection. He’s expecting honesty and trust. Take your filters off before the God-Man that gave up His life to know you. Take off your filters before the people that love you and desire relationship with you. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a sign of trust and that’s all God wants from us: our explicit trust because if He has that, He has the rest of us. And can I tell you a secret? He will never let you down, never leave you, never hurt you, and never take advantage of you. He loves you more than life itself, dear one.

Processed with VSCO with b5 presetAllison Mozingo is 21 years old. She’s from Clayton, NC. She’s a junior at Campbell University and studying Elementary and Middle Grades English.

Faith, Family, Fear, Forgiveness, God, Identity, Redemption, Self-harm, Your Story

I am a messenger

January 8, 2016
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By one of our readers:
My story started when I was 9 years old. I got baptized. Not because I got saved, but so I wouldn’t have to do it when I was older. I did it to “get it over with”. Somehow I didn’t understand that you had to make a personal commitment to Jesus and I didn’t understand how to do it. I repeated a prayer after my mom but didn’t understand what I was doing at all. Just that it made me uncomfortable.

I found out in middle school what being a Christian really meant. I thought I was okay. I had thought because I had been baptized me and Jesus were cool. Boy, was I wrong. I struggled with trying to find who I was in Christ. I always had a fear that my (many) prayers to God didn’t count. I had “lost my salvation” by not being good enough for God. I went back and forth, gaining Hid favor and then losing it. I was a selfish, selfish person. I wasn’t a “bad” kid but I was bad in the worst way. Now I realize how disrespectful, angry, and hurtful I had been to other people. I knew I wasn’t good. But I was too self-centered and self-righteous to realize I needed a change.

But I digress.

2011 was the worst year. I entered the year and was bombarded with more bad stuff in a few months than in my entire life. I found myself alone. I fell silent and shut myself off from everyone. I continued to put a happy face on when I was around others. I refused to let them see me cry. I was surrounded by the sickness and death of my family. I struggled with what I believed about myself, other people, and God. I wanted to die.

For 3 years I dealt with these horrible feelings of loneliness, misery, hatred, fear in its deepest form, and the realization of who I truly was. I was a horrible, selfish person. But I couldn’t change. I wouldn’t change. I just wanted to give up and die. That’s what my mind was telling me to do. I couldn’t keep going. No one wanted me to keep going. I wasn’t needed. I was a failure and a screw up who just made people sad so why go on?

In the midst of all that I clung to the pieces of my shattered faith in the form of music. I discovered what I was feeling in the words of Flyleaf, Disciple, RED, Skillet, Evanescence, Tenth Avenue North, and many other bands. God was using those bands to keep me going. My unhealthy fear of God, my family, and those lyrics kept me going. The words of Disciple’s “Invisible” kept playing in my head. “You’re not invisible to Me.”

One year things changed. I joined a Christian theatre group. There I found friends. And not just friends to go to when I wanted to have a good time. These were people who cared. They were living out the faith that I thought I believed. Something began to melt inside of me.

One night I had gotten a “gig” playing drums for the theatre group’s production of “The Wizard of Oz”. Completely last minute. The night of the second performance I was hurt by someone close to me. They basically said what I had been telling myself for 3 years. No one needed me. I sat backstage listening to the kids worship God before the show (a usual ritual for them) feeling all those things I had been dealing with…Then the worship leader said something. She said “You know, we never think about how miserable we are before we accept Christ.” A light went on. “God, I’m miserable now,” I thought. “and I’m sick of it.

Take me or leave me. I’m done.”
He took me.

My castmates saw the change. I felt the change.
I never had a suicidal thought from that day on.

That same year me and my family moved to Charlotte. I was healing. Even though that first year or two in Charlotte hurt and I was lonely and scared. I was healing. God began to speak to me. He put evangelism on my heart. Fear began to creep in and taint my relationship with Him.

April 8, 2015 I went to a Disciple concert. I was finally going to see this band that had influenced me so much when I was lost and suicidal. They played a bit of “Invisible” and then told the story behind it. I wept. The story was the lead singer was out of song ideas for their next album. He prayed for a song that God would use as a message to the generation he would be singing to.

