Walking Outside the Lines

I’m a rules person. I try not to drive more then the ‘acceptable’ five miles an hour over the speed limit. I try be on time (meaning early) for my appointments. I don’t lie about my age to get a cheaper rate; nor did I ever do that for with my child. I want people to think well of me and see me a ‘virtuous’ or ‘law-abiding.’

I’m also a horrific sinner. Yup, me the ‘rules girl’ have broken all the rules, one way or another. And for many years I have carried the guilt and shame of my past with me. Yes, I have confessed most of those lapses in following the rules and as open as I have been about God’s forgiveness of my actions, I still let them define me. I still stopped short of embracing my ministry because someone might unearth and reveal my sins for the world.

Fear can be so crippling. If we let it, it will run our lives. It will cause us to do things out of emotional blackmail and often drive us to make poor decisions, or worse yet, no decision. It can stop us from stepping into the life God intends for us  (a calling) because we think we aren’t good enough, not worthy to stand, or that our past has left us irreparably damaged. Continue reading

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The Love of My Life

How many times do we hear people say that someone they are in a relationship with is the love of their life–until they break up and move on to the next “love.” In a culture that seemingly embraces divorce it is hard to imagine that any one person can be the love of our life. Today many young people are rejecting the marriage norm and instead are moving from relationship to relationship when boredom or routine settles in.

I used to be one of those serial lovers–always looking for my soulmate or one true love. I have been fortunate to experience that kind of love a couple of times in my life but I sensed that something was missing. Its because the kind of love I want can’t really be found in a mortal man. I wanted unconditional, all forgiving, all loving, and perfect love. Pretty hard expectations to place on another mere human.

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Living and Dying with the Addict

Once again the media has exploded with the disturbing story of a sports figure and celebrity who has been overtaken by their addictions. The arrows of blame are flying at everyone whoever came into this person’s life as he too is blamed for being a weak person. And as the arrows of shame fly, so does the misunderstanding of what it is like to watch someone who is slowly killing themselves and the painful decisions that their loved ones must make if they hope to survive and keep on living.

The Lamar Odom saga is one that many of us live outside of the spotlight. We do it in our own circles and often without sharing our drama with those closest to us. These past few days I feel as if my healing scar has been ripped open again as I remember the frustration that I could not save my husband from his demons. Like Odom, he suffered a horrific childhood of abuse and at an early age was introduced to self-medication for his pain by his foster family and doctors. My husband, Dan, would live his life in and out of treatment programs, praying for relief. Unfortunately, he also suffered from bipolar disorder and even when he was clean and sober, he felt he was going crazy. He did things that made absolutely no sense to anyone—including him.

People would say to me all the time—if only he had Jesus he would change. If only he would commit to a program he would be ok. If only you were tougher on him. If only you weren’t so hard on him. If only…

You see friends, those of us living with the addict and mentally ill, we do all those things. We cry ourselves to sleep praying that God will deliver them. We become hopeful when they fall on their knees and accept the Lord into their lives. We celebrate when they agree to enter a long-term treatment program. We watch them count the days of sobriety and we think, “This is it.” We all do all that we can and yet sometimes the demon inside wins the battle here.

And sometimes, we let go and let God take over.

Letting go and watching what happens outside the protective boundaries of our homes can be almost as unbearable as struggling with them inside where no one sees the battle. This is when our faith is tested as we see them rise above only to slip away. AA talks about those who may never fully come clean and how we need to keep them in our prayers. Often those prayers are for deliverance—a deliverance that may only come with death. And that’s when the blame game really kicks into gear, as we see it being played out in social media today.

You see I lived this for many years. My husband lost his battle. I made tough decisions to protect myself and my daughter that few understood. We too had a legal separation that I sat on for several years hoping that I would never have to file the final papers. When Dan was hit by a car and left with severe brain damage, I had to go ahead and finalize our divorce so that he could receive long-term care. That didn’t mean it was over for me though. He was still my husband despite what some legal document declared. We still visited him in the nursing home. I was still his emergency contact. And when he died, I was still the wife that arranged for his funeral and led the family to say goodbye.

There were those in my family and in the recovery community that didn’t understand how I was still in the picture after all those years and after finalizing our divorce. Why hadn’t I walked away and pretended it never happened? Even at his funeral, my brother went around asking people why they were there for such a loser, a liar, a thief, and drug addict that had caused so much pain. You see, that is the gift of grace and mercy that my faith brought me. Many of us loved Dan and could see beyond the actions his drugs and mental illness led him to take. We could see the same man that God saw. We could weep, as I’m sure God did, at Dan’s pain and torment. We could love the man that was made in God’s image and who despite his deepest beliefs in that same God, just fell short. We could see our own imperfection and still love ourselves because we were willing to love Dan as Jesus loved the sick and mentally ill.

