Friday, July 29, 2011

Frustrated but Grateful

Today I got to spend the day out on the open seas—well a brown, muddy, bath-water river that is. I got to boating with a precious friend and two of my nieces. Even though I refused to tube or ski, eventually I got in the water it wasn’t so bad. We had plenty of laughs, snarkiness, punches, and pictures to forever remember the joy of this day—but more then any of this, I will remember the conversations shared today more then anything else—there is nothing more freeing then real conversation between friends. There is just something about being honest—real—vulnerable really, that is invigorating and liberating to me.

Tonight, I am frustrated but grateful.
I am frustrated that everything appears black and white in my brain.

Out on the boat, I was starving. We had three bags of chips to snack on. Here I am battling it out in my head—which one has less chemicals then the other? If I only eat a few, it couldn’t be that bad. No, don’t eat any—think about what all those preservatives will do to your body! I’ll just wait for dinner.

It’s dinner, finally. My niece asks me to try a sip of her drink. Without even thinking twice—No, I don’t wanna drink that—SICK. You put sweet n’ low in it…do you have any idea how bad that is for you? It’s full of chemicals.

But I am grateful that I have knowledge of both black—and white.

For so many years of my life, I feasted on processed, chemically-infused foods at every meal. While I still need to learn balance—paint some gray into my brain—ignorance is no longer bliss. I feel better. My body is functioning normally. I am healthier. Yet, I must learn to silence my opinions on food and health once in a while—not everyone wants to hear about the chemicals they’re ingesting as I speak about it, if you know what I mean. Completely understandable. Lord, help me find a healthy balance—in sharing what I’m learning with family and friends, as well as in my personal life and health.  

I am frustrated that sometimes I am so set in what I believe that I fail in having gentleness and compassion to hear—and to speak.

Dating and marriage, birth control, submission as a wife, nutrition, and Jesus—some of the most controversial issues in our world today—just happen to be some of the ones I am most passionate about. Though my motives are pure and I desire to impart hard lessons learned to others who haven’t been there yet—save ‘em the heartache—I can’t be the holy spirit. I hate that I raise my voice to be heard in the midst of heated conversation—that I cut others off to get a few more words in. As if those extra words will make it “click” for them (as if it will cause them to agree with me). I mean, there couldn’t possibly be another way—another journey to get to the same place—another option—another conviction. I am always right you know (sarcasm, friends). Oh Lord, help me to be slower to speak and quicker to listen...forgive my impatience and pride. This isn’t you—this isn’t who I want to be, what I want to represent to the world. But tonight, that was my aroma—sour and judgmental.

But I am grateful that the Lord has placed such strong convictions upon my heart.

I never used to care. Generations to come will be changed by Your work in my heart today. This is real—this is life. I don’t have to compromise the convictions you have engrained so deeply in recent months and years, but I do have to learn gentleness and compassion in sharing them with others—in loving others who don’t share in them. In speaking out of love and purity, rather then defensiveness and pride.

I am frustrated at how easily I forget the process that got me here—and the one that is getting me through today.

Tonight, as I was talking about a friend who struggles with legalism following an ashes to beauty salvation transformation, I felt a gentle tug. Okay, holy spirit—now what? I am NOT legalistic. Are you kidding me?? I am not at all—I love people well. I understand the depravity of man—I am close to my own—I know that apart from you, I am hopeless. I am saved by grace through faith—not by my own works. I HATE religion. I don’t even like to call myself a Christian—I love Jesus. This is about an intimate relationship with Him—not adding church to the to-do list each week.

Conviction continues as we drive home—battling it out. You’re not in the Word outside of church—sinner? You listen to songs with cuss words—and you still love Jesus? You made out with your boyfriend—well that was stupid? You would drink when you’re underage—hypocrite? Okay, maybe I’ve dabbled in legalism—but I’m not as bad as her. Come on—I just have different convictions okay?

The Lord ever so gently reminded me—of course you have different convictions—we’ve been walking this out for awhile now. How many years did it take you before you read your bible just once a week—in fact didn’t it get a little dusty a few months back? Don’t you remember when you shouted those lyrics from the top of the bleachers with your friends—and thought you were so cool? Don’t you remember that one night with that boy—I’m pretty sure there was some mouth to mouth? Didn’t you just want to try a sip—just that one time?

Okay, okay, okay. PLEASE STOP ALREADY!!!! I get it—I’ve messed up. I’ve done life where I didn’t have the same convictions I do today—and I didn’t know any better. Even five years ago—if someone would have said some of the things that I just spoke so boldly and convincingly to other girls, I think I would have rolled my eyes and run further from the church—from Christ. But here I am, not who I was and not who I want to be. This is the trap of my time on this earth—making it through the process—growing—yet longing for the fulfillment of eternity with You. Lord, engrain this upon my impure heart, my judgmental eyes, my quick tongue—life, this journey with you—it is a PROCESS for all of us—and we will all start at different times—some will walk, some will sprint, some will crawl their way through the mountains and valleys of this journey—and it will end at different times too. Lord, remind me—remind me how far I have come and how far I have to go. Teach me PATIENCE—equip me to be grace-giving to all around me walking through the process, honest yet wise with my tongue and pure of heart.     

But I am grateful that I am not who I was five years ago, five months ago or even five days ago.
I once was blind but now I see. As the years, months and even days go by of knowing You, I think I just continue to further understand the extent of my blindness and the desperation of my need to see through You. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Lot Like Ananias

I have been a little more inconsistent with getting that much-needed time in the Word lately—I don’t know what the deal is, but this morning I decided to wake up an hour earlier then normal and just use that whole time to read instead of working out. I’ve spent most of the summer in Acts, and decided to go back through and review what I have actually retained over these months. As I was skimming through the stories, for some reason something stood out to me.

