The Big Let-Down

It’s the day after Christmas. Some will spend the day cherishing newly made memories. Others will nurse reopened wounds–wounds that took them by surprise when out of the blue, scar tissue ripped off, ushering in feelings buried deep within. And staring at the tinsel, the wrapping paper, the newly-opened gifts, they wonder if perhaps something’s wrong with them. Where’s their yuletide joy? Their Christmas spirit?

There are as many reasons behind the holiday blues as there are those who suffer from it. Anxiety regarding financial problems, loss of loved ones, relationship difficulties, and the onset of colder, darker weather can all trigger a downward spiral. Add to that the expectations of holiday euphoria, and many are left with a tragic let-down.

Christ came that we may have abundant life–free of guilt, shame, anxiety, and bitterness. The promise is there, but we have to grab hold of it.

Having trouble finding the “joy, joy, joy, down in your heart”?

Maybe it’s buried beneath a hefty mound of baggage. Now that all your presents are unwrapped, perhaps it’s time to do some unpacking.

Join me on Internet Cafe Devotions as we talk about seemingly random behavior in light of our bulging suitcases.

(Read the article here.)

Then tomorrow come back as I post the last of my top 20 blog post finds for 2011.

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A Season of Forgiveness by Edwina Cowgill

During the holidays, our stress levels mount and those little things that used to be easily overlooked suddenly weigh on us like heavily-decked barbells. Family members gather in closely confined areas, bringing with them their quirks, inconsiderate tendencies, and baggage–a recipe for disaster which is fueled to explosion if we bring with us even the slightest hint of unresolved anger. That comment Aunt Bertha made ten years back? Yep, out it pops, swirling through our memory, along with all those sarcastic jokes that fly off Uncle George’s tongue.

So, what can you do? Hide away in your nice, safe, non-confrontational closet. (Oh, that sounds so nice! J/K. Almost) How about you drop a few suitcases and make the effort to travel light? This season, add a dash of forgiveness to your plate. (You might also be interested in an article Bruce Hebel wrote for Reflections.)

Today’s devotion comes from Edwina Cowgill. As you read over her wise words, ask God to show you festering wounds that need amputating by the scalpel of forgiveness.

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A few weeks ago, a dear friend made a comment that caused me to stop and think. She said, “It’s a season of forgiveness, a season of friendship, a season of new starts. One act of forgiveness can change the outcome of a life.”

I believe there are certain “levels” of offense. Before you scream in protest “An offense is an offense is an offense…” let me say that this is not based on Scripture but on years of observing and counseling people:

Level 1: Offenses of No Significance: An example of this would be the “grocery cart bump,” where someone who is in a great hurry accidently bumps another person’s cart. The bumper says to the bumpee “excuse me” and most normal, sane people will answer “no problem” or some other acknowledgement and life goes on.

Level 2: Offenses of Minor Significance: After you have worked for hours and hours in your yard, your neighbor, who just happens to be married to the Chairperson of the Landscaping Committee for the homeowners association, wins the “Yard of the Month Award” and rubs your nose in that fact.

Level 3: Significant Offenses: Perhaps a significant offense would be when a dear friend, or a spouse makes an extremely unkind remark about you. Extremely unkind.

Level 4: Offenses of Major Significance: With this level, begin the wounds that usually change a person’s life. A spouse leaves his/her family for another person. A teenager rebels and begins a life of addiction.

Level 5: Offenses of Grave Significance: Wounds of grave significance are usually wounds that are inflicted on a person in their early years as a toddler or young school age child. These wounds are normally caused by a parent or a major caregiver in the life of a child. Sometimes, these wounds are buried by the child and forgotten until something later in life triggers the memory of that wound. For that adult, it is as if their entire body is being ripped in two and everything they thought was buried has been dug up. These types of wounds range from abuse to absentee parent(s) to never being accepted and loved unconditionally by one or both parents.

If there are levels of offense, then it would stand to reason that there are levels of forgiveness. Right? Wrong. Forgiveness is forgiveness. And as Christians, we are commanded to forgive. It’s not an option. And it’s serious business. Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

I don’t think the language can get much clearer than that! If we forgive people who offend and hurt us, God will forgive us our offenses. If we don’t forgive people who offend and hurt us, God will not forgive us our offenses.

There’s not a cap on the number of times we are to forgive. Again in the book of Matthew, we read this: Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Someone is probably thinking, “So if I forgive someone 490 times (70 x 7) and they offend me for the 491st time, I don’t have to forgive them? No. Jesus used those numbers to illustrate the fact that there is no limit on the number of times we must forgive those who offend us.

But what if the wound is one of those of grave significance? Must we forgive that person too? Absolutely. If we want our sins forgiven, we must forgive those who sinned against us. But how can one forgive the person who wounded them so deeply that their entire life was affected by that wound?

Many years ago, I heard an excellent teaching on forgiveness. The teacher had been wounded deeply. She shared that she had learned to pray “make me willing to be willing to forgive.” You see, she had learned an invaluable lesson on forgiveness. Sometimes we are not able to forgive on our own. Maybe it’s because the wound is too deep and the hurt is too great. Whatever the reason, we are not able to forgive. The Bible says that “God looks on the heart.” Even though this teacher was not able to forgive on her own, God heard her prayer of “make me willing to be willing to forgive.” He looked at her heart and knew she wanted to forgive. He had compassion and mercy on her and answered her prayer. Soon, she was able to pray, “Make me willing to forgive.” And God answered her prayer again and she reached the point of saying “I forgive….”

I’ve used this prayer myself many times in my life. I fully believe God understands and knows my heart when I pray this prayer. He knows I realize I must forgive that person but at that moment in time, I am unable to forgive on my own. Thus, I ask for His help and He answers. As I become more willing, forgiveness appears on the horizon and eventually becomes full blown in my heart.

If you have been wounded, at any level, I encourage you to begin to forgive. It may not be easy. It can be an uphill battle. Pray the “willingness” prayer. Begin to be willing to be willing to forgive. God will help you. He will walk with you every step of the way until forgiveness is full blown in your heart. With forgiveness comes healing.

Oh, yes. When is the season of forgiveness? Every day.

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Edwina has written numerous articles. Many have been published on various websites including the Houston Examiner and the Midsouth Diocese of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Her short story, “Katie’s Story: A Story of Redemption and Love” was published in 2009. A second short story, “The Front Porc” has just been published in Skinned Knees and Skate Keys. Edwina updates her blog three times a week.

She is a member of American Christian FictionWriters, Writers of Remarkable Design, and member of the Southside W.O.R.D. She is also a member f Christian Writers United, a writing group within her community.  Visit Monarch Ministries to find out more about Edwina and her heart for God and women.

To repeat my normal, too-oft repeated reminder, if you like this devotion fb share it, “like” it, tweet it or leave a comment.

A Heart Laid Bare

Have you ever been blind-sighted by anxiety? Here you are doing something very benign, even mundane, when all of a sudden your pulse quickens and pricks of electricity shoot up your leg and bite at your spine. And you’re baffled. So you close the book you’re reading and search the back cover for some subliminal message that might have bled into the deep recesses of your mind. Nope. It’s a cozy little Christmas romance. So you put it aside and sift through your day planner. Surely you’ve missed something. Only you can’t figure out what it is. There’s no impeding deadlines, no missed meetings. For once in your conveyor-belt life, you’re actually on top of everything. Was it the extra cup of coffee you had this morning? Hormones gone awry? Maybe you’re just weird like all the rest of us neurotic, highly-emotional Americans. Or…maybe there’s something else going on.

Don’t act all spiritual and emotionally stable. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve seen the same, “deer in the headlights” look flash across too many faces to think I’m the only one with issues. My emotional dumpster might be a tad bit fuller than yours, but I know you’ve got some moldy orange peels in there somewhere. We’re sinners living in a fallen world surrounded by other sinners. Emotional baggage is part of the deal. Luckily Jesus is the ultimate garbage disposal, turning a fallen, broken sinner into a new, spring-cleaned creation saved by grace. And yet, this transformation—moving from brokenness to wholeness, from garbage-filled hearts and souls to lives illuminated by grace—isn’t a one time event. At least, not for me. It’s a lifetime process of drawing near to God, allowing Him to loving search the deep recesses of my heart and mind, removing those cancerous tumors, until only my true self remains.

I like the onion analogy, even if it is over-used. The top layer, the one we allow most people to see, is covered by this thick outer skin. When this outer layer is first peeled away, it stinks. And burns. Our eyes water as old wounds resurface, wounds we may have swallowed down so many times, we’ve forgotten they’re there. Until something happens—a look, a word, an image—to trigger those buried emotions. Only we’re not ready to dive deeper. We like living on the surface. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. So we wrap that outer skin around us even tighter, perhaps even adding another layer. And yet, all the while, we peer from beneath the skin with childlike hope, desperately crying out for freedom.

