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And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. - 1 Peter 5:10
We've all been here...suffering.  It comes in different forms and is caused by different things.  When we suffer, there is reassurance, though...and it can be found in the verse above.  How comforting to know that when we do suffer (because you know we will), "...he himself [will] restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."  Although I dread the suffering, I look forward to the restoration. 

A Free Gift for Christmas
I thoroughly enjoy working with the Young Adults at my church. They are a great bunch...all at various stages in their lives. With the Christmas season coming up...I started thinking about gifts that we have to purchase and how expensive they can be. Everything seems to add up and it is tough, especially for those who are just starting their adult lives, to buy everything we need or want to buy. This year, I am going to talk to them about a FREE gift that will be one of the best ones they've ever encountered...but this gift is not for someone will be for them. It is the gift of Forgiveness.

Some people are under the misconception that forgiving someone means you are weak and if you forgive that means you are letting the other person "win." That is simply not so.

Someone once said, "To err is blame it on someone else is more human." Sometimes we justify our lack of forgiveness because it is so easy...we tell ourselves the other person just doesn't deserve our forgiveness.

I'm sure you remember the story of the massacured Amish children of 2006? In the early October morning of 2006 in Nickel Mines, PA, 32 year old gunman, Charles Roberts, entered an Amish one-room schoolhouse. 25 students stood shocked and fearful as Mr. Roberts made the boys and teacher go outside, leaving only 10 girls locked inside with him. He shot them all, execution style, after tying their legs, then turned the gun on himself. Five survived, but were critically wounded. When asked why he would do such a thing by one of the little girls, he stated, "I am angry at God for taking my little daughter." The blood was barely dry in the schoolhouse when the Amish families of the victims came out with their news of forgiveness. In fact, the news of their forgiveness overshadowed the tragedy in more than 2,400 news stories worldwide. Fresh from the funeral of their daughters, the grieving Amish made up 1/2 of the 75 people who attended Charles Robert's funeral. Robert's wife and three children were most touched and surprised. In fact, the Amish forgiveness gesture went beyond the funeral...they set up a fund to support Roberts' grieving widow.

Forgiveness does not mean you are weak. Forgiveness is Dismissing a Debt. I am not saying this debt is not owed, but you forgive it none the less. Instead of being controlled, you are able to take control.

Luke 6:27 says, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." When you "let someone off the hook" by forgiving them, you are putting them on God's hook. God is a God of justice. Let Him seek vengence, not you.

Imagine you are an olymipc track runner preparing for the race. As you gain your momentum, ready to take off, you look, and fastened to your leg is a heavy, cumbersome ball and chain with a lock. Racing becomes impossible. You are no longer a are burdoned with weight. But then imagine, right before the gun shot sounds to announce the race is beginning, someone rushes along to you and hands you the key that will unlock the chain. That key to unlatch the baggage is FORGIVENESS. Instead of a heavy ball, it turns into a helium balloon and floats away.

In order to be Christlike, we must forgive, just as He forgave us. Forgiveness is not justified...just because you forgive someone does not mean you are saying that what they did to you is okay. Forgiveness is just your gift to yourself allowing you to release baggage you dont' need in your life.

So often, when we do forgive, we expect something back. "He should at least say he's sorry," you might think. When you forgive someone, and release the baggage, you also release your right to get even or to hear "I'm sorry." Romans 12:17 states, "Do not repay evil for evil." You release your right to dwell on the offense. Proverbs 17:9 explains it well: "Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends."

Do you know what the difference between Grace and Mercy is? It is like two sides of a coin. Grace means you give someone a gift they don't deserve. Mercy is not giving them what they do deserve. Take a minute to read those two sentences again and let it sink in. Thank about it...we have been extended both grace and mercy through Christ's dying on the cross...and we don't deserve either of we?

When the disciples asked Christ to teach them how to pray, it is interesting in Matthew 6:12 that Christ answers them with this model: "Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors."

I'll leave you with one last thought...Do you want to be forgiven in the same way you have forgiven others?

