Tag Archives: forgiveness

She didn’t know He loves her, even though

Last week we had some hard days in the Ballon household. It was an especially hard week for my 16-year-old. And of course for dear old mom and dad.

I’ve written frequently about the joys of raising teenagers, and for the most part, it is a joy. It’s really so much better than people tell you. But then, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the problems feel so enormous and grown-up that it’s hard to reconcile the fact that this is your “baby” facing all of these big feelings, big mistakes, and big choices.

One good thing that came out of all of last week’s hard (and there’s always something good to come out of it) was that I bought a 40 day devotional written for teen girls, to do with my daughter.

Because even though she’s been going to church since she was in diapers,

Even though she’s been in a Christian school most of her days,

Even though she lives in a home where we pray and talk about God, and her parents have told her multiple times how broken we once were, but also how we were saved by the love of Jesus,

Even though she’s served as the hands and feet of Jesus on two different mission trips and I saw it change her,

…even though…

She is still her own person and she is walking her own faith journey, which sometimes takes detours, and looks a little sidewinder-ish.

So I bought this devotional and we are only on day 3, but it has already paid for itself ten-fold. Because last night we read all about grace and how God knows we will fall short and we don’t have to be perfect to win His love. And when I asked my daughter what she thought about it she said, “It’s such a relief. Because sometimes I feel like it’s not true. Sometimes all I hear is everyone telling me I have to be like Jesus and follow the rules to be a good person, and I feel like I have to be perfect. It’s a relief to know that He doesn’t expect perfection. To know that He will love me anyway.”

And my heart broke into a million pieces.

Because how did we get to 16 and she still not know?

How have I failed to make sure that if she knew nothing else — literally nothing else — she knew about grace and the unfailing love of our Father?

How have I forgotten that there is so much pressure on her, so many rules, so many boundaries, and sometimes we talk about those things ad nauseam until grace sounds like a footnote instead of the headline?

How is it that I write a blog called Neither Height Nor Depth that is based on the very verses that confirm that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, and she didn’t know?

So I held her and we both cried and I told her out loud that there is nothing she could ever do that would make God stop loving her. And there was nothing she could ever do that would make me stop loving her.

If that is the only message she takes away from our 40 day study, it will be totally worth it.

So, in case no one has told you recently — or ever. In case you hear more about rules, and being “good”, and not messing up, than you do about love. In case you feel forgotten, unloved, unworthy, or unclean. In case you didn’t know that the price was already paid, and you have a Father that loves you so much He would go to the ends of the earth to find you, here are the words I want you to hear:

For I know that nothing can keep us from the love of God. Death cannot! Life cannot! Angels cannot! Leaders cannot! Any other power cannot! Hard things now or in the future cannot! The world above or the world below cannot! Any other living thing cannot keep us away from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NLV)

Nothing from your past, nothing you are going through today, nothing in the future, nothing you have done, nothing that has been done to you, nothing you can imagine. No. Thing. No hurt, no failure, no mistake, no illness, no fear, no person, can separate you from God's love.

Featured image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

If you’re gonna shout, let love be the cry

There’s a popular Christian song called “Bleed the Same” by Mandisa and Toby Mac that has this line: “If we’re gonna fight, let’s fight for each other. If we’re gonna shout, let love be the cry.”

There’s a lot of shouting and fighting that takes place these days. Oh sure, it’s not usually actual shouting and arguing, person-to-person, although that definitely happens. Instead, it’s shouting in the form of firmly worded Facebook posts painting clear pictures of right and wrong. It’s arguing in heated Twitter exchanges complete with name calling and derogatory insults at individuals and entire groups of people. And the worst part about all of this shouting and fighting I see? It is often coming from fellow Christians.

I’m a firm believer in standing up for what you believe in. After-all what is the point in life if you can’t find something to really believe in? But where I see a problem is the use of verbal absolutes on internet-based platforms that do not lend themselves to real conversation and understanding. When sharing our values in 150 characters or less we draw a line in the sand that says, I’m on this side, if you disagree, you are on the other side.

Me versus you.

Us versus them.

And I’m pretty confident no one ever changed their mind by being called a “them”.

It’s the main reason I shy away from controversial topics on my blog because I know that I cannot enter into meaningful dialog with anyone via WordPress comments or Facebook posts. It’s very hard for me to listen and hear another person’s heart from this side of my computer screen. And if I’m gonna talk about the hard stuff, the ugly, messy stuff, then I want you to hear my heart, and I need to hear yours in return. It’s the only way we will ever take steps toward each other and maybe begin to erase that line.