Last weekend I went to the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference. It was an amazing time of healing, refreshing, and encouragement. A time I almost missed. In my usual impetuous nature, I signed up for the conference right away. I knew it’d be phenomenal. Great speakers, quality classes, amazing fellowship. But as it grew closer, anxiety mounted. This baffled me. I was about to go on this wonderful spiritual retreat, and I was feeling anxious. No matter how many ways I analyzed it, I couldn’t figure out why.

Don’t worry. God showed me, in His perfect timing. He always does.

Fast-forwarding a few days: I loaded everything in my van and headed to St. Louis to meet my carpool buddies. Which meant I had four hours and ten minutes in the car. Four hours of silence, with no one to talk to but God.

Now that’s dangerous. And life-changing. (And even a little embarrassing. You’d be surprised how many concerned looks you get driving down the freeway talking to the air with mascara-filled tears streaming down your face.)

So here I am, listening to praise music and talking to God, and out comes the scalpel. God showed me the root of my anxiety, and it had to do with a wound I had suffered in the past. It was ironic, really. My pastor had talked about this “thing” a month, maybe two, previously. But at the time, I dismissed much of what he said, thinking, “Nope. That’s not me. I’m good.”

And yet, all the while God knew. But He wanted to wait until he had me alone, stuck in a car, where I couldn’t run from the truth, to show me. Where I couldn’t shove those feelings aside and busy myself with laundry or facebook or whatever else I use to drown out that still, soft voice of my Physician.

Before long, my chin puckers like a prune and tears stream down my face as I hunch over my steering wheel in an effort to see the blurred road in front of me. I can’t run. I’m in a van heading down a freeway at seventy miles per hour, scheduled to meet the rest of my party in two hours. So what do I do? I buck up and change my focus, turning my ears to the radio in a desperate attempt to shove the tumult of emotions aside.

But God wasn’t done and in His merciful grace, He would not leave this opened wound to fester. Just like a loving Physician intent on total restoration and healing, He continued His work until all traces of the tumor were removed, replaced by healthy tissue.

On the radio, Frank Peretti was talking about “wounded spirits.” The title says it all. And as I listened to him talk about some deep wounds that had sliced through his heart, leaving thick scar tissue in their wake, the deep wounds in my own heart resurfaced. By now, I was starting to clue in. I’ve walked with God long enough to know that pain is never wasted. Every tear initiated by my Father’s hand leads to increased freedom. So, instead of fighting Him, I surrendered to the pain, and let His loving arms surround me. And suddenly it all made sense. This retreat had very little do with writing or meetings. God had bigger plans. Better plans. Although I wish He would have kept them in my nice, safe little van. But no. He wasn’t done. Once the lie had been exposed and removed, He needed to pour truth in its place.

Friday night, after having spent a nice quiet day recovering from my emotional explosion on Thursday, I walked into worship excited…and apprehensive. I knew God was going to show up in a mighty way. Although it would have been nice if I’d had the forethought to bring tissue. Needing an extra-dose of security, I sat next to a very dear friend, ready to be filled afresh with the Spirit. And God held nothing back. Song after song, He poured His love into me, telling me I was there for Him, that this was our time, and that He loved me.

“I love you. I love you. I love you.”

Again and again those words poured over me. They broke me, and healed me. Speaking to that hurting child peering behind the onion skins. Once again, the tears came. Slowly at first. My eyes blinked fast as my heart prayed, “Please, don’t make me cry. Not here. Not now.”

The first song they sang was Freedom. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And with every note, God’s love poured stronger and penetrated deeper. Then came the next one: How He loves. By now, I’m sitting in my chair, sobbing uncontrollably, tears streaming down my face, chest heaving and snot dripping from my nose. (Pretty picture, I know. Very lady-like.) My friend is sitting on my right. To my left  is Joyce Hart, the president of Hartline Literary agency. Needless to say, I’m mortified, and yet, no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop crying. But Joyce didn’t judge me or condemn me. She reached out in love and rubbed my back like a mother comforting a saddened child. Or, more accurately, God reached out to me through her, reminding me that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. There is only love, grace, healing, and freedom.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.