About a month ago I decided to do a 90 day thanks and giving challenge, in the 90 days leading up to Thanksgiving. I’m now 35 days into the challenge and it’s blessed me so much more than I expected.
This past weekend I shared with the ladies at the Renew & Restore Women’s Retreat how the day I started this challenge just happened to be the day before my son started a new medication. What followed was four of the hardest parenting weeks I’ve had in a long time. There were many days I faced my own limitations, fear, and anxiety as I struggled to help my son, seek answers, and trust the doctor.
And I believe that it was no accident that during this time I was also living in intentional gratitude because I had committed to the 90 day of thanks and giving challenge. In many ways, focusing on being thankful each day has kept me centered and tethered to Christ.
You see when we actively seek out the beauty, the joy, the blessings in our lives, we are reminded that we not only have a good Father, but we have a God who follows through on His promises. It’s been impossible for me to lose hope or forget just how much God loves me and loves my son because every day for the last month I have looked for something to be thankful for, and every day for the last month I have been able to find multiple things. I have seen how God provides for and protects my family. And I am reassured that His ways are better than mine, that He has a plan for my son, even if I can’t understand what it is.
Gratitude keeps us aware of God’s active presence in our life. It can help us overcome fear and anxiety. It enables us to lean into God and find comfort, strength and hope in our relationship with Him, instead of pulling away and being consumed by our troubles. Because of the gift this practice has been in my life, I also wanted to arm the ladies at the retreat with a tool they could use to help them practice intentional gratitude. So I designed the Bold, Brave, & Blessed Journal: A 60 day journey to overcoming fear and trusting God.
Each day has an encouraging verse of scripture, as well as a place to complete the following statements:
Today I am afraid of….
Today I am asking God to…
Today I am thankful for…
I’ve been quite overwhelmed with the positive response I received at the retreat and in the days following over this journal. In fact, I’ve received numerous requests for a copy from women who weren’t at the retreat, and so I’ve decided to make it available here for anyone to download and print, for free. All I ask is that you subscribe to my blog first, if you are not already a subscriber.
The journal is designed to be printed front and back, and then folded in half. Below is a picture tutorial on how to print and assemble your journal. I used beautiful hand-painted artwork by The Autumn Rabbit, purchased from Creative Market, so it looks best when printed in color. But the journal works just as well in black-and-white. I also recommend printing on a slightly heavier weight paper. I used 28 pound bright white paper.
Feel free to print as many copies as you like and share with friends. However, I do ask you don’t load the file to your own blog or website for distribution, and instead link back to this site if you want to share online or via social media.
“But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'” – Exodus 3:11
This was Moses’s response to God when He called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. It was the first of several creative excuses or arguments as to why he wasn’t qualified, ending with a raw and honest plea for God to pick another…anyone but him.
“Pardon your servant Lord, but please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)
This past Sunday I stood up in front of our little congregation at church and taught about these verses. About God’s call to Moses; about Exodus 3:1-4:19. I went through each verse and discussed the importance of trusting God’s plan, remembering that God will use us for His purposes, even if we don’t feel qualified. We examined how Moses let his fear and self-doubt almost lead to missing his calling. I encouraged everyone who would listen not to let fear get in the way of answering God’s call. I reminded my church family that it’s not about us and our qualifications, but about God’s plan, His power, and His presence.
I have a special place in my heart for this section of scripture. And I believe every word I said.
But then Monday came. And I found myself alone in my bedroom, sobbing, feeling inadequate, less-than, and incapable. I asked God if He is really calling me into ministry; is that really His plan? And if it is, am I really equipped for that call? Who am I to stand before others and teach them Your word?
I know this routine well by now, having taught a handful of Sunday services and leading a few women’s retreats. It’s what I refer to as the “day after attack.”
When I speak or teach I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and in that moment it feels palpable and beautiful, like God is doing something big and letting me be a part of it. But then Monday morning comes. And I return to my normal routine, working my normal job, packing normal lunches, looking at my normal reflection staring back at me in the mirror.
And the enemy whispers in my ear: who are you? What makes you think you are qualified to teach others? I recall the yawns and bored looks during my talk. I remember the surprised expression on the neighbor’s face when they found out I was teaching at church (you know the kind of surprise that says “what are they thinking?” not “isn’t that wonderful!”). I recount every person or article that’s declared women aren’t supposed to preach God’s word. I play back the recording of my message and cringe at every “ummm” and “uhhh”, seeing every flaw, hearing every flub.
