“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.” (Lk 8:38,39)
This year is the first year in the last 7 years where I do not have a personal goal. 7 years ago I got married, then shortly after I had my first born, 20 months later I had my second born and 6 months ago I adopted my last after a 2 year process.
Though my days are full taking care of my 3 young boys, I find myself desperately wanting something to work towards other than folding laundry. My days look the same every single day…weekday and weekend. When people ask how I am doing, I feel I have nothing to report. “Oh the usual…taking care of the boys,” becomes the extent of my conversation.
Though my days are incredibly full taking care of 3 boys, my heart feels empty. When I sit in stillness I can feel depressed. I feel invisible. I look at social media and it seems like everyone is doing something significant…ministry, mission trips, working, having more babies, writing books, etc…
As I desperately think about projects I can take on to fill my heart again, I feel the Lord telling me to stop and to be still. Why is stillness so hard? Why is feeling invisible to the world so hard? It’s because everything dwindles down to just me and God.
I’ve realized how much significance and identity I have placed in personal and public accomplishment. I have used projects to fill my heart and to feel important. ‘Doing’ has become more important than ‘being’.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with goals and accomplishments. In fact, God calls us to put our faith in action (Js. 2:14-26). However, for me, when I have nothing to do, I’ve realized I’m not comfortable with being invisible to the world and being visible only to God. The world has become more important to me than the Lord Himself.
I am so thankful the Lord is more concerned about my personal holiness than what I ‘do’ for Him. Stillness is hard (Ps. 46:10). However, as I am experiencing it, I am beginning to like not ‘striving’ all the time. I am beginning to see the face of Jesus again and to savor Him. I am starting to feel treasured and visible again by the One who created me.
I am encouraged by Bunmi who shares her story of finding delight in being known by the Lord. For any of you who feel invisible, who feel like what you do or who you are does not matter, let me encourage you to cease striving. Sit at the feet of Jesus and you will feel more visible and alive than you have felt in a long time. He loves you and wants YOU. The greatest King in all the world claps for joy and dances over you when He sees you (Zeph.3:17). You are not invisible.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” Psalm 84:5 NIV
Do you know the translation of the original Hebrew word for Blessed? אֶשֶׁר ʼesher, eh’-sher; from H833; happiness; only in masculine plural construction as interjection, how happy!:—blessed, happy. It doesn’t mean just happy. It means “how happy!” Did you catch that? How happy are you right now? Want to learn the secret to “how happy!”? Happy are those whose strength is the LORD, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. We can uncover a few clues to happiness in this verse.
First, what is your source of strength? When I rely on my own strength I end up exhausted and only partially successful, if at all, on a good day. I am happy at first and frustrated at the end. God invites us many times through the Bible to rely on His strength and not our own. In Isaiah 30:15 He says “In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” He is telling us that if we return our attention to Him and rest from our own ineffective striving we will be saved from ourselves and to His perfect plan for our lives. We are invited to release our cares in his presence and receive His strength that we can confidently trust will sustain us. This is a much better formula for life.
Happiness is: Not relying on your own strength, and instead, relying on the strength of the One greater than you. Not holding onto the known for fear of the unknown, and instead, deciding to set your heart on pilgrimage.
God will never force you to go on the great adventure of your life with Him. The invitation is there. You have to decide if you will accept it.
This verse has recently changed my life. Stress was trying to consume me and showing up all over my body. I kept running from the reality of my condition. I was “too busy” to address the core issue. I was working myself to death. Do you feel like you can’t stop pushing in your own strength? If you do, do you fear your life will fall apart? You will let others down? Or worse, you will face absolute failure?
I know these fears and I’m here to encourage you with my story. I had a dream career for 22 years and sensed God inviting me to let go of it and trust Him for something new, and completely unknown. But LORD, I would look insane! Pride held me back and I almost missed the blessings God had arranged for me on the other side. The first day I was “on my own” I walked into the largest career blessing of my life. The timing was prearranged by the very hand of God and I almost missed it because I had not decided to set my heart on pilgrimage.
The heart of Sacred Story is women encouraging women. This ministry exists to encourage you as you face various chapters of life to know that the Lord is the faithful Author of your life. He can come through for you no matter what you are facing with purpose and with peace. He is the secret to my happiness. Will you let him be the secret to yours?
With a happy heart,
“What IS in that box?” My friend asked while lending a hand during my recent move – realizing the box was heavier than it looked. “It’s my encouragement box.” I have a file box dedicated to notes of encouragement I’ve received over the years. Being a “word person” this box is my treasure chest. I relish each word – a friend celebrating a milestone with me, a woman I’ve served with expressing kindness, a note about God’s work through my steps of faith, recounting fun memories, an affirmation that I made a difference, and the jewels add up to one beautiful crown of encouragement. A crown I will one day throw at His feet because He’s the source of all things good and right.
