Could You Forgive a Murderer?

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

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

Self-Condemnation not Allowed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Are You Working in Vain?

 

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

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

Yesterday was no exception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you working in vain?

Photo: JennyWredePhotography

Emptiness Allows Room for God

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

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

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

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

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“Lord, I can’t do this.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord knows that would have emptied the room!

 

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

http://writers.mounthermon.org

Jar photograph: http://jennywredephotography.com

 

When Rebels and Rules Clash

The Confederate flag is disappearing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

So imagine my frustration when I first read the Bible.

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

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

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

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Talk about an impossible rule.

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

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

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

By God’s grace, I discovered His grace. 

He knew I couldn’t keep the rules.

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

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

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

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

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

On those inevitable days:

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

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

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

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

Feeling Salty?

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

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

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

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

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

“No, he only has three dollars.”

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

She smiled. “That’s nice of you.”

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

I was being obedient.

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

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

He mumbled, “Missing teeth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until the Spirit hit me with a two by four:

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

Would you still choose to be salt and light? 

If not, why not?

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

Thankful I Don’t Have

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

Terminal illness

Delinquent child

Empty food pantry

Rat eating my kitchen pipes…like a year ago

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

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

Doesn’t God deserve gratitude for covert blessings too?    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blessings we have,

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

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

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

What Did I Expect?

I expect to find sinners in jail.

As a volunteer jail chaplain, I met women inmates who were prostitutes, thieves, drug addicts and dealers. And yet, I was not repelled by their crimes, or hedonistic acts.

God gave me a heart for these women.

My fearful personality morphed into boldness when I sat among women inmates behind bolted, metal doors. For I loved telling them about God’s redeeming love. I also loved watching God work in their lives.

WHY do I react differently when overt sinners, Outside of Jail, cross my path?

Recently, I left my Christian bubble and ventured beyond the comfort zone of my small hometown.

20141016_112316I wasn’t in jail. I was in a high-class hotel in the heart of Chicago’s business district.

I wasn’t with criminals. I was surrounded by well-educated men and women, wearing power suits and Rolex watches, who climb the ladder of success regardless of the collateral damage they cause on the way up.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I knew “I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.” Nonetheless, my skin crawled when someone blatantly sinned, and then I overheard the crude comments and laughter of people who observed it.

The Pharisee rose within me. I wanted to cast stones, and avoid these sinners who felt no shame.  Then again, what did I expect…surrounded by lost souls?

Earlier that day, I asked the Lord to give me His eyes and ears as I walked the streets of Chicago. Throughout the day, random strangers returned my smiles, exchanged friendly conversation, and showed me acts of kindness I did not expect in a bustling city where skyscrapers like Trump Plaza block heaven’s view.

So my joy took a nosedive that evening when the eyes and ears God gave me, allowed me to witness a….

  • World where sin reigns in the hearts of people who reject Him.
  • World which prefers darkness instead of the Light.
  • World that God so loved that He sent His only begotten Son, ….to seek and save the lost…that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

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Yes, leaving my Christian bubble to visit Chicago opened my eyes. However, years in jail ministry showed me three things that remain true:

  • NO ONE is beyond God’s grace. Not a criminal, not a millionaire in a power suit,..not even me.
  • RELATIONSHIP with unsaved people does more than Bible thumping to open hearts to hear the Gospel.
  • THE HOLY SPIRIT does the work of salvation. 

I can plant seeds of faith and water them faithfully as opportunity allows. I cannot control who is saved, or when and how it happens.

I can only control how I respond to each person, saved or not, that crosses my path.

Will I love them like Jesus, friend of sinners?

Will I point them to Jesus instead of pointing fingers at them?

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans  5:8)

For Better or Worse

BoquetThis is a re-post from last June. I’ve updated the years, but the sentiment remains true.

Like many couples getting married in June, I too was a blushing bride…thirty five years ago.

This morning, after my shower, I wanted to wish my husband a “Happy Anniversary.” He was on the back patio reading the news off his laptop.

No bridal gown today. Dressed in a frumpy, white bathrobe, my hair was wet and tangled. No  makeup. And I’m twenty-two pounds heavier than the day I said “I do.”