And the enemy says, “See? You are not very good. You are not anything special.”
I think of all the practical reasons I cannot answer this call. I need seminary training. That costs money. I’m still paying off that Master’s Degree in Marketing and Communication, a degree I’ll never use if I go into ministry. I have a family to support, kids to put through school. We love our town, we can’t move just so I can go to school. Maybe in a few years…maybe when the kids are out of the house….maybe.
And the enemy says, “You’ll never be ready for this. You are just a middle-aged woman who wishes she was being called to serve God in some big way, but that is not your life.”
I am not equipped. Please, Lord, will you call someone else? Someone smarter, stronger, younger, older, richer, better?
And then the irony of this day-after beat-down by Satan and my own insecurities strikes me. I can’t even go 24 hours without succumbing to the very thing I just encouraged 45 other people to resist.
There is one thing that gives me hope, though. The fact that God never gave up on Moses. Even after he tried to deny his call five times, even though he was 80 years old, God still used Moses for the good of His plan. Even though Moses didn’t speak well and needed his brother’s help, even though Moses got overwhelmed when the Israelites complained and fought, God still used Moses to lead His people. Even though Moses lost his temper, even though he continued to questioned God’s plan along the way, God still spoke to Moses. He still loved Moses.
I know I’m not equipped to do anything. And, honestly? I don’t know exactly how God plans to use me. But I cling to the knowledge that He will use me in His time, according to His purpose.
It’s been a hard couple of weeks to be an American, to be a human, to be a Christian. Tragedy has struck families and communities in Michigan, Louisiana, and Dallas. Innocent people were terrorized in Bangladesh and nearly 300 lives lost in Baghdad at the hands of terrorists. And I know the list doesn’t end here.
It’s easy to ask “why” and “how” when we read headlines and see videos of senseless tragedy, hate, anger and death. It paints a grim picture of the world we live in and feelings of doubt and worry over the future our children will inherit.
I know many Christians who feel the world no longer offers hope for change, or they feel things can only get worse, and they have started predicting, and even praying for, the end times.
But I’m just gonna say it out loud: I hope they’re wrong.
That my fellow Christians praying for Jesus to come back tomorrow, don’t get to see it in their lifetime. And here’s why:
In the midst of the tragedy and loss, I still see hope.
At the perimeter, in the headlines, we live in a dangerous world where evil gets center stage and every morning you hold your breath waiting to hear what horrible tragedy struck overnight. It’s hard to have faith that anything will ever change, that evil will ever be destroyed or at least slowed down.
But on the inside, below the headlines, in communities and homes and hospitals and churches, there is another story. It is a story where volunteers rally around grieving families who have lost their homes, possessions, and loved ones, providing for their basic needs.
It is a story where children are selling lemonade to raise money for cancer research and teens are spending their summer vacations serving in impoverished communities to build churches, teach the Gospel, and share love.
It is a story where marriages are being restored, friendships repaired, and forgiveness is offered in abundance.
It is a story of hurting, lost people finding healing through a community that loves and supports them in the name of Jesus Christ.*
These are the real stories I see Every. Single. Day. And I am filled with hope.
They are not attention-grabbing, headline-stealing stories. They are not even stories of hundreds of lives and hearts being changed in a single week. They are about one at a time: one life given to Christ, one heart healed, one relationship restored.
There’s an old song that we used to sing at summer camp every year when I was kid. I’m pretty sure they still sing it.
“It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
And soon all those around can warm up from its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love.
Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone.
You want to pass it on.”
On the inside, in our schools and churches, homes and communities, there is a glow, a radiating warmth. It is not extinguished in the midst of tragedy, loss, pain, and anger, but rather it becomes a beacon of light and promise.
Because a candle burns brightest in darkness.
And there are so many who are called and driven, with a sense of urgency, to spread that light, not because of their own desire or goodness, but because The Light is so brilliant it cannot be contained.
There are more lives yet to be touched, healed, warmed, welcomed, comforted and loved. There is still so much work to be done. I believe God is entrusting us, using us to do more for Him before it is all over.
