A few years ago I wrote a post called The Power of Forgiveness. It is a story that covers a three year period in my life that taught me a hard lesson about pride, resentment, and unforgiveness. Since writing that post, the story came full circle and now I must share the rest of that saga because it is one that shows how the ashes of our lives really can be turned to beauty.
For background purposes, here's a quick summary of The Power of Forgiveness: When my two youngest children were preschoolers an older couple living next door didn't like the noise and chaos that radiates out of little kids. The couple regularly called the police with complaints against my children for side walk chalk, wading pool noise, and laughing and yelling from childish play. They tape recorded the kid's noise and played it back at distortion levels into the street. There were many other terrible events during that three year period and our neighborhood became a hostile place and I became bitter and resentful toward my neighbors.
I had been convicted for months to go and talk to the lady of the house but I always made the excuse that I wasn't to blame for the problems; I shouldn't be the one to apologize...she should. But the Lord persisted with the conviction and the end finally came when I was flipping through my bible and landed on Job 36:13 - The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help.
After reading that passage, I realized that the Godless person full of resentment was me and I could no longer wait to apologize to my neighbor. I had to take responsibility for my part. I told God that I was too chicken to phone, but would go outside and work in the yard and if they came out, I would apologize. As I walked out my door, their garage door went up and out stepped the lady. With a pounding heart, I called her name and walked over to her yard and apologized. After that conversation, they never called the police on my kids again.
As the years moved forward, our previous enemies became our friends. That in itself, was an amazing shift but even more incredible was that when she was diagnosed with lung cancer six years ago, I became an active part of her life. This woman who once hated me, called me frequently for help and when she passed away a year ago, I held her hand as she lay dying. But the biggest blessing of all was praying with her for salvation before she died.
After her death, I kept an eye out for her husband as he was in his late 80's and alone. Two weeks ago, I pulled into my driveway late one afternoon and noticed that his outside lights were still on and the newspaper still lay in the driveway. Dread overwhelmed me as he is like clockwork in his actions and his lights are out and newspaper always picked up by 10:00 AM. I called him several times and went over to his house to ring the door bell. There was no answer. I peeked in his windows to see if I could see him on the floor but all I saw was the coat he always wore, hanging on the back of a chair. I grabbed the spare set of house keys they had given me, timidly went into his house, and found him passed away in his bed.
So why do I tell this story? Because it reminds me that God is a God of reconciliation. It reminds me that my pride and self righteousness never work for good, but humility, when I allow it to grow in my heart, births something I would never known as possible. At the time, it seemed unfair that God required me to apologize when I had never said a rude word to the couple...but God saw the evil in my heart...the evil I had try to hide away. When God finally got my attention, He took what the devil meant for destruction and turned it into good.
The enemy (me) became a daughter, when God totally turned the tables on a very ugly situation. And thats what God does....if we let Him.
Sandy stood at her kitchen sink, fingers wrapped tightly around a plump Yukon Gold potato; the first of many she needed to peel for the Thanksgiving feast. The turkey and stuffing were roasting in the oven filling the air with a deep, savory aroma. The sweet potatoes and green beans were ready to pop into the oven when the time was right and the pumpkin pies were cooling on the counter.
Looking out the kitchen window Sandy watched as the cold November wind blew and tugged at the few remaining brown leaves clinging to the almost barren branches of the maple tree that filled her back yard. How many times had her kids climbed that tree, swung from its branches, and laid contentedly in its shade during the dog days of summer? But, those days filled with the bustle of family activity were gone, having been replaced with a certain quiet and eerie peacefulness that Sandy found both welcoming and objectionable.
The years she and Tim spent raising four kids had required a great deal of sacrifice. On occasions she’d felt like the sacrifice was too great, particularly when other families seemed to never have to sacrifice like she and Tim did. But, in the end they would do it all over again because the end result was worth it; they’d raised four stable, wonderful adults who were grateful for their upbringing. Sandy thought about how their sacrifice gave birth to thankfulness in their kids, what a deep and pleasing thought that was.
While Sandy worked the TV was quietly filling the air with background noise. It was turned to her favorite news channel and every now and then she would hear a phrase that captured her attention. She picked up on a blip about another Army convoy being ambushed in Afghanistan causing the death of two American soldiers and wounding many others. Sandy’s heart was heavy for the great loss the soldier’s families were experiencing. They would never have the pleasure of that child sharing a Thanksgiving feast with them again. She thought about their sacrifice and how grateful she was for their service. How thankful she was for all the young men and women who had sacrificed their bodies and lives for her freedom.
The thought-thread stitching sacrifice to thankfulness kept unraveling in Sandy’s mind as she worked her way through the pile of Yukon Gold’s. It went from current day soldiers to the brave men and women who fought in World War I & II, The Civil War, and The Revolutionary war. How many had given their lives so others could live free as equal citizens of the United States of America. Each warrior’s sacrifice throughout the years contributed to her and her families’ freedom. Yes, their selfless sacrifice should never be forgotten, we must stay deeply thankful for what they gave, she thought.
Sandy watched as one brown maple leaf yielded to the cold November breeze and drifted to the ground. She wondered how many times the first Pilgrims felt like that leaf. Starving, shriveled, cold, clinging to a dream that seemed more a fantasy than a reality; wondering why they left the comfort of Merry Ole’ England. They sacrificed everything for their dream of a county that respected religious freedom. If not for the help of the Native Americans they would have perished.
Sandy’s mind kept following the same thread connecting the act of sacrifice to the result of thankfulness. The natural progression of her thoughts linked the pursuit of religious freedom to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross at Golgotha. And this is where her thoughts stopped.
She kneelt down next to her kitchen sink overcome with gratitude to Jesus for his sacrifice. His sacrifice changed hearts and minds of humans, giving them to courage and love to pursue equality, freedom, respect of others, and love of others. Jesus’ sacrifice was the ultimate example of how to love others, of how to give passionately to what you believe in.
It’d been years since Sandy had really pondered the significance of the pilgrims sacrifice to her current life. The pilgrims had become a cliché like so many other important events in our history. Today however, she understood the depth of their sacrifice in a deeper way because she’d linked it to the many sacrifices freely given by so many brave men a women throughout history. But, the ultimate connection was to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who freely forsake a heavenly body to be human and feel the pain of death on the cross for us.
The connection between sacrifice and thankfulness is undeniable. True sacrifice brings about true gratitude in all who open their heart enough to hear and see the truth. I hope that during this year’s Thanksgiving feast you will remember the sacrifices given by so many to make your life free, blessed, and full of opportunities. Remember your parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers, soldiers, forefathers, and pilgrims to mention just a few and of course remember to give thanks to God for his love, mercy, and forgiveness.
By Debora Shelford Hobbs
Open up my heart O Lord, pour truth on me this day
Please give me eyes that really see; confusion, wash away
My pride and stubborn will delivered only pain and strife
And my own truth and what seemed right, birthed trouble in my life
Anoint me with Your love and joy; Your truth to me, release
Pour deep into my broken soul, Your holy, awesome peace
Take weariness and turn it in to wonder at Your love
Take downcast eyes and broken heart and lift them far above
I come to You with humbled heart, my shattered dreams laid down
Submitting all to You my God, may truth in You be found.
I need You Lord, to take control; for my plans brought dismay
Help me to know that my control must get out of Your way
For my manipulations have contended with Your might
For what seemed good and right to me, fell short of truth and light
I’m weary from this heavy load I wasn’t meant to carry
My purpose tainted by the stress; my hopes and dreams are buried
O Make me useful once again, release me to Your plan
Take every step and all my ways, and place them in Your hand
Take weariness and turn it in to wonder at Your love
Take downcast eyes and broken heart and lift them far above.
O Holy Spirit come and dwell deep inside of me
Mold me; shape me into what Your holy will decrees
Submitting to Your way alone, serving only You
To be a blessing in Your sight, to see things from Your view
To be a shining light for You in a darkened place
To hold fast only to Your truth and Your amazing grace
Help me to stay out of Your way; my heart and will laid down
Send wisdom from Your holy throne, until I win the crown
I come to You with humbled heart, my shattered plans laid down
Submitting all to You my God, the truth I now have found.
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
A few days ago I reminded myself of an armadillo, all curled up in a ball protecting my tender underbelly from harsh words and careless actions of another. Now, I wasn’t literally laying on the floor curled up in a little armadillo ball, but I had emotionally curled up, leaving only my protective armor exposed. I had felt vulnerable but wanted to appear strong, so I donned my armadillo like armor and pretended indifference while giving voice to the unkind thoughts that had been swarming in my head. My words hurt the other, like they were intended to do.
As I walked away, armadillo armor still engaged, I spent a few minutes vindicating my behavior by creating a mental list of the other person’s wrong doing. I double checked this list for accuracy then measured the other’s actions against my own. Of course I found myself cleared of all wrong doing because the other’s actions were so unbelievably ruthless. At this point I’m feeling pretty good about my armadillo-self and continue on with my day in a cloud of denial.
The problem with dwelling in a cloud of denial is that the sun, which reflects God’s glory, burns right through it, leaving me exposed. Exposed to my own bad behavior and the damage it has causes in an important relationship. It’s painful to have my cloud of denial burned off, in fact at first I’m resistant to the light and remind myself about the guilt of the other. But the sun grows brighter and the cloud of denial thinner. Finally, my armadillo armor melts and my cloud of denial is gone leaving my unkind words gleaming so brightly I can no longer deny what they are, they are sin.
Dropping to my knees I asked God to forgive me for deliberately hurting His child, and for being resentful, and for hiding in my cloud of denial. I remembered James 1: 26, “if anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.” This verse is disturbing because it’s talking about my armadillo armor and my cloud of denial. Sometimes when the light of God shines through His word it hurts! But it’s a hurt that molds us into better people. It’s a hurt that molds us into better friends, neighbors, family members, moms and dads, and spouses.
I really don’t want my religion to be worthless but it’s so hard to hold my tongue when others are not. And that’s the key, it doesn’t matter what others are doing because I can’t control them or change them, I can only control myself. That’s what God asks us to do, to control ourselves. In 1 Peter 3:9 it says, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. The Bible doesn’t say repay kindness with kindness, it says repay evil with blessings! Wow, that’s hard but not impossible because God is there to help us learn how to control our own armadillo armor and cloud of denial.
Ephesians 4:29 - Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
Proverbs 12:18 - The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
James 3:10 - Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Proverbs 15:28 - The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
“What is hope” I asked a Man
That stood in radiance, staff in hand.
“How does one keep from growing weary
With broken heart and outlook, dreary? “
He looked at me through wizened eyes
And gently said “God hears your sighs.
In every circumstance slow down
And look to God and His vast plan.”
“For in each life, comes toil and pain
And stress, and loss, and even shame.
But don’t get stuck in that dark tunnel
With eyes fixed down and spirit pummeled.”
“For just like Joseph in the dungeon
With broken dreams and hope abandoned.
God orchestrated all his pain
To prepare him for a marvelous thing.”
“So walk THROUGH trials; eyes fixed on God
With humble heart and teachable mind
And one sweet day, the good will come
And beauty from ashes will be your song.”
I stared into those holy eyes
And saw a story that could not hide.
For He had struggled, suffered, and died
He knew what loss and shame felt like.
In that moment I began to see
That all my pain is not about me.
For there is purpose to be attained
And mighty victories in Jesus’ name.
The struggles and loss, the pain and the shame
Are for a great purpose if hope-filled we’ll stay.
Allowing God to work in the moment
Waiting on Him to honor His promise.
That EVEYTHING works together for good
For those that love God and follow His word.
So never give up; be a prisoner of Hope
For the tables will turn; In that truth… stand assured.
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Zechariah 9:12 (NIV) 12 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
The Lawyer gently rested his aching back against the hard, wooden hull of the lifeboat. His whole body ached. His knees needed to be stretched but there was no way to move about in the tiny boat. His lips were cracked, chapped, and painfully dry, so were his throat and eyes; they felt like the desert. His feet were swollen and red from being in constant contact with salt water. Closing his burning, dry eyes he dreamed about laying on the soft, cool, green grass next to the stream that ran through his property. Would he ever see it again, he wondered. He looked at the sky and spoke to whatever greater power might reside there, “please send help” he mumbled.
The Carpenter curled his legs up tight to his chest in an effort to stretch out his aching back that had been injured years before on the job. Manual labor takes its toll on the body and his was no exception and sitting in the cramped lifeboat being tossed about by the sea twenty four hours a day had made the injury worse and the pain almost unbearable. He wanted to groan or roar in agony. He wanted to layout flat across the bottom of the boat to help alleviate the sharp stabbing pain, but there was no room. The others offered some sympathy but he was careful not to complain too much; they were all suffering. If he believed in a God this would have been a good time to pray, but he didn’t believe in God; Christianity was all mumbo jumbo to him. Besides, he was an honest man and knew he had lived a very ungodly life. A life any God would reject. He decided that his hope would rest in mankind’s ingenuity and determination to find them.
The Housewife absent-mindedly loosened her ponytail, running her fingers through the tangled, salt caked, dirty mess her hair had become and dreamed about taking a long, hot shower that would wash every last salt granule from her body. Her jeans had been wet or damp with saltwater for five days and her legs under the jeans felt raw from the abrasive saltwater. She stared at the endless sea; it was keeping her from her family. Were they looking for her? Were they eating well? Had the kids been doing their homework? Had her husband remembered to take out the garbage cans Monday night? She looked up at the grey sky that was threatening to rain again and wondered where God was right now, was He listening to her prayers. Would He answer her prayers? Or would He let the little lifeboat go down … a tear slid down her chapped cheeks. “Please be there, please answer, please save us.”
The homeless man was sick. He’d spent years going in and out of mental health facilities until the voices in his head convinced him that living on the streets was much safer than a facility. The voices also told him to stow away on a large ship which is how he ended up on the lifeboat. The sick man sat in the bow of the lifeboat mumbling to himself about comets and electric devices planted in his head. For five days his body had hardly moved but his mind had been to outer space and the Caribbean and the White House. He feared moving because the voices told him that if he did the lifeboat would sink. So he sat in the bow motionless and lost.
The Preacher tried hard to keep his mind focused on Bible verses that spoke of God’s love and His desire to protect His children. Several times over the last five days he had shared encouraging Bible verses with the others but quickly encountered derogatory comments from the Lawyer and Carpenter who asked how a God of love could allow His Preacher to be lost at sea, suffering from dehydration and starving. “Where was God’s protection now”, they asked. The Preacher responded with kindness and humbleness, saying God always knows best; that there was an important lesson to be learned out here in the middle of the sea. Only the Housewife received the Bible verses eagerly and recited them out loud like they were giving her life. The physical discomfort was hard for the Preacher, he was a man who studied and read; he wasn’t much of an outdoors man. “God please help me show your grace when all I want to do is cry” he prayed.
On day six the lawyer announced that the tiny amount of rations and water they had were gone. The Carpenter announced that he had been examining the hull and found a small leak. They both agreed that if they were not rescued within a few days they would all die. By day seven the bottom of the boat was covered in four inches of sea water adding to the group’s misery. In an effort to ignore their rumbling stomachs they began to bicker and pick on each. The Lawyer found the Preacher worthless the Housewife bossy and demanding like his ex-wife and the Carpenter a complainer.
The Carpenter found the Lawyer arrogant, the Housewife irritating, and the Preacher too Godly for the good of the group. The Housewife disliked the Lawyer deeming him too full of himself. She found the Carpenter crass and boorish, and the Preacher a good man but weak. The Preacher tried to rise above the bickering but found himself being sucked in by the judgmental in intolerant attitudes of the others. They all found the Homeless man scary and tried their best to ignore him.
On day eight a storm set in and began to toss the little lifeboat around like a tennis ball. Sea water was streaming in over the boat’s sides and up through the leak in the bottom of the boat. They all took turns bailing water but knew it was a losing battle. They were going to drown if something wasn’t done soon. The Lawyer declared that to survive they needed to lighten the weight within the boat and the only way to do so was to throw one or two of the group overboard. The rest pretended to be shocked at his declaration but in truth they all had been thinking the same thing.
Who was the weakest? Who added the least amount of value? Who was the most helpful to their survival? Most of the group thought a few members may be better off thrown from the boat because their lives were so full of struggles and hardship. The Lawyer had been thinking about this for days and had decided he would throw the homeless man and the carpenter from the boat because both were very weak physically.
The Carpenter feared throwing anyone overboard knowing the act would send him straight to Hell; if there was such a place. But, if pushed to make a decision he would throw the Preacher overboard because he would go straight to heaven. And of course the Homeless man who would be better off at peace in the afterlife. The Housewife was terrified to think of killing another human; God would punish them harshly by sending them all to the bottom of the ocean. But maybe the Homeless man would be better off, but then again the Bible talked about helping the helpless, what would she do? A devious thought crossed her mind, “maybe the world would be a kinder place without the Lawyer.”
The Preacher suggested that they all hold hands and pray as a group to be rescued before any rash decisions were made. Oddly enough the Lawyer agreed saying anything was worth a try. The Carpenter said any God worth a hill of beans wouldn’t listen to his prayers but he would go ahead and join in. What did he have to lose? The Housewife was almost ecstatic at hearing the Lawyer and Carpenter agree to pray. Then a small voice from the bow of the boat said, “God will bless you all for praying.”
The Preacher began by thanking God for the lifeboat and the safety it had given the group. They all had forgotten to be grateful. He then acknowledged that God was God of all to which the Lawyer and Carpenter scoffed a little but then quieted down. Next the Preacher said, “Lord, each one of us on this boat is going to ask you to rescue us today. Please answer our prayers and rescue us today.” He looked at the Housewife who immediately prayed the same thing. She in turn looked at the Carpenter who fidgeted a bit then in an uncomfortable voice also prayed to be rescued. Now, the Carpenter looked at the Lawyer who, in typical fashion said,” I’m praying to the Universe not God” and proceeded to ask to be rescued. Unexpectedly the Homeless man joined in with his eyes squeezed shut tightly. “Lord, God in heaven” he began, “Our Father, which art in heaven hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever amen.
As the homeless man said amen the sea calmed and the sun came out. All five looked up at the sky in astonishment. “Thank you God” the Preacher said, the group agreed in awed voices. A deep, strong voice carried by a gentle breeze said, “I love you all the same, not one of your prayers or lives has more value than the other. You are all my beloved children.” The Lawyer was scared and began to look around to see where the voice came from. The Carpenter cried and shook, the Housewife giggled and couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. The Preacher’s face glowed with awe and peace as he openly worshiped God. The Homeless man said, “I did as you requested Father, thank you.” In the distance a ships horn sounded. They were safe. They were safe in God’s love.
God’s love for humanity is a mystery to most of us because It’s unlike the love we’re capable of giving. God's love for mankind is a love without a value system, He loves and values every one of us the same. He hears all sincere prayers with a loving ear and heart. The Bible states that He wants us to pray together and when we do he is there among us.
Forgiveness is a higher call
It challenges the heart of all.
It often goes against all reason
It seems like granting grace for treason.
But in this misconception lies
A home for bitter roots to hide.
God tells us that we must forgive
But we ask “Why?” as pain’s relived.
“They don’t deserve it... don’t You see?"
"Why am I the one You’re punishing?”
“They must pay an honest price!"
"Only justice will suffice!”
The hurt keeps circling in our heart.
Replayed by memories that won’t depart.
And as we pound the golden gavel
God weeps and sees our lives unravel.
For unforgiveness chains our heart.
And bitterness blooms... while joy departs.
A once soft heart turns to a stone
And bitterness rots once healthy bones.
And that’s why God says to Forgive
For bitterness dies as grace we give.
Its not to set the criminal free
But to heal and restore and set OUR souls free.
Forgiveness sets us free from shackles
Reminding us, God fights our battles.
Confront the one that brought offence
With love and grace… seeking to mend.
Leaving the heart of our offender
To our God… our true defender.
For there's no heart that we can read
And if we try... our peace will leave.
Know that we are not our hurt.
That we are more than pain asserts.
Let go of bitterness, judgment, and wrath
Let them all go, let grace take their spot.
Knowing that God moves mountains for us
As we humbly submit and in His wisdom, trust.
It may be the hardest thing you'll ever do.
But trust in the Lord... He'll walk it with you.
Get out of God’s way… He knows what He’s doing.
Pray for the offender and for their renewing.
And blessings will fall, more than we can count
And love, joy, and peace will grow like a fount.
Out of the hurt new life will grow and rather than bitterness,
God’s love we’ll sew.
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Job 42:10 (NIV) After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored
his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.
Strong and sharp in taste: having a sharp strong unpleasant taste.
Angry and resentful
Difficult to accept: mentally painful, or very hard to accept
Synonyms: sour, acid, acidic, tart, astringent, vinegary, pungent, harsh, acrid
I’ve been thinking about the act of being bitter and how bitterness, if not dealt with, can affect every aspect of our lives. Bitterness can blind a person to the love that is around them. Bitterness has the power to turn a person inwards, making them selfish and self-consumed. A bitter heart becomes brittle and intolerant. A bitter person will find the bad in every situation unable to see the good. Bitterness can strangle our creative energy. And a bitter heart is unable to open up to God’s love, it is unable to trust in God’s love because it is always in a state of self-protection.
Bitterness is like a weed, it is a living organism that need sustenance to survive and when it’s thriving it has the power to weaken our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. The Bitterness Weed is fed and nourished by our judgmental, negative, self-righteous, and unforgiving thoughts. Because bitterness is living, it will either grow or wither depending on our ability to starve it with forgiveness or feed it with judgment. Starving bitterness is not for the weak of spirit. It requires surrendering our right to justifiable anger and judgment. It demands that we not seek retribution ourselves for our pain, but allow God’s justice, which is a mystery to most of us, to have control.
All of us at one time or another have thought, “They don’t deserve forgiveness” or “It’s not fair, they feel no pain and are suffering no consequence for their destructive behavior” and we’re right, it’s not fair from a human point of view. So, in an effort to bring justice to the situation, we self-righteously judge the individual deeming them unworthy of forgiveness. And then we move on, right? Nope.
The problem is we’re not capable of judging others harshly and moving on. We continue to judge them in our thoughts and before we know it we’re feeding the weed of bitterness. Each time we ruminate over their bad actions and reassure ourselves of our righteous judgment, the bitterness weed grows stronger. Before long our outlook on life becomes a little more negative and our prayer time a little less frequent, and the Bible sits unopened for longer stretches of time on our night stand.
Before long we become bitter leaving a sharp and unpleasant taste in the mouths of our friends and family. Unbeknown to ourselves we become sour, tart, vinegary, pungent, harsh, and acrid in our attitudes and relationships. We have officially become bitter because of our self-righteous right to judge and not forgive. We now have a healthy, bitter-weed garden within our spirit that only God’s love, wisdom, and forgiveness can eradicate.
It’s true that starving bitterness is not for the weak of spirit. It takes unmeasurable amounts of faith, humbleness, and forgiveness to starve bitterness from our spirit. But if we choose to do so, God will help us, He will give us strength when we have none, and the courage to continue to forgive even when it seem like justice is not being served. God’s ways can be a mystery to us but when we follow them they always replace bitterness with beauty.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
In darkness lurks a thing called fear
It stalks the heart; tells lies to ears
And as it grows from just one seed
It buries deep our faith and peace.
Fear controls the lives of all
That let him in and heed his call
That lying voice that says “You’ll fail”
A darkened whisper that says “You’re ill.”
“Don’t travel to that longed for place,
The plane might crash, you won’t be safe!”
"Avoid the sea for you might drown"
"Don't ride that horse, You just might fall."
And as fear prospers in our soul
Abilities take a terrible toll
Gifts and talents once in bloom
Now buried deep in fear-filled gloom.
Fear tells us that God can't be trusted
For He allows bad things to happen
It says "take action; you'll save the day!"
"Save those you love from all dismay ."
But as we struggle to play God
Anxiety grows from fear's dark fraud
Controlling life is a tall order
The more we try; The more disorder.
For our God's ways are sovereign and true
He wants us to trust; see things from His view
To stop fearing things that probably won't happen
To pray and let go; Allow God to take action.
A spirit of fear is not from our God
But power and love and sound minds from above
He's holding out peace and freedom from fear
To live life fulfilled with God walking near.
Fear not the future, nor sickness or death
Hold only to God who gives us our breath
He has a plan that no man can know
We see in part; He sees the whole.
Faith and Fear cannot abide
Which 'er is grasped, to that we’ll slide
And in that choice we rise or fall
So walk on fear, in Faith stand tall.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
The Lifeboat Theory says; “If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbage man, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?” Since the 1970’s this question has been presented to students ranging from elementary school through university levels, we’ve all heard a version of it before. However, Donald Miller, in his book Searching for God Knows What presents a keenly insightful examination of this question.
In his book, Miller says that we humans naturally place values on others because from birth we are compared against others to gage our health, intelligence, aptitudes, basically how well we are doing. At birth we measure health by using the APGAR test, then it’s the developmental charts, academic achievement, athletic achievement, artistic achievement, and of course looks; “what a pretty baby.” Throughout our lives comparing and value placing is part of our daily existence so, when the Lifeboat Questions is posed most of us don’t say, “Wait, this is wrong because all people are equal.” Instead we immediately start comparing the value of each person, struggle a bit, and then come up with an answer.
Why are people fascinated with The Lifeboat Question and why don’t we struggle more with the concept that one person has greater value over another? Miller suggests that humans have an innate understanding of personal value because we are conditioned to comparing and assigning value throughout our lives. This makes it natural to say one person in a lifeboat has greater value than another.
Think about it for a minute, how do you know if you’re fat or thin, successful or not, smart or not, pretty or ugly, in style or out, popular or not, liked or not? The answer is, we compare ourselves to others. I’m not saying it’s wrong to compare ourselves with others, in fact a certain amount is necessary. However, if our value is placed wholly on the results of comparison with others we will feel that our personal value is unstable and at risk of being taken away daily.
Now, here is Miller’s main assertion in a nut shell. Humans were created with an innate need to have a relationship with God. Through this relationship God imparts his unconditional, unchanging, love to all people equally. This relationship is not based on ever changing value through comparison, but is based on acceptance and love; God’s stable, unchanging love. God doesn’t have a comparison scale.
When people are not in relationship with God they will seek other ways to fill this innate relational need. In seeking to fill this need we try to create personal value through social status, material possessions, education, friendships, peer recognition, etc., we will seek to fill God’s place with anything in an attempt to prove our value. This searching for value in things other than God is like being on the lifeboat, if we can’t verify our value with others we will live in fear of being thrown off the lifeboat.
Miller also points out that because Jesus loves and values all people the equally, The Lifeboat theory could not exist in His world, it is impossible for one person to have greater value than another to God. This concept is foreign to us because we are constantly seeking value by comparison. But, our value, our true value, was given to us at birth and has never left us; we are God’s children and he loves us unconditionally. He loves us whether we’re smart or not, pretty or not, successful or not, rich or poor, in God’s eyes we are all equal. This is amazing.
May you truly know your value in God’s eyes, you are priceless to him.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
The winds of trouble surely blow
A once bright path turns dark with woe.