The sacrifices people made to put their thoughts into words is priceless. Their gift of words reminds me God is at work in and through my life. I am reminded that although I struggle and stumble, He blesses me to be a blessing. The fruit of the Holy Spirit in my life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control – is a sweet fragrance that beckons my soul to remember I do belong to Him.
In the same sense, Sacred Story possesses a treasure chest of encouragement. It too is heavier than what it might seem at first glance because the glory of God hovers over a woman’s story. The heart of the ministry is “women encouraging women in every chapter.” The precious sisters who have sacrificed their pride, privacy, and time to pour out their stories in written form; powerful and at times painstaking words of walking through challenges, unknowns, struggles, and victories.
The word sacred means “worthy or devoted.” I love that God’s purpose behind the ministry includes encouraging a dear sister that any chapter of her story which she places in His hands is worthy of Him because He is the Author. He can take a chapter which is full of pain, self-absorption, shame, and perhaps even destruction and turn it into a trophy of devotion, covered with His redemptive fingerprints.
We women tend to diminish what we’ve been through as “It’s not a big deal. Other people have gone through “x.” It may be true that others have encountered similar circumstances – YET your response of seeking God in a situation is unique; and how God’s faithfulness shows up in your chapter is not the same as others. Vulnerability opens the door to those standing behind it who have no idea there is someone they know on the other side.
I encourage you to share chapters of your story; we’d love to have your story added to our sacred collection. See guidelines for submitting your story and then start putting it down as we can help you with the flow and edits. Below are a few of the ordinary yet brave women whose stories we recently added to our treasure chest.
Amy’s Story of raising a special needs child
Vickie’s Story of battling Lyme’s Disease
Linda’s Story of coming to faith after a difficult childhood
Amanda’s Story of finding out about God’s grace
Geneva’s Story of healing from colon cancer
“We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” 1 Thessalonians 4:14
Climbing in the truck, we headed north to Papope’s and Mama’s house. The dirt road was my favorite because he would pull over at the store and let me sit on his lap to drive the wheel and then once closer to driving age I took over the peddles. My grandfather loved to drive and was always up for a drive. Even in his early nineties he drove to town almost every day. During the few weeks that I spent with them most summers, he opened the backdoor after work and said, “Come on. We are going for a drive.” So, we took off through the fields. Throwing my hands in the air I pretended like we were on a roll coaster. On the back roads in Kentucky, he sped up before a hill, so that just as we crested it, we would come out of our seats enough to feel like we were riding a roller coaster. My grandmother would say, “Floyd Pope slow down.” Not sure if we had more fun at the drive-in movie or on the drive. I would say that it was a close tie since we saw Star Wars.
From gardens, fields, work, to church, the adventures never ended. When I was not helping my grandmother prepare the vegetables from the garden to be frozen for the winter, I loved going to work with him. I would play on vintage adding machines pretending to add up sales from the day, then I would take a break to get a bottle of Coke from the old Coke machines. Not many people owned drink machines that dispensed bottles of sodas, so it was a big treat. After many summers of going to work with him, I definitely see where my mom got her love for numbers and later became an accountant.
He was generous and served his church and community as a County Commissioner for 42 years among other roles. During the last week of his life, he was still thinking of others. He wanted to make sure that the storm damage to a rental house had been fixed. Each Sunday, he sat on the same pew, and before the service children would come by for a stick of chewing gum. Often the church would call him to the nursery to calm down an unhappy child. The tremor in his arm did not scare children but was an automatic bounce.
In late May of this year when the doctor at the hospital un-hocked his defibrillator and told our family that my grandfather might only have a week to live, it seemed too short. Even after a full life of 95 years living with his loved ones ending that relationship could not be what God designed. In his last few days, I saw a glimpse of how relationships never end for those who are Christians. Two days before he died while I was holding his hand and praying for him as he slept, he was talking out loud and it sounded like the same language that I heard the week before when he looked past me and started talking to someone with words that we could not understand. This time when he was talking, I heard him say, “hello” and saw him lift his arm to wave at someone. To experience him transitioning into eternity was such an encouragement that we will see him again in Heaven. Our good-bye was not final but a “see you later.”
Kathryn’s story of losing her mom and looking to God as a parent to teach her how to be a better wife and mother will encourage you if you have experienced the loss of a parent.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:31-32)
As a way to end the 3 part series on forgiveness, I wanted to provide practical steps you can take toward forgiveness.
