And the Voice Said?

Forty years later, and I still hear that High School boy’s comment. 

“You’re ugly!” 

His words shocked me as though he’d thrown iced water in my face. I didn’t know his name. We weren’t classmates. I didn’t bump into him as we passed each other in the hallway. What motivated his cruel words?

Speechless, I escaped into the girl’s restroom and looked in the mirror. My fifteen-year-old image stared back at me. Straight dish-water blond hair. Pimples on my chin. Metal braces on my teeth.

“I am ugly!”

I grabbed the gold tube of lipstick in my purse (the only make-up I wore at that age) and colored my lips pink, hoping I’d appear less ugly. But lipstick couldn’t salvage my wounded self esteem.

I never encountered that boy again, but his two words stayed with me. Such is the power of words regardless of the children’s rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can’t harm me.”

Words hurt especially if we believe they’re true. Even thoughtless words . . . that we know aren’t true . . . feel like nettles in the heart. But there’s a way to hush the voices when we can’t erase the words.

Replace them with God’s truth and His love-filled promises.

  • I formed you.
  • I redeemed you.
  • I have called you by name. 
  • I am with you. 
  • You are Mine. 
  • You are precious in my sight.  
  • You are loved. 

The Lord spoke these words to the Israelites—despite their tendency to rebel and ignore Him. (Isaiah 43) But God’s love wasn’t reserved for them alone. Search Scripture and you’ll find His love for each of us is equally endearing. 

I couldn’t always say that. I had to learn there’s a difference between knowing God loves me and believing God loves me—pimples and all. What about you?

Do you believe you’re precious in God’s sight?

Do you believe God loves you so much that He sent His Son Jesus to redeem you?

Do you believe He loves you with an everlasting love?

If not, why not?

Perhaps you’re struggling like I once did. You want to believe God, but your inner critic and those negative voices sound too convincing: 

“God doesn’t love you.”

“You’re not worthy.”

“You messed up big time—no forgiveness for you.” 

Oh precious reader, which voice has authority in your mind?

My mentor, Loretta, once told me, “If you only look for God’s judgment and wrath in the Bible, you’ll find it. Look for God’s characteristics and actions that reveal His love. Draw a heart next to those verses as a reminder.”

I followed her advice. As I read Scripture through love-tinted lens, the depth of God’s love amazed and humbled me. Now my Bible resembles a Valentine’s card similar to those pastel heart-shaped candies imprinted with the words: 

I Love You. Be Mine.  Forever Yours.

As for that teenager who called me ugly, I hope he believes in the Lord and has experienced His love too!

“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

Photo: Jennifer Wrede

Candy photo: Getty Image

Are You Still There?

Words poured from the woman’s heart like a broken water main. I waited for her to catch her breath so I could interject my thoughts over the phone.

Finally, a pregnant pause followed by her whimper. “Are you still there?”

“I’m here,” I assured her. “I’m just listening.”

Lately, I feel like that woman. I’m venting to the Lord, but He’s not saying anything. Lord, are you still there?

I imagine the Lord would speak more often if I’d be still and listen. And yet, there are times when I hold my tongue.

Desperate for wisdom or direction, I wait for the Holy Spirit to speak to me through scripture. Or I long for the joy and satisfaction of His fellowship.

Only, sometimes God appears silent.

The longer He’s silent, the more I feel estranged from the One I’ve come to love and depend upon.

I plead like David, “Don’t toss me aside, banished forever from your presence. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me again the joy of your salvation….” (Psalm 51:11-12)

More silence.

So I remind myself to believe God and trust He is with me even in the deafening silence.

“Faith is especially required in times of silence as we wait for the intimacy of God.”

That’s what my mentor and friend, Loretta, told me years ago when she felt “God was silent and in the wings.”

Which is why Ephesians 6:13 tells us to “use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy whenever he attacks….But to do this, you will need the—

ü  Strong belt of truth

ü  Breastplate of righteousness

ü  Shoes able to speed you on as you preach the Gospel.

ü  Shield of Faith to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.

ü  Helmet of salvation

ü  Sword of the Spirit—which is the Word of God.

Putting on the armor of God is a daily task like brushing our teeth because the enemy doesn’t retreat. He knows my Achilles heel, the weakest spot to attack my faith.

When God appears silent or like He’s “watching from a distance,” Satan shoots flaming arrows aimed at my limited understanding to make me doubt—

God’s love. God’s mercy. God’s presence.

The SHIELD OF FAITH is my best defense.

Faith STOPS the fiery arrows from hitting their mark because “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith enables me to believe God is present even when He Appears Silent.

Just now, my cell phone rings, interrupting the silence as I finish this blog. The voice coming through the receiver is a sister in Christ who lives in South Dakota. We haven’t spoken with each other in a year.

My skin tingles. This is a Divine Appointment. God’s perfect timing.

He knows I need a word of encouragement, so He sends a friend I’m least expecting to talk with me.

And while we’re on the phone, the Lord enters our midst and makes Himself known.

Faith extinguishes the doubts as we pray to the Glorious One who always listens—even when He appears silent. 

How do you respond when God appears silent?

When Fear is the Driver

“Watch out for deer.”

