Anticipating Christmas

When my kids were young we made a big deal out of Christmas. We put up the tree and made sure there were plenty of gifts to open, even if some of them were underwear and socks! We wanted to make sure that somehow the number of gifts under the tree reflected how much we loved them. We wanted to create memories to last a lifetime.

When I was married to my second husband and we shared the children at  Christmas with his ex-wife, the focus became showing her up. We wanted to have the better gifts. We wanted to have the better time. We wanted them to love us more because we showered them with things. And we missed the boat in such a huge way.

My own daughter is an only child. I always felt she was missing out on having a family to share the surprise of Christmas morning. She had no one to share her toys with or to one-up on her gifts. Yet we did everything we could to bring our family around us so that she felt part of something bigger. And I made sure it was always an event when the family came over—one they would talk about for years!

Today both those efforts have faded away. My step-daughters have families of their own now. They are making their own Christmas memories with their children. My daughter and I still celebrate Christmas together, but no longer with our family. As I look back, I wish I had invested more in the relationships that surrounded us than in the number of gifts under the tree. And I hope that my girls will not follow my example but that they will focus on why we even have a Christmas to celebrate. I hope that they won’t stress out over the gifts they buy so that their children know they are loved.

I hope my girls will shower their children with love, the love that comes down from above and works its way out of them and shows up in the way they treat others, including their extended families. 

This year we are keeping it simple. This year I am looking forward to Christmas Eve service and gathering with my church family to celebrate the birth of a man who would die that I could be forgiven. I am anxiously anticipating singing those songs that move my heart to a place of worship and gratitude. I am looking forward to a change in my behavior that shows others what God has done, and is doing, in my life. I am taking in the greatest love and hoping that I can pass that on to others as I meet them.

That is the gift I am seeking and hope to give to others.

Lord, I ask your forgiveness for the times I forget that you are the real purpose for our Christmas celebration and I pray for my family that they will stop and remember not just their presents but your unfailing love. I pray our Christmas will be more about you this year.

God bless,

Maggie

 

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Looking Back to Move Forward: Creating Lasting Change

It isn’t always easy to look back on our lives and review the mistakes we have made that hurt others and that have hurt us. Twelve step programs calls that “taking our inventory.” At certain points in our lives it is necessary to take stock of how we have lived, especially if we want to move forward and become better people. For me, that takes God—it takes admitting to him that which he already knows and then seeking first his forgiveness and then asking that he change me. At some point, we also need to apologize to those we hurt, which can be the most difficult part, especially if the other person is unwilling to hear.

I have made some royal mistakes in my life. Some would say I have sinned in a big way and that too is true. There was damage left in my wake. I took the hurt I carried and inflicted it on others. I lived unaware for some many years, hiding and numbing my internal pain in any number of ways. I did that until I began to recover from my own pain and could better understand why I behaved the way I did. And still, today I look back with sadness as I realize that some may never recover from our damaged relationships. I am thankful to those of you who have found forgiveness in your heart. I know it was not easy and you so inspire me to trust that God can and will repair all things, if we trust him.

It is never too late to change. I believe that God gives us as many chances as we need to get it right. After all, Jesus did say something about forgiveness—70 times 7. His forgiveness is limitless. I know we as mere humans may not find it as easy to forgive; however, if we can begin by admitting our own faults to God and accept his forgiveness, we may also find peace. I may never have the chance to tell some people how sorry I am to have hurt them, how sorry I am that things became twisted, and how much I wish things were different. But I can change. The best possible thing we can do is seek forgiveness and then turn our lives around.

Be different today. Let go of the pain you carry. Seek forgiveness and freedom. Show yourself you are transformed by what you do next.

©maggiemarcum.com

Beyond our Past

It is easy to get stuck in the past and to carry the heavy load of our hurts, our failures, and our struggles with us into the new day. They can become like old familiar friends that, in our minds, define who we are and how we live. We can even become dependent on these burdens we carry to see us through. Some become our addictions and our excuses for not moving forward. I can’t lose weight. Drinking makes me feel better. You don’t know what happened to me. No one understands what I have been through and why my life is so hard.

