Friday, December 23, 2016

You don't get to choose

While my dad grew up Catholic, my first real introduction to Catholicism came from my first husband. We were both 18 and 5 months pregnant when we got married. He was Catholic and I was a member of the Assemblies of God, but we both thought we could make it work. We agreed to go to both churches.

Whether or not his church and family could have actually convinced me to convert, I'm not sure. But they had countless opportunities to get me to consider it. I even said at one point that if we could find a Catholic church that liked contemporary praise and worship I'd go there.

However, when he told his priest (a man he loved and respected more than just about anyone else at the time) that I was pregnant, the priest didn't speak to him for six months. His dad and step-mom urged us to give the baby up for adoption, which distanced us from them for awhile. Then there was his mom, one of the most Catholic woman I had ever spent a great deal of time with. In her eyes, I never did anything right, no matter how hard I tried.

It all totaled up to me not wanting to have anything to do with Catholicism.

Five years later, when I was pregnant with our 3rd child, he decided he was done. “I love you but I'm not in love with you. I'm moving out.” His mom let him move in with her and hired a lawyer to help move the process along, and I was devastated.

As you can imagine, due to those experiences (and admittedly ignoring the fact that I knew some great people who were Catholic) I decided that it was something I didn't want my kids or I to be a part of, ever.

As the kids entered their preteen and teen years, I would feel anger rise in me when they refused to say an off-the-cuff prayer and instead recited something they had learned at his house. I tried not to argue with them about it, but every prayer, every sign of the cross, burned me. Eventually I couldn't keep my eye rolls to myself or my mouth shut. The more I argued with them, the more it happened.

Several months after I had my first revelation of grace, I read a book called Girl At The End of The World. It was by a woman who had been raised in an abusive, misogynistic, fundamentalist christian home. More or less, it was a cult. When she ran from that way of life as a young adult, after realizing her own children were going through the same things she had endured, she decided she was done with God.

This is a quote from her book: “I am fed up with reading about God through the male perspective only. I want to experience the God who inspired me as a child, the God who found me long before I could comprehend a single word in my Bible. I want to experience God pursuing me for once. I am tired of seeking, striving, and knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door. I no longer want to know that silent, capricious, harsh God who would just as soon throw me into the fires of hell as save me. I am challenging God to pursue me like someone who has never been exposed to the Bible. Love me, God. I dare You.”
Elizabeth Esther, Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future

And He did. She tells of how she met Mary, the Mother of Jesus, how she found the Catholic Church, and how Mary and Jesus worked together to save her life and breathe healing into her. Her revelations about finding Grace within the walls of the Catholic church stunned me.

Tears ran down my face as I read and tried to make sense of something that was so beautiful, yet so opposite what I felt and believed. Then, with that inaudible voice He sometimes uses to drive an important point home, God told me, “You don't get to choose how I reach people or how they relate to Me.

I continued to listen and watch and read grace-based materials, but I wasn't angry anymore when they said a Catholic prayer or told me they wanted to fast something for lent. I chose loving them over disagreement about their beliefs.

Then one day as we were driving, Alexandra told me it scared her to hear sermons about how lack of forgiveness towards others can keep you from Heaven. We talked about how that isn't true and what Grace really means. She told me that talking to me about this stuff made her a lot less terrified. And all of the sudden, I had a grace believer on my hands.
It wasn't just that. She wanted to know more. She was interested is listening to different sermons and discussing different thoughts. She even chose to go see Andrew Wommack in Chicago with Ben and I last spring.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was love she saw in me that opened her up to the discussions. I had to admit to myself, even on days I didn't argue... If you roll your eyes when your kids do the sign of the cross at dinner... you aren't showing love.

So then, how do we get the message of grace across to others without arguing, or being angry? How are they going to know that we believe differently if we don't make a point to tell them?

1 Peter 3:15-16 says:
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 

How will people know? That's easy! Do you remember how you acted and reacted to life before you found grace? Even if you were already in church when it happened.

People will see we have a hope they don't have yet... and they will ask us why. The Bible says when they ask us, we should be ready to tell them with gentleness and respect and a good conscience.

What does a good conscience have to do with it? Well, for me it is knowing that Alexandra came to me because she saw my confidence in Christ... not because I wore her down on Catholicism.

When people look at us as Christians, it can oftentimes be the same way I used to look at Catholics. They have known someone who was a Christian who was rude or dogmatic or legalistic. They have seen the people who call themselves Christians parading up and down the street with signs that say who they believe God hates.

They need to see in us that we are not those people.

How do they do that? Jesus.
Put your focus on Him and you'll lead others to Him as they see the fruit of Spirit manifest in your life.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! 
~Galatians 5:22-23

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What's your plan?

"Write down what your dreams, goals, and plans were for the last year."

I looked at the workbook page and thought for a minute before I started writing.

Dreams: To take my kids on a real vacation before Alexandra graduated, and to be in a solid, healthy relationship.

Goals: Weight loss, finishing my book proposal, growing my platform, buying a house, financial stability.

Plans: Survival.

I stared at the paper. 
Wait, did I just write that? 
I did. Wow.

When I talk to people about interviewing employees, I often share one of my favorite questions with them. "What's your dream? What do you really want to do?" I've said time and again that the employees who have a dream and a plan to attain that dream are usually my most successful employees. They know what they are working towards!

And yet, for some reason, despite some great goals and dreams, I only planned for survival.

One of my favorite Bible passages is Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

I KNOW God wants to do great things for me. I KNOW that His plans far exceed mine. I KNOW He is not only able, but He is willing... And I still planned for the bare minimum... survival.

This past year, I often asked God for help and believed He would come through for me. On several occasions He did, probably more than I realize. But looking at these verses and thinking about what I actually planned for leave me wondering if God didn't hope to bless me more, but I had planned Him out of it. 

Psalms 20:4 says:
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.

I do believe God gave me many of the desires of my heart this year in addition to making my plans succeed... but what if my plans had been bigger? What if instead of survival I had PLANNED on being blessed and amazed by Him? 

As I continue to work through this program on setting and achieving my goals for the next year, I am more and more excited about what is to come. I am planning on some huge breakthroughs this year and I can't wait to see how God makes those plans succeed.

How about you? What's your plan? What are you asking God to help you with as we move into the Christmas season and new year? 

Whatever it is, are you PLANNING on Him coming through for you? Or, like I have so many times, are you working on your plan for what you'll do if He doesn't?

Today I'm telling God that, more than ever, I want His plans for me to match my plans for me... I want to rest in His promises of hope, joy, abundance, and success instead of planning on the bare minimum. 

Care to join me?

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

I came that [YOU] may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

The program I am going through is Michael Hyatt's Best Year Ever. It is only available for a limited time every year, but you can check it out here: