Category Archives: Grace

LL School Day: A Not-So-Holy Ghost

ID-100571796

Image courtesy of lekkyjustdoit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I first moved here, I made a friend through work, we’ll call her Carol, who was someone that I enjoyed. She was in her mid-20s, a hard worker, and pretty much a great gal. She confided a great deal in me, as I was one of the first people she met when she moved here–so our friendship grew, and she even invited me to her wedding earlier this year. Considering I knew not another single person there, it was still a great time and a fun event–though a bit of a stretch for this introvert.

Carol is super smart and often shared her struggles with me. I invited her to come visit my church several times (though she never did), and even shared some things with her. She was much like a sister to me, and someone with whom I truly connected, even though we had very little in common.

Carol eventually moved on from my company and got a new job, something she had been really wanting to do since moving here last August. I shared in her happiness, as I felt she had been wasting away here at my company. Our conversations thinned out a bit as she was adjusting to a new job and as God was stretching me and teaching me through a tumultuous time with my car. At one point, I texted her in tears letting her know that things just were not going well for me at the time. She asked if there was anything she could do, and I let her know that I might need a ride to the grocery store later in the week. She never responded to my request, so–knowing how busy she often is–I asked another friend to take me.

The next week, I was very caught up in the car drama, and honestly, I just did not have time to text Carol. But the following week, I texted her to see how she was doing. No response. I sent another text the next day, and again, no response. The next week, I texted her and asked if she was okay–on vacation or if things were well. Again, no response. After a conversation with my mother about the situation, I once again texted Carol and again was met with the same non-response. I truly have no idea what happened.

The abrupt ending to a friendship for a reason is one thing. But to have someone “ghost” me for no reason was quite hurtful. But I also know that sometimes, these things happen. Around the same time, I had asked God to remove anyone who might not have pure intentions towards me (I was praying out of the Psalms at the time). I don’t know whether this was an answer to prayer, but I do know that some friends are only in your life for a season. I am at the age where I can accept a not-so-holy ghosting of a friend, not totally understand the situation, but still trust that God knows best. And because of that, I rest peacefully and wish Carol nothing but happiness.

LL: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)–especially in relationships.

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The Envious Eye

envious eye by nirots

image courtesy of nirots / freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve been really discouraged and frustrated lately about being single. The older I get, the more it becomes a real threat that I won’t have a husband or family. I know God calls some people to singleness, but I have never felt that call on my life. In addition, the Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:9, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.” And believe me folks, especially in the last few months: I’ve been on FIRE, out of control, and more than a little ticked at God about the whole thing.

For Christmas, my bosses gave me some little hand lotions and a spa gift card. Now, I don’t use conventional hand lotions because of all the chemicals, but these were really nice sets of lotions and I wanted them to go to a good home. So I stopped by a few offices on my way through the building last Friday, eager to give out these little lotions to some friends and coworkers. At the last office, I stopped and gave the last few lotions to the two secretaries that I always chat with when I visit that office. They were excited to have such a nice, little gift and very thankful that I thought of them.

As the two secretaries were sampling the lotions, another girl—we will call her Gina—came out from her private office and asked what everyone was doing. One of the secretaries answered, “Oh, Michelle brought us some lotions.” Immediately, Gina began to make a big deal about how I didn’t bring her anything, and I should have shared with her and not just these two girls, ad nauseam. When I pointed out to her that I was the giver, and she did not get to dictate who I gave anything to, she got even more incensed. I also noted to her that I had given her really nice gifts in the past, and she replied that that was “a couple of years ago.” I also pointed out to her that she had acted in this way before when I gave something to someone else—she had come in and started taking things that I had purposed for someone else. She then stated that the person I had given those things to had WANTED to share them with everyone. At this point, the two secretaries were so undone at how Gina was acting that they offered up their lotions to her. Then she made a big deal of not accepting them because that wasn’t what I wanted. The whole situation was totally embarrassing for Gina, even if she didn’t realize it or think so.

As for me personally, I was livid, really. You see, I had given to Gina in the past, and I felt it was pretty crappy and ungrateful for her to interrupt a thoughtful moment with her incredibly selfish banter. I was mad mostly because Gina is a Christ follower, and that kind of nonsense makes believers look incredibly petty—it was trial size hand lotions, for crying out loud. As I was recalling the situation and my anger to my mother, I said, “My gosh, does Gina act this way when God gives someone else something that He doesn’t give her? Because that would explain a lot!”

A few hours later, as I was stewing and trying to pray about this matter, God nudged me about that particular comment. He said very clearly to me, “But Michelle, isn’t that how YOU think? Don’t you believe that I should give you a husband and kids? Don’t you look at other people and go, they have a husband and kids, why don’t I?”