Some days are filled with sad surprise
And needs aren’t met and bills pile high.
When marriage fails and kids go wrong
When disappointment is the song.
Oh God, You’re my security
You give me hope and victory.
There’s nothing that this world provides
For lasting peace and strength to guide.
When all else fails, One thing I know
Bowed on my knees, in grace I’ll grow.
When I exchange my will for Yours
Your peace comes down and calms my fears.
And when I set my eyes on You
I walk on storms and stand secure.
You are my fortress and my strength
You lift me up on eagle’s wings.
Lord You’re my rock and dwelling place
You walk me through hard times with grace.
When all around me turns to dust
I surrender all...Help me to trust!
Take my will and give me Yours
Pour down your joy from heaven’s door.
You are my victory and my strength
You lift me up on eagle’s wings.
When all my hopes fall to the ground
When quick sand hides all that is sound.
When sickness seems to have its hold
And prayers seem hollow, weak, and cold.
When God seems far from my desires
And all my dreams, go up in fire.
Still God, You’re my security
In You there’s always victory!
You’re ways are not the ways of man
For you see all, from beginning to end.
Take my will and give me Yours
Pour down more grace from heaven’s door.
You are my fortress and my strength
You cover me with Your mighty wings.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
A few days ago I was outside working in the yard when I heard several loud booms announcing the official start of the Fourth of July firecracker extravaganza that takes place in my rural community. There are two Indian reservations within a few miles of our small town and it is legal to sell firecrackers on these reservations making it easy anyone to get their hands on a stash of celebratory explosives.
Fireworks aren’t the only thing ignited just before the fourth of July in my small town, the community is exploding with activity. Dads are mowing the grass and cleaning the barbeques. Moms are looking for red, white, and blue recipes while extending and accepting invitations to friendly gatherings. Flags are hung from banisters, porches, decks, and windows making us all feel very patriotic and we like to feel patriotic. We like being Americans. We are proud to be Americans.
Why are proud to be Americans? On July Fourth, 1776 the Continental Congress ratified the declaration by the United States of its independence from Great Britain. The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence couldn’t have imagined what a great country the United States of America would become. They didn’t know that their passion, intelligence, faith, and courage would be an example to all generations that followed. What they did know was that there was a better way to live, a better way to run a country, and they risked their lives to make this dream a reality.
One of the best known phrases crafted in the Declaration of Independence is; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” They crafter this phrase believing it was an important part of designing a better country, a just country. There is power in these words. They’ve helped bring about some of the most important societal changes in the U.S.A. This phrase helped free the salves, give all Americans the right to vote, and bring about equality of pay. This phrase has helped make America a better country, a stronger country. In a way it has become our Golden Rule.
So, we Americans celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, firecrackers, barbeques, gathering, and parades. We celebrate with pride what our forefathers put in motion. We celebrate their amazing faith in God the Creator and in the human spirit. We celebrate their profound courage and intelligence that propelled them to conceive, write, and sign the Declaration of Independence. The United States of America is an exceptional country filled with amazingly diverse people who are using their passion, intelligence, faith, and courage to keep our county strong. God Bless America
Debora Shelford Hobbs
I failed again today, O Lord
Tripped hard and lost my way
My will came to the front O God
Your will… I put away.
It seems so hard to stay upon
Your narrow path to life
I let this lost world blind my eyes
Divide my faithless heart.
Yet in my sin, Your Spirit calls; Unending grace still flows
You woo me back into Your arms and gently let me know
Through thick and thin, and failures known
You stand with open arms
Bowed on my knees; You hold the key
You never give up on me.
When I forget Your holy way
Your Spirit I ignore
Old habits fall upon my heart
Like waves upon the shore.
But then you show me what I’ve done
And I fall to my knees
You hear my cry and see my heart
You never give up on me.
O what a sorry lot am I,
Your grace is undeserved.
You bore those nails to set me free
This lost and lonely ship at sea.
Your Spirit gently calls my name; unending grace still flows
You call me back into Your arms and failure turns to growth
In sin and shame, and struggles known
You wait for me to turn
Bowed on my knees, I now believe
You never give up on me.
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Hanging up the phone, Tammy reached for a framed snap-shot sitting on the top of her desk. Holding the beloved picture at arm’s length she examined every little detail even though she knew them by heart. The picture was a candid shot of Sadie, her daughter; then age ten, at the beach. In it, Sadie’s thick blond hair swirls around her freckled cheeks and big green eyes, both pushed up into the most beautiful, lighthearted smile. She reached out and touched Sadie's smooth cheeks, smiling back at the image, amazed at how Sadie’s carefree smile and spirit had both been captured. The framed snap-shot had been sitting on Tammy’s desk for 10 years providing proof of happier times. Smiling Tammy hug the picture and whispered, "Thank you God."
Tammy and Sadie had been through a lot since the summer that picture was taken. First there was the divorce which started out amicable but ended in bitter dispute about investments and parenting plans. Within a year of the divorce Tammy received a promotion that required them to move to another neighborhood miles away from Sadie’s friends. The move was hard on Sadie and by the time she turned fourteen that sweet, smiling face had morphed into a scowling teenage mask. By the time she was sixteen, Sadie had become that girl with too much makeup and too many piercings; all done without Tammy’s permission. Sadie was angry and out of control and Tammy wondered where her sweet little girl had gone.
Tammy had always considered herself a prayer warrior and spent hours praying for her marriage before it ended in divorce. While pregnant with Sadie, Tammy started praying for her child and continued to pray through all the sad, troubling, difficult times. However, the last few years had started taking a toll on Tammy’s faith and she found herself questioning whether God was listening to her prayers. For so many years she had chosen to believe God would answer them. Daily she deliberately choose to place her hope in God’s promises and not in all the discouraging situations that played out in her life day after day. However, as her daughter's rebellion increased and the trials became harder Tammy found herself loosing hope.
During Sadie’s sixteenth year Tammy discovered she had been cutting herself on the bottoms of her feet. Terrified for her daughter’s wellbeing Tammy found a highly recommended counselor and bribed Sadie into going. Unfortunately after 4 sessions with the counselor Sadie declared her a quack and refused further treatment. After graduating from high school Sadie received a scholarship to a state university but didn’t attend most classes and ended up leaving the university to become a waitress. Six months ago Sadie moved in with her drug addicted boyfriend. Broken hearted and defeated Tammy cried out to God for help then yelled at God in rage and great disappointment, “Where are you and why won’t you answer my prayers?” Tammy’s heart was sick with disappointment.
Then, after several months of minimal and strained communication Sadie called to say she had moved out of the apartment and into a small studio of her own, not too far from Tammy’s home. Not wanting to sound overly excited Tammy took several deep breaths and avoided asking any questions that could be controversial. For the first time in years Sadie was openly talking to her mom, sharing her thoughts. As the conversation wound down Sadie said, “mom, would you pray for me, I’m tired of messing up.” Tammy’s heart skipped a beat as tears slid down her cheeks, but she calmly replied “sure.” Just before hanging up Sadie hesitated then said, “Mom, I love you, thanks for not giving up on me.”
Tammy let the tears freely run down her face as gratitude to God filled her heart and hope for the future started to burn brightly in her mind. “Thank you God for not giving up on me or my child” she whispered “thank you for loving us and giving us hope for tomorrow.”
Debora Shelford Hobbs
Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
Isaiah 43:2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (NLT)
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Sometimes... in the midst of harship, the very best thing to do is to simply worship God. He is sovereign and as we submit our hearts and souls to Him in the midst of our trials we give God room to do a great work in us and through our situation.
As you walk through the trials of life I pray God's greatest blessings upon you!
Holy, Mighty, God!
God most High; the King of Kings
You hide us with Your mighty wings
You are Holy, Mighty, Awesome God!
Worthy, righteous, and victorious
Grace and mercy… always surround us
There is no one like You, Awesome God!
In the fire, in the battle, in the trial, You are mighty
In our sickness, in our pain
You are there, You never change
Healing hands, saving love,
grace unbending, never ending
All glory and honor, we lift to you our God.
Leaning on your holy word
My eyes can see... no longer blurred
In this trial I shall stand, firmly planted in Your hands
You are Holy, Mighty, Awesome, God!
You hear my prayers and cries for help
You move mountains from where they dwell
Submitting in my trials and pain
You renew my hope and I am changed!
There is no one like You Awesome God!
When I'm lonely and afraid
You lift me up, you know my name!
When I'm weak... can’t find my way
You take my hand and lead me safe.
Holy, Mighty, Awesome… is my God!
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
“Although the world is full of suffering, it’s also full of the overcoming of it.”
The recent terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon left our country shaken to its core and grieving deeply for our loss of innocence and security. We’re grieving openly and collectively for those who lost their lives and the families that will forever be missing one member. We’re grieving for the maimed and wounded who’s wonderfully normal lives were changed drastically and permanently with the explosion of the first bomb.
Many of us are struggling with a foreboding of vulnerability wondering where and when the next terrorist attack will kill or wound innocent people going about their daily activities. Some are wondering how radically our daily lives should be/will be altered if terrorist attack start happening with more frequency.
Americans know that the Boston Marathon terrorist bomb could have been detonated in any city across the USA. We understand that “there but for the grace of God go I.” And because of this knowledge we wake up at night worrying and during the day we talk to friends, co-workers, family, and neighbors attempting to find strength in our shared vulnerability, and we find it. There is strength in our communal grieving and shared vulnerability, it gives us common goals. Goals to heal, be stronger, smarter, and to continue to be proud that we are Americans.
An act of evil intended to weaken American society is actually making us stronger and more courageous, poetic justice at its best. Americans are compassionate and giving, more than $30 million has been donated to help the victims of the bombing. Americans are strong in mind and body and we will remain that way, it’s in our DNA. Already there are stories of injured individuals fighting with amazing courage to learn how to live with a new and foreign prosthesis, they are Boston Strong - American Strong.
Churches, organizations, and groups all across the country have been meeting to pray for the victims, our country, and for our leaders. Yes, in times like these even those who don’t pray, pray knowing deep down inside that God is there listening, caring, loving us all.
The United States of America was built upon Christian values and it shows in the way we respond to an act of evil. We grieve openly and collectively, we share concerns and fears with each other, we willingly and freely take care of our wounded, we learn from our pain becoming stronger and smarter and we seek justice. Although there are many questions about the future of our country that we can’t answer there are many items we can know with certainty. We know that Americans will respond to evil with strong, deep rooted Biblical principles. We know Americans will take care of one another. We Know Americans will pray to God our creator and we know Americans will seek justice.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
Although there are many questions about the future of our country that we can’t answer there are many items we can know with certainty. We know that Americans will respond to evil with strong, deep rooted Biblical principles. We know Americans will take care of one another. We Know Americans will pray to God our creator and we know Americans will seek justice.
As troubles mount up strong and tall, doubt overcomes the heart.
We wonder why God would allow our world to fall apart.
For trials choke our hurting hearts with mighty cords of fear.
They blur our sight and plug our ears to God who’s standing near.
We ask, "Where are the blessings, God promised those He loves?"
And why do trials rage and roar against His chosen ones?
Does He care or is He distant from the lives of men?
Do our prayers fall empty… far from His great hand?
OUR wisdom says that pain can’t be God’s perfect will for us.
Would we allow a child we love to suffer such deep loss?
But wisdom from the throne of God is not the way of man.
Its deeper than the deepest sea; more vast than grains of sand.
With His awesome, holy sight, God knows just what we need.
He teaches us in circumstance and waits for us to heed.
He uses our dark trials, to make us more like Him.
And what the devil means for loss...our God means for gain.
He molds and forms us just like clay, in a potter’s hand.
He bends and works the clay until its fashioned like He planned.
Through pain and pressure, stress and fire, a new work comes in view.
Forever changed, with softened heart, tested through and through.
Recently my middle son had his 19th birthday and like so many 19 year olds when asked what he would like for his birthday he said, “Cash, it’s the only thing I really need;” and he meant it. He’s at that awkward place in life where the carefree living of teenage-hood collides with the realities of adulthood and adulthood keeps sending overdraft notices, late notices, and the gas tank is empty, again. So, he really needs cash; it seems the part-time retail job that pays barley more than minimum wage isn’t going quite as far as he thought it would.
Smiling, I listen to him tell me about the budget he recently crafted. On paper every bill was paid and the gas tank filled, but in practice the money is gone long before his next paycheck arrives. "In real life", he explained, "unexpected things come up and … the money is gone." He could try to work full-time but that would compromise his grades at the community college.
So, emphatically he restates that the only birthday present he wants or needs is cash. I stare at my son, nodding my head in an understanding kind-of-way, but I don’t want to give him cash. The problem with giving cash as a gift is it won't change his financial woes. The gift will be just enough money to fill up his gas tank and pay a bill or two, then poof it’s gone! But his financial situation will be the same next month.
Our conversation got me thinking about what my heart would truly like to give my son for his birthday. Would it be a new car whose windows open, or would it be a higher paying job, or maybe an I Phone without a cracked screen. No, those ideas are nice but not what my heart would give my son.
I’ve been watching my son's entrance into adulthood with the eyes of a mother. Eyes that see his successes and failures through the filter of a mom's heart and this filter sees and understands the value of his struggles to find his place in this word. I've watched as he fails and then struggles to fix the problem. I’ve watch as he succeeds, gets over confident, and then messes up again.
While contemplating my son's journey into manhood I asked myself again what my heart would give him for his 19th birthday. If it was within my ability I would give him the strength and confidence to stand strong through adversity, the strength to be honest with himself, the strength to be honest with others, the strength to keep holding onto his faith, the discipline to do the right thing even when others aren’t, a heart that chooses forgiveness, the ability to laugh at himself, and a kind heart that resists harsh judgment of others.
