June 27, 2011

Addendum to #2: Seasons of Forgiveness

This series of photos I found was inspired by a search idea I had about the seasons of forgiveness. There are things in our lives that happen to us that go so deep that we can forgive at one level, only to find ourselves once again cycling through the seasons of forgiveness. I wanted to take a few minutes to expound on my thoughts for each of these pictures. The captions are the search terms I used to find the photos in Google Images.


The Winter of our Discontent
Winter is a season where everything appears to be dead, but within barren tree trunks and underneath the frozen ground life is as active as ever. This is a great metaphor for this season of forgiveness. Just when we least expect it something triggers us, and it feels as if we are right back where we started.

We realize that yet again that person or event has gotten under our skin, and we are bereft to find a way to break free from their spell. We may cry out in despair at the roots of bitterness still left behind after the last round of forgiveness.

We may ache as we walk through the incident once again, looking for the key to releasing our loved one (or enemy as the case may be) once again. It is in the winter months of forgiveness that we realize forgiveness has very little to do with the one we are forgiving.


Spring Has Come
Spring comes on the heels of winter. All that life that has bubbled below the surface during the bleak and dreary hibernation comes into contact with the increasing warmth of the sun, and just when you think winter will last forever that life suddenly bursts forth in vernal hues of pink, lavender, sky blue, spring green, and soft yellow.

When the grueling labor of forgiveness is finally over and the cries of your heart for freedom have built to a steady crescendo, there is a moment, a tipping point when your heart releases those tendrils of bitterness, and Love comes pouring in over you once again.

The sleepless nights come to an end, and with more rest you begin to see the color in your life once again. Your heart begins to feel tiny pricks of joy at the little things, and you know that spring has come. It is a time to celebrate and to await the growth of fruit from your labor.


Trees Laden with Fruit
Typically we associate summer with vacation and time off, which do happen for most of us during the summer. However, my inspiration for choosing summer to represent the harvest came from the sweetest fruit of the year, which begins to set in the springtime and is actually ready for harvest throughout most of the summer.

It is in the summer of forgiveness that we begin to taste the fruit of our labors. We realize the renewed sense of vulnerability and trust we've gained with those who have stood by us on our journey.

We realize that we can look at the ones who have hurt us with compassion, and we may even begin to reach out for ways to bridge the great divide that has separated us. The warmth of Love continues to deepen our hunger for peace and full reconciliation.


Autumn--All Things Must Die
As the streams begin to dry up and the water table begins to lower, the trees begin to batten down the hatches for the impending cold. The fruit is long gone, and as the daylight and water supply decreases, the trees stop making food. As the chlorophyll begins to seep out of the leaves, they turn the brilliant orange, red, and yellow hues indicative of autumn.

It is the season of surrender, when the old must pass away and make room for the new that will grow under the surface once again during the winter sleep. What is left of the food supply must be reserved and rationed to allow the trees to endure the winter months with no means to generate new food.

In terms of forgiveness, autumn represents the seasons when our cries for reconciliation go unanswered. We find it hard to extend trust again to the ones we have forgiven, and the ones who have forgiven us are still having a hard time trusting us.

It is in the autumn of forgiveness that we must allow all of our agendas, our expectations, and dreams for these relationships and what they will become to fall away. We will be surprised still at the brilliant shades these hopes will take on as we release them into the care of Love. As we surrender yet again to the possibility of another winter and the labor of love associated with forgiving our brothers and sisters seventy times seven times. 

How Then Shall We Live (#2)

The Ministry of Reconciliation
The trouble with making this a mini-series on this topic of forgiveness is that I've had time to wonder if this is really a good idea. And I've had time to attempt to add my own angles and spin to it. I have repented of that and am just going to go for it and post what I wrote in my journal.

Here it is in it's raw and inspired form:

We have a mandate to forgive, but this mandate is not an end in itself. The goal is not to forgive and then move on. The goal is to forgive and allow trust to rebuild. This is the ministry of reconciliation in action.

Winter Has Come
Before I go further, I want to say that there are some instances when the ministry of reconciliation is only possible in a spiritual sense, where you pray for your enemies. It is not always wise to attempt to build trust with people who will continue to hurt you in the same manner without professional help. I am not speaking to this type of wounding. If you need help, here is a link to some resources.

Reconciliation is a two-way street. If we have been hurt, we cannot reconcile with a person who is unrepentant for their actions. You can however, act in the ministry of reconciliation, as Pastor Steve did, by praying daily for their hearts to be healed and for them to come to a place where they can see the wrong they've done. It's possible that God will work in your heart, as well, showing you areas where you may have perceived things in a way that the other person did not intend.

On the flip side, if we have hurt someone, we cannot reconcile with them until they are ready to release trust in some measure. Of course, full confidence will have to build again over time. In fact, in these situations, trust is often lost on both sides and will have to be regained. If two people are willing, trust can be rebuilt.

Spring Has Come
If you have been hurt by another person's actions, here are some steps you can take to forgive when you are ready.