Interestingly, I find that often the issues that people shout the loudest about are the ones they have never had to struggle with. It’s easy to identify sin that we ourselves have never been tempted by or struggled with. It suddenly gets a lot trickier when it’s something we are battling. I think that’s why so many Christians are able to take a hard stand on issues like abortion and gay rights. Yet, I rarely see Christians picketing outside a divorce attorney’s office or courtroom to let the world know that divorce is a sin. I’ve never seen bumper stickers on cars that say “You can’t be Christian and covet my Mercedes”. And no one I know has said to me, “I’m voting for the candidate that is pro-sabbath.”

Why? Because over 50% of Christians have been divorced, and more of us touched by it in our families. Because I think it’s safe to say ALL of us have desired things that another person has; and find me the person who doesn’t want Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday after church.

We’ve cursed, we’ve refused to forgive, we’ve disrespected our parents, we’ve gossiped, we’ve not observed the Sabbath, and a million other sins every day. It’s a lot easier to have compassion for others struggling with these sins because we have struggled with them.

We live in a day and age where most of us would be outraged if a church refused to allow a divorced person to worship within its doors, and an entire day of rest and spiritual study is a “nice to have”, when the kids don’t have a soccer game and I don’t have to go grocery shopping, that is.

And let me be very clear here, I’m not pointing fingers or judging ANYONE here. Quite frankly, I have enough of my own sin to worry about fixing, I don’t have time to be pointing out other’s.

My point is that we seem to have arrived in a place where there are certain topics it’s OK to take a stand on — publicly, loudly, boldly –with the foundation that as Christians we have a duty to point out sin and fight for Truth. But I think we need to ask ourselves whether we’d be just as willing to publicly, loudly, and boldly take a stand on some of the many other sins listed in the Bible — the ones we struggle with every single day.

Or maybe the better question to ask is, would we better serve God if the only thing we were quick to post on public forums was that we serve a loving God? What if the truth we were loudest about was that none of us are worthy, and yet we have been forgiven? What if the message we shared boldly was that of grace?

What might those statements do for the church? How might they draw people to Jesus instead of turning them away? Would it allow for real dialog and conversation?

I can’t say for certain., but I do know this: Jesus didn’t gain followers by standing on a street corner and shouting his beliefs. He sat next to the people who were different from him and asked questions. He ate with them and visited their homes. He looked them in the eye, saw their pain, and loved them. He invited them to walk with him.

And in the end, his final cry was that of love.

Friends, my plea is that before you decide to share that article that labels others, or condemns someone under the veil of “Christian family values” and sin, ask yourself what sin you are struggling with and whether you are willing to post about it to social media just as boldly. Or perhaps, instead, ask yourself if maybe social media isn’t the right place to be having these conversations at all. And then seek out someone who thinks differently from you, invite them to lunch, and open your heart so that you may hear theirs.

 

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12

No time for grace

My face flushed and my heart started to race as I felt all eyes on me. The guy in line behind me gave a heavy, dissatisfied sigh, and the cashier trainer muttered to the trainee at the register, “welcome to summer.”

I wanted to crawl in a hole somewhere and disappear. I was on vacation with my family and friends and had gone to the local grocery store to buy a week’s worth of food and supplies. I was distractedly going through my list, comparing it to what was in the cart to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything when I spotted the shortest check-out line and walked up. I began to unload my full cart onto the belt and said hello to the cashier who mumbled a quick hello back. A few moments later a line began forming behind me and the aforementioned guy directly behind me pointed out, in a not-too-polite way, that I was in the express check-out line. I looked up and for the first time noticed a sign that said 15 items or less.

My friend, who is much better in these situations than I am, tried to lighten the mood and said, “I bet you just love when summer comes and all of the tourists arrive.” And he said, very matter-of-factly, “Actually I hate it.” He might as well have said to me “I hate you.” Because that’s how it felt.

Despite numerous apologies and explaining I didn’t see the sign, I left the store and left behind a bunch of very aggravated locals, as I got in my car feeling totally humiliated.

For weeks, months even, I replayed that scene and thought of all the things I could have said, should have said. I vacillated between being embarrassed, angry, and hurt. Then I wondered “why did it bother me so much?” I would never see these people again, why did I care how they reacted to my honest mistake?

Eventually I realized the root of the issue was I had received no mercy from the people at the store; no hint of forgiveness or understanding.  They were in a hurry and I was slowing them down. There was no time for grace.

I confess that when I looked deep in my heart I knew that there were many times I, too have been guilty of believing there was no time for grace.