So as this story unfolds in the press, let us stop criticizing a woman who made choices to protect herself while still loving her husband. Let us pray for the family and friends who gather around a man they love for who they know he is. Let us pray for the man who hurt so much he could never find peace. And then let us open our eyes and our hearts to our own families and friends who are walking this same walk in everyday life. Let us reach out in understanding and compassion as their hearts are torn apart because their lives are being lived out in front of them, even if they suffer in silence. And let us keep trying to help the helpless and lost, just as Jesus did when he walked the streets.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen.

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

Holding onto the First Stone

Social media has increasingly been lit up with negative comments, finger-pointing, and divisive language over our ever-changing culture. We sit in wait for those with whom we disagree to slip up—no we wait in joyful anticipation for them to fall off the cliff. We are quick to call out the sins and errors of our opponents or of those whose world view differs from ours. We are ready to stone and destroy anyone who threatens our sense of what is morally right. I have been amazed at the sheer volume of glee exhibited in the face of bad behavior or failure. I am talking predominately about celebrities and politicians over whom we happily celebrate their public humiliation. But we also wait to see colleagues, ex-friends and lovers, family, and even churches to which we once belonged tumble. Somehow it makes us feel better to point out the error in their ways. I think the negative postings are showing our own hearts and an overwhelming desire to be more right rather than to understand what has happened and to talk about what we want for ourselves and society.

There is a wonderful story about a woman brought to Jesus at the end of the Feast of the Tabernacles.  The woman, likely a married woman, was found in the bed of a married man who was not her husband. The church leaders bring her to Jesus to stone her according to the Law of Moses, although in reality it is to set a trap to see if Jesus will agree to stone her or let her go. What he does instead puts the decision back on her accusers by saying: “If any of you are without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Of course they all drop their rocks leaving the woman behind to go free and change from how she is living her life. We too need to drop our rocks.

It saddens me when a politician, of any party, messes up. It is an awful day for all of us when someone we entrusted to make good decisions for our country is found to be an adulterer, a molester, a thief, or reckless in some other way. It doesn’t matter which side of political fence you are on—this is bad for all of us. But the truth is: we are not without sin. Maybe not their sin, but we have our own. Before we gleefully celebrate the fall of a man or woman in power, let’s pray that God will deal with their behavior and pray for their recovery. And let us take time to ask God to show us our own failings that we too might change. Let’s be hurt and disappointed as well as compassionate instead of  flooding Facebook or Twitter with comments pointing out how they have, expectedly, fallen so far down. Put the stone down.

Maybe you are upset about changes in laws regarding same-sex relationships. Maybe you are angry about a former athlete who has made dramatic changes in his life to live in a way that goes against everything you believe. You may be angry that your belief system is being circumvented. You may hate what you believe to be a sinful nature. However, are you looking past all the rhetoric to see the people involved here? Regardless of what you believe, can you not see the hurt in these people and pray that they will find peace and joy from the inside out?  I am not asking you to walk away from your religious beliefs, I am asking you to look at them with love and kindness. You know, Jesus walked among the sinners. He stopped and talked to them about themselves. He knew already knew about them but he still listened to their stories. He compassionately talked to them about their behaviors and encouraged them to accept a new way of life. Maybe if we take time to listen and to better know each other, we can get beyond our hateful behavior and grow in God’s community together. Maybe we can stop making fun of people and start seeing who God sees and love as he told us to love. Maybe we can see God in them and love them too. Maybe we can drop the rock and see the person inside—a person made in God’s image.

When the celebrities we idolize for their good looks, their money, and their success fall into drunkenness, drug abuse, or marital woes, could we not laugh and celebrate their private failure gone public? Could we first stop idolizing them as earthly gods and see them as people just like us who are going through a painful time? Could we remember that as a part of humanity we all have the potential to find ourselves in the same sorrowful situation? Rather than flooding social media with all the articles about these public failures, maybe we should first look at our own lives and areas in our relationships that need improvement. Maybe we can ask God to show us if we are heading down a slippery slope that might end in addiction or divorce so that we can change the progression down our own path of self-destruction. In today’s world of social media we begin to think that these celebrities are people we actually know. Rather than focus on them, how about we look around and see if there is someone close to us that we can help. Is there someone you see suffering some form of addiction? Do you know of someone in a troubled relationship? How can God use you to help them? Can you put down the stone we throw to hide our own shortcomings and work for personal improvement? Take the stone they are carrying and help them.

