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!”

 

Need Some Deep Cleansing?

My eyes and nostrils burn from the pungent fumes of household bleach. For today, I meant business with my upstairs shower stall—the one I never use—which got plenty of use this summer.

Long, steamy showers (and a lack of ventilation) allowed specks of black mold to creep into the crevices of grout between the shower tiles.

With gloved hands, I scrubbed the shower walls and basin with a brush. Then I held a dish towel to my face while I attacked the grout with my spray bottle of bleach.

Spray. Scrub. Rinse. Repeat.

Water flowed down the shower stall walls, becoming a mucky grey, and swirled down the drain.

Satisfied, I advanced towards the commode, brandishing my toilet brush. I showed no mercy to the porcelain. I also mopped floors. Washed laundry. Cleaned out the cat’s litter box.

My housework wasn’t finished until I’d emptied all the garbage cans and took the outdoor trash can to the curb. Then I washed my hands of last week’s rubbish. Good riddance. 

However, I believe God had something else in mind that needed cleansing. Because when I grabbed a red apple from the fruit bowl and sliced it open….

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The core was rotten.

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Disgusted, I tossed the apple in my yard (picnic for the ants) and sensed the core of my being under God’s scrutiny.

I can appear pleasing to the eye. Paste on a smile, straighten my halo. Only, there are grimy weeks when unconfessed sin festers inside me like that rotting apple.

“Forgive my trespasses” is spoken hurriedly so I can pray for my needs and intercede for others. When in fact, my real need is a contrite heart that will…

  • Pause for genuine reflection and confession.
  • Implore God to reveal sins I’m not aware of that hinder my walk; break His heart.
  • Allow Him to “wash me” clean

“Wash me” the same way a woman would wash her clothes on a scrub board or the river rocks. No quick rinse cycle. She pounds and beats the cloth to purge the dirt.

When King David sinned with Bathsheba he prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

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David’s plea for God’s forgiveness included his desire for a deep-heart cleansing.

He wanted God to purge him with hyssop—an herbal plant related to the mint family which contained medicinal and cleansing agents. Hyssop was used in the ceremonial cleansing of people and houses.

Hyssop is also mentioned during Jesus’ crucifixion. A Roman soldier offered Jesus a drink of sour wine on a sponge at the end of a hyssop stalk (John 19: 28-30).

While the plant may have been chosen because the stalk was long enough to reach his mouth, surely God meant this as a picture of purification. For in the Old Testament, blood and hyssop purified a defiled person. In the New Testament, Jesus’ shed blood purifies sinners.

Even in this…filthy mess of a day when my sins disgust me…I can lift my bleach-scented hands and praise the Lord because…

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Why Words Matter

Love my morning coffee.

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Yesterday, however, I grimaced after the first sip. Too much Half n Half.

The flavor overpowered the coffee. So I brewed more coffee. Poured it into my mug to dilute the Half n Half. Didn’t help.

At the end of the day, a mug of cold coffee sat on the patio table where I’d left it.

That evening, I noticed there were two similar cartons in my refrigerator. Turns out I’d poured Whipping Cream instead of Half n Half into my coffee.

Words matter.

This isn’t the first time I’ve used or bought something without reading the words on the label. Ever tried Unsalted Pretzels? I still have them if you’re interested.

Lately, people need Google Translation to figure out what I’m saying:

Me: “Hey, I’m going to Home Depot for groceries.”
Friend: “You mean Holiday Market?”
Me: “Didn’t I say that?”

I don’t mind poking fun at myself, but,

Words Matter. They’re more than letters and phonetic sounds.

Just look up “word” in a Bible concordance.

  • “A harsh word stirs up anger.”
  • “How delightful is a timely word.”
  • “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.
  • “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.”

Add mouth or tongue to the word search; you’ll have a field day.

I wonder how many words are in the English language?

file000278512533As a child, whenever someone bullied me, I’d respond, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

This rhyme worked about as well as rubbing my rabbit’s foot for good luck. But I’m no longer a child; my skin is thicker.

I’ve spoken, heard, written, and read more words than I can count. Good. Bad. Some words I can’t spell or define, but I know that….