Now, I will say that Paul’s conversion story in Acts 9 has always been one of my favorite bible stories—I think mostly because I feel like I can relate to Him so much. I can parallel so many aspects of my life before Christ to Paul’s—for some reason I am automatically drawn to the people in scripture who were the worst of the worst before (or even while) knowing Christ. Probably because it just makes me feel better about myself—I mean I haven’t killed anyone and I am not planning on taking multiple husbands. Haha. I know, I know—sin is sin is sin. And I am definitely a sinner! I don’t know I guess I have always seen Paul as someone forthcoming about his sinfulness often and that has drawn me to him and his story.

But this time as I was reading through His salvation story, comparing myself to him along the way, the Lord very boldly pointed something out. I had never paid much attention to this disciple named Ananias in the story. I mean, it is about Paul after all. But for some reason this entire day I have not been able to stop thinking about this guy, Ananias.

Basically, the Lord came to Ananias in a vision and told him to go to the place Paul was staying and to restore his sight. I mean, really if you think about this, how could you even consider saying no to such an command—more or less questioning the one and only sovereign God when He tells you to go make someone see again. Not only would that be the coolest thing to witness, but the fact that THE LORD would entrust such a task to Ananias—what an honor.

 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

   “Yes, Lord,” he answered.

 11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on
Straight Street
and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

But of course, instead of expressing his deepest gratitude for such a task to be given to him, Ananias replies with this: 
 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

I think I tried to rationalize this one out for a good hour—but immediately after reading that reply, the Lord ever so gently put that spirit of conviction deep in my gut. Courtney, sweet daughter of mine, THIS is you. Instead of obeying my Word immediately, you so easily question my wisdom. You hesitate for days, weeks, even months sometimes to obey the convictions I have placed on your heart. Precious daughter, do you not understand that my Word ALWAYS brings LIFE, and yet you willingly choose to endure death.

Like Ananias, I love to point out others faults and sins. Sometimes, I genuinely believe my purpose in life is to be the spirit of conviction for those around me…what a job He has entrusted me with—forget about restoring vision to the blind! Anyhow, more often then not, I am quick to speak and slow to listen. Quick to react and slow to obey. Quick to judge and slow to show compassion.

More then anything, the Lord has really forced me to refocus the way I view the men who traffic precious children and women. To revisit the way I view the rapist. To revisit the way I view the man who beats his wife. Like Ananias, I often cry out to the Lord...I have heard her cries…I have heard what he has done to her…I have seen death in her eyes and I know it is him who put it there. He treats her like an item to be bought and sold, abused and used, enslaved and chained. He has all the authority over her—he even has control over the corrupt authorities who use and abuse her instead of protecting her. He has come to degrade and murder YOUR daughters. And you are telling me to love them…to forgive them…to share the gospel with them…the restore their SIGHT?? They don’t deserve to see again…they don’t even deserve to take another breathe, God. Come on, don’t you know his heart? Aren’t you going to make him pay? Aren’t you just?

 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Go, Courtney, just go! Obey me when I tell you to forgive the unforgiveable…to love the unlovable…and to heal the abuser, the murder, or the trafficker. You just obey me and let me do the judging. After all, I am God—I do know what I’m doing sometimes...even when you may not understand it in your limited human brain. I have CHOSEN him!! I am going to use the extent of his depravity before knowing me to bring all the glory to myself now! I am going to send him to places you could never reach people you would never even talk to!! And let me tell you, they will listen to Him…they will be drawn to me by the Spirit that lives in HIM!! And he will suffer—not because of his sinfulness but because of my calling upon his life. He has not known such a suffering as this. Daughter, you just pray over him and restore his sight, that he may see with new eyes. You encourage him and speak life over him. You love him, in all of his blindness, until he sees, just as I have done for you. Do you not remember, you were once blind too Courtney. You were blind, but now you see—because of me.

 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

I pray that I can be like Ananias in my response. That I will obediently forgive the sinner, love the sinner, heal the sinner, for that IS ME…a sinner who has been forgiven, loved and healed. Thank you Jesus, for you blood, love and healing power. Thank you for conviction from your holy spirit. Thank you for teachable moments like these which fail to escape my heart and mind. Thank you for your patience with me, Father. Thank you for saving your children who, in the world’s eyes are the worst or the worst, the undeserving. Thank you that you do not separate sin—that your blood flows over all of it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Testimony Tuesday: Like Mother, Like Daughter

It started out a normal school-day like any other. Pulling myself out of bed, I stumbled into the shower as my eyes slowly adjusted to the brightness of another day. I soon escaped the heat of the bathroom for the coolness of my bedroom as I quickly dried off and began to dress. It had become a chore to get dressed by this point in my life—those ever-widening curves made all of my attempts at covering myself seem useless. The clothes sprawled out across the bed began overflowing onto the floor. It seemed the tornado had touched down in my room then continued spiraling its way into the distance, the rest of the house untouched in its perfection of cleanliness. Finally, something black—yes this will have to do! Gathering my stuff, I hastily ran out of my room, flipping off the light switch as I headed for the stairs.

Well, this morning, unlike any prior, I walked down the stairs to find my stomach begin to churn. With about five steps to go, I sensed her eyes looking me up and down, up and down. I felt the disgust, disappointment, and embarrassment from fifty feet away. I cringe just thinking about how this scene continued to play out—and the way it has shaped nearly a decade of my life.  

The words to follow stung. “Courtney, if you want to go back to LA Weightloss, I’ll sign you up today. I mean are you even trying?” Silence.  

I honestly don’t think she has ever realized the hurt of her eyes and words that morning. This moment has been engrained in my heart for nearly eight years now. Every time I walk down the stairs and sense her sitting on that couch, my stomach churns as I try my best to suck in my gut, stick out my chest, and swing my purse around for additional coverage. No matter how much weight I lose, the whole stomach churning when walking down the stairs to meet her criticizing eyes never does seem to dissipate any—not when I was thirteen and not now, in my twenties. It is so stupid! Some of it probably just in my head by this point, and she is not even looking at me that way.  