- Pray. Forgiveness cannot be done without the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. The same power God used to resurrect Jesus from the dead is the same power God will give you to do what seems impossible. Your flesh and your spirit will battle and your prayer may feel like a whisper you can barely get out. But the faith of a mustard seed will move mountains.
- Acknowledge. Forgiveness does not mean pretending you are not hurt or forgetting the wrongdoing. In fact, in order to forgive, we must admit to ourselves we were wronged and deeply hurt. Sometimes pride can keep us from this step. We don’t want to admit someone was capable of hurting us.
- Grieve. Once you acknowledge you have been hurt, grieve the loss. This may be the loss of a friend, marriage, trust, innocence, health, etc…The five stages of grief you may go through are denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and finally acceptance.
- Justice. Part of being able to forgive is knowing God is just (Is. 61:8). In the Christian world, this can often be left out. We encourage people to forgive without acknowledging our God given desire for justice. If someone shot your child, the offender should pay for the penalty. Seek earthly justice, not revenge. The purpose of godly justice is for the offender to reflect on his wrongdoing and to experience brokenness and reformation. However, no earthly justice will bring peace to your heart without the last step.
- Let Go. You know you have reached forgiveness when you no longer want the person to hurt the way they made you hurt. Instead, you desire they prosper. You desire they acknowledge their sin and experience forgiveness from God as you have been forgiven (Col. 3:13). You desire they experience peace and joy in life.
Forgiveness is not easy. Current psychology teaches us to be strong and avoid at all costs being a door mat. However, when we forgive our enemies, we may feel like a door mat. The important difference is you are not one. You are deeply loved by God and seeking to carry out His command to love your enemies. It takes more strength to forgive than to revenge.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13
At Sacred Story we describe our lives as a series of short stories that make up a God-authored novel. Some of the themes in our chapters pop up again and again as the Lord works to build character and make us more Christ-like.
Forgiveness seems to be one of those themes. Sometimes we feel like we’ve learned it only to encounter another opportunity to extend forgiveness once more.
When I was young and growing up in a family with three siblings, I had numerous opportunities to practice forgiveness. These opportunities came after we had fought with each either and my mom or dad interjected as a referee to resolve the situation. Usually what followed was a “remorseful” exchange (heartfelt or not) where we asked for and extended forgiveness. Reconciliation followed.
This practice shaped my idea of forgiveness as I grew into adulthood and I subconsciously formed expectations that others believed this was the way to resolve conflict. Both parties take responsibility and everyone moves on.
It was years before I understood that life is a lot messier and a lot less scripted. Perhaps it’s ideal when both parties take responsibility for their actions, acknowledge their sin and seek to reconcile, but the truth is, forgiveness itself is an act that requires nothing from the other party.
Forgiveness is often a one-way street. It is not, however, only between you and another person. True forgiveness is entirely dependent upon our reliance on the Lord to enable this supernatural act. Yes, we can will ourselves to forgive someone who has wronged us, but in order to experience real peace and a change of heart, we desperately need God’s help.
I remember a season many years ago when I had been hurt by a friend. I struggled to figure out how to make things right. I finally confided in an older, more mature friend. I remember laying out to her what I felt was owed me by my friend. “If only she would say _______ I would be able to forgive her.” My friend looked at me with her warm eyes and plainly said, “Courtney, she’s never going to say that.”
Her response saddened me. And then, by surprise, it set me free. I came to see that I could remain miserable with the demands I was placing on my friend or I could choose to forgive her. My forgiveness was not contingent upon what my friend would or would not say to me. Once I realized it was up to ME to forgive (regardless of what she did), my heart softened and I could see things more clearly. We ended up having a conversation that resulted in reconciliation but I have learned that I’m called to forgive whether or not it produces reconciliation.
Have you ever thought how one-sided the Cross was? It was wholly God’s initiative and plan to forgive us while we remained in our sinful state. Scripture tells us that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). He didn’t wait for us to say or do the right thing before forgiving us. Of course, His forgiveness demands a response and that is our responsibility; however, He fully forgave without requiring anything from us.
There is so much power in forgiveness. It’s life-giving and life-changing. We have been forgiven so much by our Savior and we are only called to forgive a minuscule amount compared to what we have been forgiven (see Luke 7:36-50).
So today if you are struggling to forgive someone, pray and ask the Lord to give you the grace to move towards forgiveness. It’s not easy! But if you choose to move forward in obedience, you will experience the peace you long for.
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Romans 12:20
Why is forgiveness so hard to give? Did you notice the word g-i-v-e right in the middle of the it? ForGIVEness is so hard to give because it requires giving the very opposite of what we have received. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.” Really? But you don’t know what he did to become my enemy. “If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” Let someone else care for him. He is not worth my time. “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Does this part appeal to you? Let’s explore what goes on inside the heart when forgiveness stands between us and true freedom.