And that hurt. Because (as always) He was absolutely right.

I tend to believe that I am not all that selfish, but it’s really not true. My selfishness comes out in different ways—in fact, I act towards God like Gina did to me. I may not do it over hand lotion, but recently, I’ve definitely been doing it over getting a new job, having my own place, moving to a warmer state, and having that elusive family/husband. And though the Lord has provided so much for me—both now and in the past, I tend to interrupt any kind of thanksgiving with my own selfish banter about what I want and need right now that He has not given me. Or what someone else has that I want. And when God gave me a brief glimpse into that, I was embarrassed—this time, for myself.

Matthew 20 begins with a parable about a vineyard owner who is searching for laborers to work his fields. He hires three sets of laborers at three different times during the day, and each group he agrees to pay a denarius. The other groups are not aware of what each is getting paid. So imagine the anger of the first and second group when the third group gets paid exactly what the first two are getting paid. The owner doesn’t want to hear their grumbling. He is basically like, “Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? So then take your money and go.” But then he says something that catches my eye and rifles through my heart like a shot: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15)

This is the point that I tried to relay to Gina, and it’s the point that God in turn relayed to me. Gina had an envious eye, but so do I—and maybe you do, too. Wanting something that God hasn’t decided to give me yet isn’t the sin. The sin is seeing God’s generosity in other people’s lives and being envious that those gifts haven’t been given to me. It’s okay for me to want to be married and have kids and to have my own place, etc.—as long as I don’t want those things more than I want Jesus, as long as wanting those things doesn’t become the focal point of my life, as long as those wants aren’t what compel me. Seeing others get what I think I deserve—that is the real sin. What I truly deserve is death. Anything I get beyond that is gravy!

Mostly, I need to make sure I am taking pains to pluck out the envious eye every time it surfaces and regrows in my life. Because when you have an envious eye, you’re not going to see anything the way it really is—you’re only going to see what you didn’t get or what you don’t have. And by doing so, you’ll miss out on the real blessings God is showering you with every single day.

Breaking Bad: The Purpose

image courtesy of sattva / freedigitalphotos.net

image courtesy of sattva / freedigitalphotos.net

Maybe you’re wondering how this all fits together.

My original desire to break bad, which erupted after a difficult year, led to a crisis of conscience in many ways. Quite honestly, for those six weeks, I was perfectly fine with falling back into all those (lust) sins that so easily entangle. It can be difficult being single in today’s world, especially as part of the church. I’m not one of those single Christian women who is going to sugarcoat how hard it is by telling you that I quote Bible verses that keep me going and bring me back on track. It just doesn’t happen all of the time. Sometimes, Scripture consoles me and brings me understanding and wisdom. But when it comes to my purity and singleness struggles, I find very little solace in the Word. I’m not afraid to admit that, because I think God meets me in my honesty. In addition, Christians in general are terrible at comforting singles. Save for one, my married friends are collectively the most terrible people in the world at understanding my single girl struggles. It’s like they forgot what it’s like to be single in a sex-crazed world. Friends who have been married only a couple of years—and who three years ago were crying next to me—have taken up spouting verses and Christian idioms at me when I struggle with remaining pure and being good. So I have stopped confiding in them about my issues, because even when I tell them nicely that they’re not helping, they still fall back on those outdated practices.

Save for one. There is that one married Christian woman who helped to bring me back from the edge of breaking bad. She listened. She cried with me. She shared her own struggles with loneliness in her marriage—not to distract or compare, but to share that she struggles, too. And she never once shared a Bible verse or beat me down with the Bible—she only promised to pray for me and to encourage me. And I know that she did—because the day I confided in her about wanting to be bad and cried with her about being single and the day she began to pray for me is the day I met God in a worship song as I cried over Chris Evans’ mercy soul.

You see, there’s this delicate balance between our sin struggles, God’s grace, and our calling. I think, in many ways, that breaking bad is where much of our PureID™ is formed and found. Our sin struggles are where God meets us, where He talks to us about our identity as He is purifying us, where He places a call on our lives to bring others to Him in specific ways. It’s where He begins the refining process, even if we’re not ready. I’m not “fine” with my sin anymore—but I’m also not beating myself up about it like I used to. In essence, I think I’m beginning to understand grace more simply by being broken for the mercy male.