It was on this day that I decided to make myself throw up my lunch for the first time. I was covinced worked for awhile too—not that it quieted the gaze of her eyes and judgment in her heart any. I wish I had never made that decision, but I didn't know any better--I was insecure, lost, and on a desperate search for love. I have felt that I never measured up to my mom’s standards my entire life—never pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, bold enough, funny enough, or nice enough. I have battled this one out tirelessly for nearly a decade now, yet it continues to linger in my mind most days.

God’s word agrees…I am NOT good enough…nor will I ever be in comparison to Jesus Christ. That is why today I am desperately dependent upon Him. Only by His blood am I able to renew my mind and accept the Truth in exchange for such lies, but at the time I did not understand this concept apart from Christ.

Fast forward to now--just yesterday, I was with my mom visiting my grandmother in a rehab facility (she fell and broke her hip a couple weeks ago). My grandma asked me to water the flowers we had brought to her several days prior. I hesitated. I made up a couple excuses of why I didn’t want to, praying she would forget. She may have a broken hip, but lemme just tell you her memory is still going strong! Finally, I had run out of excuses—I stood up, sucked in my gut, stood up straighter, put my chest out, and awkwardly tried to narrow my hips by putting my hands on them. Within moments of rising to my feet I felt two sets of eyes judging and critiquing my body as I moved across the room, bent down to water the flowers, and as I sat back down I looked up to see my mom, eight years later, staring me up and down—still ashamed. I guess some things may never change—and that feeling that you are being judged will never be something I enjoy.

But one thing has changed from that morning walking down those stairs to face her gaze to now—I don’t have to measure up to her standards…I don’t need her approval…I don’t have to be good enough because that is something impossible to achieve. I know that the Word of God tells me I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that I am flawless in His sight, that I am a new creation, that I am white as snow. Now I understand my position in Christ and who I am in Him.

After that afternoon in the nursing home, my mom and I were driving back home after leaving grandma’s and we were talking about her husband, Kevin, and how he was probably out to lunch or at a movie. “Well who did he go with?” I asked, interested. “No one,” she replied, “he doesn’t mind going to eat or see a movie by himself! In fact, he goes often” I laughed, completely picturing him, in all of his confidence doing just that. Of course he would! Shortly my mom broke my thoughtfulness, “Gosh, he really is crazy. I would never have the self-esteem to do that!!” I nodded my head in agreement as a grin formed across my face. Turns out the whole, “like mother, like daughter” concept is more fitting then I would ever like to admit.

Yesterday I realized that as much as my mom’s gazes, comments, and disappointments have hurt me over the years, she really doesn’t mean to hurt me—how could I ever expect her to gaze at me, curves and all, with pride and joy across her eyes when her mom never looked at her this way. How could I ever expect her to speak encouraging words about my appearance and character when she is constantly trying to change hers. How could I ever except her to be proud of me, to accept me, to tell me how much she loves me when she doesn’t know how to accept, be proud of, and love herself?

An hour later, my grandma calls to tell me that she is sorry for being such a grouch that afternoon while we were there. She went on to explain to me that her hair stylist had called and told her that she must look horrible since she had missed two appointments (since she was in the hospital.) My grandma made up every excuse to avoid going out to the dinning room to eat her meals with other elderly men and women to the point where she got angry with me for trying to encourage her to get out of her room and make some friends. Why? Well, she was convinced because of that one conversation that she looked hideous and ugly and was so embarrassed and scared of what the other women would think of her that she has now avoided leaving her room for almost two weeks.

The root of it all—insecurity…pride. Like mother, like daughter, like grand-daughter. Well it is broken here—in the precious name of Jesus Christ, my girls will not be enslaved to this generational curse of insecurity rooted in pride. I pray that my mom and grandmother could come to know the hope of life with Jesus Christ—that through Him their minds could be made new, that they would not continue to live out their lives bitter and fearful of what others think. That they may be set fear from this trap of insecurity and self-condemnation. That with knowing Christ, they may still hear the lies, but that they could be equip to fight the battle—praise God the victory is already won—even in my life! I needed this reminder today!! Oh is He ever faithful to complete the good work He began in us, until the day Christ returns.

“And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free!”  -John 8:32

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Celebrating TWO Years!

Well, today marks TWO YEARS since I walked out those doors. So much has happened since entering the "real world," and yet it feels like just yesterday that I was there. I can honestly look back on my life and say that the day I graduated from Mercy Ministries was one of the best days of my life. Aside from training for and running a half-marathon, graduating from Mercy Ministries has been one of the greatest accomplishments in my life--and one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The Lord used the five months I spent at Mercy to fill me with Truth, put to death so many lies, challenge my thought patterns, immerse me in God's Word, and most of all it was during these five months that I fell in love with Jesus Christ. Apart from that love, I am hopeless in this world. Praise God His love never fails, even when I do.

The past two years have not been easy by any means--life is full of hurts and heartaches, challenges, unexpecteds, disappointments, and evil. I will not sugar-coat the past two years into this victorious parade of pure bliss. I have fallen, messed up, forgotten the Truth, and doubted far more times then I would probably like to admit. This I will say--I am not who I was. By the pure grace and mercy (new every morning!) of Jesus Christ I will never be that broken, miserable, hopeless, dying girl again. And let me just tell you--this is something to celebrate!!

So today, two yeas after walking out the doors of Mercy Ministries, I am still not perfect! I have not yet reached that seemingly unattainable place we all desire to get to as know the one where we are in the Word for hours each morning...the one where we forgive the murderer...the one where we don't lash out at our husbands and children after a long day of work...the one where we truly love the unlovable (even if that is simply a bitter grandmother or nagging mother-in-love)...the one where give away our tithes generously without the "If...then..." games echoing through our ears...the one where the scale finally rests on that magic number...the one where we can confidently answer the tough questions about this world and God...the one where we only feed our family the best organic and wholesome foods...(the one where we can afford to feed our family organic and wholesome foods!)...the one where we know everything there is to know about supplements, medications, and vaccines...the one where dinner magically appears on the table and tastes as if it came from a five-star restaurant...the one where we wholeheartedly trust His will to be done in the midst of tragedy and heartache...the one where we are so consumed by the love of the Father that we cannot wipe that smile off of our face.