Have you said those things? Are these the things that are keeping you from experiencing joy today? Are you afraid of what your life might look like if you don’t’ have those friends with you anymore?

Did you know that you are God’s masterpiece? I used to scoff at that notion given my lifestyle. But Paul said that all of us screw up at some point in our lives and God still wants us in his life and he wants to give us a fresh start that will allow us to live lives of purposes. (Ephesians 2: 1-10) Even as God is calling us to walk with him and to change; we must be seeking him to escape from our past (Laminations 3). He is there, waiting for us to build a life-long relationship with him, one in which we will receive his gift of love and forgiveness and new empowerment to change. We can find our true selves in God’s love.

I do believe that a relationship with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit is the “silver bullet” to healing. I know from personal experience that I needed the help of a gifted treatment program and gifted counselors to make the breakthroughs in my transformation. I also know that it was not until I was willing to see God smack dab in the middle of my life, that I found healing. I know that he wants a renewed life for me to live. I know that he has plans for my life. I know that I have purpose in sharing what he has done in my life. I know that I am no longer alone or abandoned—my relationship with Jesus brings me a sense of belonging and wholeness I never found in any man or woman.

What is keeping you stuck where you are today? What is keeping you from feeling joy? What first step can you take today that will bring you out of your pain and start you on a path of purpose? What is keeping you from saying, “yes” to freedom and new life? What is stopping you from first asking God to walk with you?

“You turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.” Psalm 30 New Living Translation

Painting by: https://donnalynyates.wordpress.com/

Second Chances

I believe in a God of second chances because I have seen that in my own life. I know forgiveness through first-hand experience. I know the freedom that comes from confessing my negative and harmful behavior. I know what it is to live a new life every day because of that forgiveness and a second chance to do it better the next time. My spiritual journey and growth are constant factors in my life as I continue to pray about ways to improve my behavior and actions. Some days are better than others, but when I mess up, I know where to go and I know I can start over.

Jesus gave us a prayer to pray (Matthew 6:9-13) and as part of that we pray: “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us (NLT). The Message version translates the prayer to: “Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.” I like this version because it reminds me that just as I am forgiven through Jesus, I must forgive those around me. This commandment isn’t something to take lightly and in some cases it may be very difficult for us to do. But with forgiveness comes freedom to move forward in our lives and a first step toward breaking the ties to the hurt and pain someone may have inflicted on us.

It took me a while to forgive my father for his behavior toward my mother. I had to come to understand that in his time there was no one to teach him that it was wrong. I had to forgive him for ignoring me and putting me in a position to seek out another male figure that would later abuse me. I had to find a way to let God deal with the person who hurt me and to stop letting them influence my behavior many years later. I have forgiven my mother for not being who I wish she was and accepting the wonderful things she passed on to me—including how, as a Christian, to forgive those closest to us. I have had to learn how to forgive those who have hurt my daughter and allow her to forgive them and show me how to forgive as well. That one is probably the hardest but I am thankful to see her model a forgiving behavior passed on from her grandmother.

With forgiveness comes a requirement for change. If we are inspired by the words of Jesus to seek forgiveness and to forgive others, then we must also be willing to make changes in our lives that will keep us from making the same mistakes. The Message version says: “keep us safe from ourselves and from the Devil” (Matthew 6:9-13). It may mean that we remove ourselves from people who are not good for us or who might influence negative behavior in ourselves. It may mean holding others accountable for the way they treat us and setting appropriate boundaries. It may mean that we who forgive also mentor and pray for those who hurt us when they seek our forgiveness. And when we see change in another, then we must be willing to give them a second chance at living a new life. We must release them from the bond of shame and allow them to become the new person Christ has made. If we only remember the fault and don’t see the transformation, we end up carrying a burden that no longer exists and we hold back those forgiven and transformed.