I wish I could tell you what this means for me and mercy males—but I don’t know. Here’s what I do know: I know that I haven’t quite broken bad yet. I am still struggling with daydreaming and lust. But for the first time in the midst of this struggle, I have felt the Lord draw closer to me. I’ve had the Spirit intercede for me with words and groans that I don’t understand. And last night, I prayed in depth for all the mercy males I’ve known in my life, and I prayed for the ones I don’t know—like Chris Evans. After I finished, I tried to fall asleep but couldn’t for three miserable hours—and God tenderly let me know that it was because I wasn’t finished praying for them. Once I did (at 12:30 a.m.!), sleep came easily.

I want to know what’s next in my calling to the mercy male more than anyone. But I believe wholeheartedly in Luke 16:10, which says that whoever is faithful in the little things will be faithful in the large things. I also believe in the parable of the talent, that when God entrusts us with something—small or large, He is the one who will multiply it, if we are faithful and we trust Him. And though it isn’t “little” at all, I think that, right now, my job is simply to pray and intercede for the mercy male—all of them, some of them, one of them. Where that leads next, I don’t know. But I now know that if you allow God to work even amidst your greatest sins and struggles, your breaking bad can lead to His greater good.

I Surrender

ID-10027894I haven’t purposefully been avoiding blogging or anything like that…I think I wrote a blog and let you know that I was just stepping back and trying to get my focus in the right place. I also needed to prioritize…and let me just tell you, when you plan to prioritize and put God in His rightful place in your life, stuff happens–and it’s not always good stuff.

The last two months, I have really found myself struggling–caught up in the “sins that so easily entangle.” After a solid six months of not daydreaming, there I was, caught up in my thoughts. I have no idea how it happened…I just know that I kept entertaining them until it was too late.

I’ve never been here to tell you that I have it all together, because obviously I don’t. But I am here to tell you that when you decide to surrender to the Spirit, you will be attacked–not just by Satan, but by your own flesh who “does the things you don’t want to do.” Paul was right. The Christian life is a struggle…but thank God for grace!

The issue with me, though, isn’t that I fell: the issue is that I feel like I fell harder than most. In truth, I didn’t. God sees my sins as no bigger or smaller than any other sins; I’m the one who has the issues seeing them for what they really are. And even worse, I am the one who has the problems forgiving, forgetting, and moving forward. I allow myself to stay down, to remain entangled, to stay distant from God during those times instead of accepting forgiveness that’s offered and moving forward. But the issue is bigger than just my sin: the issue is that I think I can conquer sin on my own.

I CAN’T.

I know that’s not a surprise, but it has been and remains a hard pill for me to swallow. If I can’t do anything to conquer my sin–if I can’t behave better, make covenants, control my circumstances, try to be the best possible me–then what can I do? I mean, I guess…

I CAN SURRENDER.

I don’t even know that I’m aware of what true surrender looks like, because I don’t know that I’ve truly ever surrendered my struggles to the Lord. But I do know that I want to explore what that looks like over the next few posts. I don’t know how frequent they will be, but I do know that I want to talk about it, because while I keep trying new things to keep me from sinning, I know that they are just stop gaps to the true surrender and acceptance of grace that I’m called to. I know it’s something we all struggle with, and I know it’s something we need to talk about more in the church. At some point, I have to recognize that I can’t do it–I can’t do ANYTHING, and that only God can. So starting today…I surrender.

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I Surrender (Hillsong):

Here I am
Down on my knees again
Surrendering all
Surrendering all

Find me here
Lord as You draw me near
Desperate for You
Desperate for You

I surrender

Drench my soul
As mercy and grace unfold
I hunger and thirst
I hunger and thirst

With arms stretched wide
I know You hear my cry
Speak to me now
Speak to me now

I surrender
I surrender
I wanna know You more
I wanna know You more

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

I surrender
I surrender
I wanna know You more
I wanna know You more

That Lyin’ Pride: Me Me Me

peacocks by tina phillips

image courtesy of Tina Phillips / freedigitalphotos.net

It’s been a hard summer. I’ve experienced some hurt at the hands of others, and recently, one of those friends reached out to me to get together before she moves away. I had reached out to her to meet and she had said she would like that and had to “check her schedule” and get back to me. However, she never got back to me. Weeks went by, and she sent me some other communications, but nothing about getting together. I was really hurt but had felt as if I had been the one who had given relentlessly in the relationship, so I refused to remind her about my invitation to get together. Then a few days ago, she let me know she wanted to get together before she moved. I looked at my phone when I got the message, and promptly typed, “I would like that. Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” I then promptly waited 24 hours before attempting to set up a time to meet with her. As I reflect on my actions, I realize that instead of being loving, I was listening to the voice of pride.