As I have been reflecting on the past several years and a so-called "theme" to my life after Mercy thus far, I think I have realized more then anything else that I am constantly striving to attain something that is unattainable, and all the while forgetting to be okay with where I am at, how I am serving, what I know and don't know, what I do with my time and money and even what I still struggle with. If I should choose to be discontent with anything in my life as a believer, I think the only appropriate (and even necessary at times) discontentment in my life should be in hungering and thirsting only to know Christ more. While this not easy to confess, I think it is even more difficult to live out when my flesh so easily gravitates towards achieving all the rest of it.
The precious girls I graduated with!

This is my prayer—that in the next year, two years and the rest of my short life here on earth that I would not only understand but hunger for Christ above all else. It is so easy for me to get caught up in all of these good, but worldly things—health, nutrition, human sex-trafficking, couponing, being a godly wife and mom one day, ministry to the homeless, running marathons, and even graduating from Mercy Ministries—apart from Christ, none of it really matters. And in comparison to knowing Christ more, none of it comes close. Lord, I want to know you above all else. Show me the areas I need to surrender for a time that I might not get so carried away with living on this earth, that I might seek you more. Thank you for your patience and new mercies over the past two years as you have watched me learn and grow through the ups and downs of life on earth. The more time I spend in this world, the more I ache for my heavenly home with you. Until that day comes, captivate my heart, my mind, my eyes, my ears, and my feet that I may follow the plans you have laid out since before I was even a day old, that I may not deviate so far from your will in all of my sinfulness.

Lord, thank you for placing me, in your perfect timing, at the doors of Mercy Ministries. Had it not been for the season of time I spent at Mercy, I know that I would not know you intimately nor would I understand what it is like to fall in love with you deeply. Thank you for surrounding me with such incredible staff, women who offered so much wisdom, encouragement, challenged me, and showed me your love in such a tangible way during such a demanding period of my life. Thank you for the life-skills you provided me with which I use daily. Thank you for the indescribable sisters-in-Christ I got to spend those months with—the ones who always understood. Thank you for the men and women who so generously provide the funds needed for me to learn about your character, sleep restfully, eat wholesome foods, and always feel so valued. Thank you for Nancy and her heart to see girls like myself experience your love. I know it is only by your sovereign grace that I made it to graduation day—there were so many times I was ready to take off down that hill and never look back. Thank you for surrounding me with family and friends through whom you kept me just where I was supposed to be…on top of that hill, in that big white house, surrounded by the Truth that continues to set me free today. Lord, thank you for Mercy Ministries—thank you that you do not change in life after Mercy!!    

"For I am the LORD; I do not change..." -Malachi 3:6

Here are some pictures from my graduation day 2 years ago:

Sweet sisters in Christ

Oh Holly...what a blessing our friendship is in my life!

Three of my siblings who frst loved me like Jesus and havn't given
up on me since...the Lord really did set me in the most incredible family.
I love you with all of my heart.

Two of my best friends who continue to enourage, challenge,
and love me (even when I mess up)!! Couldn't imagine my life without you two.

Could not have made it through that first year in the real world
without this incredible woman of God...what a gift.
Dad, thank you for supporting my time at Mercy
and being such an encouragement. I  love you!!

My spiriual "mom and dad" who continue to teach me so much
 about doing life with Jesus, marriage, and raising babies.
Words cannot begin to express my love for this family.

My mom and stepdad who have continued to support me and
love me as I pursue my degree...I could never thank you enough!
They have loved me through the most challenging times of my life--
and probably hurt the most over the years...
thank you mom for never giving you! 

Oh have the most special place in my heart--
you will never know the impact you have had upon my life. I love you.
And of course, to all of the incredible staff who devote thier lives to seeing us girls walk in freedom and know Christ more--you are precious to me, especially in life after Mercy and words could never express my gratitude for you everyday!!! Thank you...

Friday, July 22, 2011

The One Who Heals You

Well, this week I spent a few days resting and recovering from a minor surgery I had Monday morning. I was truly dreading the whole day. I hate hospitals…and needles…and drugs. Most of all, I hate drugs being put into my body when there is nothing I can do about it.

As we sat there in pre-op waiting for them to whisk me away to the OR, the anesthesiologist came in to ask me some questions and discuss the procedure in further detail. At the end of her little blab of rehearsed information was over, she asked if I had any questions. Without holding back I simply said “How long after until the IV comes out after the surgery? I do not want any pain meds and I want the anesthesia to stop right away.” Hahaha. She was probably thinking Oh Lord, who does this girl think she is? CONTROL FREAK!!! And yes, maybe I am a bit of a control freak—but it is MY body she is pouring that filth into.

Anyhow, my sweet sis Ashley came to balance me out a bit—her laughing at me and rolling her eyes, sitting over in the corner as I put on my ‘serious face’ and asked a million and one questions and barked orders of what I do and do not want done to me—looking back now, I have to laugh a little bit. I am stubborn sometimes and a bit of a control freak I suppose, especially when it comes to my body. I really do have a deep hatred for lacking control over what is or isn’t done to my body.

It is interesting because this is the first time in my life that I have legitimately cared about what is put into my body when it comes to medications, IV fluids, and anesthesia. After making it through a successful surgery and pushing through recovery without the pain meds that were quickly handed to me upon release, it just hit me how very much my mindset about medication in America has changed over several years. To me this is such a testament to God’s faithfulness and healing power in my life.

Three years ago, I spent almost a month in a hospital bed. I was being pumped full of fluids and food, yet felt only emptier and emptier inside. I was on every medication known to man, but somehow there still seemed to be a new pill added to that little plastic cup they handed me each morning and evening. I gladly swallowed it all down, never thinking twice about what exactly was going into my body—I mean why would I? After all, these are being prescribed to me by a fabulous team of doctors who went to years and years of school. They must know what they are doing—they are trying to help me get better! Right?