And I am filled with hope for the future.
*The examples in this post are based on real people and events I have witnessed in just the last 6 months.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, then by now you probably know that I have a huge place in my heart for encouraging women who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse to speak their truth, find healing in God, and even restore broken relationships. My passion for this stems in large part from my own past, but even more so from my present. What I mean by that is the more I have shared my story, the more women who have confided in me their “me, too” story. The longer I have been involved in small group and women’s ministry, the more stories I have heard of women still battling for release from their past and healing in their present.
I long for every woman (and man) who has a story of childhood sexual abuse to know the freedom of repair that I have found in my life,through my relationship with God and the help of a wonderful counselor. It took me many years of hard work — sometimes taking one step forward, and two steps back — to realize complete healing and restoration, and I think that’s partly because for a long time I didn’t know where to go for help. There weren’t a lot of resources available to me 20 years ago when I started my journey, and I didn’t feel comfortable seeking help in the church.
Thankfully, things have changed. Today, more women are opening up about their pasts within the church and creating a safe place for others to seek help and support. There are also more resources available. One of these just hit book shelves last week, and it’s written by a friend, and fellow survivor, Crystal Sutherland. The book is called Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, and I believe with all my heart this book is going to be life-changing for millions of men and women around the world.
Now, before I go any further, I want to say a few things. Firstly, I’m not being compensated in any way to share my thoughts on this book. Yes, Crystal is a friend of mine and I guest blog for her occasionally, but that is because I support the mission of her ministry. There are an estimated 42 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse today, just in the United States [source: National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse]. And that estimate is just based on reported cases, so we know there are many more. Folks, it’s going to take thousands of counselors, women’s shelters, ministers, sisters, friends, mothers, writers, etc.to come together with the same mission to end this desecration of youth and lead the victims toward a place of hope and healing. Crystal is one of the many called and equipped to help with this.
Secondly, I am sharing about this book because I’ve read it and I believe it is unlike anything else currently available to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Despite our friendship and shared ministry, I would not be writing about this book if I didn’t feel the urgent need to get it in the hands of as many women and men as possible.
Now, if you are a survivor of abuse, or know someone who is, or if you are in a position of counseling and ministering to others who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse, here’s what you need to know: only God can provide true freedom and healing. While God did not create the sin that is damaging so many young girls and boys, He can bring the men and women they’ve become out of the darkness from their past and make them whole again.
This is what Journey to Heal is really all about. It is a guide for survivors on how to allow God to come along side of them and walk them through this journey toward healing, toward freedom, and toward a new life. Because, true healing can only happen once we place our hope in Christ.
The seven steps Crystal outlines in the book include: 1. Committing to the journey, 2. Facing the truth, 3. Sharing your story, 4. Settling the unsettled, 5. Forgiving and letting go, 6. Discovering your true identity, and 7. Establishing a new life in Christ. Crystal put these steps together based on her own personal journey, the journey of countless other women she’s ministered to, and based on insight and guidance from ministers and licensed counselors who have spent years helping abuse victims. Even though this book didn’t exist when I went through my own journey, I can tell you these seven steps are all things I had to walk through to get to the other side; and they were all essential to me eventually finding freedom and healing.
I believe we all know someone who was a victim, and chances are many of them are still suffering the effects of the abuse from their past: whether that be through depression, addiction, a need for control, mistrust of others, body issues, failed relationships, feelings of shame, fear or hopelessness, or just downright denial, these things keep us in a permanent state of victim-hood and they prevent us from realizing the life God has planned for us.
“God has bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves…[but] we tend to settle for less than God’s best for us, because we don’t recognize our own value and worth,” explains Crystal in chapter 3 of Journey to Heal.
But God’s word promises this: “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth.” – Isaiah 54:4 (NLT).
It’s time for a movement. Time for the church to rise up and be the source of hope and healing. Time for victims to refuse to accept the lie that a piece of them will forever be missing, stolen by their abuser, and leaving a giant hole in their soul that’s led them to settle for a life of suffering, of fear, and of shame. It’s time to end the silence and take back the joy, hope, and freedom that was stolen, along with their innocence.
Because God promises So. Much. More.
Because only God has the power to heal our brokenness and lead us into a brand new life.