A Lesson Learned
Do you ever struggle with being content? Do you ever think, "I would only be happy if...?" God's word says that we are often taken through trials in life in order to refine us and sharpen us. I will never forget when I was first dating Kevin. There was a local area art festival in Columbus and he took me to see the wares and get a taste of what it was all about. As we walked from booth to booth, I was amazed at how talented people in the area are. I'm not very artistic myself, so I'm easily impressed with others' talents. I remember vividly walking to one particular booth that didn't have a lot of people visiting it. The first thing I remember drawing me to it was the sound. A steady clink.......clink.......clink.......clink. Yes, it was the sound that first got my attention. Next, as we neared the booth, I felt an annoying heat emerging from a source unidentified. It was the middle of summer, and if you live in Columbus, GA, you know that summers here are H-O-T to say the least! At first, the booth didn't interest me in one bit, both because of the sound and then of course...the heat. I started to pull away and go a different direction, but Kevin gently tugged my arm and led me closer to the exhibit. He had a look in his eyes that I now easily recognize.

My husband worships God through nature and the world around him. He can easily spot an illustration for a sermon (partly because he's always looking) in everyday things. He can see God in a deer beside the road, a gently rolling stream, a trip through the woods and the call of a bird. I remember once being completely amazed when he told me of a vivid dream he once had about his deceased father. In the dream his father was visiting him and taking him through a journey in a beautiful forest. When Kevin described the dream, he told me of the different colors of green in the trees. I honestly had never in my life taken the time to notice, much less care, that trees were varying shades of green. Since, I've looked and noticed he's right! My husband even wrote a poem about his experience with his father in the dream.

So, knowing how my husband can spot an illustration in nature and in life, I saw that look in his eyes that summer day at the art festival. Already an analogy about what he was seeing was forming in his brain. As he tugged me, I walked closer and we gathered around a man who had an apron fastened around his middle and sweat was pouring down his brow. From a raised fire pit, embers emitted heat and flames. He was a local blacksmith. In his hand he had a hot poker and on the edge of the poker was a horse shoe. He would extend the poker to the fire and the metal shoe would heat up to an orange/yellow color. The artist would then remove the shoe, place it on an iron mold and begin shaping it with a mallet right after it had been removed from the fire, when it was easily molded. Then, the steady
clink.......clink.......clink.......clink sounded strong and clear.

As I stood watching, Kevin started gently whispering in my ear, "Shannon, this is like what God does to us. He puts us through the fire because, like this blacksmith, He is shaping us. Each time we are put in the fire we become more of the thing He wants us to be."

It is true. So, whatever trial we may be going through or whatever discontentment we may feel, we must know that God is shaping us, molding us into what He wants us to be. Hebrews 13:5 states, " content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"

Ecclesiastes 7:14
"When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one as well as the other..."

I Think I've Lost Control...and I Don't Like It
During the recent years of my life, which by the way have been the best, I've discovered a lot about myself. I've discovered I like myself. I've discovered that I'm content with just being the mom of one. I've discovered I like being a pastor's wife and a stay-at-home-mom. I've discovered that just because I'm not "using" my college education, I'm fine with that. But perhaps the most insightful discovery for me has been that I'm quite the control freak. In a major way. Not just a little control freak, a BIG control freak. And in the course of this discovery I've come to face the reality that I am not and could not possibly control everything I'd like to. Perhaps I'm such a control freak due to not being able to control much at all during my childhood. I have a childhood filled with horrible memories that have affected who I am today. When I was little, I was not able to control anything that happened to me...and a lot happened to me that I wish had not. Although I am delivered from the past, I feel that because of it I try to control too much now.
So, why am I writing about this? This past weekend several things were out of my hands that I think could have been done better or differently. I had to just sit idly by and watch the nightmare play out right before me. I found myself almost having an anxiety attack because I was not in a position where I could do anything about the situation. As my heart was beating and a sweat began to break out on my forehead, my husband looked at me and just kind of laughed. He knew what was going on inside my head. And as I sat there, the nightmare that I could not control turned out just fine. Different than it would have been if I would have been in control, but fine all the same. This reality hit me hard. It is hard for me to face the fact that I can't control everything...and if I don't control probably will turn out just fine!
Planning is good. It is always better to be prepared than not. But too much obsessing can rule you. It can even become like a god in your I feel at times it has in mine. This revelation has made me take a good, hard look at home schooling next year. I have a plan for Kameron. I have the times each activity needs to be done written and on a chart. I have what I want to accomplish for the day, week and month all neatly categorized. I want to control this and for it to work out in my fairytale dream. probably won't. I'm sure there will be days when we get only a portion accomplished. I may have to change my plans and I may have to alter my expectations. And you know what? I think God used events like what happened this weekend to prepare me for this. He is showing me that He is in control. Not me. I need to, "lean not on [my] own understanding; in all [my] ways acknowledge him, and he will make [my] paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6.
Thank you God for preparing me to "let go and let God" as my mother always says!