Forgiveness and second chances are probably two of the hardest things for us Christians to live out in our lives. We want forgiveness for ourselves and we see it in our lives, but we refuse it to those closest to us. When we refuse to see that God has created something new in the forgiven, we miss the blessing of Jesus lived out on earth. Who are you holding a grudge against that you have not forgiven? Who do you say you have forgiven but have not reconciled with? Who do you know needs your forgiveness and your help in building a new life forward? How can you model what Jesus told us to do for another? Who needs you to give them a second chance?

Make Me an Example

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5 New Living Translation)

Over the past few days I have been disheartened by the way I have seen some Christians treating other Christians. I know that none of us are perfect, however, when we make it known to others that we are Christians,we must recognize that we are examples to everyone around us of what that means. I believe Jesus died for my sins and I believe I am forgiven. I also believe that to be forgiven means to be transformed. It means I live differently. It means I love differently. It means I give differently. If I am to be an example of Christ’s love in my life then I must treat everyone in my life with the same forgiveness, love, and compassion that Jesus has shown me.

If my life as a Christian isn’t transformed and lived differently because of Jesus’ love for me, than why bother to believe in him and follow him?

My daily reading from the Life Application Study Bible says “there is more to Christian living than loving other Christians. We must be responsible in all areas of our life.” It is a reminder that we do need to treat our fellow followers with love, as well as all those who cross our paths. If we can’t start in our own families and with the people closest to us, how can we share Jesus with those who don’t yet know him? How can we model grace and mercy for others if we aren’t willing to show these principles to the ones sitting in church with us? How do we build Christian leaders in secular jobs if the examples we have in Christian organizations are no better than those outside?

I am far from perfect and I do look to Christians around me to see how they live out their lives. I want to see how they are motivated to live transformed lives and what they do in uncomfortable or tough situations. I look to our leaders in the Christian community to be examples of love, mercy, and respect for others in lower stations of life or in need of healing and forgiveness. I find hope for change in the Bible I read and I pray that I will be a better leader; but I need good examples. I am thankful that while I have seen some pretty bad examples lately, I have seen some pretty great ones too.

I am thankful for dear friends who know I am a work in progress and who forgive me when I screw up or disappoint them when I make a bad choice. I am thankful when they call me on my behavior and inspire me to do better. I am thankful that there are leaders in my community that I can learn from as I grow in my leadership role. I am thankful for preachers in my church who share the truth of the Gospel and make me squirm a little in my seat. They motivate me to grow. I am thankful that Jesus still loves me and still forgives me when I mess up and then gently guides me back on the right path. I am thankful for grace and mercy and hope I pass that on.

My prayer is that in my comings and goings today I be an example of the love and forgiveness of Jesus and that those I come in contact with see I am transformed because of him. May you too be transformed by his forgiveness and may you too be an example.

Facing our Behavior

It isn’t easy to face the truth about ourselves and our behavior, yet failing to do so can cause our situation to grow from bad to worse. David, in Psalm 25, found that the more he resisted change the more his problems multiplied. He had to face the truth about his actions and behavior and be willing to seek God’s forgiveness if ever he were to move forward to live a life of purpose.

The more we sit with whatever negative behavior or thoughts we have; the more likely we are to continue to repeat our negative behavior. The more we stay where we are and refuse to “face the music” for our action, the more likely we are to add on in an attempt to cover up or to justify our conduct. Sooner or later these things will become unbearable. God will let us sit in our mess until we are ready to acknowledge our actions and the pain leads us to seek forgiveness and transformation. Forgiveness, however, is not enough unless we also commit to changing our lives.