Honestly, I am not sure. I mean, I am not here to judge the hearts and motives of medical professionals…I am sure they are doing what they were taught to do and what American society expects them to do. After all, we are a prescription nation.

The most humorous part of this whole situation was that when I was admitted into the hospital, I actually could not swallow any sort of pill. I had just never learned—my mom had always given me chewable meds. So during my first three days of being hospitalized, the doctors sent a physical therapist to teach me how to swallow pills. I HATED that lady because I had no desire to even attempt to swallow the stupid pills they wanted to give me. She actually brought packs of Smarty’s into my room and would cut them up—at first into eighths, then fourths, then halves. Eventually, I could swallow a whole smarty. It was at this point, they began giving me a daily regimen of drugs, some of which were far to big for me to swallow. They told me I didn’t have a choice—I would just have to try until I got it. Eventually, I learned to swallow without thinking twice.

I can vividly remember one morning in the hospital when I became frustrated with all of these meds they were giving me, because something was making me feel nauseous morning after morning. When I told the doctor what was happening, instead of trying to figure out what was making me sick, she actually prescribed three new drugs to add to my daily regimen which would treat the side-effects of most of the drugs I was already on. By that point I was taking about thirty pills a day in addition to the meds being fed through my IV.

Just three weeks after being released from this stay in the hospital, it was my very ability to swallow pills that could have ended my life. After an intentional overdose on about fifty pills did not end my life, I realized that God just wasn’t going to let me die—so He would have to teach me how to live. Three, almost four years later, every breath I take is a testimony to His faithfulness in my life. He has shown me how to live—to live life abundantly, as He intended from the start.

For me, part of living out all that life is intended to be, as scripture talks about in John 10:10, is being healthy and taking care of the temple which I get to live in on this earth. The very fact that I am still sitting here today, able to share how God has and continues to redeem my life from the pit, is only possible because I am learning how to care for my body rather then destroying it as I attempted to for so many years.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”   -John 10:10

I know that I tend to obsess over certain things fairly easily, and by no means do I want to be this crazy, nutso, control-freak when it comes to medicine, vaccines, and food, but I do feel driven to continue to research and learn about these things for the purpose of living life to the full—I know that when my body was full of drugs, prescribed pill after pill to fix my problems, and consumed in binging on and then purging processed foods, I was on the road to death—the opposite of living my life to the full for sure.

I am convinced that this need for “instant gratification” in American society today feeds the drug industry and explains why millions are dying from diseases everyday. You cannot take pills, that are created from chemicals and toxins, for years and years and never expect there to be a consequence—we need to get back to the basics of feeding our bodies whole grains, fruits, veggies, and lean proteins. We need to be active and sleep enough at night time. I am not perfect at this to say the least—I am addicted to frozen yogurt and somehow I always manage to stay up late (blogging!), and sometimes I take Tylenol for bad cramps or a headache. But I do know that I know that I know one thing—medicating the problem does not fix it. In fact, so many medications will alter the way the body functions to the point where you will find yourself taking more pills to silence the side effects of the initial pills. An endless cycle that banks millions of dollars everyday in this country. Medicine has saved many lives over the decades and can be used for good, however I have seen in my life and those around me that very often medication can also have far greater consequences then benefits.  

Praise God for wise medical professionals and cures to disease and medications when helpful. With that being said, we must remember who it is that we serve as followers of Christ. Though the world tells us differently, we must not forget that we know JEHOVAH RAPHAGod our HEALER. I mean, we know the MAKER of the UNIVERSE. We know the One who knit us together in the womb—so who would know better how to heal, nourish, and restore our emotional, physical and spiritual health than the One who made us in the first place?

“There the LORD issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. He said, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.” -Exodus 15:26

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Breaking the Curse

Last night I got to go spend some time with my precious brother and sister-in-law and my lil nephew. I love getting to go spend time with them…it doesn’t happen often enough!! I really wasn’t expecting anything but sweet time to catch up with my sister and to play with the little man. Of course, the Lord loves to use unrepentant moments such as these to teach me.

I have learned a lot about generational curses and generational sin over the past few years. When I look at the line from which I come, there are a good handful of addictions, behaviors, and mind-sets that have been passed down for many generations. Alcoholism. Divorce. Materialism. Financial issues. Anger. Abuse. Disease. Depression. Control Issues. Perfectionism. Abandonment. These are just a few. I have spent hours upon hours boldly proclaiming the name of JESUS over these issues over the past several years. In fact, this was one of the very first concepts I learned during my time at Mercy Ministries—the importance of breaking generational patterns in the name of Jesus Christ.

As time has passed the reality of the war being waged has only amplified day after day. After spending six months in a dating relationship over this past year, I think I was even further awakened to the gravity of the war going on when it comes to these generational sins. There were several times when I was in that relationship that I found myself doing some of the things I swore I would never ever imitate from my parents relationship. Then of course, there is just the paralyzing fear that no matter how much I pray, no matter how many generational sins I triumph over by speaking the name of Jesus, that no matter how different my husband is from my dad, no matter how different I am as a mom one day, that no matter how powerful the name of Christ is to break those curses that I will still remain enslaved to some of them—that I pass these generations of baggage on down to my own precious kids one day. I honestly think that is one of my greatest fears—that I would fail as a wife, mother and believer in that way.  

But tonight, tonight the Lord gave me a precious and unmistakable glimpse into a scene only He could create. Tonight some of those fears and doubts were silenced forever. Tonight I saw the chains loosed on the floor…the prison doors wide open…the ashes forming something beautiful. Tonight I heard those millions of prayers offered up to the Heavens hovering so near. Tonight I felt the gentle hand of God himself mold my heart together a little tighter, healing the brokenness. Tonight I witnessed a miracle. Tonight, the scene that played out before me was impossible apart from the chain-breaking, infinite, sovereign, unchanging, transforming, sin-shattering name of Jesus Christ. All I know is that only by His gracious power and infinite mercies can such generational sin shatter before my very eyes.