1. Go to the one who hurt you, either in person or on the phone is best, and tell them what they did to hurt you. Give specific examples, using the "I-message" model: "I felt _____ when you _____." Try to avoid "you" statements (basically, starting a sentence with you).

2. If they exhibit the "Five R's" of a good apology (Regret, Responsibility, Restitution, Repentance, Requesting Forgiveness), then confess that you accept their apology and let them know that you will pray about how to begin repairing the damage done and rebuilding the bridges toward trust and friendship.

3. In the quiet of your home, say a prayer to release forgiveness.

4. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to extend trust again, and obey His prompting.

Summer Harvest
If you're not ready to do these steps all the way through, then wait upon Him until you are. There is no rush. While you wait, ask the Holy Spirit to help you forgive. Ask Him how to walk in the ministry of reconciliation. Ask Him to help you live a lifestyle of forgiveness and extending trust.

There are endless ways our fellow man can hurt us, but there is only one way to be healed--forgiveness with the goal of reconciliation. You may need help with this. As I said before, some people are not "safe" to extend full trust to again.

If you need help, be sure to turn to someone who practices the ministry of reconciliation and not someone who stops short at Jesus' mandate to forgive. The key to freedom is learning the art of extending trust once again.

Autumn--All Things Must Die
Here is a song that drives it home for me: Eyes Wide Open (Jars of Clay).

I wrote an addendum to explain the context of these photos I chose.

June 24, 2011

No Condemnation

Noah & His Ark
My next post on forgiveness needs more time to percolate, so I offer these two verses that popped out to me yesterday in my quiet time:

Stranded & Condemned
"By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." ~Hebrews 11:7 (NAS)

The Woman Caught in Adultery
"For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." ~John 3:17 (ESV)

Jesus Came to Seek & Save the Lost
What if Jesus is bringing His mighty army in to save all mankind once and for all?

Jesus' End-Time Army

A Means to an End

This is going to be a mini-series of posts on the topic of forgiveness. I have been deliberating over this topic for nearly a month now. In fact, the bulk of what I'm going to write at this time on this topic was writing itself when I woke up from a dream on a Tuesday a few weeks ago. I immediately grabbed my notebook, and it literally wrote itself. Here's what I wrote that morning:

Forgiveness is not an end in itself, rather it is a means to an end, and that end is reconciliation.

Forgiveness is not easy for us. We have very few good models of forgiveness, in or out of churches. When was the last time you heard your dad say, "I'm sorry."?

Perhaps your mom said "I'm sorry" for every little thing, as though apologizing for her very existence rather than for her hurtful behavior.

The best example in my life of forgiveness as a means to reconciliation was Pastor Steve Johnson and his wife Pam. Their daughter, Theresa, was abducted a couple of years before I met them. In fact, she was abducted and murdered only one year after moving to my hometown to pastor what would soon after become my home church.

Circa 1998
Two years old, taken from her front porch, with her six-year-old brother as the only witness. I knew her story  mainly by hearsay, but I watched her family walk out the ministry of reconciliation firsthand. I began attending their church when I was thirteen, a couple of years after Theresa's abduction. I had the great privilege of being a regular babysitter for Theresa and her brother during my teen years. On at least one occasion, I got to eat dinner with their family before Steve and Pam left for an engagement, and it was here that all the rumors I had heard were confirmed.

When I was in Prison
Schoolmates had mentioned that it was Steve's regular custom to offer daily prayers for the salvation and healing of the young man who abducted Theresa, who was in jail at that time for his crime against their family. I heard one such prayer the night I shared a meal with them and later learned that not only did they pray for him daily, Steve visited him in jail regularly to minister the gospel of Jesus' forgiveness and love available even for one who had caused so much heartache.

I'm sure you may be a little confused about Theresa at this point, given that she was killed when she was two, before I met her family, yet I babysat her several years later. Yes, Theresa was resurrected from the dead through the power of the Living God, Jesus Christ, flowing through the faith, hands, and prayers of a community of believers. You can read the full story online here: How God Orchestrated A Miracle.

Many news articles were written. Here is one from the Seattle Times, written when the book was released, eleven years after Theresa's miracle.

Theresa in the hospital
Not only was she made alive again, but she was restored to perfect health and is as beautiful and filled with life as ever. Her resurrection and restoration to full health were not instant. Her battle for life and wholeness took a toll on her family and community, but faith in the power of God to restore and redeem prevailed, and Theresa has no lingering effects of brain damage or the physical taxation of death.

Theresa, age 15
I did not lead with the message of her resurrection, because no matter how miraculous her testimony, it is not the most powerful element of this family's story for me. I believe the fundamental element of their family's impact on my life is that they daily lived as models of the ministry of reconciliation, and their example led a community of believers into the first fruits of revival. It is the power of God in signs and wonders that healed their little girl, but it was their response of genuine forgiveness that healed their family and community.