I’ve stood in a check-out line behind the woman with 45 coupons and sighed heavily at the delay it meant for me.

I’ve zoomed past a slow-moving car in the left lane and muttered under my breath an uncharitable and unkind sentiment about their driving skills because I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

I’ve lost my temper with my children because they forgot their lunch/shoes/clothes/bag in the house and had to run back inside while the rest of us waited in the car, already late for school or practice.

Because of my plans, my agenda, and my timing I have been unable or unwilling to stop and extend grace to someone else.

I’m so grateful my heavenly Father doesn’t work that way. If he was like me, I can imagine he’d sigh-heavily, roll his eyes and say, “really Jelise?! How many times have I shown you what to do? I’ve given you a better way, and yet you still haven’t gotten it! I’m done waiting. I’ve got more important matters to attend to. I don’t have time for children who don’t read the signs.”

But there is no limit on God’s grace for us.

Psalm 103 says:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8, 11-12)

As far as the east is from the west, that’s how big God’s grace is for us. His grace knows no end.

And then, the inevitable question: if God’s grace for me knows no limits, wouldn’t He want me to try and offer the same to others? I don’t have to wonder because scripture tells me He does.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” – Ephesians 4:2

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.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

Psalm 103:12

So here I sit, asking myself, “what makes me and my life so important that I can’t find the time to show patience, compassion, and mercy toward others?”

Maybe that lady with the 45 coupons is trying to feed a family of four on minimum wage and the only way she can afford groceries is to clip those coupons. Maybe that guy in the left lane just received bad news, is consumed by worry and doesn’t realize he’s in the passing lane. Maybe my kids need an extra 15 minutes in the morning to get themselves and their stuff together because when I rush them it makes them nervous and causes them to forget things.

Why is my need to get where I’m going, on my timeline more important than extending forgiveness or understanding? It’s not.

That scene from the store at the beach still plays in my mind. But now I think if I could go back and do anything differently, I would simply say, “I’m so sorry my mistake is impacting your day. I hope you can forgive me and extend a little forgiveness, since we could all use more grace in our life.”

And then I would try and do the same thing for them.

Cloud dragons, King Arthur, love, and forgiveness

I could see from his moist eyes and furrowed little brow he was upset.

“What’s the matter, honey?” I asked my 9-year-old son. And the emotions burst out of him like a water balloon hitting a brick wall.

“I ruined Easter,” he cried.

My heart broke for this little boy as I held him and tried to sooth his tender feelings. It had been a bit of a rough day for him. From the moment he woke up to get ready for church there had been battles. He dawdled; he played instead of getting dressed; he talked back when given instructions; he didn’t cooperate when asked to do something. It had been building all day and then after lunch, during a family game, he misunderstood something his daddy did and yelled at him, which got my son sent to a time-out. That’s when things went from bad-to-worse. A full-scale meltdown ensued. Screaming, crying, kicking the wall — you get the picture.

This of course ended the game and, since it was getting late in the day, our company decided to leave shortly thereafter.

And here we were, an hour later. Time-out ended. Temper-tantrum over. Apologies made. But this little boy felt he had ruined everyone’s Easter. This little boy who has a learning disability that impacts how he thinks and processes sometimes — especially when emotions are high. This little boy who has come so far in the last 5 years, but still has some very bad moments where he loses control. This little boy who presently sat in my lap crying tears of shame and regret.

I whispered words of comfort in his ears and promised him he had not ruined everyone’s Easter. I promised when we all looked back on this Easter in a year or two it was unlikely anyone would even remember this incident. Because, that’s how parent’s memories work, isn’t it? We have short-term memory loss when it comes to the daily trials with our children. I’m pretty sure God hard-wired us this way, otherwise I don’t know why in the world anyone would have a second child!

But when it comes to our other relationships, I’m not sure it always works the same way.

How often do we hold grudges against our spouses and hang-on to past hurts for months, or even years? How many times have we been let-down by a friend and refused to return calls or emails? And how many of us reach adult-hood carrying a catalog of faults for the ways we felt our parents fell-short?

For much of my early adult years I held-on to hurt, disappointment, and anger. I had a vault full of sour memories I’d stored — memories of broken promises, yelling and fighting,  punishments and mistakes, hurt and disappointment.

And asparagus and mushrooms. I definitely remember being forced to eat asparagus and mushrooms.

Then, I had my own kids. I lost my temper too many times; I yelled, I demanded. I said no, when I should have said yes. I judged too harshly, and made a big deal out of too many things that really weren’t. And I’m not done yet. I’ve got at least another 9 years of kids living under my roof full-time and no doubt I will make many, many more mistakes, especially as we approach the teen years!