As I stood, leaning on the countertop, I watched my brother hold my little nephew close to his chest. They sat on the couch together, Jacob finally content—all he needed was to just be in his daddy’s lap. A little while later they got up and my brother took Jacob downstairs to play. As they were walking down the stairs, my sister just started laughing as she was glancing in their direction. As I looked up to see what she was snickering about I couldn’t help but smile—and in that moment the Lord spoke ever so clearly to me that this was just a little glimpse into how HE is the perfect Father and HE will break generations of sin. Tonight, through my brother, He showed me a real-life, tangible picture of His ability to do so—like a seal, a promise, a reminder really—of His faithfulness and ability to lavish the same redemption and freedom upon my life and my family’s lives one day.

 Here was my big brother, just hours after confessing to me his own hurts and heartaches and frustration with our dad lately (as a result of generational sin), but here he was carrying his own son down the steps to go play, not even realizing that they were dressed exactly the same…work out shorts and a grey t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. His kiddo is not even two yet and he already wants to be just like his daddy. As I watch Ryan interact with his son, I don’t see the hurt he has from his relationship with our dad—I don’t see the bitterness—I don’t see the unforgiveness—I don’t see one speck of conditional love. My precious nephew already wants to be just like his daddy because my brother loves his son with the love of Christ. I know this because if he relied on himself, he could never love Jacob freely—the generational curses would continue through that inability to love like Jesus. Seeing the boys, matching outfits and all, walking downstairs to play was such a testimony to the powerful name of Jesus Christ. Through Him, the battle over generational sins has already been WON!

All I could do was laugh—laughing at the preciousness of that moment, laughing at the irony of it all, laughing in the face of the enemy, who so desperately desires to see my brother fall into the same curses as our dad. Last night I learned that sometimes you just have to laugh—God’s faithfulness is just beyond words. 

Thank you, big brother for dying to yourself—your hurts, bitterness, heartaches, wounds from the past—and allowing the love of Jesus Christ to radiate through you and your imperfections to just wholeheartedly love that precious boy who is so incredibly blessed to call you daddy. You have shown me that this is real—generational sins that have been passed down through our family for centuries ARE broken in the name of Jesus Christ, in spite of our sinfulness and our failures—He is STILL BIGGER and MORE ABLE.

He redeems and He transforms, He renews and HE restores! 

“But if they confess their iniquity and THE INIQUITY OF THEIR FATHERS, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me … then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember …” (Leviticus 26:40, 42)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

On Coming in Last


Well, this past weekend while I was in Arkansas I also participated in my very first Sprint Triathlon in Bentonville, AR with my best friend Ashley and her sister Adrianne. This is actually quite a funny story,
considering I was never really planning on doing this thing in the first place.

Back in May, I knew I would be coming down to AR for my roommate’s wedding. I really wanted Ashley to come down with me, so her sister (who lives in AR) and I convinced her to train for a triathlon that same weekend, so that she would make the five hour trek down there with me! I agreed to train with her simply because I wanted to get in shape and it would be great accountability. We did great for the firt few weeks of sticking to our training schedule.

After about three weeks though, our busy summer schedules began to take over, bringing the training plan to a standstill. Unfortunately, we had already signed our lives away to this triathlon, so there was no turning back now! Over the weeks leading up to the tri, we went biking a few more times and ran a couple short jogs. I avoided the pool as if it were the bubonic plague. I just hate swimming…not to mention there’s no point in even trying to keep up with Ashley who is only part human—and part mermaid.

 Anyhow, we laughed our way down to Arkansas last weekend, as we came to the realization that we were actually swimming, biking and running our way through this thing. As we registered for the event, got our hot pink swim caps, last minute goggles (since we left ours at home!) and wiped down the spider-web infested helmets it began to hit me…what are we thinking?!? I begged my roommate to push me down a flight of stairs as we were moving up some furniture the night before…she graciously ignored my desperate pleas, much to my despise.

If only I felt this tough inside!!!

Five o’ clock in the morning came way too fast…there is something completely inappropriate about waking up before the sun! We got a little lost on the way, but finally navigated through miles of sharp turns and mountainous hills as we pulled into the park where it was all going down. I couldn’t help but laugh as I realized my hot pink work out shorts, tank top, and (boy) mountain bike stood out like a sore thumb amidst a sea of wetsuits, biking shorts, and weightless road bikes…a little nervous laugh to fight the fear festering inside of me.

As the whistle blew and the first heat dove into that debris-infested lake water, I was ready to run…to run far, far away from the fear that arose just thinking about swimming towards that first buoy. Talk about impending doom. As I watched Ash and Age dive on in and start kicking, I realized my big moment had come—off we go! I’d say about thirty seconds in, a sense of helpless panic overtook my mind as my body came to a standstill. What do I do? Turn around…flap my arms around til they pull me up onto the boat and get me outa here? Or keep on going…one stroke at a time? I had never swam in a lake before—in fact I found myself face to face with one of my greatest fears. Eyes set on that first buoy, I kicked and paddled aimlessly through that muggy lake water, keeping my eyes set on the prize—and avoiding whatever may linger beneath me. It must have been quite the sight to see. Everyone gliding seamlessly through the water, this synchronized beat and order in place—and then there was me…flapping my way through the lake…splashing and kicking anyone who dared to come too close. Oops. Finally, I hit the shore and waded my way back onto dry ground, completely out of breath but praising God there were still others coming in behind me! Victory.

