Saturday, September 21, 2013

Why I Need The Church

It is popular today to criticize the church. Especially my generation.  We are individualistic and lessen our “need” for community. We got this thing.  We don’t need anyone else.  We are eaten up with pride, bottom line. 
But understand this: When you criticize the church, you are criticizing someone Jesus loves. His bride, actually.  Now, I am not married, so I won’t speak from experience.  But I will bet my bottom dollar that if someone criticized your spouse, you wouldn’t just sit back and bite your tongue.

God has really been showing me the importance of commitment to the church in my almost year out of treatment.  To see how the Body of Christ has operated in the churches I have been a part of blows my mind.  I DO NOT TAKE IT FOR GRANTED.   I came from Grace Fellowship in Anniston, the church I was a part of for 8 years.  This church set a solid foundation that I was able to build on after I truly surrendered to Christ last year.  The people of Grace were very longsuffering in their love for me. Some of the most loving, sacrificial, truth speaking people that I know are a part of Grace. 

So when I decided to stay in Gadsden after leaving treatment, I knew that finding a church was of the utmost importance.  When I walked into the first (and only) church I visited, I saw a sanctuary full of faces and felt downright scared.  I was the girl who had just left rehab.  If they find out, surely I will be shunned.  I had no idea what God was about to do in my life the day that I stepped foot in the new building on November 4, 2012. These people embraced me.  My heart could explode inside of me thinking about it.  It was a church of people who lay down their lives for each other and for the purpose of Christ.   It is a group of people who crave truth and are some of the most self-less people that I know.  The church is vital to my life.  I fully believe that God has organized it so that we operate at our best and for his glory in the context of a church.  And I am here to tell you that I need the church.   

I need the church because I need a family.  Being in Gadsden with no family COULD be very hard.  And some days it is.  Some days I want to just go home and relax and be with my family.  But every single day of my life, my faith family ministers to me in even the most subtle of ways. 

I need the church because I have a terrible memory.  Let me explain.  So often, I resort back to living with the mindset of an orphaned child instead of an heir to the throne. I need to remember who I am and who my Father is.  I need to be reminded of truth daily.  And my church is a vital part of that. 

I need the church because I need to serve.  I live alone.  I work in an office alone.  The temptation to stay introspective and internally focused is too great not to serve you and alongside you. What a tragedy it would be if I lived my life in seclusion!

I need the church because I need accountability.  I need to stay in the light and I need to be known and honest.  I need to be real and leave my mask at the door.  You people at my church now encourage that. 

I need the church because I need to pray with you.  There is something mysterious about going to the throne room with other believers.  I need to hear your prayers to learn to pray more.  I need to watch our Heavenly Father increase our faith by answering our prayers.  And on Wednesday nights, that is exactly what we are doing.  We are praying through Acts: Lord, do it again in Gadsden!

I need the church because I need to pray for you.  I need to carry your burdens. 

I need the church because quite frankly, you need me.  Sounds egotistical, huh?  I don’t mean it that way.  But God’s word says that we need each other.  Just as I need your strengths to offset some of my weaknesses, you need mine. 

I need the church because I am prone to wander.  I am prone to leave the God I love. 

I need the church because I need correction.  Being a product of church discipline, I am big on tough love.  Yes, it hurts.  Yes, it is one of the most humiliating things that has ever happened to me.  But it saved my life. I need to be carried when I can’t walk. 

I need the church because I want to give my life away to the next generation.  Your children are important.  It is my responsibility as your sister in Christ to come alongside you as you train your children.

I am thriving in this season of my life and I believe that it is because I have pressed into the body of Christ.  The true, authentic, organic, messy, far-from-perfect-but-desperate-for-his-grace body of Christ. 

Please hear me say that I have not been the perfect church member—actually far from it.  I have failed the church time and time again.  But my heart is to see the body of Christ function in the way that God designed.  As one. I am super relational and when I become friends with someone, I become friends with their kids, too. If I love them, my love extends to their family. And their kids become like nieces and nephews to me. In the same way, when we love God, we will love his children. And if you don’t love his children, it must be questioned how much you really love God. And you don’t have to quote me on that.  It’s scripture. 