I know, because I have lived this story.
If you or someone you know is still suffering from the effects of childhood sexual abuse, you can purchase Journey to Heal from Amazon.com, ChristianBooks.com or wherever books are sold.
God, bless the women and men who have suffered the unthinkable. May they know that the sin of their abusers is not theirs to carry and they no longer have to bear the weight of their past. May they admit they desire freedom and they are worth the effort it will take to get there. But most of all, let them know that they do not have to do it alone. Let them find their strength in You; let them stop believing the lies of their abusers and the lies of the enemy, and let them instead believe the truth that they do not have to be afraid anymore, “there is no more disgrace.” Instead, there is a life of healing and of freedom waiting for them, a life filled with the beauty and grace of Your love. Amen.
On October 3rd, 2015 ten of us landed in the tiny airport of Rapid City, SD. Four more were making the long drive from Virginia to South Dakota, and our group of 14 would be spending the week working on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Who knew so much could happen in one week?
If you’ve ever been on a mission trip you know that the best part about missions work is you always come home having been more impacted, more changed, more spiritually full — just more — than any impact, change, or help you brought to the community where you served. This is the beauty of God and how He works. I knew this going to Pine Ridge, but I just never expected THIS.
The weeks leading to the trip had been hard…really hard. In fact I almost backed out of the trip at the last minute. So by the time we landed in Rapid City I was feeling very grateful that God had healed my body and enabled me to get everything done at home and work that needed doing so I could be here. I felt sure it was where I was meant to be and He had provided the way.
It’s a two hour drive from Rapid City to Pine Ridge. On the way we passed the badlands and stopped at an overlook to take in the view and snap a few photos. This being my first time to South Dakota I was inspired by everything I saw. I couldn’t wait to get a closer look at this endless horizon of rolling pinnacles and spires.
It had been raining when we landed, but thankfully stopped by the time we pulled off the side of Highway 40. The best view was just down a short hill, and a narrow dirt path led the way. Not really thinking about the fact that I was wearing my favorite Tom’s — great for flying, not so good for traction — I eagerly descended the narrow path. What I didn’t realize was the mud in South Dakota is not like Virginia mud. It is compact and sticky. While it felt pretty firm under my steps, it was sticking to the bottom of my treadless shoes, forming layer, upon layer of a thick, pasty mess. I made it about 1/3 of the way down the hill when I felt my foot start slide. In a moment of spontaneous reflex I shifted my weight to try and catch myself, and ended up rolling my left ankle and landing on the ground.
I felt something snap. I knew it was not good. My pride was bruised, my bottom muddy, but worse, my ankle was throbbing. I sat for a minute trying to compose myself. Some of the guys came over to help me up and I carefully tested putting weight on my ankle. Pain shot up my leg and I thought, “oh God, please. Don’t let this be serious.”
I managed to hobble down the rest of the hill (avoiding the narrow mud path), so I could get my tourist picture, while my internal dialogue said, “you’ll be ok; it’s just a twisted ankle, just walk it off.”
By the time I limped back to the top and removed my shoes to inspect the damage my ankle was already swollen, and by the time we arrived at Restoration Church in Pine Ridge an hour later, I was fighting back tears. The slightest movement or pressure sent lightning bolts up my leg. That’s when the reality that I was not going to be able to just “walk it off” set in.
A few hours later I was sitting in a pew with my foot propped up and ice on it. The rest of the crew was getting ready to walk over the hill to another building where the guys would be sleeping. I stayed behind and used the opportunity of being alone to call home. The tears came quickly as I told my husband what happened. I cried bitterly as I said out loud the words that I’d been carrying in my heart, “I don’t understand why! Why would God bring me here only for this to happen before we even get to the Reservation? I’m here to do a job and I can’t do that if I can’t even stand on my own two feet!” My husband comforted me the best he could and I dried my tears before the rest of the crew came back and saw me. But the frustration and anger began to form a bitter stone in my chest.
When everyone returned, Pastor Wade, the missionary we were working with, came over and asked how I was doing. I explained that everything was very tight and stiff and the slightest movement was incredibly painful. He then asked if he could pray for my ankle. I said yes and the rest of the team gathered around to pray over me. Wade placed his hands over my foot and ankle and began to pray. He said the exact words I had said to my husband moments before: “Lord, you have brought Jelise here to do a job. She can’t do that with an injured foot. Heal her so she can do your work.” Over and over he prayed, “I ask you to heal her in Jesus’s name.”