Met Ash and Age (the little mermaids!) up by the bikes as I pulled on some pants, dusted off my grassy feet and tied up my shoes. We jumped onto our bikes and jetted off down the road. I had the rest of this thing in the bag…who couldn’t bike 15 miles of rolling hills? Finally, something I could do in my sleep!
Turns out, “rolling hills” in Arkansas lingo really means mountains…yes those sharp turning, mountainous hills we had driven on the way down...I guess someone must have mis-marked the biking path, because there was no way any human body was created to ride this path without an engine and some gas. Up and down, up and down. Not too far into it, we realized the police man on his motorcycle was keeping pace with us…of course, that’s the guy that always brings up the back of the line. We were in last place. How was that possible?? Frustrated and desperately longing for any sense of control over the situation, I set my eyes on Adriane’s tire in front of me and rode. After long walks up two hills, flying down others, almost falling into a ditch, running from a massive tarantula, and making small talk with the cop as he rode next to us the entire 15 mile trek through the mountains, I saw the light—we had finally made it back to the starting line.

Jumping off of our bikes, our jello legs and numb butts kicked into running mode—for a minute or two anyways. Three miles sounded like no big deal—I mean, we did run a half marathon last year. Turns out, a steady walk interrupted by unpredictable bursts of jogging got us through those three miles. There came a point where I no longer cared that we were last—I just wanted to finish. Ashley and I talked and joked our way through those seemingly endless minutes, encouraging one another as our broken bodies quickly ran outa fuel. Oh yeah, and my feet went numb after a mile or so…a minor issue I am trying to get taken care of! I just laugh thinking about what we must have looked like by this point—what were we thinking??

Though our state of sanity may be questionable, we did finish our very first sprint triathlon last weekend. Running through that finish line together was a moment I will never forget—we had fought the good fight, finished the race, and somehow kept the faith—despite coming in last. Reflecting on lessons learned from my first (and LAST!) triathlon, I realized that it doesn’t feel good to come in last—but it would have felt euphoric to come in first. For me, the euphoria began to settle in later that evening as I recalled the words of Jesus in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Just like he rewarded all of the workers with the same pay, regardless of how long they had been working, He was looking down on us that morning as we crossed that finish line clapping and shouting cries of praise as we persevered through that race—He was so proud! I have no doubt that His praise for Ashley and I coming in last was equal to, if not exceeding, the way the crowds clapped and cheered for the very first person crossing that finish line—oh how He loves us—even when we come in last!!

Now I realize it’s okay to be proud that we finished the race—LAST!! You know, the Word does say that those who are first will be last, and those who are last will be first—pretty euphoric finish if you ask me! By the grace of a loving but just God, when it comes to the race that really matters, we will come in first!!

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
 1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
   3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
   “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
   7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
   “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
   8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
   9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
   13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
   16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Take the EXTREME out of Couponing

So a couple nights ago I sat down to organize some scrapbooking stuff and decided to flip on the TV, something I rarely do. Of course, there was nothing on regular TV worth watching, so I searched the free stuff that was on demand. I came across a new show produced by TLC which I have heard people talking about—it’s called Extreme Couponing.

Sucked in from the very start, I flipped on the first episode. It is completely mind-blowing to see how these moms can quit their full-time jobs to stay at home in exchange for becoming full time couponing. Even their children are already being trained to find coupons to clip. Crazy. Anyhow, the show basically shares the stories of two individuals on each episode, as the cameras follow the moms (in this case it was two moms) on the biggest buys they have ever attempted. In both cases, the total at the grocery store rang up well over $2,500 but after all of the coupons were added in, one mom paid $40 and another paid NOTHING!!! Absolutely mind-blowing to me. Defiantly makes me think twice when I see a coupon that normally would be nothing but trash in my eyes.

Anyhow, there are two things about this show that are incredibly frustrating to me. The first is that these moms buy TONS of food, cleaning supplies, sports drinks and so on and take it home to add to their stock piles of supplies. Literally each household has a room stacked from floor to ceiling with the products purchased with these coupons. The question plaguing my mind throughout the entire show it this:  what are you going to do with all of that food? Even with four kids and a husband to feed, there is no way you will even get through a quarter of that stuff in a month! All it does is sit there, waiting to be used and by the time these families use it, I’m sure there will be another ceiling-high pile waiting in the line-up. If these moms are so gifted at couponing, why not use it to help others?

I know that without a doubt, I would never have the patience or ability to spend hours searching for, clipping, and then planning to use coupons to the extent of these women in the show. I don’t think most of us women would, in all reality—life is busy. I know this may be stretching this concept a tad, but if God has gifted moms like these to save THOUSANDS of dollars by using coupons, then imagine how you could use that gift to further the kingdom? Granted, they may not be believers, but can you imagine how much money these women could save for non-profits, homeless shelters or churches? After spending some time in Tent City, a homeless camp in downtown St. Louis, this summer I wish with all of my heart I had the gift of couponing so that I could give endlessly to the men and women without a place to call home. I am going to begin praying for the Lord to break these women’s hearts for underprivileged women and families—that they may serve others through their gift of couponing and that TLC would promote such service so that the concept will spread.

My other frustration with the show was this—in all three episodes I watched, I never saw the women purchase one fruit or vegetable with a coupon. The majority of the product they bought was all located in the center aisles of the store—all of it processed. This makes perfect sense, considering you really cant buy fruits and veggies in bulk since they will go bad quicker then you could eat them. As a dietetics student, this makes me want to SCREAM!!!! Society totally promotes the purchase of processed products by creating discounts on these foods over natural, organic and wholesome foods and discounts the rates even more when you buy these processed items in larger amounts—which is ultimately the basis of couponing. The more you buy, the cheaper you can get it. This trend is also seen in the fast food industry—larger portions come cheaper. I do wonder what part of extreme couponing contributes to long-term obesity and disease. Of course when you buy a ton of food loaded with high fructose corn syrup, sugar, bad fats, empty carbohydrates, and filled with fortified nutrients over the real stuff, eventually it has to take a toll right?

So then I found myself wondering—is it worth it to eat for cheaper if the food you are eating is not really feeding your body the nutrients it needs to be healthy? For me the answer is no, it is really not worth it. So while the building of that big moment when the register drops from thousands of dollars down to nothing is surprisingly gratifying, I think I will remain content saving with a few coupons here and there on the things that I know will promote health and wholeness to my body for the long-term, rather then buying things that will harm in the long term even though my wallet benefits in the interim.