Words have the power to ignite wars, civil strife, family feuds. And crush individuals.

Words also have the ability to challenge, inspire, and heal.

We get to choose our words.

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Years ago, my friend’s husband was brutally murdered by three male strangers. They broke into her home—intent on stealing—and were surprised by her husband’s presence. I won’t say more.

Justice was served. Those men were condemned and sent to prison. However, it didn’t alleviate my friend’s heartache.

So she prayed and sought the Lord for counsel.

Eventually, she wrote each of those condemned men a letter in which she shared the Gospel of Christ. 

She included the words: “I forgive you for murdering my husband.”

One of the men wrote back. He said he’d been praying for a sign to know he’d been forgiven.

Her words were like a balm to that man’s soul. His words made my friend weep for joy.

How is it possible for a grief-stricken widow to rise above her sorrow and share the Gospel with condemned men? How was she able to forgive?

By God’s grace, and a willingness to obey God’s Word.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28.)

Christ’ Words, not mine.

And His Word matters. Even in this…especially in this …volatile world.

What Reputation Precedes You?

Wearing a navy blue cap and gown, my son strutted across the stage to receive his high school diploma last week. All I could see through misty eyes was a bundle of joy wrapped in a blue blanket that lay in my arms eighteen years earlier.

Memory is a marvelous thing.

And yet, there are things I wish I could forget. The pain I’ve caused others, grievances I’ve harbored against someone who hurt me or mine.

Memories… good and bad…appeared in my mind’s eye when other graduate names were announced that evening. Their reputation, some tarnished by previous poor choices, accompanied them. And because I fail to forget….my impression of some students has remained skewed.

“Character is what you are. Reputation is what people think you are,” said Henry H. Aunderson.

Even if it’s not true, excellent, or worthy of praise.

“Give a man a reputation as an early riser and he can sleep ’til noon.” ~~Mark Twain.

Who do people think I am, if they think of me at all? What is the reputation that precedes me? I cower to think my flaws and my past define me.   

Praise God for His tender mercies that are new every morning.

Praise God, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us….” Psalm 103:10-12

By God’s grace, may I learn to see people through my Benevolent Heavenly Father’s eyes so I can Forgive and FORGET.

What is Fear, but a lack of trust?

It was dusk when I walked the narrow path made of white butcher paper, marked with a male’s naked, red footprints.

High school students had transformed the school gymnasium to recreate a Journey to the Cross. It was an outreach to turn people’s hearts toward Jesus.

By God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, these hearts would be convicted and healed.

Instead of praying: Fix my problems. Show me the way.  

I asked God, Show me my SIN.

Show me what action or attitude within me, is offensive, or contrary to Your will.   

The very sin Christ bore as He died on the cross to set me free.

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As I entered the gymnasium, somber music played from The Passion soundtrack. Black and burgundy cloth, hung from wires, subdivided the gym to create smaller rooms depicting Jesus’ betrayal, trial, scourging, death, and resurrection.

In one area, there was a sign: Take a black scrap of cloth and a piece of chalk. Write a sin, something you wrestle with….then nail it to the cross.

Of my many vices, FEAR surfaced. For what is fear, but a lack of trusting God?  

We can’t trust someone we don’t know.”

That’s what my friend, Loretta, told me years ago.

Since then, I’ve gone from head knowledge, knowing about God, to KNOWING HIM in a more intimate way that satisfies my heart.

And yet, FEAR remains my Achilles heel.

So I scribbled: FEAR; lack of trusting God.

Prior to writing those words, I had glanced inside a small nearby area designated “Prayer Room.” Since it was evening, the room was devoid of people, but I hesitated to enter. After God revealed my sin, this weakness that cripples my faith, I stepped inside.

Pillows and blankets lined the floor, tea lights in mason jars flickered, and white icicle lights hung overhead. I sat down to pray, but my jaw dropped. For next to my ankle was an index card with the word TRUST.

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I picked up the card, turned it over. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:4, 5

A few other cards were scattered on the floor. Different words, different verses. But TRUST was the word next to me, the first card that caught my attention.