Dr. Gary Rosberg, President & CEO of America’s Family Coaches explains there are three things that stand between forgiveness and freedom; Fear, Pride and a Hard Heart.
What does Fear have to do with forgiveness? I feel the need to avenge my enemies. We all do. I trust that God is fully aware of the situation, but my fear is he won’t avenge the way I want him to. I know His ways are higher than mine, but sometimes I’m not patient enough to wait on his ways and I take matters into my own hands. Can you relate?
How does Pride stand between freedom and forgiveness? What will people think if they see me giving kindness to my enemy? Will they see me as weak and naive? Or even worse, will they think I believe I deserved what what my enemy did to me?
Recurring pain builds up a calloused heart. The battering of multiple offenses builds up the walls of our hearts. And, sometimes a single offense replayed over again in our minds is enough to reinforce the defenses of the heart. A hard heart is unable to receive love, the very thing it needs. If we are going to be victorious in this life, we have to give away that natural defenses that keep us from living in the freedom that Christ intended, the freedom for which he gave his own life.
He took on the sin and shame of the world and carried them to the cross to defeat them forever. Fear, pride and a hard heart are tools of the enemy used to steal the life from you that God intended.
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;” because you have all that you need in Christ and he has given you a heart for those who lack. “If he is thirsty, give him something to drink” from the deep well of living water from through you from the throne room of heaven. “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” which you no longer care about because you have GIVEn your full attention to God, He has forGIVEn you and empowered you to forGIVE others.
How could Fear, Pride and a Hard Heart stand between you and freedom today? What do you need to GIVE away?
In His Unfailing Love,
“I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47
If I follow our culture’s promotion of relativism, then do I need to ask forgiveness when what I think is right clashes with what my friend thinks is right? Who is right: my friend or me? Who needs to ask for forgiveness? This is where the principles of relativism fail when it is put into practice in real relationships. It might sound good, but it does not work. Without an understanding of forgiveness relationships fail. You were never loved because you were perfect; instead you were loved in your brokenness.
Did your parents love you because you were perfect? Uh, we know the answer to that: No. I spent my share of recesses in timeout and was grounded at inopportune times. Then what about those friends who have been with you through the highs and lows of life? They did not stick with you because you were a perfect friend but because even when you failed or let them down, love endured. Those who have been forgiven much forgive easily, and those who have been loved much forgive easily.
This kind of forgiveness is birthed from an understanding of Biblical forgiveness. How might you answer this question: How do you view God?
- Is He a stern judge who is waiting for you to mess up?
- Is He like an authority figure whose standards you consistently never meet?
- Is He a deity who accepts everyone into Heaven regardless of his or her faith in Jesus Christ?
- Is he a distant God uninvolved in the affairs of men?
No matter who you are everyone struggles with his or her misperceptions of God. In particular it is hard to wrap our minds around the truth that God’s love for us never changes based on our actions. God’s love for us is based on the grace given through faith in Jesus’s work on the cross freeing us from the condemnation of our sins.
Let’s look at Abraham, Peter, and David. All are men of faith and really messed up. Abraham decided that he could not wait on God for the son that He had promised, so he used Hagar. Then on another occasion he lied to King Abimelech, saying his wife, Sarah was his sister. It seems from the above examples that He wavered in his faith, but the Bible says, “he did not waver in unbelief” (Romans 4:20). Remember by faith God credited Abraham righteous or “ declared him in right standing before God” (Romans 4:3; James 2:23). Righteousness does not come from obeying the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3: 21-22). Yes, Abraham still sins, but God no longer holds his sins against him through the shed blood of Christ.
The fact that we still sin does not mean we waver in our faith. I am so thankful that God’s acceptance of me is not based on my performance because I can’t think of a single person who does not struggle with sin. Then there is Peter who denied Jesus three times in Matthew 26:69-75, and He is one whom God said earlier in Matthew: “And I tell that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (16:18). Even though David sinned greatly having Uriah, the Hittite killed to take Bathsheba as his wife, God still speaks of David as “a man after my own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). We can’t do enough good things to earn God’s love. Forgiveness is not based on our merit but God’s mercy; therefore, we can more easily forgive others.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
I have lately heard people blame themselves. Sometimes the blame takes the form of declarative statements: “This injury is my fault.” Sometimes the blame is in the form of a question: “Would this sudden illness have happened to her if she hadn’t been visiting me?” Sometimes the blame borders on despair: “I’ll never be able to change even if I want to please God.”