"If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen."
1 John 4:20

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. "
 1 John 5:1

The church is my lifeline.  I am beyond blessed to have been a part of two amazing churches.  Being a single woman, I depend heavily on my church.  You are the most important people in my life. I have never experienced friendships and community like I am now..  Let me say it again:  the church is my lifeline.  I need the church. 

So, to my faithful brothers and sisters in Christ at Grace Fellowship: your commitment to God and his word coupled with your investment into me is one of the biggest reasons that I can say I know my Heavenly Father.  Words cannot thank you enough. 

And to my faith family now, I want to say this:  the truth, the smiles, the consistency, the gospel, the worship, the prayers, the love, the burdens, the day to day events, the meals that I share with you all (because we do love to eat!!) have been life-changing. You’ll never know how much gratitude is in my heart for you all.  My prayer is that my actions always show it.

 Thank you all for being faithful to the church. 
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
Hebrews 10:24-25

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Bigger Picture

When I was younger, thinking about how my life would unfold seemed to be a fun hobby of sorts.  You know, all of the normal things: college, great marriage with really cute kids, well-paying job, nice car, etc.  Nowhere in that, did I envision addiction.  Wasn’t my plan.  No-one really sets out to be controlled by drugs and alcohol.  But, selfish choice after bad choice, that is exactly where I ended up.  Eight months in a treatment center.  Loss of job.  Deteriorating physical appearance.  Breaking the hearts of all of the people who loved me.  Empty.  Desperate.
Today, I am celebrating a year and a half of being set free from that lifestyle. 
Chemicals are no longer my master. 
Today, I am free to worship the true and living God.  And that is what I am giving my life to. Sure, it is messy.  Really, really messy.   But that helps me understand his grace.
The past 18 months have been days of lots of life changes. And these life changes are only a result of a heart change. I knew things would look different when I took that first step of true repentance, but I am not sure that I knew exactly what all that would involve.  

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
 -CS Lewis
I am learning that it is all about doing the next right thing. Being obedient to the thing that stands in front of me today.  I am finding it harder to be obedient to the smaller things than the really big ones.  So, my seatbelt is buckled and I am ready, by God’s grace, to see the rest of my life through sobered eyes and a new heart. 

Now, would I have chosen addiction to be a part of my story?  No. 
But there is a much bigger picture than the one I see.  He is able to be trusted.  And I am enjoying the redemptive moments of his bigger plan.  He is showing me what it means to embrace my story and to look to him.  Glimpse at my past, gaze at my Savior.
Sure, I love to blog, but it is my hope that this blog is serving an even bigger purpose than just therapy for me. 
My hope is that you see how The Lord, Jesus Christ, has come in and done a complete overhaul.  God is changing my heart to be controlled by the love of Christ rather than anything this world has to offer.
Thanks be to him!  I will never be the same!                  
" which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire..."
2 Peter 1:4

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The "D" Word

Do you ever feel the effects of your sin? 
OK, stupid question, I know the answer to that.   
Whether we know it or not, we daily experience the effects of our sin.  We really do reap what we sow.  

This is an area I have rarely touched on in a blog post.  
Probably because this is an area in which I have experienced the discipline of the Lord.  
 But one of the areas I am reminded of my selfish choices and clear rebellion is with my former career choice, nursing.

I am about to get really vulnerable here. (Ready?)

Looking back, I can say that I chose to go into nursing for all of the wrong reasons.   
The money.  The title.  To feed my ego. 
And dare I say it:  to feed my addiction.   
Would I have said that when trying to get into nursing school, while in clinical, or even in my little "perfect" job at The Kirklin Clinic? 

Well, no.  
 Truth is, I probably didn’t know but I can assure you I didn’t care. 

A little background: during my time at New Life, God did heart surgery.  He had me in a place where I could only look to him.  I had to ask him for answers.  I sought him about what to do with my nursing license because they were in jeopardy. 
I knew if there wasn’t a concrete and final decision while I was there, chances were slim that I would make a rational decision when I got out. 
 So, God gave me the answer that I sought.  
 Not the answer I was looking for or anticipating, but the answer that would ultimately foster my relationship with him.  

“...And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell…”
Mark 9:43-46

In a very clear way, God, through his word, said  “Sever it.  Make no provision for your flesh.  Cut it off.”  Through many tears, yet confident and with no questions asked, I called The Nursing Board and surrendered my license.   