I am learning that in all things, balance is key. Whether it is shopping, seeking entertainment, eating, cleaning, working out…we must be careful not to become too radical in any area of life, to not become so caught up in a trend or a television show or belief that we can no longer hear the whisper. I have battled this “all or nothing” mindset for the past twenty years of my life (yes that’s my whole life!) and the older I get the more challenging and frequent the battle has become.

No more eating out, no more buying clothes, no more movies with friends—I am getting radical about my giving. Four months later—Lord haven’t I given enough? I want to go out with my friends.

I will never watch a movie with a cuss word…then I meet a friend that’s not a believer who invites me to watch a movie that’s PG-13…which usually entails cussing. So do I sacrifice that relationship in pursuit of purity?

After hours of cleaning everything in my room sparkles and shines—it is all put away and looks like a magazine image. As the week goes on, the demands of school and work tug me away from maintain such magazine-quality cleanliness. All of a sudden it is a disaster—just looking at makes my heart beat quicken—so I just give up on having a clean room. Everyone knows I’m messy.

I have got to lose twenty pounds—it’s time to get serious. No more going out for ice cream the rest of the summer. No more bread with dinner. No more fast food. I will never eat another processed thing in my life. Two weeks in, I can’t handle it—so I binge on every item I had been depriving myself of. That was pointless.

I start running five days a week—training for a marathon here! I push my body to its limits again and again. It hurts so good. After months and months of training, the big day has finally come—and gone. I don’t see the sun for weeks—guess those daily runs are over with.

This might be a bit extreme...

This black and white stuff is filled with lies and gimmicks! Everything in balance—if only I could learn how to trade in the black and white for a little gray once in a while. My life needs a little more gray sometimes! So just as with cleaning, food, shopping, exercise and entertainment—I think balance in couponing is key. Some gray coupons would be handy right about now. J Though it is entertaining to watch and I am all baotu saving some money, I think we need to take the EXTREME out of the couponing—I think we need to take it out of anything other then our relationship with Christ. He is the only one worthy of my extremes.

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
-Deuteronomy 6:5

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Testimony Tuesday: Grace and Mercy

This video is a horrific account of the pain and torment caused to one precious girl as a result of the sinfulness and depravity of man. As I watched it last night, my heart broke for her as I began to fume with anger and disgust towards the men and women who forced her to live through this hell. That was when it hit me—apart from Jesus Christ, that is me. Praise Him for His grace and mercy that are lavished upon us as we approach His throne with boldness in our time of need.  

It is so easy for me to forget who I am apart from Jesus Christ. How often I forget to recall just how unworthy I am--how hopeless I am--how depraved I am apart from Him. Here I am, a twenty-year old college student, intern for a non-profit, part of a discipleship program, surrounded by precious friends and family who love me. I love the Lord with all of my heart. I want to devote my life to fighting for enslaved, trafficked, and underprivileged women. I have dreams and visions. I love to serve and bless others. I know that apart from God's abundant and gentle grace and mercy in my short life, this is not where I would be at right now. But in His faithfulness, here I am...right?

In all reality, I am desire to be identified with all of these, giving, sweet, helpful, selfless, loving, devoted, steadfast...and yet it is so rare that my flesh behaves in a manner worthy of such descriptions. I have to stinking nail my flesh into submission to even begin to possess these qualities much of the time. No, all the time. It rarely comes naturally, though I would often like to believe it does. I mean, I'm a pretty good person…right?

WRONG. Really, I'm not. No one ever had to teach me how to not talk back to my parents. There's really nothing good in me. I am capable of anything and everything.

I easily lavish mercy and empathy upon victims of human sex-trafficking, itching to take her hands in mine, get uncomfortably close to her face, glaring directly into her eyes to tell her that she is loved intimately, selflessly, unconditionally, forever by the Almighty Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To shake her and tell her He is enough...that He is the ONLY way to freedom. That He can save her, redeem her, and cleanse even her deepest wounds. To tell just tell her that she is forgiven and free. It is is makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is that I would behave in the same manner to share the gospel with the man who abused his little girl all those years, with the mom who sold her niece to feed the family, with the owner of the brothel from which the victim was rescued, with the lost cop who forgot about the 12 year old tied to the bed downstairs when offered an hour with her for free. Have I forgotten the depth of Christ's love for us sinners? Can I not remember that apart from Him, I am capable of making the same decisions? The craziest part of it all is that I continue to find myself battling some of the very same issues as the individuals whom I peg as the ‘worst of the worst’ sinners…as if there are some sins less bad then others. 

Without Jesus that is who I am...consumed by wounds from past abuse, addicted to pornography, enslaved to an eating disorder, and ready to give up on life. I am so far from perfect that I wouldn't recognize perfection if it hit me on the head. Recently, the desire to go back to some of those old ways has reared its hideous head once again. As I continue to trudge my way through the battle, I am graciously reminded of my sick, ugly, incomprehensible depravity in this flesh. And yet, this painful realization and confession brings me to the throne of grace with boldness, for He suffered in every way that we do, yet was without sin.

Hebrews 4:14-16 says, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Wow. This means He not only sees me and knows me, but He can empathize with my hurt and fleshly desires. In the midst of my complete depravity, I don’t have to feel condemned and ridden by guilt from my choices. Instead, I get to approach Christ with confidence because I KNOW that He does not convict me of guilt nor shame, but of my righteousness…my right-standing with Him. I am learning that nothing compares to falling into His mercy and grace in my time of need. And this very same mercy and grace in which He lavishes upon me in my fleshliness and sinfulness is the exact same grace and mercy He offers to all who believe that Jesus is the way, the Truth and the life—even the abuser, the addict, the brothel owner, the pimp, and the murderer. I am in need of His grace and mercy just as much as they are.