This contemplation about what gifts I desire to give my son made me think about God and all the gifts and blessings He freely gives to us when we choose to believe in him. I find comfort in the fact that God understands our struggles with human nature as we mature in our Christian walk. I appreciate that He gives forgiveness when we mess-up and then mess-up again. How blessed we are to have a father who loves us completely.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
I prayed to God; Help me to see myself like others do.
And with those words, I stirred the pot, without the smallest clue.
God being ever faithful, to these types of prayer
Took me to the other side of His two way mirror
And as I stared back at myself, my ears perked up in horror
My brow began to grimace and my heart did pound with fear.
For as I listened closely… to that other me
I heard her ramble on an on without humility.
She pontificated gladly and weighed in on every view
She spoke with true authority… that others never knew
Oh…she knew this and she knew that...all others take a bow
For here stands all true wisdom - just like a mooing cow.
As I watched my shoulders slumped, I turned and looked at God
I said; Why do you love me, when I am such a fraud?
He looked at me with tender eyes and with His heart of love
And said I love you like you are… I only hear your heart.
The words that others hear you say, your actions good and bad
Will slowly change and grow My way ‘til heart and words unite
And as I stared into His face, His grace encompassed me.
Then turning to that two way mirror; the proud fell to her knees.
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Over the last year or so an uncomfortable and difficult question had been growing in Toby’s mind." Was God who they say He is?" This question inevitably led to another questions; "did Toby still believe in God?" With life pressing in from all corners and disappointment in fellow Christians growing Toby needed time to think so he drove to the beach and parked his car in the deserted parking lot. Lost in thought he stared out the rain streaked windshield.
As a child in Sunday school he’d learned about God’s greatness, His creative power, omnipresence, all powerful and loving being. As an adult he had faithfully attended church with his wife and children but over the years his belief in God had been chipped away by disappointment in humans, in the church, and with the evil they created
"Who was God really", he asked himself. If God was real, why did He love mankind? Why would he let imperfect man represent him? Why would he let imperfect man use His name as a surname, Christian, when every one of them was sinful? Toby thought that if he was God he’d leave humans to destroy themselves with their greed, jealousy, prejudice, abuse and start over with an improved race.
More difficult questions came to Toby. "If God was real why didn’t he strike dead the rapist, pedophile, vicious dictator, and murderer? If He was real why didn’t he punish the religiously abusive minister, teacher, parent or other leaders?" Toby’s life was filled with Christians who claimed to be God honoring but lived in contradiction to that claim.
Toby’s mind was so muddled with confusion that is hurt. “God, who are you?” he said in frustration. "Are you really present in this world, seeing all the evil that happens daily?" Toby watched the white caps in silence; his mind seemingly blank for a moment or two.
In the quiet of his mind a Bible verse he learned in Sunday school come back to him. Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Toby thought about this verse for a few moments; maybe those claiming to honor God and deliberately abuse others do suffer judgment. Not just judgment but also the natural consequences of their decisions. Toby found comfort in this knowledge. He remembered another verse, Proverbs 16:2, All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord. Toby thought about all the times he'd justified his own bad behavior then considered the times his motivation had been unjustly judged by others. God knew the truth in all these situations, this fact was oddly comforting to Toby.
“God, why not stop the abuser before they have the chance to hurt someone?” Toby asked. But he knew the answer, Free Will. What a mystery Free Will was because it allows for sin but hopes for obedience. Free Will, each person not only has the right to choose to believe in God or not, but actually must decide which way they believe at some point in their lives. Because of Free Will, each day a person decides how to think and behave. God wants our love but gives every person the freedom to choose to not love and believe in him, amazing.
Toby’s spirit still felt heavy, he was so disappointed in mankind. Then another Bible verse came to him. 1 Samuel 16:7, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." God looks at the heart and Toby looked mostly at the actions. Can a heart with good intentions hurt others? Toby knew the answer, Yes.
Toby started thinking about the nature of God. While thinking about God he realized that over the last few years he'd spent too much emotional energy and time thinking about how other humans had disappointed him, hurt him, and hurt others. He had focused on sinful man and not on the Holiness of God; this thinking had depressed him and caused him to lose hope. Numbers 23:19 said, God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? What a comfort it was for Toby to meditate on the holiness of God and not the sinfulness of man. I Choose to believe in you God, please help me understand these things that trouble my soul.
One more verse came to Toby, Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing," "God please quiet my troubled mind with your love; please be with me Lord." Toby prayed, "please help me stay focused on you and not on mankind for you are The Holy God and we are imperfect humans in need of your love."
Debora Shelford Hobbs
When the Messiah died like a common criminal, the disciples were confused and lost but when they saw their Lord alive after three days of devastation, it changed their lives so profoundly that they too were willing to die for their faith. When we don’t understand what’s going on in life and when trials and pain challenge our faith know that there is always a purpose. It may not be visible at the moment but it will come clear at some point…in the same way Jesus’ death became clear to his followers after He rose. This poem is written from the perspective of one of the disciples.
Keep the faith!
Hope Has Come!
We followed Him with all our hearts, left homes and jobs behind.
To reach the world and say to all Messiah’s come to us!
But here we are this lonely day with eyes turned up to blight
As He hangs there without a breath; Broken…crushed… He died.
I thought He was Messiah, the King of Kings and Lord
He was to set our people free, bring justice to the poor.
But here we are a pack of fools; our faith is mocked and tried
What did we miss, how can this be, why did he bleed and die?
In shame we went to hiding... huddled in our fear.
We didn’t know which way to turn or what our futures held.
But in our darkest hour, light rushed in like a wave
And praise the Lord…He rose again, the Tomb’s an empty grave!
He isn’t dead... oh no, He lives; our hearts and souls are saved!
How did we miss the meaning, of His death on that cross?
The shame and pain He suffered, He bore it for us all.
Each sin and pride-filled moment, each stubborn, willful heart
Each secret thought He brought to light; resentment, greed... He crushed.
He bore it all, that spotless Lamb for sinners ... just like us.
My life is now forever changed by what I’ve seen and heard.
I know the truth; I’ve seen what’s real, all doubt is washed away.
So what will I remember when trials rule the day?
That things are seldom what they seem, a bigger plan’s at bay.
For fear and dark confusion, shall not hold me for long
For my God reigns, He’ll never change, in that hope I shall stay.
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Kimmie loved grandma more than anyone else in the world and was devastated that grandma had caught her lying, again. She really didn’t mean to lie; it just seemed to slip out before she had time to think about it, and now grandma was disappointed in her. Oh, how Kimmie hated to disappoint
Standing, shamefaced before her grandma; Kimmie hung her head low, shoulders slumped forward. Her small pudgy hands were clasped in front of her little round belly and her toes were pointed in towards each other. Large elephant tears slid down her cheeks mixing with the goo running from her button nose. Slowly the back of her right hand reached up and smeared the teary-gooey mess around in an unsuccessful attempt to clean it up. Trying again, Kimmie lifted her whole arm then buried her nose deep into the sleeve of her shirt making one long swipe from bicep to the back of her hand. That worked.
“Kimmie, would you please look at me” grandma asked in a firm but kind voice. Kimmie lifted her head just enough to look at grandma from under her eyebrows, her lip started to quiver. “Kimmie, I’d like to see your whole face.” Hesitantly, Kimmie raised her head and met grandma’s clear blue eyes with her own. “I’m sorry I lied to you grandma, I won’t ever lie to you again for as long as I live.” The words spilled out of Kimmie’s mouth in an almost pleading tone.
Grandma thoughtfully examined Kimmie through her Coke-bottle-glasses, “Kimmie, I know you’re sorry you lied to me and that’s good, but it’s not enough. I want you to learn that there’s always a consequence to lying, and usually it’s unpleasant. Oh my, how the tears spilled out of Kimmie’s eyes, it hurt so bad to have grandma upset with her. Calmly, grandma said, “you will need to call your parents to tell them what you did and no TV tonight.”
Now the tears flowed like a river down Kimmie’s six year old cheeks, how could she admit to mommy and daddy that she’d lied to grandma, again. Grandma dialed the phone then handed it to Kimmie. Oh, what a hard conversation it was for Kimmie, but she did it and oddly enough felt better when she hung up the phone.
After the phone call grandma sat down in her favorite chair and held out her arms in a warm invitation for Kimmie to come sit on her lap. Kimmie walked across the room and Grandma scooped Kimmie up and wrapped her securely in her cozy grandma arms then kissed her on top of her head. “Kimmie, I love you warts and all” grandma said in a soft whisper. Those words were so sweet to hear, grandma still loved her even though she’d lied, even though she wasn’t perfect. Kimmie felt happy, forgiven, and truly loved; warts and all.
There have been times in my adult life when I’ve felt like Kimmie, disappointed in my own behavior, guilty, and devastated that I let God down. I’ve cried tears of remorse and prayed passionately for forgiveness. I’ve accepted the impending consequences and promised myself and God that I would never make that same mistake again. And then, much like Kimmie’s grandma, I could imagine the Lord saying to me, “I love you warts and all.” I can hear Him saying “while you were still a sinner I willingly gave my life for you, I love you warts and all.” At times like this God’s unconditional love is like a big safe hug that engulfs my entire body, He loves me just as I am. It’s so wonderful to be forgiven and truly loved unconditionally.
May you know deep within your soul that you are loved by God unconditionally; Warts and All.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Psalms 36:7 How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
There are many possible reasons for unanswered prayer. This poem deals with only one...the heart. Other explanations for unanswered prayer can be that we must wait on God’s timing or the person we're praying for is resisting the Holy Spirit since God gives us all free will. It can also be that what we are asking for isn’t good in the long run or there may be something we need to learn before the answer can be delivered. Lastly, a request might very simply, not be in God’s will or purpose for our lives. This poem deals directly with the sins of the heart and the affect they can have on our prayer life. The poem doesn’t mean that we can only see answers to prayer if we are sinless, for if that were the case, we would never see answered prayer. But when God reveals something in our heart that needs to change and we resist, we run into all kinds of problems including a greatly diminished prayer life.
A Tree Called “Can’t Forgive”
With faith as small as mustard seed a mighty mountain falls
Just a spoken word of faith uproots a tree and all
Its written that a fervent prayer from a heart that’s right
Releases heaven's power and shackles evils' fight .
So if my prayers are full of faith… are fervent from my heart
Then tell me why my heartfelt cries seem empty and ignored
I’ve watched and waited long O God… to see my mountains fall
But all I see is empty space and silence from You pours.
Here on my knees I cry to You, Renew my hope this day
For I am growing weary and my scars, they blind my way.
As I cried unto the Lord, His words came sure and true
That if I hold sin in my heart, my prayers cannot be heard.
And then God said so clear and loud; it shook my world that day
A tree of unforgiveness, has hid you’re prayers from Me.
For its dark roots have burrowed down and fostered bitter pride
They furrowed deep within the heart and judgment worked its blight
And now a tree called “Can’t Forgive” shades My holy light.
It stands between your heart and Mine, it shadows prayers and cries
And as it grows it suffocates My power in your life.
With faith just like a mustard seed uproot that tree this day.
And cast it out with roots and all in Jesus’ mighty name.
As “Can’t Forgive” is toppled, My heart will join with yours
And you will see with your own eyes, My power from heaven pour.
Luke 17:6, Matthew 17:20, James 5:16, Psalms 66:18
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Recently I read the wonderful Christian book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, and found it very insightful. The book is about a disfigured and lame woman named Much-Afraid who chooses to trust in the promises of the Shepherd (God) even when they seem unattainable. The Shepherd promises Much-Afraid that one day she will no longer be crippled but will have Hind’s feet and live on The High Places with him. Much-Afraid desperately wants a new life and is overcome with joy and anticipation for that day. However, the journey to The High Places requires Much-Afraid to travel through terrifying and desolate lands while battling her old enemies Resentment, Pride, Bitterness, and Self-Pity.
One of the terrifying and desolate lands Much-Afraid journeys through is a desert which is in the opposite direction of The High Places promised to her. Filled with discouragement she says to her companions, “The Shepherd has called me to High Places. We must find some path which goes up, but certainly not down there. This is an absolute contradiction of all that he promised.”
Have you ever been there at the edge of a desert saying “Lord this is all wrong, I’m your child and you promised to take care of me? This isn’t what you promised; my life is supposed to be different.” I have, and like Much-Afraid I was sure the path I was on was wrong. But it wasn’t the path that was wrong; it was my attitude and perception of the situation.
Much-Afraid was overcome with discouragement and felt being in the desert was a sign that the Shepherd would not keep his promises. In desperation she calls out to the Shepherd to come and help her, and he does. The Shepherd comforts her with his presence and teaches her about the necessary work accomplished in all his followers while they cross the desert. It is significant that the Shepherd didn’t remove her from the desert but comforted her through her journey. With His loving guidance Much-Afraid learns to accept the desert and find beauty in the dry and desolate land.
One unexpected item of beauty Much-Afraid found in the desert is a solitary flower growing up from a crack in the rocks where a trickle of water dripped down from above. Upon seeing the flower she asked if it had a name, the flower answers, “Acceptance with Joy”. That is the lesson we need to learn. How to accept with joy the path God has placed before us even when it appears to be heading in the wrong direction. How wonderful it would be to grow like the little flower, even when we are in a desert, finding our sustenance in the Shepherd’s living water and accepting our situations with joy.