June 15, 2011

Raining Blessings

Water will gush forth in the wilderness...
I know I said I wasn't going to write this week, but I wanted to thank you for your thoughts, your condolences, and your prayers. I have been overwhelmed by your kindness. I have had a tremendous amount of peace these past couple of days, and I've been sleeping very well the past two nights. What a relief that is after so many weeks of very little sleep.

...and streams in the desert.
Before I close, I wanted to share an interesting way that God has comforted me today. Yesterday, my friend Karla posted a song on my Facebook wall yesterday called "Blessings." I listened to it several times, as it was a great comfort to me. Imagine my surprise this morning when I read today's devotional in Streams in the Desert:

"A poet stands by the window watching a summer shower. It is a fierce downpour, beating and pounding the earth. But the poet, in his mind's eye, sees more than a rain shower falling. He sees a myriad of lovely flowers raining down, soon breaking forth from the freshly watered earth, and filling it with their matchless beauty and fragrance. And so he sings:

The burning sand will become a pool,
It isn't raining rain to me--it's raining daffodils
In every dripping drop I see wildflowers upon the hills.
A cloud of gray engulfs the day,
and overwhelms the town;
It isn't raining rain to me--it's raining roses down.

"Perhaps you are undergoing some trial as God's child, and you are saying to Him, 'O God, it is raining very hard on me tonight, and this test seems beyond my power to endure. Disappointments are pouring in, washing away and utterly defeating my chosen plans. My trembling heart is grieved and is cowering at the intensity of my suffering. Surely the rains of affliction are beating down upon my soul.'

...the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
"Dear friend, you are completely mistaken. God is not raining rain on you--He is raining blessings. If you will only believe your Father's Word, you will realize that springing up beneath the pounding rain are spiritual flowers. And they are more beautiful and fragrant than those that ever grew before in your stormless and suffering-free life.

In the haunts where jackals once lay...
"You can see the rain, but can you also see the flowers? You are suffering through these tests, but know that God sees sweet flowers of faith springing up in your life beneath these very trials. You try to escape the pain, yet God sees tender compassion for other sufferers finding birth in your soul. Your heart winces at the pain of heavy grief, but God sees the sorrow deepening and enriching your life.

...grass and reeds and papyrus will grow (Isaiah 35:6b-7).
"No, my friend, it is not raining afflictions on you. It is raining tenderness, love, compassion, patience, and a thousand other flowers and fruits of the blessed Holy Spirit. And they are bringing to your life spiritual enrichment that all the prosperity and ease of this world could never produce in your inmost being."

I hope that you have already made it to the other side of your valley of trials, but if you haven't, I hope this devotional soothes your soul as it did mine today.


June 13, 2011

A Time to be Born, and a Time to Die

For Everything There is a Season
I'm sure some of you noticed that I haven't posted in a couple of weeks. I didn't want another week to go by without a word from me. These past few weeks have been a time of great loss. Three weeks ago I had a falling out with some very dear friends. As things are not fully resolved, I have not felt at liberty to speak from my heart on any matters for fear of further isolating myself from any of them.

Added to that loss, last week a dear man, a father figure to my brothers and myself, was hospitalized with pneumonia as a complication of treatment for bone cancer. Having offered to stand in as point person for the first week of his hospitalization, I had the privilege and honor to speak daily with the wonderful nurses caring for him. He was never able to speak on the phone, but one of my brothers was able to go and be with him for a day.

They had a nice visit, and my brother was able to share memories with him and to convey in person the love we all have for him. After his visit, my brother took on the position of point person in communicating with the nurses, and he sent an e-mail today letting us all know that his passing today was peaceful and painless.

In honor of his life and in honor of my grieving process for this loss and the unresolved conflict between my friends and me, I will continue for a little longer with my pause in writing.

As I wrote in another post today, I'm confident that next week will be a better week for writing!


June 8, 2011

Pushing the Button

I am hurting. I want off this roller coaster ride.

This is the cry of my heart.

Stop Button
You have the controls to the roller coaster. I'm sitting right beside you, and I've shown you the off button. When you're ready to press it, you're free to step off and never get back on.

These are the words the Holy Spirit deposited very clearly and distinctly into my spirit.

The trick is pushing the button. That's what I'm thinking about today.

This is how I feel
I'm not sure I really know how to do that yet, but yesterday my friend prayed for me. She prayed that the wonderful part of me--the part that chases hard after understanding, that goes after figuring things out, that tries hard to fix things--she prayed for that part of me to go still for a time; to rest and allow God to work in the secret places in quiet and solitude.

She also advised that I go ditzy for a bit...to put some wide-eyed wonderment in my expression and take all input in through the airhead portal rather than the analyzing portal.

This is how I want to feel
So in a gallant effort to let my inner airhead lead today, I spent 15 minutes watching these Ray Stevens videos on YouTube. Hope you have as much fun as I did.

The Streak

The Global Warming Song

The Mississippi Squirrel Revival

It's Me Again Margaret!

Sittin' Up with the Dead