A glory moment, for sure.  

But I know and now believe that God will not be mocked.  He says it.  It is true.  We can take it to the bank.  
 So, that brings me to my point: the effects. 
  There are still consequences from that decision to gratify my flesh and go about my business and become a nurse.   
And it is because I chose, time and time again, to believe a lie over God’s truth.   
There is a pretty hefty student loan that I am paying.   
There is a job that I lost. 
 (That means me deflating my ego and being honest about "why" to people who ask.)   
There are people that I love and believed in me that I hurt while in that stage of life.   
My pride hurts when I talk about it. 

...but my heart is full of joy because he is weeding out the idols in my life so that I will worship him only...  

My heart longs to experience this joy every single day of my life.  This is why I was created. 
For communion with him, and obedience to him. 

In it all, I see just how faithful God is to his word and to his children.  He has allowed me to really experience his faithfulness.  He knew that if I stayed in Nursing, I would worship something other than him.   
Truth be told, I more than likely wouldn’t see my need for him. 
I would have it all: access to pills, money, recognition, status, and probably even meet a few single doctors my age along the way. 

He knows exactly what I need.  He knows what you need.  We need him.  

And he will make radical changes in our lives so we see that need, too.

So I am thankful that God disciplines, reproves, and corrects.   
It gives me confidence that I am his daughter, that he is committed to me, and that he will not allow me to give my soul over to another. 

“…And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”
Hebrews 13:5-8

Do I regret the choice I made of going into nursing?  Absolutely not. I have learned so much from it.
Do I grieve over breaking the heart of God because of my rebellion in that choice? 
More than you will ever know.  

"But he gives more grace..."
James 4:6

Monday, September 9, 2013

Far From Glamorous

I think the ministry of human trafficking can be over-glamorized.  I say that because I do it.  It seems like it is one of the most “popular” social injustices that we talk about in our Western culture.  It looks all "wonder-woman-ish" to go to a country where human trafficking is prevalent.  "We are just gonna go in and grab these women out of brothels and tell them about Jesus and they can live happily ever after."

Meet my friend Jill. 

I met Jill her freshman year of college. I was on staff with Campus Outreach and she was pledging the sorority I was an alumni of.   We started studying Ephesians together and I literally saw God changing her heart.  In the years that I have known her, I have seen her love for people and for God grow exponentially.  She has one of the most tender hearts for people.  I have learned many things from Jill in our 8 year friendship.  One thing that characterizes Jill’s life is obedience. 

 Jill is one of the people that prayed for me during my addiction and loved me until I could love myself. 

Jill has answered the call to go. 

Jill lives in India and is partnering with a ministry called Rahab’s Rope.   Jill is on the front lines.  She has sacrificed a life of comfort here in the states.  Jill is the feet of Jesus in Human Trafficking.   I want you to hear what ministry is really like in the sex-trafficking industry.  So, I asked her to do a guest post on my blog.  We need to know what it is really like.   
The beauty.  The heartache.  The frustration.  The warfare.  The silence.   
And how God is in every bit of it.   
Friends, we need a reality check.   
My prayer is that our hearts will be forever changed.  

 "Far from Glamorous"  (Emphasis mine)
When I was asked to do this my initial response was "I would love to!". I would love to share the reality of human trafficking and working overseas with survivors.

First I want to start off with a question for you… 

What comes to mind when you think of aftercare for survivors of sex trafficking?

Is it taking them by the hand, and walking along side them in a beautiful center that was built just for them? Training them maybe in a skill or teaching them English?

Aftercare in the area of sex-trafficking is a very long process that often starts with teaching a grown woman how to hold a pencil and write her name. 

In thinking over what I would share with you, I decided not to plan it all out, but to instead just type. So, I have only been living in India for 6 months, and I am 25. Therefore, I still have a ton to learn, but I can share with you what the Lord has taught me thus far. 

First of all to think that one could just walk in and lead a girl out by the hand is absurd. Especially in a foreign country where corruption reigns like many other places, even the US. Really think about it. How will you communicate? Why should she leave with you? She is making good money, and being fed. Who are you to her? Why should she trust you? Everyone she ever trusted let her down. It is important to understand that she has no concept of trafficking.  
She does not know she is being abused. She learns all these things later, if at all…. I use "she" here to make it a little more personal for you because it is very personal for me knowing 30 of these truly amazing ladies that have the following as their stories. 