God allows us to go through deserts so we can grow spiritually. Deserts give us an opportunity to battle then lay down our pride, self-pity, resentment, and bitterness, along with our self created images of what our life should be like. Yes, it is painful but the outcome is beautiful.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
This has been a hard year. We've had trial after trial…and I don’t mean small ones. Last month, I drove across the state to attend my son’s college graduation. I was alone because my husband was stuck in a long and arduous fishing season so was unable to attend. Saying I was feeling heavy hearted with the load I’ve been carrying is an understatement. My iPod was playing worship music and an old song began that brought me back to another time.
Twenty years ago, my husband bought me a beautiful diamond and sapphire bracelet for my birthday. It was the most beautiful piece of jewelry I owned and was a big splurge since we had little money in those days. I cherished that bracelet and wore it every day.
I awoke one morning and realized that the bracelet wasn't on my wrist. With a feeling of dread I frantically searched every inch of my house and car, but I didn't find it. Trying to exhaust all possibilities, I drove one and a half hours to the ski resort I had visited the day before, but no one had turned in my bracelet. I checked at all the places I had stopped along the way, but still had no luck. After my final inquiry, I headed to the car teary eyed, fearful that the bracelet was lost forever.
Before starting my car, I sat and cried to God about how much the bracelet meant to me and explained to Him its great sentimental value. I reasoned with God that He should help me find it because it was the most valuable thing I had to my name and that we had no insurance to cover it.
Wiping my tears, I turned the key in the ignition and my cd player started automatically, “Lord You are more precious than silver, Lord You are more costly than gold. Lord You are more beautiful than diamonds and nothing I desire compares to You.” Tears streamed down my face and I knew that I would not be finding my bracelet.
Twenty years later the song was touching my soul again and I realized that once again my heart was focused on the loss of things that are important to me. Things that are good and even honor God and things I have prayed for diligently and fervently. Answers to those prayers have been slow in coming and instead, more trouble piled on. But that moment, when that song started, I realized that I was so focused on what I longed for that I forgot to value my relationship with God above all else… even above the desires of my heart that are good and are things that God ultimately wants for my family and me. I knew that very moment that when it comes right down to it, there is NOTHING I desire or value above my Lord...and thats the way it should be. I asked the Lord to help me to rest in His love and trust Him afresh with every situation and to take the spirit of heaviness from me. Suddenly, instead of my problems and worries weighing me down, the burden became light and joy rushed into my heart. My outlook was renewed even though none of my circumstances had changed.
I swear I replayed the song and sang to the top of my lungs twenty times…one for every year that my bracelet has been lost.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Toward the back of the sanctuary and several seats in from the isle Henry reluctantly stood with the other worshippers. He was feeling uncomfortable and wished his wife had chosen seats in the very back so he could leave without disturbing anyone. Henry could hear the passion in the united voices; holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! But his heart felt no passion; it was heavy with guilt and defensiveness.
Henry’s guilt and shame gave birth to a defensive attitude which was the direct byproduct of a bad decision he had made several months ago and no matter how hard he tried to escape it the guilt clung to his conscience like fly paper. He'd tried to creatively explain away this bad decision but his conscience knew better, the result was an unhappy, defensive, and very guilty feeling Henry. His mind obsessively said”you’re guilty, you’re not worthy of God’s love”. Henry's spirit was uncomfortable and he wanted to leave but couldn’t, people would notice and wonder what’s wrong. The singing continued; God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Distracted, Henry began to examine all the worshipers with their faces and voices lifted towards God. Oh how he wished to be like them entering into worship without the guilt and heaviness that was wrapped around his black soul. Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee.
Henry noticed Ralph a local business man who was known as a bit of a conniver, worshipping. There was Ellen a suspected homosexual, worshipping. Henry moved his eyes up and down the rows making a mental note about the imperfect humans who were worshipping God. There was the gossip, alcoholic, ex-drug addict, the twice divorced, the liar, the abused and abuser, and of course the rigidly religious one who was always doing the right thing but also managed to judge harshly those who didn’t add up to her exacting standards. They all kept singing; Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee, who was and is, and evermore shall be.
A tiny bead of warmth started to grow in Henry’s chest as he thought about how flawed each worshiper was; they were all sinners just like him. Not a one of them stood without sin before man, but before God they were sinless through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee, perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
It was just a few weeks before Christmas and Henry hadn’t bothered to think about the birth of Jesus he’d been too consumed with his own quilt not to mention stressing over work and the family budget. But, as the bead of warmth spread through his body Henry began to consider the miracle of Jesus’ birth and how this child was born to save the world from sin. “God, please forgive me and help me to accept your forgiveness” Henry prayed as tiny tears moistened the corner of his eyes.
The bondage of guilt and defensiveness was loosened in Henry's spirit by the divine knowledge that God saw him sinless through the blood of Jesus. For the first time in months Henry's spirit felt free to worship. Henry lifted his voice in praise with the congregation; Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea. Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty, God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
May the deep meaning of Jesus' birth and the cleansing power of his blood be made real to you this Christmas season.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
Holy, Holy, Holy | Reginald Heber
Renee never failed to amuse Sue with her freely given, uncensored, and unedited opinions, thoughts, and stories about her life and the world around her. Frequently, Sue found herself shocked by Renee’s frankness; there was nothing sacred or private in her world. With this in mind Sue went looking for a little excitement from an unconventional conversation with Renee. Walking through the reception area doors Sue immediately knew something was wrong, Renee’s eyes were swollen and red, her face puffy, maybe even bruised. For one brief moment Sue considered turning around and heading back to her desk, dealing with a serious issue wasn’t what she felt like doing, she wanted funny conversation and to be entertained.
Asking the obvious question Sue said, “Is something wrong”? Renee's sarcastic nature sparked in those brown eyes for a nanosecond but was quickly replaced with a worn-out and defeated demeanor. Looking down at her long acrylic nails Renee said in a soft voice, “Kevin and I are having problems again and that bastard hit me”. To Sue it looked like he had hit her many times, Sue’s heart panged with sadness for Renee.
Kevin was a bad apple who Renee insisted was the love of her life even though he had anger issues, sex addictions, PTSD, abused alcohol, and treated her and her two kids poorly most of the time. On several occasions Sue had encouraged Renee to protect her kids and herself by moving out, to this Renee always said she could not afford to support the three of them without Kevin’s help and he was the love of her life.
“I’m sorry Renee, what are you going to do”? Sue asked, hoping Renee would respond with, “Leave him now”. But instead Renee picked at the gold stripe that wrapped around her dark purple nails quietly and apparently deep in thought. After a few long seconds Renee looked up at Sue with a mischievous smile she said “I’m going to kick his ass then take his money and run”. Sue smiled back and said, “what about the kids, are they ok”? Renee insisted they were ok then loudly blew her nose. After several minutes of Kevin bashing she looked at Sue sincerely and asked, “How long have you been married”? “22 years” Sue replied.
Renee responded with a steam of heartfelt comments and questions, “All I ever wanted was to have a happy family, I’ve tried so hard and yet my relationships are a mess. Your life looks perfect, you have a nice home, good husband, handsome kids, why can’t I have that? Why do I keep making the same mistakes? I feel like a failure, unworthy, stupid. I just want to be loved and have a happy family”. Sue felt that nudging deep inside that said, “She needs to know she is loved; tell her about God’s love”.
Now, Sue wasn’t known for being brave and outspoken when talking about God, but sometimes there’s just no getting around it so she shot up a silent prayer and entered uncharted territory; talking to Renee specifically and directly about God. “Renee, I’ve lived through many hard and dark situations, more than you can imagine but in the darkest of times there is one truth that keeps me going and that is the knowledge that God loves me. Because of his love I have value, value that human words and actions can’t take away. We, you and I, are God’s children and he wants the best for us and he will help us do the right thing in difficult times”.
Renee looked at Sue with a surprisingly interested look on her face and said, “Yea, I’ve heard about that God stuff before, I had a friend who took me to church a few times but I really didn’t like it, seemed too judgmental”. Danger, Sue thought, how do I navigate this without getting into the politics of Christianity? Sue issued a silent request, “Lord, please give me wisdom.” “Different churches have different personalities so your friend’s church may have been the wrong one for you, I can’t speak to the quality of a church but I can talk about the unfailing love of God. Did you know that you, Renee, were made in the image of God and are a reflection of his love”?
Renee responded with a skeptical tone, “That’s hard to understand because I’ve made some really bad decisions and I keep making them, I don’t think I know how to live differently. I’m really not an image of God; I’m rebellious and naughty sometimes, in fact I like being naughty.” She gave Sue a mischievous smile but her eyes were sad, defeated.
Sue continued, “The most amazing thing about God’s love is that it’s not dependent on our behavior; God loves us even when we make bad decisions or don’t love him back. He loves us and wants the best for us, always. Renee, you’re precious to God, He values your life just the way it is today”. Renee looked at Sue directly in the eyes for a very long and thoughtful moment obviously pondering God’s unconditional love. And the then phone rang invading their deep and private conversation.
The client on the phone had a serious problem Sue needed to attend to and just like that their conversation ended. The sad thing is they were never able to continue the conversation. The following weeks were busy and every time Sue went into the reception area Renee was on the phone or other people were around.
A few months later Sue left the company but continued to pray for Renee and often thought about that quiet afternoon when she had the unusual opportunity of sharing God’s love with Renee. She felt grateful that God had nudged her spirit to share the truth of his unfailing love even though she had no idea of the outcome.
Human nature likes to see results, we like to have everything wrapped up in a neat package at the end of a story but frequently real life isn't like that. We may never know if our actions, words, or prayers have had a positive impact on another’s life and that's ok, the end result is God’s responsibility. Our responsibility is to be faithful in sharing God's love through actions, words, and prayers; God will do the rest.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
The love of God, comes like the dawn and overwhelms the night
It reaches to the deepest depth and to the highest high
It reaches far and wider than our minds can comprehend
And will not fail no matter what, for His love has no end
No trial, pain, nor sin, or shame, can wash away the truth
That as we humbly bow to Him, His love renews our youth
His love will free the broken heart and heal the wounded soul
Take beauty out of ashes, grow hope, and make us whole.
So focus not on wrong you’ve done nor pain that you’ve endured
But place your hope and eyes on Him; of His love be assured
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
My son’s big strong arms wrap around me in a firm, comforting hug and I thought, “I don’t want to let go.” I pated Ryan’s back like I had done since he was a baby, and we move apart. I looked up at his handsome face and wondered where the years had gone. Voices were calling his name; he waved and walked toward a group of friends and I was left watching him stride away, tall, handsome, a man.
A mixture of pride and concern filled me as I observed the crowd growing; people were talking and laughing, hugging and shaking hands. The flowers were beautiful and so was the bride, but I did not want to let go, not yet, there was so much more to teach him. There were many lessons I wanted a second chance at teaching and some situations I wanted erased from his life. Had I equipped this young man enough for marriage? I knew our family had been an imperfect example of a Christian family; I knew at times I had let him down. I knew at times his dad and step dad had let him down. How would this affect his marriage?
I’d been down this rutted road of introspection about my parenting before. When he graduated from high school I spent days maybe even weeks in deep thought about how there was so much more to teach him but time had run out. Emotions deep in my bones consumed me, I wanted time back, but that’s not the way it works, there are no do overs in life. I did not want to let go.
When Ryan moved out of the house I was strong, trying with all my might to find happy words and attitudes to show I believed in him. I watched him just a little closer observing his daily habits and making pictures in my mind to hold on to. We packed up his room bickering at times about what was a keepsake and what was garbage. An area we had never seen eye to eye on so I made a box of keepsakes knowing he would want them later in life. I enjoyed the bitter sweet flavor of shopping with him for needed household items. We strolled through Wal-Mart’s fine furniture section finding a desk and end table that would withstand young adult male treatment. There were bath towels and dishes to purchase and through it all I held a stiff upper lip that cemented my smile into place.
That was until I went grocery shopping at Safeway alone to fill up the cupboards in Ryan’s new kitchen. There in the middle of a canned food isle the reality hit me like a tornado and my stiff upper lip started to quiver; I broke down and cried. Tears ran down my cheeks and my nose ran; I was helpless to stop them as the reality of his not being at my kitchen table daily hit me hard. I did not want to let go. I wanted more time with my boy.
I thought about walking Ryan to the local elementary school to sign him up for kindergarten. I held on to his hand just a little tighter not really wanting to let go; enjoying the sensation of his small soft hand in mine. The school secretary, pleasantly plump and smiling, asked for his birth certificate and I carefully place it on the cold, hard counter top, emotions welling up inside of me. I did not want to let go.
My deep thoughts were interrupted by a friend who said how beautiful the wedding was and how beautiful the bride was and what a fine young man Ryan had grown into. I smiled one of those deep, knowing, solemn smiles and said “thank you, it’s prayer and the grace of God that has made my son who he is.” I heard my words like they were being spoken to me not by me and their truth resonated deep within my spirit. The truth is that prayer works, God is there and we are all imperfect. Lessons are never completely taught, we spend a life time learning them. We all want more time and grieve over parenting mistakes, our children do have scars from imperfect homes, but God is there and prayer works. Our lives were not perfect nor will they be. Our children’s lives are not perfect nor will they be. I looked at my son and saw through this knowledge that he is perfectly imperfect, a work of God’s hands, and a creation still in progress.
Letting go is not my favorite part of parenting, obviously I struggle with the concept for many different reasons. However, the knowledge that God is actively working in my children’s lives comforts me and through prayer He helps me remember that I’m not releasing my children into a cold world without protection and this protection will help them in areas where they may not have been prepared fully for the challenge.
Psalms 17:7 (NIV) I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Psalms 65:6 (NIV) You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
Psalms 69:16 (NIV) Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me.
Psalms 86: 6-7 (NIV) Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.