Coincidence? That a student felt led to write TRUST, two days earlier?

Coincidence? That beckoned me into that prayer room, caused me to sit down in that exact spot?

Tears of joy, not condemnation, filled my eyes. How can I not love my Lord who reveals my sin, but then gently reminds me to TRUST.

  • Trust…the Lord with my life, and circumstances beyond my control.
  • Trust…the Lord loves me and died for me too.
  • Trust…the Lord that I’m forgiven and a new creature in Christ Jesus.

I nailed that scrap of black cloth to a large wooden cross. A cross blackened with the sins of teachers, students, and parents who had gone on this Journey before me.

And like the others, I wrote on a wall near the empty tomb,

April 2014..Journey 123

One of the many benefits that come when we’re Born Again, and our sins are forgiven: Peace, joy, gratitude, hope, love, victory, freedom, a new identity…..

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Have you trusted in Christ?

If so, have you told Him how much you love Him?

Comes Out Sideways

There’s a giant hole in my basement ceiling, situated below my kitchen. A plumber ripped out the drywall ceiling in search of a leaking pipe. Sure enough there was a plastic vent pipe with three holes, compliments of a rat we’d caught in the crawl space two years earlier.  

DSCN3014The plumber said we wouldn’t have known there were holes in the vent pipe, if it hadn’t been for a blockage in a different pipe.

Instead of the water backing up into the kitchen sink, it found the holes of least resistance and flooded the ceiling.

What does that scenario have to do with eternal significance?

Because the image of those exposed pipes in the ceiling flooded my heart, reminding me….

When I don’t deal with hidden sin in my heart, especially a grievance against someone, foul words will eventually pour out of my mouth.

The problem isn’t my lips or mouth, it’s my heart.

“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” (Matthew 15:18)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Un-confessed sin towards others creates the perfect environment for bitterness to take root. Like the blockage in my water pipe, my thoughts and attitudes fester, clog my arteries. I may not be aware of my heart’s condition until, BAM!

Someone triggers my emotions.

Releasing a barrage of unkind words, or a barb.

Exposing my unhealed wounds like the holes in a pipe, and all because I had a blockage in my heart called un-forgiveness.

Once spoken, hateful words are like releasing a bag of feathers into the wind. There is no getting them back.

But sometimes, unkind words are subtle. People have to read between the lines.

 “Sideways,” a friend told me. “When we’re not forthright, everything comes out sideways.”

Like a verbal slap that comes from left field, but aimed to hit home.

Grumbling or murmuring behind someone’s back.

An “innocent” intentional action to make a point.

Passive aggressive is another label for not dealing honestly with others when we’re offended, or upset.

Fortunately, my heart was exposed last week along with my kitchen pipes. Now, everything is cleared, clean, in working order.

And the drywall man is here to repair the gutted ceiling.

Should I tell him what I learned, even in this?

What About My Needs?

There are Naked Ladies in my garden, soaking up the August sunshine.

When I see them, I think of the Lord’s Prayer.

Naked Ladies are also called Belladonna Lilies. They earned their nickname due to their leafless long stems that produce funnel-shaped flowers in late summer.

What do Naked Ladies have to do with the Lord’s Prayer?

Yesterday while I dug shallow holes for these plants, it occurred to me …

Plants like my Naked Ladies need four things to survive: water, oxygen, sunlight, soil.

According to the Lord’s Prayer, these are my needs.

Bread

Forgiveness

Deliverance 

What about Marriage? Children? Success? Wealth?

Sorry, these aren’t mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).

This passage, simple enough for a child to memorize, packs a deadly punch….to my egocentric heart.

Even the words preceding this prayer humbles me.

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

The disciples didn’t assume, they wanted to know how to pray.

“Lord, teach us to pray” …. is a prayer in itself.

A challenge for me to come before God with a teachable heart and one request. “Lord, teach me to pray.”  

I don’t want my prayers to resemble a laundry list of perceived needs for myself and others. 

I don’t want to be a taskmaster, telling God what I want fixed, finished, and furnished. And make it quick. 