“Wish you were someone else. Every night you fall to pieces. Wishing you could save yourself. I can see you, I can hear you…YOU’RE NOT INVISIBLE. YOU’RE NOT INVISIBLE TO ME.”
God had sent that song to me.
To keep me alive.
Why? Because He loves me. That’s the reason.
How could I hold back anything from Him? How could I let fear creep in and steal my joy? I could tell you so many more stories of God’s hand in my life but that would take more than 1000 words. I believe God wants me to be a messenger through the music industry. When I was saved He took my selfishness and melted my heart of stone. He placed the salvation of His beloved creation on my heart. He wants to use me to reach them.

I was once dead. Now I’m alive. I am a messenger for Him. He wants me to use my story to help other people. I am a messenger.

My playlist: “Invisible” by Disciple

“The Reason” by Lacey Sturm

“Not Alone” by RED

“Beloved” by Tenth Avenue North

“SOS (hope won’t let go)” by About a Mile

“Breaking Down” by Disciple
“Walk on Water” by Britt Nicole
“Isle of Flightless Birds” by twenty one pilots
“Messenger” by Lecrae
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 This is Rachel Capps story. She is 19 years old from Charlotte, NC.
Community, Faith, Forgiveness, Identity, Redemption, Relationships

Unfriendable

October 14, 2015

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It may come as a shocker to you, but I am a hard friend to love. I’ll let you all take a moment to gasp a little at that thought. 😉 But seriously, I’m not always the easy friend in a group of people.

Naturally a little stand-offish and pretty opinionated, oftentimes I can come across as rude and unapproachable. My filter isn’t always very strong and sometimes even my most loving and gracious “encouragement” can come across as more of a lecture than a pep-talk. Know the type? Yeah, that’s me.

We’ve all got someone in our lives who’s “that friend.” The exhausting one. The Debbie-downer. The one who it feels more like work than a joy to to be around. The one who if you didn’t think it would be a total jerk move to do, you’d totally unfriend and unfollow them on social media. We all have them, and in truth, we might even be that friend ourselves.

What do we do when someone is difficult to love? Is every friendship worth the work? I know we don’t have to be friends with everyone, but how do we handle relationships with people who God has put in our path? Are some people just a lost cause?

About three years ago I would’ve said that some people just aren’t worth the work. Phrases like, “This is about as close as we’ll ever get” and “They just don’t want to know me or be friends with me” or “Forget them, I have other friends anyway” were common coming out of my mouth. I was very quick to dismiss anyone who wasn’t willing to put forth the effort I was and wrote it off as them just being stand offish and not friend material. Then I came out of the “I’ve been sexually abused” closet and everything changed.

For the first time in my life, I hungered for people to know me. I wanted people to see my pain and not only stand with me in it, but walk with me to see beyond it and find a new way of living. At the same time I was dealing with my crap, one of my dear friends was walking through the loss of a child. Her pain was far worse than my own, but her desire of being known was the same. Together we discovered something amazing.

To love well and to be loved well in return means to pursue the heart of another.

You see, I wanted so bad for people to see how I was hurting on the inside, but I was never going to show it on the outside. I needed to know that they were safe enough to entrust my fragile heart to. I needed to know that they cared for me not just when it was easy, but when I was at my most difficult to love. The only way I could know that was by them seeking out to know me and meet me where I was at.

Friends, we all carry secrets that create fortresses in our hearts. Wounds that build steel doors, keeping anyone at bay who may come too close. Yet it’s those very places that we want people most. Because those places of weakness, the places we hurt most, those are the places we need others. We just need someone willing to fight through.

That friend, the difficult one, she’s fighting a battle too. Her pain may run so deep that she has no idea just how fortified her heart has really become, and sadly, no one has ever tried to get in. So she keeps herself guarded, mean, and unapproachable not because she doesn’t want you as a friend, but because she doesn’t know how.

To be like Jesus to those around us means to press in, push harder, and love stronger even when there is never any return of the affection.

I’ve had a friend I’ve known for several years. She’s quiet and guarded. She’s so private with her emotions that I’ve only seen her cry once in the entire time I’ve known her. For many years I thought we’d never be more than casual friends, only discussing things like our kids and marriage. She was impenetrable and the only way we’d become closer was for her to change, or so I thought.