Quote: "The mother - child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother's side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent." Erich Fromm
Debora Shelford Hobbs
When storms of trouble thunder ‘or and hide all God has blessed
When fears of what might happen, destroy my peace and rest
As quickly as the clouds roll in, my faith turns dark with doubt
I focus on the blinding pain and trials I can’t count
Then satan hits me when I’m down and says I’ve lost God’s love
He tells me I’m not good enough for blessings from above
But in those darkened moments the Spirit speaks so sweet
Reminding me of all the times God poured out love on me
The times that He protected, gave gifts, and answered prayer
Salvation for this hardened heart He gave without a care
It came to mind that God’s own Son hung lonely on the cross
That He too felt abandoned and lost from His own God
So as I walk this darkened path, I soon shall not forget
That something good will come of this and in that truth comes rest
I cry to Him “I love you Lord, You've been so good to me"
And standing on the word of God, new strength and peace I see
Refiner take this fire and burn away the chaff
Help me to shine like gold this day; fill me with thankfulness.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
The meandering path lined with tall, sharp, sea grass beckons to be followed.
Walking down the path a cool sea breeze envelopes my being and soothes my stressed body.
Pointing my nose into the breeze I inhale deeply the salty, fresh, air that holds memories of childhood, picnics, vacations, and playing in surf.
My feet touch the grainy, warm, soft sand and sink deep into its gentle massage. My toes wiggle in the sand content and happy to be out of my shoes.
Sitting with my back against an old gnarled log I wiggle until the sand is perfectly molded to me.
Closing my eyes I listen to the rhythm of the waves, my breathing becomes deep and slow in imitation.
God is here, I see him,
As vast as the sea is God.
As loud as the roar of the waves are my troubled thoughts.
As soothing as the dry warm sand wrapped around my feet is his spirit.
As tangled as the seaweed wrapped around the drift wood are my feelings.
As gentle or as mighty as the sea breeze, God is more.
By Debora Shelford Hobbs
Outrunning the Past
“Am I ever going to outrun my past?” he asked with frustration, “I'm a completely different person than I was... but just when I think the past is finally dead, I run into someone that knew me at my worst and they say something like" "I can't believe you're still alive!" "Sometimes when I'm in a group an old story comes up that puts my past on public display and I nearly drown in a wave of humiliation. I want to look forward, not backward! I am sick of it…I don’t want to be reminded of my past anymore. I don’t want friends and acquaintances from my current life to even know about my past…it makes me feel like such an idiot! It’s been years since I was like that…why won’t people just leave it alone? I just want to deny that my past was really a part of my life!”
I sat there wondering if he was actually asking for input or if the question was just rhetorical. His eyes shifted to me mid-sentence and I could see I was expected to say something. My mind raced to find a truthful but gentle reply and then I remembered to ask God for wisdom and for words that would glorify Him in that difficult moment. I said, “We all have regrets and our mistakes are part of who we are. They are undeniable; we cannot outrun them. God knows everything we’ve ever done and He wants us to humbly submit our lives and allow Him to use our past… with all its pain. Do you really think you’re the only one that has made mistakes like yours? On the contrary, there are millions of people that have made the same mistakes and they need to know that there is redemption and hope for them too. If you silence your story how will they know?"
Continuing on I said, "You're right to look forward and to continue changing but none of us should completely forget our past. Remembering where we came from reminds us to be thankful for God's forgiveness and mercy. It is His plan to use our mistakes for good…like taking beauty from ashes. Just think of it, God loved you in spite of sin and rebellion and He reached out to you in the midst of sin…not after you appeared sinless. I know it takes humility, because I too have regrets and shame from my past. But…the past is part of us and has helped form our character, so why not be open about it and allow God to use it to touch others that are following our same troubled path. We should be thoughtful about where and when to share our story just like Jesus was careful with whom he shared. But... we must share our story when the opportunity presents itself. When you run into someone from the past and they ask how it is that you are still alive…seize that opportunity to share what God has done in your life. What a way to make right the wrongs of the past.”
As I walked away, I thought to myself “Am I allowing God to use the mistakes of my past to touch others? Am I sharing how God has changed me and clothed me in love with young women that are struggling in the same way I did?” I suddenly realized that the answer God gave me when talking with my friend was for me too. And I understood that I too need to seize opportunities to share the grace that God has placed over my life in spite of the sin and rebellion of my past.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
During the last few months life for my in-laws has changed radically. They can no longer drive, both use walkers, both have mild dementia, and recently were moved into an assisted living community. The poem below is inspired by their struggles with aging to the point of regression.
Once you were strong
Doing things by yourself
Once you were king of your castle
Once you were busy
Once you were involved
Once you were independent
Taking care of others
Memories are sweet and seem more relevant than today
You are confused by the world
You wonder how you got so old
You long to drive again and mow the lawn
Yet enjoyment is found
Taking care of your dog
Visiting with anyone who will listen
You still care for others
By praying, you are always talking to God
I know God is listening
Thank you for taking care of us in your prayers.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
After years of a deeply troubled marriage, I began planning a divorce. It was no longer a question of whether it was “better for the child” to stay in the marriage but instead it had progressed to a place where it was better for all to end it. But God had different plans and through a crazy set of events, I unexpectedly became pregnant. Needless to say I was devastated and spent hours crying, anguished because I now felt stuck in my unhappy marriage. It broke my heart that I was bringing a second child into my dysfunctional home and wondered how my kids would be affected in the long run. In that helpless state, I committed and submitted my life to Christ. The changes in me were dramatic and I began praying for my family in a deep and determined way. Our home and marriage began to heal and it seemed like God and I were on a constant honeymoon. I experienced the love of God all around me every day and my marriage improved so much that we even had one more child.
Four years of constant improvement passed and I thought that we were headed toward a functional, happy marriage. Unfortunately, a death in the family triggered old patterns and trouble began to resurface and threaten our marriage once again. I constantly cried out to God to stop the trouble and to bring healing back into my home, but things only grew worse. My faith was shaken and the close, childlike trust I had in the Lord began to cool. To be honest, I felt that if God wasn’t constantly making things better in my life, that something was wrong and that He wasn’t there. My prayers felt heavy and dead and my passion to serve Christ wavered.
At that time my oldest son was in 7th grade and was on the junior high basketball team. During games his playing time averaged only 1-2 minutes. Even though he scored each time he took the court, his coach frequently told him that “he really wasn’t a basketball player.” Every game, I sat there watching his confidence slip away a little more. Early in the season he tried hard and always made baskets during his short stint on the court. But as time went by he started avoiding the ball as though he didn’t know how to handle it anymore and didn’t even try to shoot. My heart broke for him and I wondered what would come from the shaking of his confidence at 12 years. He had already gone through so much with all of the marriage problems. At that time, I was the President of the PTA and on great terms with the Principal. I knew it was possible to pull strings to get him more playing time but I resisted, knowing that would be an abuse of power, and fixing things for my son wasn’t a real healthy pattern to embark upon. Instead, after each game we would talk through it and I did my best to encourage him to keep fighting and not give up.
I wish I could say that he came back the next year and eventually became a basketball star but that’s not the case. He never tried out for a basketball team again. Not all lessons have the “perfect” ending.
Instead, we worked through the disappointment and insecurity of that season and he excelled in other sports. He learned the lifelong lesson to hold his head up when things don’t go the way he expects and if one door shuts, to look for another and go through it with all his might.
Soon after the basketball season, I was sitting at a stop light reflecting on how things had taken such a terrible turn in our home. Audibly, I said to God “I feel like you have abandoned me and that you really do not love me or my family, If you did, why would you allow my marriage to slip back into these devastating, old patterns? It hurts my children and my marriage and certainly doesn’t glorify You and who You are. I need You to show me that You do love me and my children, Otherwise I know my faith will not be sustained.”
In a flash God spoke to me, not audibly but so clear that it felt audible. It was a question and answer session that ended with me knowing that God did love me in a far deeper way than I had previously understood.
"When you watched your beloved son running up and down the basketball court, watching his confidence slip away, and decided to let him walk through it, was it out of love or because you didn’t love him?
" I answered; “it was because I loved him and knew it was best for him to struggle through the situation even though my heart broke for him.”
“You had the power to fix it didn’t you, but you didn’t. Is that because you didn’t love him?”
“No Lord, its because I loved him and didn’t want to demonstrate an abuse of power or that I would fix his tough times. I knew that wouldn’t be good for him in the long run.”
The Lord said to me “And I am sitting in the stands, watching you struggle on the basketball court of life, running up and down, sometimes losing confidence to the point that you don’t even want the ball, and my heart breaks for you.
Watching you every minute, I know I could jump in and fix this problem for you, but you will be a far greater person by struggling through, if you will only listen and heed My words of hope…you will grow out of this difficulty.
I am there to encourage you and show the way to become stronger because of what you have gone through if you will only seek me and ask.”
“Do you know now, that I love you and have not abandoned you?”
I said “Yes Lord” as tears streamed down my face.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Blinders tight around my eyes fell softly to the ground
Misguided heart, embraced in truth, now soft with chains unwound
God’s patient love and tender word revealed to me this day
That unbeknownst to this poor soul; Pride took humbles' place
I thought it my commission to bring justice, truth, and light
To strive for plans and goals, until they were in sight
I had no ear to hear or see, that maybe it was I
That needed to lay down my way, for it had changed to pride
It’s not that knowledge, plans, and goals, in themselves are wrong
And sharing truth with love and grace brings honor to our God
The key’s to go about it with humility and love
Releasing all the outcomes to our One and only God
For even when our plans are right… we can still be wrong
When we force and use control, to ensure OUR will is done
For He controls the outcomes of all we say and do
And if Things go not as we plan, then humility will do
A humble heart that’s full of grace will wash away the pride
And keep a heart at rest, even when there’s strife
God wants to know that we hold loose to things that we desire
And trust Him without waver, if our plans go awry.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
A few days ago I watched a prayer vigil for the victims of the Aurora, Colorado Massacre and was deeply touched by the honest, purposeful, thoughtful, and compassionate prayers and speeches that were given on behalf of the victims, their families, friends, neighbors, and the city of Aurora. The main theme that ran through the vigil was “we will not let evil win” and in his or her own way each speaker encouraged viewers to focus on healing and the good that can and will come from this crime.
Each speaker deliberately spent little time talking about the man who committed this meaningless act of violence choosing instead to talk about the trauma the victims experienced and how God’s loving hand and a supportive community will help them move forward in the healing process. I think Genesis 50:20 sums up the Vigil’s message, “you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”.
It is impossible to understand the depth of pain this heinous crime has caused and it’s equally impossible to calculate the number of people who will be dealing with emotional scars. We know the 70 victims and everyone present at the theater that fateful night will have issues feeling secure in public spaces, but I believe it doesn’t stop there. Relatives, friends, and neighbors, citizens of Aurora and compassionate people all over the country will be struggling with thoughts that say “what if there is another crazy person out there”?
That is why I was so touched by the Prayer Vigil and its focus on healing. I believe there is power embedded within the acts of encouraging, helping, caring and praying for others who are suffering. I believe each time honest compassion is given to victims of violence the power of evil is lessened and God takes that which was meant for harm and turns it into good.
The Prayer Vigil was a first step in encouraging the county to focus on what is ahead not what's behind; to focus on healing not the senseless act of violence. It reminds us to move forward in our prayers and thinking because moving ahead in our prayers and thinking will help the victims heal. So, today when you hear another news story about the perpetrator stop and pray for the recovery of the victims, this is a great way to help in their healing.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
In my mind, the definition of depression is a complete loss of hope and I confess that I've been there a few times in my life. Early in my walk of faith, I bounced back quickly when trouble and pain met me head on because in each set-back, I still believed that things would get better...I had hope. As the years wore on my tendency was to take trouble and unanswered prayer with a worn out attitude and I even found myself prayed out, hoped out, and faithed out. The things I had hoped for became distant and unlikely in my mind and depression took hopes' place on the throne of my heart. During these times, the pull toward hopelessness was so strong that I could literally feel myself being sucked into a bottomless, black hole. Everything in my spirit wanted to quit fighting that black abyss and sink comfortably into permanent depression. But a still, small voice whispered over and over; don’t hand your kids a legacy of depression; don’t allow this to become your example. Demonstrate victory in the midst of trouble, joy in the midst of heartache.
From that dark place, I cried out to God for His strength to well up inside of me and to fill me with renewed hope. I bound depression in the name of Jesus and loosed hope into my heart and mind. I tell you honestly that It wasn't easy to fight the darkness, for everything in my inner being wanted to quit. So weak was I, that I had to bind the stronghold of hopelessness and depression over and over and I had to force the words out of my mouth because they didn't want to be spoken. The enemy truly is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour and sometimes it takes everything within us to stand up to him and say "NO! this is not who I am." When I am tempted with depression I am encouraged by the words of Psalms 43:5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Also Zechariah 9:12 Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
A prayer flowed out of the pain…Oh God help me to be a prisoner of hope. Lord, may my hope be fixed on You; not in things I desire, not in change that I want, not in things of this world, and not in any person…but in You alone.
A Prayer taken from 2 Samuel 22
Lord, by the blast of your breath, split the darkness that has covered me, rescue me from above; draw me out of the waters - out of the darkness. Save me from the stranglehold of the enemy and all his power and circumstances that are too strong for me to fight alone. For the enemy came upon me with a fury in the day of my calamity, but, O Lord, be my salvation, be my light, be my hope, be my future. Make my darkness bright and may others see Christ in my family. Help me to get out of Your way and to quit trying to control outcomes. Help me to allow your holy spirit to work in my life and to change and mold me. Use me for Your glory and rescue me and set me free by the power of Your glorious might. For You are my salvation. May I become Your delight and walk righteous before Your throne. Break the strongholds that bind me and my family tight and set us free from the hurts of the past. May we do good before Your face and be a great blessing to You. Thank you that You bore my shame and my despair and please carry it all for me. For I am weak and tired and have no strength left to hide it or “put on a good face” May I once again, become Your delight. Give me skill to know how to fight this battle, help me to destroy the army that has come against me. Give me the strength of the young and the strong; be my fortress and keep my family and me safe.
i Praise and exalt the rock of my salvation, I will sing praises to your name. For you are a glorious and powerful God.