My palms were sweaty pools while my 17-year-old son drove along the curved, rural highway. There were no guard rails, only pine trees growing on the edge of the foothills.

As we came to a hair-pin turn, my right foot pushed against the car mat.

“Speed limit is 25 M.P.H.”

 I tried not to be a backseat driver. I tried to relax, enjoy the journey. But no amount of caution on my son’s part could loosen my death grip on personal safety.

As the foothills became mountainous, and we arrived to Lake Tahoe, I was exhausted—anticipating danger that never came.

I was born with a fearful nature.


Growing up, no one told me twice to avoid hazards. Life came with a warning label, and I complied. Being a safety patrol leader and Girl Scout taught me to be safe, and prepared for emergencies.

When I got married and had children, fear deepened. What if” something horrible happens to them? I have to keep them safe.    

Converting fear into faith is a continuous, nail-biting lesson.

When the world news fans my fear, I remember…..

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46:1, 2)

When my mind entertains what ifs, I remember….

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

When I’m faced with the unknown, I remember…

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

 I remember, but I need to BELIEVE.

God knows the human tendency to be afraid.

Throughout the Bible, when God called people to action, He assured them, “Fear not. I am with you.”  

Even so, people often succumbed to fear rather than BELIEVE GOD.

When I gave the car keys to my son, it was a vote of confidence. My anxious behavior suggested otherwise.

When I was “born again,” I gave God authority over my life…trusting Him to guide me and be present even in the storms.

But when fear detours me from following God, or resting in His promises, I’m saying,

I don’t trust you. I want to be in the driver’s seat.

And that attitude gets me nowhere, except a path of misery.    

What is your first response when you’re afraid?




Want Some Gum?

crossOn April 1st, April Fool’s Day, a fellow jail chaplain passed away. Harry was 92 years old, but he was no fool.

The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  (Psalm 14:1)

I attended Harry’s memorial service this past weekend. I went, not to weep, but to celebrate a life that belonged to Jesus. To honor a man whose earthly fruit glorified God.

Folks called Harry the “juicy fruit man” because he always …and I mean always…carried sticks of gum. That’s how I met him one night, many moons ago, while I waited to go into jail.

Smiling, he offered me a stick of gum. The yellow wrapper said Juicy Fruit, but it was Harry’s “Gospel Gum.” Whether it was a jail guard or a stranger sitting in the lobby, Harry used gum to break the ice, to part the Red Sea.

You know, GUM stands for God, U, and Me.” Then he’d share the gospel or pray for the person, whatever the moment called for, while I watched dumbfounded that he made Christian ministry look so easy.

Before we’d enter jail, the guard would examine our Bibles to ensure we weren’t carrying illegal contraband. Harry would grin and say, I’m armed with the Word of God, which is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Many evenings, the spiritual warfare we faced in jail was darker than the night time sky. I’d arrive fearful as though I were going into the lion’s den. Harry would pray as we walked down the long, concrete corridor. So by the time we parted, each entering a separate tank, my courage was mustered.

At Harry’s memorial service, I learned that years earlier, before he was a chaplain, prisoners escaped from jail and held him and his wife hostage in their home. They stole his car.

His response? Become a jail chaplain.

Listening to testimonies about Harry’s love affair with God and His people inspired me. But Harry’s death encouraged me to….

Cling like sticky GUM to the Easter message of hope I’d celebrated a week earlier.

Cling to Jesus, my sweet Savior, and His promise:

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies,

and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?

(John 11:25, 26)

Truth Be Known

243Woke up depressed, but I have to go to jail, share the “hope that lies within me” with women inmates.

Can’t give what you don’t have?” Satan taunts me.

I get on my knees where the battle is won, and pray God’s Word aloud. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3)

Then I go out of obedience, not because I feel like it.

The jail tank is empty. Most of the women are asleep in their cells. I sit at the metal table and pray until a young woman joins me.

I confess my foul mood; explain I had to pray for the desire to come to jail. But I’m confident that as we read God’s Word and fix our minds on Him, our moods will change even if troubles remain.

Tears trickle down her cheeks. Woman admits she woke up thinking she should read her Bible, but didn’t “feel like it” which made her feel guilty. Knowing I struggle helps her know she’s not alone.

I assure her that Jesus struggled with mental anguish just before he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. He had to pray and focus on God’s will rather than his own feelings.

So we open our Bibles to Luke 22: 66-71 and read about the trial.

The Council of elders confronts Jesus, ““If you are the Christ, tell us.”

Just like Satan tempted Jesus. “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Just like Satan taunts me. “If you’re a jail chaplain, where’s your hope?”

Just like Satan accuses the inmate: “If you don’t read the Bible, you’re bad.”

How does Jesus respond to Ifs.

Sometimes He quotes scripture.

Sometimes He asks questions.

During the trial, He states facts. “If I tell you, you will not believe.”

Again, they ask Him, “Are you the Son of God?”

“Yes, I am.”

Jesus condemns himself with his own words,

Because they feel that anyone who claims to be the “Son of God” is a liar or a lunatic.

They don’t believe Jesus is telling the truth when He claims to be Christ the Lord.

But disbelief doesn’t change the facts.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

Believe it, or not.

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