Last year I began to implement this idea of pursuing the hearts of my friends. She was my particular goal. I started slowly, just a simple text here and there letting her know I was thinking of her and praying for her. When we were together in groups, I’d make sure to invite her places and then let her know she was missed when she didn’t come. All the while on my own I kept asking God for an opportunity to let her know I loved her and wanted to love her well. He granted that prayer six months later over a cup of coffee.

While talking about a recent mission trip she had been on, I felt God give me a nudge to say something. I began by telling her how much I valued her as a friend. How I really was wanting God to use me to love my friends well and she was one of those. I told her how each of my friends needed love differently and so I asked her how I could love her better. What happened next was amazing.

We began to talk, I mean really talk, for the first time. She told me how I could love her better and what ways of approaching her or helping her would embarrass or make her uncomfortable and which ways would help. Then she said something that floored me. She said, “Heather, I really want to be known by people, I’m just not good at it. I need someone to help me.”

Ladies, that girl you find so frustrating, she wants to be known. That girl who you feel sucks the life out of you or never returns your kindness, she aches for friendship too. But maybe, like my friend, these girls aren’t good at it and they need someone who is willing to walk with them and help them break down those barriers to let someone in.

If Jesus Christ was willing to walk right into the depths of hell to claim our hearts, don’t you think we should be willing to do a fraction of the same for another?

Loving the unlovable is hard. It means loving simply because and not out of our desire to be loved back. It’s remembering that sometimes love means fighting for the heart of another, even if it doesn’t look like they want you to. It means drawing close when your instincts tell you to walk away. It means laying down your life, your needs, your wants, and loving simply because we are called to. I can say with full honesty that what comes out of that kind of love is something so wonderful and pure and holy that it is mind blowing. But you have to be willing to change yourself first.

How about today you put on those boxing gloves and go fight for the hearts of the unlovable. In time, you’ll set both your hearts free and discover the beauty of redeeming love.

Community, Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Relationships

Why the Church Is Messed Up

October 6, 2015

While you get ready in the morning, in the car, cooking, or in your waiting today, I hope you will listen.

I pray you will listen with an open mind as I know that some of you have been really hurt by the church and some have misconceptions about the church.

My desire is that you will understand what God intended the church to be, that it is FILLED with sinners, and that it is a beautiful gift that God has given us to understand more of forgiveness, love, and encouragement with one another.

Faith, Forgiveness, Relationships, Spiritual Life

She Loved Much!

July 29, 2015

Continuing to share BIG news with you about A Girl Like Me!! I am super excited, humbled, and a little nervous for this responsibility and PRIVILEGE to walk along side of you girls even more deeply! THANK YOU for loving us, all of the AGLM writers, so well and encouraging us to continue in ministry!!!

Would love to hear from you! and again sorry about the lack of video quality and that I retreated in my bedroom to make this… you will find out why :-)

– Allison

Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption

Hope For My Enemies Brings Freedom For Me

May 27, 2015

 

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Today I was a witness to a crime. I had left church and headed to the gas station to fill up my tank. While standing there I began to hear screaming. I looked up to see a man choke-holding a woman in a car, silencing her as she is screaming for him to let her go. Men rush to her aid while I promptly called 911 to tell them what was happening. The husband sped off in his car, and I stood alongside his terrified wife as we waited for the police.

“He’s never done that before.” she tells me. “He was mad. I just wanted to give him space.”

The police finally arrived and I was told my 911 call was my statement and was free to go. I left the woman, thanking God she was alright.

As I was pulling away, I found my thoughts wandering to the husband. He was a monster. How could any man ever treat a woman like that? Better yet, how could she somewhat defend his actions? She should leave him. He’s an abuser and abusers deserve no mercy.

This reminds me of this past week, reading about how the oldest Duggar son on that TLC show 20 Kids and Counting was exposed to having molested his sisters and some other girls when he was younger. The internet and social media have blown up, calling him, yes, a monster. People have told his wife she was letting her kids be put in harms way and she should leave him. He’ll always be a sicko, they’d say. And the hateful speech goes on.