One of the loudest thing pride says to us is that “everything is all about me.” It is easy to see pride’s “me me me” attitude when we are simply making choices that revolve around us.  However, when we are hurting, that is when pride makes its biggest moves. It begins to tell us that our feelings are the most important. We have all been there—in that place where we want others to feel what we are feeling, to experience the hurt that they have doled out to us. That’s what I wanted to happen in my situation with my friend. I wanted to prove a point; I wanted her to realize that I was doing to her what she did to me. I wanted her to understand my pain. Instead of focusing on restoration, I was focused on justice. And while justice is one of God’s traits, He tells us that vengeance belongs to Him (Romans 12:9). Pride, though, tells me that I should be the one who avenges my feelings and tries to make the other person pay.

So how can I fight the prideful attitude of me me me? James 4:6 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” It is difficult for me to give grace when I am hurting because I’m so focused on my own feelings. But I think one of the things that I tend to forget is that grace is the counter action to pride. I know the opposite of pride is humility, but how can I practice humility? This Bible verses says that God gives us grace when we are humble…so I think we have to practice humility by giving more grace as God gives to us. The right thing, the graceful thing for me to do with my friend would have been to answer her other texts and love her as I’ve always loved her. Even though my pride says that I’ve given far more than I’ve received in this relationship, grace tells me to depend on the Lord for strength to give even more. When pride says to wait for her to respond, grace tells me to seek her out continually, just as the Lord continues to seek me out—because as I continue to do these things, I becomes less like my flesh and more like Christ.

I’m not saying this is easy—as you can see, I still struggle with the right way to handle relationships and the best ways to fight pride in my life. But one thing I do know is that I want to receive more grace from God—and in order to receive grace, I must give grace. And if it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), I want to give more grace and less pride.

How can you give more grace and, in turn, fight pride in your life?

The God Identity: Grace

Identity by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

I spent this past holiday weekend with two people who have hurt me recently. One is a younger girl friend that has leaned heavily on me this past year, only to disappear during the last few months when I’ve been struggling. The other is a friend of hers—a guy who used me over the course of the last year to meet his touch and attention needs yet ran the moment I became vulnerable with him. When I realized they would be attending the beach weekend, I prayed about whether to go. I asked my best friend, who told me to stay home—and I countered by saying that I was rusty in the area of grace and needed to practice. I even encouraged my bestie to show some grace to a girl in his life that had recently hurt him. So I went, had a blast spending time with friends besides those two, and tried to show grace for those two while keeping appropriate boundaries.

How do you move forward from hurt? How do you face someone who has hurt you and willingly forgive her? How do you draw a fine line between forgiveness and trust? We struggle with the answer to these questions, but the answer is simple: grace. But while the answer is simple, grace itself is hard, and here are two reasons grace has been difficult for me:

  • Grace hurts. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. He was crucified—a very painful death process that involved excruciating pain for hours and hours. There was not only physical pain, but the emotional pain of being separated from His Father and abandoned by His friends. So grace, by its very nature from the original Giver of grace, is painful for the one who gives it. This morning while rehearsing our worship set, I burst into tears in the middle of a song about Jesus rescuing us. I cried through our whole worship set. I have cried all day because of the intense emotional pain I felt this weekend—the pain of closure, the pain of the changing friendship with my gal pal, the pain of fighting against my flesh since last Wednesday, the pain of my own need for grace. But I also know this is a tiny fraction of the pain Jesus suffered for me—so I need to suck it up.
  • Grace is God-centered, not feelings-centered. Grace usually asks us to act the exact opposite of what we are feeling. The moment I saw the guy who had hurt me, I wanted to hit him with my car. When he said he left something we needed at his house, I wanted to make him and everyone else suffer without the items. When he got sick with diarrhea and spent part of the weekend in bed, I wanted to laugh and make fun of him. Instead of doing these things, I tried to push down those feelings and think about what God would do. When I saw him, I greeted him with a smile. I offered to and did take him to his house to pick up the forgotten items. I asked if he was okay after his bathroom bouts. I even left later from the beach than I originally wanted so that he and his friends could enjoy a boat ride. I wasn’t perfect, though: I did laugh at his “predicament,” I was annoyed about leaving later, and I was less than nice to him on occasion. But that was a reminder for me that I, too, need grace—from God and others. Grace is not just about serving those who are good to us; grace is about serving the undeserving—those who don’t love or serve us. Jesus died for all sinners, and that includes me and you.

Grace may be challenging but I have to keep working at it. The more I stop focusing on my feelings and start focusing on God, the less pain I will experience. I won’t be perfect at showing grace in this lifetime, but I can keep practicing. And since practice makes perfect, I look forward to reaching that state of perfection with God—when there will be no more crying or pain.