I know on my journey out of the darkness it took reminders from people close to me that what I was doing was self-destructive. I needed friends to speak the truth into the situation, even when I did not want to hear what they had to say. Several bouts of broken hearts and depression finally led me to hear what they were saying and to seek professional help. As part of that professional help I found that God was walking with me and standing with open arms to accept me, to forgive me, and to transform my life. It took many years and much anguish, but today I can say that God has released the bonds that trapped me and I have been rescued from a devastating life style.

Have you found yourself stuck in a behavior or activity that is causing you anguish and keeping you from the things you should be doing with your life? It could be something as simple as using your credit cards to pay for things you want rather than paying off your bills and finding financial freedom. Maybe you are holding a grudge against someone and it colors not only your reaction to the person you think slighted you, but it also colors how you interact with other people. You may build walls to protect yourself and you may be missing a greater blessing. It could be as serious as needing to seek professional help with an addictive behavior—be it drugs, alcohol, food, or sex. Maybe you did something that was unethical and haven’t owned up to it yet, so you live in fear of being found out. Freedom comes with speaking truth and sharing.

Whatever is keeping you on the darker path, remember that God will not abandon us. He may let us suffer in our mess longer than we like, but when we reach out, he will be there. I learned for myself that the longer I stayed in destructive relationships, the sadder I became and the more I removed myself from relationships with my friends. Today I am humbled and blessed to be able to share with others just how God inspired me to change by letting me hurt so that I would ask for help. I hope today you will be motivated to seek help to change your life too.

© maggiemarcum.com

“My problems go from bad to worse. Oh save me from them all! Feel my pain and see my trouble. Forgive all my sins.” Psalm 25: 17-18 New Living Translation

The Healing Secrets We Keep

These days I am rather transparent about the life I have led and the choices I have made. I share my experiences because many of them, by the Grace of God, are now behind me. I share my secrets so that others might believe that God still loves them. I share my stories that others who struggle may know that a new life awaits them. I share my story so that others don’t make my mistakes, and if they have made similar mistakes, they know it is not the end. I share hope.

All too often those of us who come through the refining fire refuse to share our stories. I think it is selfish not to tell others how God has changed and redeemed your life. I also believe, that the secrets of our mistakes that we keep hidden, could be the stories that save lives. Yet, many still continue to hide behind some veil of shame refusing to tell others this wonderful thing God has done in their lives. Yes, there may be pain in talking about the past, however, that shared pain may just be what another needs to hear as they struggle with the choices in their lives.

Have you lived through an abusive relationship and are now on the other side living free from fear? Your story of courage and freedom may be what someone else needs to hear for their freedom and to save their life. Share your fears and how you were able to get away and are free to live with joy today.

Have you had an abortion and lived through the tears to finally find forgiveness. Would you do it differently today? Your story could save the life of a child today. Your story could help another woman avoid the pain and loss you experienced.

Did alcohol or drugs once control your life? Did you live with someone abusing alcohol or drugs? Have you found recovery and a new day? Get over anonymity! Share your healing story that another drunk or addict might ask to go to a meeting with you.

Were you once so far in debt or without money that you weren’t sure if you could feed your kids? Have you ever been without a home or a car? Are you out of debt and in control of your finances today? Let go of yesterday and share how you did it with someone like me. Teach us how to work a plan.

Is suicide a part of your family? Have you lost, or nearly, lost someone because of mental illness? Is depression something you have struggled with? Is there hope today that you never had before? Tell your life-giving story that someone who wants to die might live. Share so someone who has lost a loved one might come to understand and feel freedom from guilt. Save a life today.

I could go on with examples. We all have a story. Even those of deep life-long faith have a story. Let your testimony be real. Make what God has done in your life something you don’t think twice about sharing. Share your secrets—especially if you are drowning in your secret today. Reach out and share with someone you trust that they may walk with you. Don’t let your secrets destroy you.

Pass along the gift God has given to you. Multiply his mercy and grace. I encourage you to read The Parable of the Buried Treasure found in Matthew 25. Invest in others. Don’t be the one whose gift is lost.