At some point in our lives, we’ll all encounter the consequences of the fall.

Our broken world gives way to broken people who sadly make broken choices. Whether it’s to beat their wife or abuse their sisters, people make wrong decisions. But the thing I’m coming to wonder is, do bad choices, no matter how severe, make one eternally evil?

Almost thirteen years ago I fell victim to the poor choice of a broken person. My boyfriend molested me. As I spent the better part of last year finally starting to deal with the ramifications of that moment, I found myself caring about my abuser. I wasn’t worried that he was out there hurting more people or angry that he was some sociopath with little to no remorse, instead, I found myself hoping he was ok. I wanted to know that somewhere in his journey, he found healing. Healing from whatever broken place lived in his life that made him make that horrible choice so many years ago. I wanted to know he had somehow run into Jesus and found redemption.

Just as much as I wanted myself to be better, I also wanted my abuser to be better.

So often Jesus spoke of loving our enemies. Even when nailed to the cross, Christ took a moment to ask for forgiveness from the Father for the very men who had put him up there. When the guilty criminal who hung next to him sought redemption moments before he died, Jesus forgave him. He didn’t tell the man he had made too many wrong choices or that he was too messed up to receive such a pardon- no, Jesus gave grace and he gave it freely.

I think so often when we are wronged we’re quick to label the one who wronged us as forever a villain. We blanket them with descriptions, damning them to a future that we believe is fitting for them. We make ourselves judge and jury, when the truth is, that job is given solely to Christ and Christ alone. What we can’t see is that in choosing to believe the worst in them, choosing to cast judgement and wrath upon their soul, we are fastening our hearts to the chains of resentment, anger and bitterness. Our enemies may become an earthly prisoner, but we become a spiritual one.

Seven years ago my good friend Tony was shot to death while out as a police officer doing a routine traffic stop. The man was cold and calculated. Even during his trial, he showed no remorse and even clapped when the jury pronounced he’d receive the death penalty. My heart wanted to hate him. To be honest, there are some moments that I still do. But I also pray for him. I pray that in the quiet darkness of his lonely prison cell, Jesus’ light will shine upon him. That maybe, just maybe, the man I believe to be the lowest form of human in the world could be offered grace and found forgiven.

If I can’t believe that God can forgive and redeem the worst of people, then there’s no hope for my own redemption.

Girls…some of you have known great pain. Pain that reaches to depths of darkness I cannot even comprehend. And for a lot of you, that pain was given to you at the hand of another. A broken human, who in a dark moment, made a wrong choice. A horrible choice. Yes, their actions were most certainly wrong. Yes, you have every right to feel the feelings you do. Your hurt is real and understood and appropriate and I stand with you in it. Let that be clear. But please, let this be clear as well.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the broken places I’ve been, it’s that hoping for God to redeem my enemies allows for freedom for me. When I can believe that God is big enough to change the heart of my enemy, then I’m also able to fully believe he is capable of healing me. If I know that God will reach to such hellacious depths to rescue someone I felt was so horrible, then I know there is no place I could ever run to where God would not seek me out to redeem me.

I’m not sure if the husband I witnessed today will hurt his wife again. I’m not sure that my abuser won’t molest another or that my friend’s killer will ever repent of his actions. I can’t say that whoever wounded you, whether big or small, will ever regret what they did or even apologize. I’m not sure we’re ever meant to know. But I do know this, tonight I will say a prayer that God will meet them in their dark places, hoping that they will accept grace,  while I thank Him that he so lovingly meets me in mine. I hope you’ll do the same.

Faith, Forgiveness, God, Redemption, Uncategorized

A Bear Introduced Me to Jesus

February 11, 2015

Young woman waiting for the train

I began my relationship with Jesus via a bear…not a real one but one that was a man dressed up like a bear. Now that is not the way most people start their journey with Christ, but what I know is that when I was 6 during a show at church for kids, God drew me to Himself. That’s where it began but certainly not where it ended.