But a funny thing happened to my memories somewhere along the way. My bitter recollections from my own childhood slowly began to fade, like pictures left in the sun. And they were replaced by more vivid, happier ones. I started to remember hugs and kisses, family vacations, and laughter. I remember hand-made doll clothes and Halloween costumes, post-football game parties, and learning to drive in an empty parking lot on a Saturday morning. I remember how often they forgave me; how they kept on loving me even when I had melt-downs and talked-back and rolled my eyes. Even when I refused to eat my asparagus and mushrooms.

Halloween 1983

I realize not everyone reading this may have good memories of their childhood. Some parents are too broken to show love and forgiveness, and some just aren’t present at all. But we all have one Father that has modeled what real paternal love looks like. We have One who loves us to the moon and back and forgives us “70 times 7” (Matthew 18:22). Even when we pout and cry in frustration; when we turn away and lose control; when we get mad and show no signs of respect, He loves us beyond all measure (1 John 4:7-12). He forgets our mistakes (Isaiah 43:25). And He asks us to do the same.

Colossians 3, verses 12-15 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could love one another the way God loves us? If we could show compassion to our parents, kindness and humility to our spouses, and gentleness and patience to our friends? What if we forgave just as quickly as God forgives? How freeing would it be to have that short-term memory loss when it comes to the people in our lives and their transgressions? Then we could let the “peace of Christ rule in our hearts.” I don’t know about you, but I could definitely do with more peace in my heart.

Colossians 3:12-15

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After a few moments of comfort, my son asked me if I would come lay on the big swing in our yard with him. In a very gentleman-like fashion he brought out a blanket for me and we snuggled up together staring up at the sky and swaying as the breeze pushed us. He pointed out clouds shaped like dragons, boats, and dinosaurs. I told him about King Arthur and a sword called Excalibur. As we talked and snuggled, I prayed a silent prayer that this is what he would remember.

view from the swing

Please God, in 20 years let him remember this moment spent with his mom talking about dragons and legends. Help him to remember this and not how I yelled in exasperation this morning that “he had pushed me to my last nerve.”  Let him remember an Easter evening spent lying on the swing and not the fight he’d had with his dad that afternoon. Let him tuck this moment into his heart and keep it there always as a reminder that above all else, he was forgiven and loved. Lord, I pray he will remember this so that one day he will do the same. That he will be quick to forgive his own children, yes,  but also his wife, siblings, friends, and even his dad and me.

And Lord? May he remember that I never, ever made him eat asparagus and mushrooms.

Mamas and their daughters – hope for healing

I recently had lunch with a good friend to talk about planning a women’s retreat. As we discussed ideas for the teaching sessions, we ended up on the topic of mamas and daughters, and how there seems to be a large majority of women carrying around hurt, anger, unforgiveness, and/or resentment when it comes to this special but complex relationship. It’s a topic very near and dear to my heart — as both a daughter and a mother of two girls.

I’ve seen firsthand generations of women struggle to find peace and healing in their relationship with their mama. I don’t know what it is about the mother/daughter relationship that makes it a breeding ground for so much hurt. Perhaps it is because of the raw, primal dependence we have on our mothers from birth that makes us expect so much. We expect them to always be there without fail, to always say the right things, lead by example, and pick us up and brush us off when we are hurting. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a person, really, and when mamas mess up — as we surely will because we are, after all, just flawed human beings like everyone else — we come tumbling off our golden mother-of-the-year pedestals. The super-mom image crashes into a million pieces and we daughters, we don’t seem to know how to reconcile that.

I am very blessed to have three women in my life who have loved and mothered me at one point or another. Each of these women is incredibly dear to me, yet I have experienced some degree of conflict in all three of these relationships over the years. But it is my relationship with my first mom, the mom who gave birth to me at the tender age of 23, that has been through the most difficult of times. Our story is one rooted in hurt, anger, pride, and estrangement. But it has blossomed into a story of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope. It is a testament that healing and redemption can be found through the grace of God. I don’t divulge my past lightly or without concern for the others who played a part. But, with my mom’s blessing, I share with all of you this piece of our story because it’s important to understand the place of hurt that we came from to truly appreciate the place of healing we have found.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog, you know that when I was young I went through a horrible ordeal. Not knowing how to handle the shocking news and reality that was facing her, my mom chose to believe it was all a misunderstanding. After “the incident” I moved out of my mom and stepfather’s house and had a painful and estranged relationship with my mom. I was still just a girl, only 13, and I struggled internally between just wanting to have my mom in my life, and feeling deeply wounded over her choices. I tried many times to come to terms with what had happened and to forgive her, but the pain and rejection never went away, and eventually it turned to anger and resentment.