Even when I praise God’s attributes, thank Him for my blessings, and ask Him to forgive my sins….

There is still too much of me, and too little of God in my prayers. 

HE should have turned me into a pillar of salt long ago.

But instead, the Lord teaches me to pray while I kneel in the dirt, head bowed beneath a canopy of oak trees…an earthly sanctuary where His Prayer convicts and fills my heart anew.

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“Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed by YOUR Name

YOUR kingdom come,

YOUR will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Hmm, this prayer is all about God. What about ME: My reputation, My life, My will? My needs?

“Give us today, our daily Bread

And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

Bread

Forgiveness

Deliverance

There are other prayers in the Bible, other needs addressed.

But, when the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Our Father was the prayer Jesus taught them.

I need to pray likewise, and be thankful when God meets these needs!

What Am I Covering Up?

A large, purple plastic bowl lay upside down on the cement slab of our back patio. The bowl had been there for several days, untouched like the pile of discarded, mud-caked sneakers next to the back door.

Assuming the old bowl had toppled from the patio table, I stooped to pick it up.

My stomach lurched.

Beneath the purple bowl was a wet mess of rotting … cat puke.

My cat pleads the Fifth Amendment, but Someone covered the puke rather than clean it up.

“I didn’t want anyone to step into the mess,” Someone later explained.

Covered it up? Were you ever planning to clean it up?   

But even in this ….disgusting cat puke hidden beneath a purple bowl, I had an AHA moment about SIN.

Shuddered to think people, even those closest to me, might look “beneath my bowl” and see my disgusting sin.

Lips sealed, fingers crossed, do I hide sin behind good works? Masquerade as a good Christian, wearing blinders rather than confront my sin?

Out of sight, out of mind, I fool myself.

 “Oh God, you know my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from you (Psalm 69:5).

 “He that covers his sins shall not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28: 13).

King David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and murder. When David covered his sin, he suffered.

“When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (Psalm 32:4)  

When David came to his senses, he humbly came before the Lord.

“I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my heart” (verse 5).

Heaven forbid I cover my sin by comparing myself with others; pat myself on the back. I’m not as bad as….  

“Our Lord taught repeatedly that sin bottled up on the inside, concealed from everyone else’s view, carries the same guilt as sin that manifests itself in the worst forms of ungodly behavior (Matt. 5:21-30).” ~ John MacAuthur

The only remedy for sin involves uncovering our guilt.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us ours sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Does a Broken Spirit Hurt?

  I’m done!” I fussed. “I refuse to plant something else in that hole!”

Those angry words, along with the memory of my husband and daughter chopping down my Japanese maple, were like television re-runs in my head a week after the fact (previous blog).

I’d confessed my sin before God and apologized to my family for my emotional outburst, but I’d rewind the tape, stuck in self condemnation.

I knew I was forgiven, but the weight of sin and my inability to walk in a manner worthy of Christ held me captive.

When I shared my sorrow with others, I was told to lighten up. “You’re justified in your anger. I’d be furious too.”

Perhaps, but God used that felled tree to prune my heart and rip out the root of bitterness  that had been growing inside of me long before that autumn day.

And the process was painful.

Not unlike a broken bone whose fracture has to be re-aligned in order to heal properly.

The image of wearing sackcloth and covering my head in ashes as a sign of repentance became a Biblical truth that finally went from my head to my heart. And left me …

Broken.

Which isn’t a spiritually bad place to be.

Because Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

For that’s when spiritual transformation and healing begins.

Because the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Not unlike the sinful woman who brought an alabaster jar of perfume to a Pharisee’s house where Jesus was dining. “And she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them…Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-50).

As God restored to me the joy of His salvation, I longed to be like that woman and show my adoration towards Christ who forgives sin and tells me to “go in peace.”

Instead of pouring perfume on His feet, I erased the tape of re-runs in my head.

And where the Japanese maple once stood in my yard, I ate my words and planted a fragrant Italian Cypress.

Ever green; ever a reminder that even in this situation,

Beauty can rise from ashes and mourning turn to joy

When Christ is allowed to be the Gardener of my soul.