These are but a few examples of the way we react to adversity today. If we go back to the story of the sinful woman we hear Jesus say that he is the light of world sent to bring light into our moral darkness. HE brings the light—it is not our responsibility to be about casting stones. I am not suggesting that anyone abandon their faith-led beliefs or worldviews. What I am suggesting is that we step down from the roles of judge and jury and we step into a world of discussion and clarity. Anyone who wants to change the mind of another must first understand the heart of the other and share their perspective in a loving way. So yes, put down the rock. Drop the name calling. Stop crucifying those who you believe live in sin or who may be in trouble because of their life choice. Stop making fun of people who live in a way you just can’t wrap your head around and ask them to help you understand. Stop looking and waiting for someone else’s missteps and look at your own vulnerabilities and behavior. Then you can begin to talk about what is going on in the world around you without animosity. Take the time to look into the eyes of those on the other side. See their heart. Reach a hand across the table and as you hear their story, share your story. Let God take care of what God needs to take care of. Become a real lover of man.

Drop the Rock.

Woman at the Well

One of my favorite Bible stories is that of the Samarian woman who encounters Jesus at Jacob’s well. It is one of a handful of stories that I relate to my transformation story. When I read this story, it gave me hope that I too could turn my life around, find forgiveness, and leave old patterns of living behind me. My hope began when I read how Jesus spoke to a woman that belonged to a group of people that Jews would not normally speak with. In fact, most people avoided Samaria because they thought themselves better than the people living there. Yet, Jesus deliberately went to Samaria and sought out a woman with whom to share his love and forgiveness. Jesus had a way of stepping into the dirty waters to bring the lost into fresh clear waters. Jesus called out her sin and offered her new living water to fill the empty spot in her life that caused her to keep seeking out something that was ultimately detrimental to her. Not only was this woman’s life changed but she carried back the story of her transformation so that others would find new life as well.

From a personal perspective I related to this woman because of my own lifestyle. Having been through multiple relationships and marriages as I tried to find that ‘real love,’ I came to understand that with the love of Jesus and the Father, I could finally stop looking. I could let go of a past that was influencing my future and damaging my heart and soul.  Above all things in sharing my transformation story, I want other women (and men) to realize that they will never find the perfect love and joy they want by jumping from one bed to another. That momentary high is just that—fleeting and momentary. I needed a love that was lasting and life changing. Once I was able to accept God’s love and to see myself as he does, I was able to accept that my life has value and to begin to live and look for the best in my life.

I sat with my transformation story for a long time. I was still embarrassed by my failures and lifestyle choices. I worried about what others would think if they knew how I lived and how long I lived like I did. I simply wanted to get on with my life and hide the past. I think we would all like to forget the pasts we have left behind and simply keep moving forward. I think God wants us to realize a new birth in his forgiveness; however, like the woman at the well he wants us to share the joy of our new freedom. He wants us to share his story of new water poured into our lives. He wants us to go out and spread the word, telling who we were and who we are today.

Life-giving transformation is a gift and it is God’s story, not my story. I can share the joy I have in not living as I once did and I can share the source of the new life without shame. Our testimonies are the revelation that God is still working with us, Jesus is still walking with us, and the Holy Spirit is still guiding our steps—if we are willing to step into clearer waters. Elmer Towns writes that when Jesus offered the woman at the well “living water” we should see this water as: “1) producing growth, 2) cleansing, 3) refreshing, but Jesus was using this expression to show her how to find 4) satisfactions in life.” [i] As I celebrate what God has done in my life, I want to be like the woman at the well and rush out and tell others the Good News—that you too can let go of past behaviors and embrace a new way of living. You too can have a story of transformation to share and live a more satisfying life.

Do you have a message of transformation too? Have you seen your life in the stories about Jesus’ walk on earth? Have you been changed in such a dramatic way that you just have to run and tell someone? Are you willing to step into muddy waters and share your transformation story so that someone else might embrace the change Jesus is offering for their lives? Are you willing to deliberately go and talk to someone from a group that you would normally avoid and share God’s forgiving grace with them? Start making a list of people and places where you could share your story and them plan how to open the door to new life for them. I know of no greater gift that we can give to another than to share our Jesus story.

 

[i] Towns, E., (2002). The Gospel of Joh: Believe and Live, AMG Publishers: Chattanooga, TN

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?