As he prayed I felt a deep heat start to form in my ankle and radiate out.
When he finished, Wade asked me if I could move my ankle. I hesitated, unsure of what to do, because I knew just moments ago I couldn’t. But slowly I started to point and flex my foot and was startled by the sudden mobility. Then I began to move it side to side and couldn’t believe that I felt little pain or resistance. I looked up at Wade and burst into tears because I honestly could not believe what was happening. I think everyone was stunned and no one talked for a few moments.
But it doesn’t end there…
…the next day was Sunday. I woke up and my ankle felt pretty good, albeit a little sore and I could still not put my full weight on it. But at least no lightning bolts were shooting up my leg. We traveled an hour to the church in Kyle where we’d be working and had Sunday service and shared lunch with the congregation. We did some light cleaning and assessed what supplies we needed to complete the work that was needed on the building. Then we drove back to Pine Ridge and a few of us went to the local grocery store. By the time evening came my ankle was once again swollen and hurting quite a bit. I felt it stiffening up again. Wade prayed over my ankle one more time before he left for the night and I felt some improvement immediately after, but told him it was still too painful to put weight on it.
Looking at the list of jobs we were going to be doing throughout the week — painting, laying tile, yard work, cleaning, etc., I wondered what I would be able to do that didn’t require either being on my feet all day or getting up and down often. And I felt the bitter frustration return.
At 10 p.m. that night I found myself alone in the sanctuary reading my Bible. Earlier that day Wade had talked about what it looked like to praise God. He talked about the many Hebrew and Greek words that were all translated into the single English word praise. He referenced the use of these different words throughout scripture, many of which are found in Psalms. So I opened my Bible to Psalms and started to flip through the pages. I settled on Psalm 18 and began to read:
“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…In my distress I called to the Lord;I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears,” (Psalm 18:1-2,6).
I took comfort in those words, in knowing that God heard my distress call.
I continued to read until I came to verse 36: “You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I almost fell out of my chair when I read those words. In all of my years spent reading scripture I don’t ever remember reading a verse about an ankle. The words themselves, so specific to my situation — having rolled my ankle while walking a narrow path. I knew in my heart that it was no accident that I came to this verse, and I felt a sudden urging in my heart to pray that verse over my ankle.
I glanced around, thankful I was alone, placed my hands on my ankle and began to speak verse 36 like a prayer. “Lord, you widen my path so my ankle won’t roll. I believe you can heal me, and you can undo the damage because you make my path wide so my ankle won’t roll.” Over and over I prayed. Then I felt heat come into my ankle again. Tears slid down my cheeks as I kept praying the same words over and over again believing them more with each utterance. Finally the heat subsided and I stopped. I stood up and took a tentative step. I felt no pain.
I took another step and tested putting full weight on my left foot. Still no pain. I walked up and down the aisle of the church crying. I didn’t have to limp, my ankle felt loose and mobile, and there was no pain.
I spent the following five days scrubbing, mopping, laying tile and grout, assembling book cases, installing lights, and more. At the end of each day my back, my knees and my hands hurt from labor, but I had virtually no pain in my ankle.
It was not until Saturday morning, as we departed Pine Ridge and headed for the airport, that I felt the familiar stiffening I’d felt days before. By the time we arrived at the airport I was limping again.
It’s been three weeks since I slipped on that narrow path and rolled my ankle. I know I did some serious damage because my ankle is still healing. But for those five days in Pine Ridge that we were working? My pain was gone. I know God healed me long enough to do what He’d brought me 1,500 miles to do.
Now, I realize some of this might be hard to believe. And that’s OK. I’ve been there. I’ve sat in your chair reading stories of healing and struggled to trust it was true. But the thing is God doesn’t need us to believe in order to perform miracles. His healing power is greater than you or me. He treats, and cures, and saves, and heals every day, whether our faith is big enough to accept it or not.
God will provide what we need in order to do His work.
“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”
What area of your life needs healing? Relationships; physical health; emotional well being. Take your pain to Him. Trust in Him. He will hear you. He will heal you.