At times our blame for a situation is legitimate; we are at fault, whether on accident or on purpose. Other times, though, we had nothing to do with a situation, and to take on blame is just borrowing trouble and shifting focus from God’s help and glory. No matter what, to continue to wallow in blame and guilt means we are not listening to God.
One of my friends said when she starts listening to doubts or blame in her head, she goes straight to God, and says, “What do you say about this?” His loving voice can straighten out the truth that gets bent in our minds. I tried this approach recently when I was feeling full of failure about my diet and weight. “Lord, what do you say about this?” What I heard was the verse, “Everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23). He was not angry. He was teaching. He does not wish to paralyze me in my own guilt. He wishes to have me move forward in His freedom. Though this example is small compared to what many people are going through, the principles are the same no matter the size we see our issue. Another wise mentor told me to listen to how loving God’s voice is with us; we can know it is His voice by this love.
Often the way we talk to ourselves or about ourselves does not honor the magnanimity of what God has done for us. Instead, the way we talk to ourselves or the lies we listen to and perpetuate keep us in chains. Once a friend asked me if I thought she was a failure of a human being. I stopped the car and said, “Would you ever say that to another person?” She said no. I asked, “Then why would you talk about yourself in that way?” God would never say that about us, that we are failures.
Lord, what do you say about this? “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:14-15). How he longs to set us free. How he longs for us to claim our redemption. How he longs for us to allow the ransom He has paid.
What would it look like to walk forward believing we are equipped to serve the living God, that we are set free, that we may receive the promised eternal inheritance? Our debts are forgiven. Lord, what do you say about this?
Sacred Story is honored to have Elizabeth Eades as a guest contributor this month. Elizabeth is a writer and English teacher in San Antonio. She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with family.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
I am a middle child; in fact, I cannot be more “middle” – I am the third child of five with an older brother and older sister and a younger brother and a younger sister. I like peace and can tend toward people pleasing to keep the peace.
I embrace and shun the command in the verse above. I am freed up that the words of the Apostle Paul under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration make is clear that I can only do so much to live at peace with others. I may not feel from the person a sense of peace but can rest in doing my part.
In the same breath, I am weighed down by the effort it takes to “live at peace with everyone” especially when there’s ongoing conflict or prickly interactions (this is my word for when you bump up against someone while interacting and feel the prickle). AND yet this side of heaven we continually face our brokenness and the brokenness of others.
I am learning two principles among others which make living at peace possible. The first is RELEASE. The word means: Allow or enable to escape from confinement; set free. When I hold onto an offense, the person is held prisoner in my mind. I feed him or her and keep the prisoner alive by reviewing the offense, pondering why the person acted the way they did, what I wish I would have said and other such thoughts.
I am not saying to avoid reflection. It is wise to ask God to help you see the person and the incident from His perspective. It may mean seeking out counsel to help process it. I find it freeing to name the offense by “telling on the person” to God – I was undermined, excluded, shamed, violated, criticized, treated unfairly, ignored when I expressed a need, etc. However, it is unhealthy to rehearse the offense over and over again in your mind for the sake of punishing the prisoner by bringing it up to the person through your thoughts.
RELEASE means we say to the prisoner, “I let you go free in spite of the hurt you caused me.” Acknowledging this doesn’t mean the person gets away with wrongdoing. You are abdicating the role of judge and giving that responsibility to your Heavenly Father. If the hurt comes back to mind, affirm, “I have released him or her. I have forgiven (name the person or people) because Jesus gives me the strength to forgive as He has forgiven me.” (Colossians 3:13) You may have to declare your release numerous times before you are completely free depending on how deeply you were wounded.
The second principle is to let go of feeling like the person OWES YOU SOMETHING. Through faith in Jesus’ death on the cross God extends forgiveness to believers completely without asking for anything in return. (Colossians 2:14) What do you feel like the person owes you? I know I’d like to have heard an apology on numerous occasions. Do you feel like he or she owes you an explanation, a validation of your feelings, appreciation for who you are, a re-do of the situation, a heart to make it right, evidence that the person is suffering for what he or she did, respectful interaction, and other such “payments”? If you are not able to put into words what you think the person owes you, talk to God about it.
Then stare the prisoner in the face as he or she walks out of the cell and say, YOU OWE ME NOTHING. Remember our Heavenly Father is able to make up all deficits and to heal our hearts so that we are more whole because of the experience of His love and strength as we surrender to His work in us through the pain. He is always compassionate and able to work all difficulties we experience with other people for our good and His glory.
Oh sister, I pray for the wounds you experienced and may be experiencing. I am with you in the confusion and hurt. What is God showing you?