I ask all of this in the holy and mighty name of Jesus Christ the holy son of God. Amen.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Politicians and Grandkids Use Same Tactics
I love the Fourth of July and in my small town we really know how to celebrate the birth of our great country. The town decorates its self in red, white, and blue with flags waving from every business and light-posts are dripping with lush hanging flower pots.
Part of the Fourth of July festivities is a wonderful area called Tiny Town, a field that's turned into kid central during the Fourth of July bash. Tiny Town is jam-packed with a blow-up slide, bouncy house, kiddy cars, face painting, and free arts and crafts. Surrounding the field are booths sponsored by sports clubs, school organizations, and the Boy & Girl Scouts all selling cotton candy, pop corn, soda, and ice cream. In the back corner of the field is a base ball diamond that becomes the Pony Ride where unhappy looking ponies tethered to a metal post walk drearily round and round while little children frown and cry when the ride ends after two rotations, and this is where my story starts.
Desiring to share the joys of Tiny Town with our grandchildren my husband and I loaded them into their car seats and headed to Tiny Town. Amazed by our good luck at finding a parking space right next to the back corner of the field we unloaded our energized grandkids. Holding hands and talking about all the fun activities that await them, we naively headed down the trail that dumps out next to the pony ride. My granddaughter immediately started pulling me towards the unhappy ponies; I pulled in the other direction. I quickly noticed the sign hanging lopsidedly from the dilapidated corral fence; it said $6.00 a ride. Now, some may call me cheap, but $6.00 for a less than inspiring ride on a depressed pony didn’t sound like fun and in my opinion would not be money well spent. I quickly added the second grandchild into the equation, $12.00 for a two loop ride; not happening.
My granddaughter looked at me with her sweetest smile and said, “Please, I really want to ride the ponies, please, please, please” I smiled sweetly right back at her and redirected her attentions to all the other activities they would be doing. My smile was returned with a frown and then one more round of ‘Please, I never get to ride ponies.” Above Audrey's head my husband gave me a roll-of-the-eyes and we headed over to the arts and crafts booths where they painted wooden bird houses bright colors. Breaking her creative concentration ever-so-often, Audrey would lift her head just long enough to again plead for the pony ride. She smile sweetly, pouted demurely, and huff at me, to no avail.
We moved on to the blow up activities where they slid down the slide, jumped in the ball pit, bounced in the bouncy house, and climbed through an obstacle course. In between activities I would hear a new version of the Pony Plead; my response remained the same, it now became a matter of the will; I needed to win. With their hair full of static electricity we headed the grandkids back to the arts and crafts booths to decorate vinyl visors. Audrey found a large princess sticker covered with glitter, she had to have it, and placed it directly in the middle of the visor then surrounded it with flower and butterfly stickers. She then placed the visor on her head upside down so it looked like a glittery, brightly colored, princess visor/crown. The day was over and we headed back to the car, the only problem was we had to pass the pony ride one more time. I set my resolve and moved forward.
Audrey, assessing the situation and realizing this was her last opportunity to persuade Grandma into seeing her side of the debate, pulled out the largest weapon she could think of. Stepping in front of me and looking directly into my eyes, she said with passion, “Grammy, if you don’t let me ride the ponies I will never visit you again.” That face will forever be etched in my mind, eyes filled with determination, mouth set tight and firm while her hair flew wildly from static electricity and remnants of treats circled her mouth. The whole look was topped off with the princess visor-crown. Unable to suppress an amused smile I calmly said, “ I’ve raised three boys honey, that won’t work’” She tightened her lips and assessed me to see if there was any chink in my armor, nope, she sighed and walked to the car, defeated.
Over the last few months I have watched the news dismayed at how the politicians, Republicans or Democrats, sound like my granddaughter. They look straight into the camera and say the most drastic and disturbing thing they can to get the American people worked up. They smile sweetly, pout demurely, and huff at us in hope of manipulating the American people into seeing things their way. If they don’t get the response they want or the opinion polls suggest a need to redirect, they do so, and once again appeal to the American people to see things their way. This process is repeated weekly, sometimes daily, and I’m tired of it.
I'm tired of listening to the politicians speak with passion saying "It's not a tax" when it's a tax, or accusing one of lying while they lie. It seems to be impossible for the American people to know what truth is when it comes to politics. For every absolute truth spoken by a Democrat an opposite absolute truth is spoken by a Republican. So, who do we believe?
It's not just the politicians I'm fed up with, I'm tired of hearing people in my community simply being a conduit for the news channels or worse hearing them repeat what a comedian said as if he/she has some great political insight. Wake up people, care enough to do some research; care enough to know even a little about what you speak, don’t just repeat what the talking heads said today. Like the politicians they will most likely change their tune by tomorrow or next week.
At times, I think I can see the princess visor/crown on their heads and remnants of past lies circling their mouths all the while pleading with passion for what they want the American People to believe. Let’s not give in! I encourage you to read many sources of political information. Listen to both Liberal and Conservative news so you can form an intelligent opinion and when the politicians start talking with their Princess visor/crowns on, stand firm in your convictions and knowledge, our country needs well informed involved citizens to make a difference.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
Rejection sneaks into our lives and bit by bit undermines our confidence. It fosters the belief that we aren't needed and that we have little to offer both God and man. As we feel more and more rejected we devalue our talents, and withdraw from relationships. This devastating stronghold delivers failure into every area of our lives because it causes us to perform at a fraction of our potential. When we buy into the lie of rejection the devil realizes a mighty victory because in our hurt, we withdraw from our place in God's army, leaving a gap in His strong front THAT ONLY WE CAN FILL.
We will never overcome rejection solely by forcing other people to talk to us nicely or treat us better. Afterall, we cannot control the heart or words of others. The reality is that we only control the decisions we make and how we behave in the midst of painful situations.
Rejection and its devastating effects will stop when we finally reject, rejection.
After all, if we were good enough for Jesus to die on the cross, then we are good enough for the world... even with our imperfections. Remember...God created you just like you are...for a divine purpose that only you can fill.
Lately I have been binding the stronghold of rejection and am already sensing a restoration in my heart. None of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, we can irritate others, and our talents can always improve; but we must keep putting ourselves out there and we must not give up. We must walk upon the lies of the devil and make our talents and relationships available to God, letting Him worry about who accepts us and who does not. We cannot allow the enemy to shut us down. We are the salt of the earth; You are beautiful, just like you are. Let your life shine out for the entire world to see; like the old song says..."Hide it under a bush, Oh no! I'm going to let it shine!" Whether your talents and abilities are big or small, use them to their greatest extent and leave the outcomes to God. He needs each of us, because together, we form a perfect tapestry.
Here is an example of how I have been praying. You can use the words as a guideline and insert whatever stronghold might be binding you:
Heavenly father I thank you and praise you for the relationships and gifts/talents You have given me. Help me to see them and to allow You to use them fully. Thank you for seeing great value in me and for wanting to use me...thank you that You created me just like I am, for a purpose. Thank you that in You, I can make a difference in this world. I praise You that You are mighty and above all else. Forgive me for my sins and help me to forgive those that have hurt me. Forgive me for the judgment in my heart against those that have hurt me and I bind the spirit of judgment off of me. Help me Lord to grow and change in the areas where I am deficient and help me to be aware of those areas but not bound by them.
In the name of Jesus Christ the holy son of God I bind the stronghold of rejection from my heart and mind and every area of my life and I loose the knowledge that I am fully accepted by you and that my gifts are good in your sight. In the name of Jesus I bind every destructive word and action that has caused me to shut down and believe the lies of the enemy and I loose my heart and mind to understanding the truth of your word and the truth of your acceptance and your love. Use each hurtful word and action for your glory and for great good. I bind every wall that I have constructed around my heart as a form of protection and I loose my heart to be open and vulnerable and available to You. Use me for Your glory my God and change me and mold me into your image. Help me to know that my gifts and talents are not about me, but they are rather about furthering your kingdom and giving of myself to others, however great or small that may be. Lord help me to diminish in my own heart and give You and Your plans the first and foremost place in my heart instead. I am asking for the strength to “put myself out there” without fear of how well or badly I may be perceived.
I praise you Lord that there is true freedom in You. Help criticism to make me better and show me how to respond to criticism. I love you Lord and praise your name. I ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ. Cover my family and me now, with the holy blood of Jesus and protect us from any retaliation from the enemy for the things I have just bound. Place a hedge of protection about us and hide us under your mighty wing. AMEN.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
With our concern for their safety and the safety of others increasing we readdressed the driving issue last winter. We emphasized our fear that they could hurt an innocent driver or even a pedestrian. “What if a five year old ran into the street chasing a ball, could you stop in time”? My father in-law humbly agreed that this was an issue for some, but not him. He informed us that he hadn’t been in an accident in over 30 years, was our driving record that good? He then adjusting his tone and body language to a ridged and authoritative posture preparing to let us know he was more than capable of making that decision for himself. Once again, being chickens, we reluctantly let the issue drop.
Throughout the spring my husband and I talked frequently about the danger his parents presented on the road. We spent many of our evening walks brain-storming about cleaver, sincere, or in-your-face scenarios that would convince them to willingly stop driving. Unfortunately, we couldn’t come up with even one reasonable and somewhat painless plan. Spring moved on.
A few weeks ago my husband took his dad on a trip and during this trip my father in-law let it slip that he sees double, frequently. He said, “Sometime I see four yellow lines instead of two but if I closes one eye I just see two yellow lines”. So, we have an old man with limited body movement, response time, and hearing, driving around seeing double, but not to worry because he can close one eye and everything is ok, good to go, no worries.
At that exact moment my husband knew no matter how much anger, frustration, disappointment, or guilt my in-laws displayed he had no choice but to drive the car away. They knew something was up and started asking about the car the very next day. Rather than beat around the bush my husband just straight up said, “You will not be getting the car back, you can’t drive any more”. My mother in-law understood the situation right away and confided in me that she knew daddy shouldn’t be driving any longer however, once her hip was better she would be able to drive.
My father in-law ,in confidence, let me know that he knew momma shouldn’t drive any longer however, once his double vision problem was fixed he’d be good as gold to drive. I kindly replied that neither would be driving, he shook his head and walked away. A few days ago he let me know that he was fine not driving for now, but as soon as the doctor gave him the ok, he’d be driving again. I just smiled, knowing the doctor would never give him the ok to drive.
Today my father in-law requested that I accompany him to a doctor’s appointment to help him understand and hear what the doctor would be talking about. He also needed me to help clarify his questions for the doctor. While discussing some health concerns he managed to maneuver the topic of driving into the conversation. He said he wasn’t driving now but as soon as his double vision problem was fixed he’d be driving again. The doc said, “You can’t drive Jim, you’re too slow” to which my father in-law restated that once his eyes were fixed he’d be good to drive. The doc again said, “You can’t drive Jim, your reaction time is too slow”. My father in-law stared at him for a moment then shook his head and looked down at the floor. For the first time since we took the car away I think he understood that he would never drive again, and it hurt.
In our society driving is what adults do. Driving is intertwined with our identity and gives us the autonomy craved by most Americans. So, when my father in-law understood that he would never drive again part of his world and self image was taken from him. My heart aches for my in-laws, how difficult it must be to age past adulthood into post-adulthood where you no longer drive, walk without assistance, live in your own home, or shower by yourself. How hard is it to watch your children, who your raised, take away your car? And how hard is it to be the child taking away the keys?
If you, like my husband and I, are dealing with aging parents I pray God will give you the patience and grace to treat them with respect and the courage to know when you have to be strong. We waited too long to take the car away and I believe it is a miracle that they didn’t hurt themselves or someone else. Please stand strong when you know the time has come and protect your loved ones by taking their keys way.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
Rejections' a deceiver, It binds a once strong heart
It takes control of gifts and dreams and tears them all apart.
It builds thick walls around the soul; PROTECT… is its great aim
For nothing ventured… nothing lost must be the safest way.
Rejection fills the heart with fear; I turn and run away.
I cannot bear to fail again, safe in my walls I’ll stay.
The sticky lies “Not good enough,” “You did it wrong,” “You can’t do that”
Forever block my way; they choke and shame each fledgling gift, ‘Til talent dies away.
But just when I was finished, completely bound and lost
The truth of God…it came to me, and broke rejections’ mock.
God told me that, HE planned our lives, designed each girl and man
To fulfill a special purpose and complete a wondrous plan.
Now who am I to argue with the One who made all things.
For His own Son came here to die to set our bound hearts free.
How can I hold my worth contempt, for He makes no mistakes.
Instead I will give back to Him; myself, my life, my gifts
To use and grow... to freely give, no matter great or small.
To be faithful in the small things, and perform for God alone.
The shroud of fear is finally gone, for my Lord broke the chains.
For though I’m filled with endless flaw, God’s approval covers me.
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
Tiny fingers newly formed wrap gently around my pinky.
I’m amazed at their delicate perfection and I stroke them softly.
Pudgy little fingers power grip mine as toddler feet learn to navigate the world, one step in front of the other.
I’m amazed at the determination conveyed through your grip and I curl my fingers to steady you.
Your warm, firm palm presses close to mine while we walk down the sterile school hallway; it’s your first day of kindergarten.
I squeeze your hand tight not wanting to let go... ever. I squeeze tight as if I can pass all the courage your life will need through this act. I lift your hand and kiss it.