Listening to God While the Bugs are Biting
I wonder if anyone else is as stubborn as I am? All my life, I've had to learn things the hard way. Ya'd think that after all those hard lessons I would have learned to do it the easy way, but no. Not me. Not the one who tends to think she can handle it All by herself.
I teach a young adult Sunday School class at CrossPointe Church of the Nazarene, and one of the things we've been discussing lately is, "How do you hear the voice of God?" "How does He talk to us today?" For each of us, it may be through the words of a song, or a scripture you keep hearing over and over, a series of pennies or rocks that you find that look like a heart, a person you respect or a mentor speaking to you, or something life-changing that you cannot ignore and that is cast upon you only by God's grace. I don't know what it is for you, but I know I have clearly heard His voice in a variety of ways. Sometimes, though, I don't listen. Sad, but true. God is NOT One to be ignored though. And this is just one example of what He did to make sure I not only heard Him, but get His message. And clearly.
This past weekend, I was camping with some friends from church. As my husband went off to play horseshoes with some of the guys, one of my friends approached me and began a conversation. First, let me tell you that this person is thankfully, a "tell-it-like-it-is" person. While sitting there fighting off bugs who were threatening to bite and listening to my dear friend, I heard the Lord speak. He was telling me that I was doing too much, and not being adequate at anything because I had overextended myself. This is something I knew in the back of my mind, but had chosen to ignore. My sweet friend helped me to realize that, because of my inability to say no when asked to do something coupled with my controlling nature, I was overextending myself. It really hit home.
If that were not enough, at church the next day, reality hit me like a freight train. I had my hands in so many pots on this particular Sunday that I had accidentally neglected a few important things. Not on purpose, mind you, but all the same, I hurt some people out of my shortcomings that were, in part, due to "doing too much". I felt awful. I was made to realize, yet again, that I could not control or be a part of everything. My heart was broken. I felt defeated. I felt like I was a failure.
Since then, I have prayed to God and He has graciously given me a peace...and a plan. To rely on Him MORE and LESS on myself. To focus on things He desires to be my focus, not on EVERYTHING!
I am thankful for friends who open your eyes. Thank you, Lord, for sending these people my way. Thank you, Lord, for speaking to me. Forgive me, Lord for not listening when I should have. My prayer is that I would hear You when You whisper, so you don't have to get louder. I know He is refining me, pruning me, and I am so thankful that He cares enough to do so.

Delicious and Fragrant
"God can never make us wine if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with...when He uses someone whom we dislike, or some set of circumstances to which we said we would never submit, and makes those the crushers, we object." - Oswald Chambers

I read these words this morning from an Oswald Chambers devotional book. How wise this man was. How in tune with the Lord. I desire to be like this, but I know it takes an effort on my part. God is there waiting for me, all I have to do is seek.
These words ring so true in my ear. How often have I objected to one form or another His rebuke? I, like an Israelite complaining in the dessert, whimper and wine quite often about this load and that circumstance that is difficult and another.
I have a dear friend who right now is going through the most trying time in her young life. But I do not hear her complaining. Instead, I hear and see her leaning on God all the more. I wonder what I would do if I were in her shoes? I have to admit, I don't think I would handle it with the grace that she is. God is making her into a delicious, ripe, sweet wine...and the fingers He's using to crush her are cruel and unfair. She's not a hard marble trying to escape the, she is a malleable grape, yielding under the harsh force of the chosen fingers.
So, Lord, let me be a yielding grape, not complaining of the call Y0u have for me in my life. Let me submit to the fingers who crush me into a fine wine. I do not want to be a bitter, unripe wine, Lord, but a wine that is delicious and fragrant.

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