When I was a young college student my mom divorced her second husband and that seemed to open the door to a better, easier relationship. But it was really a superficial relationship because no matter what I tried to tell myself, or her, I still had not forgiven her; the wounds were still there, just under the surface. This was not the foundation of a healthy relationship because every time there was a conflict or a disagreement it was easy for me to go right back to that place of resentment; to pull up a mental record of all the ways I had felt hurt, shortchanged, or abandoned and relive that pain all over again. And so, our relationship continued to be strained.

After having my first child, my mother disagreed with some of the parenting choices my husband and I were making. At that moment I really considered just walking away. It would be easier, I reasoned. No more conflict, no more hurt, no more disappointment. Why was I trying so hard anyway? And then I looked down into the face of my little daughter and realized she was why. She deserved a relationship with her Nana. She deserved to have a mother who believed in forgiveness and healing, and who lived out those things; a mother who loved by example. Because one day she might be the daughter on the verge of throwing in the towel and giving up on me!

It took several years of counseling and prayer before I was able to truly put the past to rest. I was in my early 30’s and for the first time in my life I felt truly free of my past. I got rid of the mental record of wrongs. I saw my mom for who she was: a flawed, hurting sinner, just like me. Yes, she had made mistakes, and would likely pay the rest of her life for those, but I realized that she had been scared and overwhelmed and unprepared for the decision that faced her and so she did what she thought was best. Ephesians 4:31-32 In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us “You must not hold on to any bitter hurts, rage or anger. You must not fight each other or say bad things about each other. You must not think or act because of spite. You should be friends and you should be kind to each other. You must forgive each other, just as God forgave you. God forgave you because of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

In the 12 short years I’ve been a parent I have made many mistakes. I have been scared, overwhelmed, and unprepared for decisions that faced me. I have tried to seek guidance from the Lord, but I know I often jump to conclusions or act in haste. I have been guilty of doing the same in my marriage, friendships and other family relationships.

I am human.

I am a work in progress.

Thankfully I have a Father in heaven who forgives me every time;  who does not hold grudges or a record of wrongs; who sent His very own, beloved child to die so that my poor choices and decisions would be wiped away and I would not be separated from His love. If He can do that for us, should we not also try and do the same for our friends, siblings, spouses, grandparents, fathers, and our mothers? Forgiveness is not something we earn because we are worthy, for human nature makes us unapologetic and arrogant. Forgiveness is a gift that comes free of appraisal or condition.

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About three years after I finally let go of my hurt and anger and truly forgave my mom, she said the words I had been waiting almost 25 years to hear: “I believe you. I’m sorry.” I am convinced God was working on both of our hearts for years leading up to this. After I finally let go of the past and started anew with my mom, she was able to do the same.

Today my mom and I are closer than ever. I lean on her for support and guidance. I value her opinion and I trust that she loves me beyond all measure. Our relationship is not perfect, we do things that frustrate each other and disappoint each other. But I can’t imagine my life without her in it. Forgiveness Fellow daughters, I don’t know what past hurts you are carrying around. I don’t know if your relationship with your mama can be restored, because it takes two people to heal a broken relationship. But I do know that with God’s help you can forgive. You can finally, once and for all, let go of whatever you are carrying around and be free of that burden. You can find healing. And I encourage you to start now, before any more time is lost.

Can I share a prayer with you?

Heavenly Father, the relationship between mamas and daughters is an incredibly special and fragile gift. From the moment we are born there is a bond forged in iron. Yet the very things that make our bond strong can also be our undoing. Father, I know there are so many women who are hurting right now — seeking out forgiveness, repentance, healing and hope. I pray that we daughters can soften our hearts and turn our sights to you so that we may see our mamas through your eyes. I pray that every daughter who is hurting will seek out the help she needs to heal and come to know the freedom of forgiveness. I pray that us mamas, we will lean on you for strength and guidance when we are taken by surprise at how incredibly difficult this mothering job is. May we be patient with our children and gentle with ourselves. And may we show mercy on our own mothers, remembering they once stood in our shoes and, just like us, they did the best they knew how. Amen.


#livefreeThursdayForgiveness is freedom! And I’m honored to be linking up today with Suzie Eller and friends for #livefreeThursday. Hop over to Suzie’s blog to read more encouraging stories of hope and freedom from women who are joining together to live freely in Christ.