We all have struggles that we just can’t seem to get past, sins that we pray would go away but are still lurking in our minds every day, and the guilt of that specific time when we really messed up. Or maybe it’s something that happened to you that wasn’t necessarily your responsibility, but you feel like you’re still tainted, scarred, and you just want it to be erased.
I grew up being the church girl, and I really did love God! I wanted to to grow in my relationship with Him and tell my friends about Him. But, probably just like you, I still remember the countless times in high school and college when I thought to myself, “Why do I keep doing this? Why can’t I stop? If others only knew how bad I really am for what I do and think…”

I wanted to obey God because I knew he saved my life when I was 6 years old. But still I would have selfish, lustful, straight-up-mean girl thoughts about others. I knew it was wrong because it wasn’t “Christian”, but I didn’t know how to stop.
I would fight myself to get rid of these “dirty” thoughts. I hid my sin because I knew it was not honoring to God, but it was just making me feel worse and worse.

I wanted a way to restart. I wanted a way to go back when I first decided to follow Jesus, to be able to STOP doing what I didn’t want to do, and to erase all the sins I kept committing. I wanted to be the girl that God wanted me to be. I knew that I would find joy and freedom there, but I didn’t know how to get there.

I began to really search what it meant to be a follower of Jesus despite my sin and the struggles I faced. I read a lot of books on what the gospel really means. I went to a church that explained the gospel so clearly in a way that I had never understood it before even though I grew up being a “church girl.”

Something began to click and I felt like I had been given a restart every single day and even every single moment. Even on my worst of days, God revealed to me how I could have a clean slate, a do-over. I knew I would still struggle with sin, but I realized that even in the midst of my struggle, Jesus gave me a gift when I first received him when I was 6 that trumps any gift I could ever receive.

One of my favorite Christian authors explained the gospel in a way that made total sense to me…

When you make the decision to receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord, he not only forgives you by wiping your “slate” clean, but then he takes your clean “slate” and writes on it “RIGHTEOUS”. So not only have your sins been completely forgiven, meaning God chose to completely remove your sin, but then he chose to mark you as PERFECT!

Stop for a second and just think about that paragraph above as deeply as you can. If you understand it, it should revolutionize your entire LIFE!

He doesn’t just forgive and forget. He literally makes you a perfect daughter in His sight, and he wants you to believe this even more so on your worst of days when you feel like a complete mess up because those days will still come.

It’s ok if you don’t have it all together. It’s ok if you mess up and just don’t understand why you still struggle even though you pray every day. God knows your struggle. He knows your pain. And he is with you the entire way. It’s a journey, and it’s all for your good.

The difference is that you no longer have to feel guilty because you aren’t!

You no longer are damned or screwed because God sent Jesus to die in your place so that you could receive Jesus’ perfect life AS YOUR OWN! There is nothing you can do to screw it up once you are His. The gospel is a mystery and entirely beautiful because through the gospel, Jesus gives us a new life, a do-over, a restart forever.

I want to end with what the Bible says about this since it actually has power compared to my mere words :-)

Here is what Romans 8:22-25 says about this with my added comments in parenthesis,
“the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction

(no matter how bad you think your sin may be or how good you think you are):

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified

(or made “right”)

by his grace as a gift

(nothing we could have ever done on our own to earn this),

through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation

(which means Jesus bore all God’s wrath IN YOUR PLACE)

by his blood, to be received by faith.”

 

This amazing news will change your life the more you begin to understand it and give God the praise and glory for it.

Will you let it change your life?

Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, The Friday Overflow

The Friday Overflow: Ministry Spotlight- Epic Beauty

June 27, 2014

10380129_741059635932254_4318560271331148500_oHere at AGLM we have the blessing of getting to meet a lot of amazing ministries that are serving a need for women unlike any other. One such ministry is Epic Beauty. Operating out of West Palm Beach, Fl they seek to be a ministry to women in crisis. Whether it’s women in the sex/adult entertainment industry or victims of domestic violence, they strive to be a place of hope and refuge for these women. They do this by doing street outreaches and even visiting adult clubs to share the grace of Jesus to the women who work there. They even started a flower shop called Epic Arrangements as a place for these women to find healthy employment and a means of income to support the ministry.