These women are brought to the brothels in different ways. 
Some are born into them, and inherit their mother's job. 
Some are tricked by a madame at a bus stop and drugged. 
Some have a love marriage to a man that is married to many other women. 
Some live in red-light districts.
 Some operate out of their homes in the slum. 
Some work at a train station and go home in the morning. Some work out of auto-rigshaws. 
All of the methods in the brothels in red-light areas are controlled by pimps, police, and mafia as well as some of the other trafficking rings. These are highly organized systems, and the people running them are highly skilled professionals.  
These women are controlled, dehumanized, and broken to a point where selling herself becomes all she knows.
 It becomes her normal, her comfort zone even. 
Some may ask "why does she not  just run away?" Well, because a girl she knew tried to run away, but was caught. She was brought back horrifically abused in ways you could never imagine and killed in front of her along with all the other ladies she works with. They make examples out of runaways. 
So, would you run? I wouldn't.  
They remain, until a raid where they are chosen. Where often in raids the police do it for the publicity, but then take the girls right back to the brothel. However, some chosen ones are truly removed from their situations. 
Among these even fewer are removed forever.

Now that you have a little idea of what sex-trafficking in India is I can share with you daily life.

First off, it is hard. 
It takes a lot of patience. Things take so much longer. What takes 5 minutes in the states can take days here. It is consistently inconsistent. There are culture things that shock you daily. Even sometimes things that you don't even realize.  
There is a constant presence of darkness. 
A constant presence of confusion. It is often a fight to even be able to wake up and face the day. 
Then there is the understanding of trafficking in India and what it looks like. It takes a long time to even be able to understand where the trafficking is, and how it is happening.  
The enemy is working and has grabbed many souls here, many are captive to the lies that he constantly breathes out. 
Many are in great need of the Savior

What I do daily is far from glamorous. Every day there is a need of constant prayer. Prayer against confusion, lies, and exhaustion… Some days it is getting lost for 4 hours because you can't find the right place, or waiting for 3 hours for no one to show up. Or waiting for and entire day for the water truck to come so you don't thirst to death. There is a concept of survival time that accounts for a lot of the day. Life in general takes much more energy than in the States. 

Then there are the beautiful ladies that I have the privilege of knowing. Some days it is just helping them get all the bed bugs out of their things and killing roaches. Some days, it is teaching them to use dental floss because they have no idea what it is. Sometimes it is teaching them how to save money because they are about to leave and "go work elsewhere." 
Some days you walk in to realize that one of your favorites and her 2 year old daughter are gone. Then you realize that you will probably never see them again. You wonder if they will ever know the love of Christ. You wonder what will happen to that beautiful baby. 
Some days you cut and glue photos so that the ladies can get identity card, or work with one for hours just helping her write her name. 
Some days you just sit while two ladies lay on your lap and weep because they miss their family. One missing a family that has passed, and the other missing a family she hasn't seen in 4 years. 

Again It is far from glamorous. I do nothing. Only God has the power to save.  
So, I  pray a lot, and carry a lot of souls to the throne. 
In the midst it is often hard to believe that the Lord will come to them in the midst of such great darkness and oppression.   
He is bigger than all the oppression, all the darkness, and all the pain. 
He sets the prisoners free.
 It is for freedom that He sets free. 
I have seen very few glimpses of this freedom over the past few months until recently. 
And the glimpse is just that, very small. 
A smile for the first time from a lady that finally decided to try writing after not being interested for 6 weeks. 
A laugh. I love to get to see these ladies laugh, and I am so thankful that they still can. 
Most exciting thus far has been this one question and comment. 
One of the ladies asked what fruit Adam ate, and shared how she had been reading in Genesis. 
On her own. 
Now the question is insignificant, but what the Lord communicated to me was of great encouragement to my soul. 
The Lord draws them near to His word. These ladies have the opportunity to experience Christ, their redeemer, in ways you and I never could. He showed me that He was not only hearing this prayer to draw them near, but also acting! These moments are increasing so Praise be to God. Lets us walk in belief in the power of the Holy Spirit and know in our heart that He is Faithful. At the end of the day He is all we have. He and our hope in Him. 
May they soon have the same.