A careful hand guides a pencil across wide rule school paper diligently copying each spelling word.
I marvel at the competency of those little hands and wonder what great accomplishments they will have in the future.
Your two hands encase mine offering comfort and encouragement; they are only a touch smaller than mine now. “You can do it mom” riding a roller coaster is terrifying to me.
I glimpse the compassionate young man you are becoming and my heart swells with appreciation.
Hands larger than mine wave through the air as you demonstrate the proper way to throw a curve ball; each finger wrapped around it in just the right way.
I observe strength and confidence in each movement and an eagerness to learn how to do it right; I want to will your success into being. I want the world to be kind to you.
Triumphant hands pump the air then toss the graduation cap with gusto. You shake hands, pat backs, and embrace all, but it’s the big bear hug that smashed my face into your chest while patting my back that brings me to tears.
My heart fills with a unique bitter sweet pride. I see the funny little boy, searching teen and confident man all at once and I want to hold on and let go, simultaneously.
A simple gold ring slides onto your finger and your hands hold hers in dedication.
I pray that your hands will hold tight and never let go of hers, I pray you will remain a man of commitment. I hope you will still hold my hand and hug me.
Tiny fingers newly formed wrap gently around your pinky.
You’re amazed at their delicate perfection and stroke them softly. I watch as a love deeper than words passes from you to her, and I smile.
Debora Kingston Hobbs
"What is the richest place in the entire world?” A missionary asked during a Sunday morning service.
As I pondered the question with possibilities like Dubai, Martha’s Vineyard, or Jupiter Florida…his quiet answer puzzled me.
He said “The richest place in the entire world is the graveyard.” I quickly assumed that he must be talking about people who were buried with treasure like the pharaoh’s, so his next comment stopped me cold.
He said “The reason the richest place is the graveyard is because so many people die without ever using their gifts and talents and they are tragically lost for all eternity.” He had gained my full attention and I began to understand the deep truth in what he said.
How many of us devalue our gifts or even despise them? There are many of us that don’t even know what our gifts are but rest assured, we all have them. We may not become famous actors or musicians; we may not become entrepreneurs like Donald Trump or Bill Gates, but just the same, we all have at least one gift or talent. That gift, no matter how small, will add a flavor to the world that only we can provide; a piece of a puzzle that will be incomplete unless we offer our gift fully and completely.
Some have the ability to inspire and encourage others but write that gift off as unimportant. The truth is, an encouraging word can bring hope to a doubting and troubled heart. Words of inspiration can literally change the course of history. Some have a talent for music , if thats you, then take every opportunity to use and develop your skill. Think about it, there isn't a human alive that isn't touched in some way by music. The same goes for creative talents of all kinds…Use them. Develop them. Use them...and do not be discouraged if you run into obstacles because... you will. If your gift is giving and serving others, then give and serve with all your heart; the simplest act of kindness can soften the hardest of hearts. Is your gift leadership or teaching? Then see to it that you lead and teach with passion because you have the power to impact generations.
Rare is the gift that needs no cultivation, so if your gift is a diamond in the rough, polish it and work it until it shines with beauty. It's important to develop our gifts without giving up because who knows what God has in store if we will only be faithful with even the smallest of gifts.
Whatever your gift or talent may be, don’t allow it to be buried with you. See to it that your gifts are used up without fear and poured out on this world fully because you never know just how important your impact will be.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
As an adult, have you ever felt invisible in a social setting? I know this is a feeling most of us don’t want to acknowledge. In fact, many may only admit having felt invisible in a social setting quietly inside their own mind. This is where the hurt feelings and sense of being devalued are safely wrestled with and where the significance of our own person is weighed against the insignificant feeling of invisibility.
Often, we who feel invisible spend too much time contemplating the motives of the those who look right through us and this introspection increases our feeling of insecurity. It would be nice to assign one motive to all who instigate the invisible condition, but the truth is there isn’t one reason but as many reasons as there are instigator of invisibility. Some may be so focused on their own social success that they ignore polite introductions or including others in the conversation. Others may not want any attention directed away from themselves or their antics, or they may be innocently gabbing without an ounce of malice. Of course, there is always the basic human condition of not liking the person they are inflicting the invisible condition on.
Whatever the motive of the instigator really is, isn’t the issue; in fact it’s not important. What is important is how we choose to deal with our hurt and devalued feelings that are the natural byproduct of feeling invisible. We mustn't waste our precious emotional energy trying to figure out other's motives; we need to focus in on our own. We must choose to acknowledge our God given value and that He has a purpose for our lives. One of the most important facts to remember is that you are loved; always be grateful for those who truly love you.
Remember that you are God’s creation and he loves and values you. This is not a platitude, He not only loves you but He has blessed you with unique talents, skills, and gifts that are to be shared with others and it’s your and my responsibility to not let difficult social moments grow into self doubt that can stop our creativity. The value of your life is not measured by the fickle minds of simple humans, your value is set in gold by almighty God. Your value is priceless in the eyes of our Never Changing God.
Remember that the actions of another will only have the power in our lives that we give it permission to have. If we choose to focus on our hurt feelings and hyper focus on the motives of the instigators our creative energy will be stifled. Our prayers will be hindered by our negative thought pattern that naturally will turn inward in a self focused and protective way. When our thoughts are focused inward it’s hard to give to others, it’s hard to be thoughtful, and it’s hard to be generous and caring.
So, the next time you are in a social setting and you feel invisible remember God sees you and He hears your prayers and He cares about you. Remember that you have a greater purpose in this life that needs to be actively perused and negative, hurt feelings can hinder your progress. Remember that the instigators are simple, imperfect humans who need your grace and forgiveness and God will help you give it.
Debar Shelford Hobbs
The grace of God pours down like rain, to wash away my guilt and shame.
The grace of God so undeserved, so free a gift that perseveres
Through all my fault and daily failing, through hardened heart and disobeying.
Why don’t You turn and run from me, why do You care to set me free?
From chains that tie me to the past and hardened heart that breaks like glass.
And when I fall and lose my way, You pick me up and gently say
Fear not my child, My love is true, it does not waver; though you do.
I’ll mold you into something new and bring new courage through and through.
O God to You I humbly bow, amazed by grace You give me now.
Your grace, it daily sets me free; Your mercy, drops me to my knees
As I submit my will to You old strongholds fade like morning dew.
I’m overwhelmed, my mind is reeling, my heart is full with grace You’re giving.
Then dawns on me a fearful jest, that I hold grace tight to my chest.
I give it not to other souls, who fail like me without control.
But rather, judgment fills my heart; I hold contempt when they fall short
Forgetting all my sins and failing, I pound the gavel; pronounce them guilty
With pride filled heart I give no mercy.
How can this grace that I’ve been given be kept from those that need forgiving?
Forgive me God; help me to see that what I do is grieving thee.
Remind me when I am offended Your grace must always be extended
Grace isn’t mine to hold so dear but rather give without a fear
To make more room for grace from You to share Your love each day anew.
By Rhonda Shelford Jansen
I’m sitting at my desk, computer on, IPod on, an inviting warm mug of coffee sitting next to the computer, they are waiting patiently for me to start work, but I don’t. My feet are resting on the edge of my desk while I hold our big fat cat in my lap. She contentedly purrs and occasionally nuzzles me on the chin. Absently, I notice how her soft, heavy, weight in my lap feels comforting. I continue to stare out the window lost in thought.
My chest feels heavy like an invisible brick is pushing down hard between my breasts, my head hurts, but it’s the heavy sensation on my chest that's disconcerting. The weight isn’t the beginning of a heart attack it’s the result of years of hurt, it’s a brick carefully constructed by the fibrous tissue of judgment, verbal abuse, bitterness, unjust judgment, self protection, and un-forgiveness, and it’s heavy, pressing down on my sternum making it hard to breathe.
The unusual thing about this brick is that it’s frequently weightless as if gone from my life. During this weightless time my home is peaceful and I have a moment to ponder and pray about my marriage. Once again I choose to forgive, choose to lay my hurts down before God and set aside my right to hold harsh judgments so that nothing hinders my drawing closer to Him.
Then something happens to set off old patterns of abuse and hurtful words are hurled through the air and I feel the impact of them. I feel them working their way into the brick, finding a comfortable resting place next to the other festering pain. The brick is back, heavier than before, pressing mercilessly down on my sternum and I wonder how all those negative, hurtful , emotions from the past can come back with such force after I have chosen to forgive and let go of them.
So, here I sit at my desk with every necessary tool for a productive day in front of me, but instead I’m watching the tree branches move to the rhythm of the wind while pondering the uncomfortable pressure of the emotional brick on my chest. I want to know how to truly lay down the hurt from yesterday. I want to forgive so deeply that past pain will not have the power to mix with and amplify the hurts of today. But, I’m human and for some unknown reason God made us emotionally complex beings that feel passionately, struggle mightily with each other, and desperately need His guidance.
I’m grateful that God’s forgiveness is not like that of humans, Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions (sins) from us.” This verse is comforting and humbling; how can God forgive so completely? I long to be able to forgive like God, but as of today, I don’t fully understand how to forgive the transgressions of others. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe our seriously limited ability to forgive keeps us humble before God.
Debora Kingston Hobbs
Verbal, emotional, intellectual, and physical abuse destroy lives. It is prevalent in the church almost as much as in the world. This is a poem that looks at one small part of abuse and its devastating effects. It does not seek to advise whether or not a person should remain in an abusive relationship as that is an individual decision. Do not stay in a relationship if you are in physical danger.
The words, they sting... cut deep like knives
They weigh me down, I grope for life
In shrouds of pain, Lost... yet I fight.
I said please stop, don’t you see the damage
But plea's were lost on a heart like granite.
Who am I now, what was my calling
Do I have worth or am I dying?
Did my God have good plans for me
Something different, something free?
Will this cycle continue for generations
A legacy of abuse is what I’m living.
As tears fall down in pools of grief
I seek you God for wisdom and faith
For hope from You is what I need
A vision fresh and purpose clean.
A still small voice spoke gently and sweet:
No other idol shall be before Me.
Confusion wracked my weary mind
With doubting words to God I cried
What idol have I before you O God?
He said, The abuse that has broken your heart.
Abuse has told you who you are
It bound you in lies and played My part.
It wrapped you in fear and made your heart faint
It seeks to destroy you and fill you with hate.
But your name is precious, lovely, and honored
Your value is priceless... Know that I love you.
With abuse on the throne destruction will reign
When I’m on the throne true healing you’ll gain.
Take your eyes off abuse and the lies that it speaks
And fix them on Me, your Author and King.
When words of hurt fill up your ears
Hear them not my child, instead speak My Word.
They’re a Shield and a Sword, a Rock of Pure Truth
They will teach you the way, they will show you your worth.
Unleashing pure beauty for the whole world to see
Place your hope and your eyes only on Me.
Rhonda Shelford Jansen
The birth of a New Year has come and with it a renewed hope that we will do better this year. A hope that our missteps and failures of last year can be erased by improving our preformance at work, play, relationships, and life with a New Year's Resolution. These New Year Resolutions are a national preoccupation with talking heads on TV and radio spending several weeks hyper focused on the topic. They ask probing questions like “Why do we make them” “How long does the average person keep their resolution?” “What type of resolutions do we make?” Resolutions are honorable; they show an acknowledgement that someone has room to improve and a desire to take action toward it.
The problem is, we often make lofty resolutions and end up failing within days. That’s why I have an aversion to the word “resolution” it has a fatal sound to me; it seems to imply that a person either accomplishes it or fails. Since I dislike failure, I’ve made the conscience decision to replace the fatal New Year's Resolution with a list of reasonably attainable goals for the New Year. A goal is something one strives to accomplish and the process of accomplishing it one is allowed a few set-backs and yes, even failure.
So, I wrote down a few goals for the New Year and while pondering these goals I realized that each one is actually a byproduct of discipline. Three goals I’ve made are to add one more day of yoga a week to my schedule, read my Bible consistently, and to write every day. These are not exciting or daunting goals and yet I will struggle with each one because it is so easy to get wrapped up in the attention seeking demands of each day and tasks that can be easily postponed, will be.
After contemplating how I can be successful at accomplishing my three simple goals I had an epiphany, my goal should be to practice more self discipline in all I do. I don’t need to work at attending one more day of yoga, I need to write it down on my calendar and stick to it. I need to discipline myself to make reading my Bible a priority, not something I squeeze in when there is time. I need to discipline myself to write every day, as the Nike ads say; I need to “Just Do IT.”
Sometime ago while listening to the radio I heard two authors talk about a radical new idea in parenting and I felt like someone was hitting me over the head with the "obvious" that had been obscured from my understanding for years. They said something like this, “self esteem should not be the goal when parenting because it is the byproduct of self discipline. Parents should concentrate on teaching self discipline because self discipline will bring about success and success will bring about true positive self esteem.” Now, that is powerful and Biblical and it applies to adults too.
Even in the parts of our lives that are emotionally driven self discipline plays a significant part. I don’t always feel loving towards my spouse, but I do choose to love him; the act of choosing is employing self discipline. I don’t always want to forgive someone who has hurt me, but I know God tells us to forgive, so I pray for God’s help and choose to forgive. And this fact brings me to the thought that I couldn’t possible understand the power and depths of forgiveness if God through Jesus had not graciously forgiven me.
So, I’ve chosen to replace unattainable New Year Resolutions with the process of setting reasonable and attainable goals. Then I decided to replace my reasonable goals with one year long, actually a lifelong, goal to employ more self discipline every day. I like this goal and feel confident I will improve the level of self discipline in my life even though at times it will be very hard.
Debora Kingston Hobbs