Kim Gomez, one of the founders (and future mother-in-law to our very own Tenth Aver Brendon) shared this amazing story of how God is using Epic Beauty within their community. She writes:

For the past 18 months Epic Beauty has been visiting an establishment in West Palm Beach.  I hesitate to call it a “Club” honestly I’m not sure what it was but every time we entered through the door, it felt like the pit of hell.  The women that worked there were worn, beyond middle aged, outcasts, and many had numbers tattooed somewhere on their body.  Those numbers identified who owned them.  Hitleresqe style…  We never saw anybody dance.  We never even saw many customers.  The oddest thing about it was that we were always welcomed in, the Lord went before us and made a way.  Over time, we got to know the manager, the security guy and some of the ladies.  They were working people with families, stories and dreams.  Just like us.  The first night we visited, the manager set up a small table with 2 chairs in a back room.  As Melissa and I unpacked our gourmet cupcakes, baskets of books and Bibles, and our hot pink Epic Beauty cards, the manager sent in, one by one, the ladies.  They filed in and stood before us, trying to smile and act like this was normal.  They were in all states of undress, wearing barely more than tattered underwear, trying to cover themselves with their hands or cellphones.   They were mostly older women, dark and unhealthy looking.  Many of them were missing teeth and smoking cigarettes, their eyes constantly looking at the curtain that hung in the doorway, they were anxious to get away from us, wondering how long the manager would make them stand there, exposed.  

There are so many stories being silently told in strip clubs, the tattoos are the storytellers. The tattoos quietly cry out details about the girls belief in and need for God, their regrets, their treasures, their dreams, their loves, all these messages written on their bodies, waiting for someone to notice. The one tattoo that has pierced my mind and heart and spirit, was a dark and muddy number written across a woman’s neck, she was my age (50ish) and I wondered about the grace and mercy that left me on one side of the table and left her on the other side.  Someone had tattooed that number into her flesh, so that she and the world would never forget to whom she belonged, which gang owned her. That night, when I got home, I was at a loss and cried out to the Lord, “God, how do I pray for them?  What do I pray for in that place?  How has our city let them stay in business for so long?  It’s a brothel!  One must only walk in to see that!  Are these women too far gone?  Has the degradation erased any hope?  What can we do???”   I needed to hear from my Father. I felt too small, not tough enough for the task, I felt a little scared because we had been warned by so many people to stay out of this dangerous place.  Should we stay away Lord?  One of the women in our ministry had a dream about this place, a dream where we had walked into the front door and they locked it behind us.  We considered not going any more but I knew that was not the Lord’s direction;  Mark 16:15 says to go into all the world and preach the good news to everyone, everywhere.  If we didn’t go, who would?  So I turned to the Word of God and in my weakness I became strong.  His word is my sword and the source of all knowledge and wisdom.  He led me to a scripture in Ezekiel 26 where God himself sent a message to the town of Tyre. Tyre was a city in Babylon that was extremely offensive to the Lord and God sent this  prophesy.  Ezekiel 26: 3-6  “Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I am your enemy, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the waves of the sea crashing against your shoreline.  They will destroy the walls of Tyre and tear down its towers.  I will scrape away its soil and make it a bare rock.

The island of Tyre will become uninhabited

So Epic Beauty started praying this scripture over that club, this place was so dark, so sad, and so offensive.  And the Lord does Reign.  For the past 6 weeks I haven’t been able to reach the club by phone to schedule a visit, when we would stop by at night during an outreach, nobody was there.  And yesterday, praise God, we pulled up to the door and found this sign on it…  

PERMANENTLY CLOSED.  The Mermaid is uninhabited!  It’s permanently closed!  Yes, He Reigns and I will never stop praying as long as I have breath.  And the message here is this;

He calls us to call on Him for help.

If you’d like more information on Epic Beauty or would like to get involved or even start your own branch of the ministry, please visit their facebook and websites for more info.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/epicbeauty

Website: epicbeauty.org

Forgiveness, God, Judging, Redemption, Relationships

Thoughts at a Funeral

February 12, 2014

It’s very rare that I find an urge to write.  It was on my way home from a funeral it happened, in the rain, in the car. The drive couldn’t seem to go fast enough for me to find myself here… writing my thoughts.  You ever notice how the thoughts come quickly when despair is knocking at your door or when joy is filling up every corner of your room?  I often find myself reflecting most when I whiteness a change in one’s life… a wedding, a funeral, the birth of new life…

In this case a death.