 Half-joking, I pointed to my dowdy appearance, “For better or worse!”

“That’s okay.” My husband teased. “My eyesight isn’t as good as the day we married.”

On June 30th, 1979 we made a covenant before God and became one flesh. God’s grace, a sense of humor, loyalty, communication, and selflessness kept us together. Prayer was also necessary to soften our hearts towards each other during hard times.

Today, I studied my husband’s unshaven face, his graying hair, the laugh lines around his blue eyes. It’s difficult to imagine my life without him walking beside me.

Praise God, I didn’t call it quits whenever my husband rubbed me the wrong way, crimped my style. I’m blessed to find a husband who loves me when I least deserve it, never keeps an account of the things I’ve done wrong.

No wonder marriage is the image God uses to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His Church. Wedding vows are worth remembering, when marriage seems too familiar.

“I, Karen, take thee, Dan, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith/myself to you.”

The words are similar to God’s irrevocable covenant with His beloved.

I, Yahweh, the Great I Am, take Karen, to be the Bride and Body of Christ.

To have and to hold…: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

For better, or worse: “My grace is enough for you….” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

To love and to cherish: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

Till death do us part: “Neither death or life can separate you from the love of God.”(Romans 8:38, 39)

According to my Holy plan, I pledge myself to you.

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9)

Have you been invited?

My Mistake

 Cat lovers know there’s nothing like snuggling with a soft, purring feline. Unless that feline is a feral cat like mine in which case, snuggle is not in their dictionary.

 My son, who was eight at the time, chose her from a litter of free kittens at the post office. While the other kittens slept, she romped and batted my son’s index finger with her paw. “I want that one,. She’s feisty.”  

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He called the kitten Target because there was a white ring on the side of her grey fur. But soon, we called her Mistake. She did not want to be held. She hid under furniture, preferred the outdoors. Never purred. My son’s interest waned. So for ten years, I’ve been the caregiver for a cat that could care less I exist.

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Sometimes Mistake jumps into my lap while I’m sitting outside, but her rule is “hands off” which is why today was a marvel.

A clear blue sky, oak leaves rustling in the summer breeze, made for a lazy day. My hammock beckoned me…rest. So I did, and felt my eyelids grow heavy.

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That’s when Mistake brushed the edges of the hammock with her tail, pestered me with her meowing. I assumed she was hungry and fetched canned cat food. When I returned, Mistake was prowling for field mice.

Here, Kitty, Kitty!”

Like a mother coaxing her toddler to eat, I walked towards Mistake waving the bowl, purring words of affection. She turned away, showing me her plump, grey haunches. I set the bowl on the grass, hoping she’d venture over to eat. Instead Mistake shunned my offering as though it belonged to Cain, and walked away.

Wasps circled the dish and dove in to eat. I grumbled. “Be that way! I’ll let the wasps have your food.”

Is that how Jesus felt when he came to the Israelites? He was their Messiah. He offered them eternal life, abundant life, but the nation refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. So He invited the Gentiles, who were detested among the Israelites, to come and eat the Bread of Life.  (Luke 13:34, Matthew 15: 21-28)

Okay, maybe the spiritual lesson behind my cat story is a stretch. But that honestly went through my mind as I begged my self-satisfied cat to come to me.  I sank back into the hammock.

Meow! Meow!”

Mistake had returned. She put her paws on the hammock and stretched towards me. I helped her up, expecting her to push away from me. Instead, Mistake rubbed her head on my chest, kneaded my forearm with her paws, and curled up on my stomach. Was this the same cat?

I guess you can’t force relationship on cats, or people. Even God knows there’s the fullness of time before some folks seek Him.  Meanwhile, God is patient, waiting for individuals to heed the Divine call and follow Him.

Mistake and I dozed in the shade of the tree until she decided enough was enough. Perhaps I was too lumpy or she needed her space.

My coral t-shirt was covered in grey cat hair and burrs, but I remembered why I love cats.

This sinner saved by grace is grateful the Lord never calls me a Mistake. His love and mercy endures forever, even when I’m faithless and can’t sit still like my feral cat.