I thought about her as I sat there looking over the sea of black.  I took my seat in the last row, my heart heavy and my thoughts wondering.  I thought about how she woke up this morning and the ache that must have hit her in her chest as she had to force herself out of bed.  I thought about how she looked in the mirror and asked herself what she should wear to the funeral.  Her daughters funeral.   Something dark to represent the mourning she feels? Or something bright to bring about the celebration of knowing her sweet babe is in the arms of Jesus?  She chose bright… which in some way tells me that she has a spark of hope that still rests within her weary soul.  I sat there seeing just the very top of her head and began to feel the tears well up in my eyes.  How do you say goodbye to a precious baby?  How is she sitting there in front of all these people?  Is she wishing this would just be over with?  Is she glad we’re here or does she wish we would all just go away?  Oh how her heart must be feeling so many emotions all at once.

I looked out the window of the church and thought about how fitting it was that the skies were grey and the rain was falling heavy.  Almost resembling tears from Jesus’ eyes.  I thought about Him up there and how His heart must be feeling so much the same as hers.  How His heart is crying out in pain for her as he watches her below breaking and fighting to stay strong.  And yet at the same time rejoicing to have this little child in the very hands that had created her- looking up and smiling into His eyes.  So many feelings.  So so many feelings.

And somehow… these feelings brought us all together today.  Some people I recognized and some I had never seen before.  But we all had this common thread.  Her.  She is our friend, our daughter, our wife, our mother….  We all knew her and we all were there to support her.  This thought amazes me.  God created us so that even just our presence in a room can be a support to someone else.  Oh God you are good.  I may not have the right words to say or be able to carry her every time she falls. I may not be able to be a strong foundation for her when she is weak in her knees… I can’t be the perfect support beam or nail to keep everything together when its all in pieces… but through my friendship I can support.   He will be her foundation, He will be her nail, He will be her true support whenever she needs. “The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.”- Psalm 145:14   I will be her friend.

I watch from the back as one by one each person hugs her on their way out.  Everyone so different.  Everyone with different stories to tell, different joys and heartaches they have felt themselves…

And then I see him.  This man who I have strongly disliked for years.  This man who hurt my other friend so deeply.  This man who I couldn’t really look in the eyes before.  But as I watched him hug her and the family.. something in me changed.  I didn’t know if it was the tone of the day, or the smoothie I had for breakfast .. .but just then I felt God say… you must forgive.  You must not let his past mistakes keep your thoughts towards evil.  For I can turn evil into good. Even here.  Even in these dreadful moments.

We are so different.. he and I.. but there was something the same.  We were both being supporters.  We were both being a friend to the same person.  I’m not called to know his motives or even to know his heart.  God knows.

And so, in that moment I watched him and I forgave him.  I buried my anger and my accusations at that funeral.  I buried my lack of faith that God could change someone at that funeral.  And I buried every right I thought I had to hate him in that funeral.

God saw me in the chair in the back row and called me to die.  1 Peter 2:24- ” He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By HIs wounds you have been healed.”  To die is gain.  It hurts a lot to die to ourselves.  It’s painful to let go of sins we hold onto sometimes.   Especially when we feel entitled to hate, entitled to be angry, entitled to think of ourselves better than someone else.  There’s even a comfort we find in our evil thoughts sometimes.  How twisted am I?   But when we surrender them over to death… we find that our hearts start to beat again in a new way.  We begin to see that we are no better than anyone else.  And it is only because God has had to forgive me over and over and over do I find that I can extend the same grace.

Her eyes were heavy and I cried as I held her.  His eyes were indifferent and I forgave him.  I turned my back to the sanctuary and walked away with so many feelings.  I walked away with the ache of a child gone yet the hope that she will be reunited with her lovely mom again.  I walked away with the ache of confession and yet the hope of redemption even in death.

A lot of times I find healing through joys and life.

But in this case it was death.

” In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.”- Ephesians 1

Oh God, come lavish your grace on me so that I may lavish your grace on others.