"The injuries and sins that offend you are the trials that perfect you. "–
John MacArthur

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A response please

"The outcome of our lives is not determined by what happens to us, but by how we respond to what happens to us." - Nancy Leigh DeMoss

While in, what I like to call, the "healing and dealing" process of forgiveness, it has been my experience that the forward steps that are the most vital are usually the most difficult to take. Though "moving on" sounds easy enough, it can feel pretty close to impossible when you are actually expected to do it. For me, one of those difficult yet vital steps was learning to trust people again. When your hurt comes from the person or people closest to you, fear of a repeat performance can become a real issue! I have struggled to trust people who were completely unrelated to my pain and haven't hurt me at all. It was so bad that I had become afraid to trust the people who were here only to help me heal! I believed that since no one could truly ever understand my pain, then logically that meant, there was no one who could ever be fully trusted to help manage it. I also didn't trust in my own vulnerability anymore. For me vulnerability was how I got hurt to begin with, so to be transparent and "wall less" ever again required a level of trust that I could no longer bestow on anyone, anymore. 

Thinking and living, as if there was no one who could ever know what my pain did to me, allowed me to then believe that there was no one who could ever understand what forgiveness required of me. It felt like too much to ask of anyone. It could never be expected if they really understood, right? Lies. Specially crafted, enslaving, trauma carrying lies. Lies that I rehearsed daily, and believed and let shape my then freshly (and bitterly) erected world view. Lies that left me sick and tired of life. The truth is, sick people who love their sickness will never get well. Ouch. I could see plainly what The Lord wanted from me, but I couldn't fathom how He was ever gonna get it. 

I recently read a post by a friend of mine about people who are allowing themselves to miss out on life because of their commitment to living in their pasts. I want to pretend that that's never been me. I would have always told you that I wanted desperately to live a free and healed life. To be joyful and victorious, as a champion and trophy of The Gospel and as a reflector of God's glory. I have also believed that it was within my reach. But, I had given myself too much freedom to pull over on the path to forgiveness and focus on what was in the rear view mirror instead of what is on the road before me. I had spent way too much time living in light of my past and then believing that my future had to be dictated by it. I'm sure someone can relate.  If you've ever been rejected, you live, and reason and process like someone who is rejected. If you've ever been betrayed, you fear and you hide out as though you have to live in that betrayal forever. My hurt became the grid through which I began to process just about everything. Even God. And so even though I have heard the truths of scripture repeated to me over and over again, I couldn't accept them as "for me" truths. I couldn't trust it. 

Trusting people is scary. Trusting God can be too. Trusting my heart is foolishness. I have to make a choice to face my fears, to resuscitate my trust in The Lord who has never failed me, and to move on into trusting relationships with people again. I have to choose to see all of this as it is, a part of God's plan for me that can actually make me better. Man, I guess there is a vast difference between wanting something desperately and working toward something diligently.   

Hebrews 12:1-3

The saga continues...  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The freedom in forgiveness

Part of the process on my journey to forgiveness has been letting go of certain expectations. Some things, like an admission of guilt or a sincere apology, seem like they should just be automatic. Right? I mean, you hurt someone, you feel bad about it, and then you apologize.The person forgives you and we all feel better. I really wish it were always that easy. To be really honest, I used to wish that there was a way to make people feel the exact pain that they have caused me and then compel them to want to at least try and make it right. Sometimes people do repent, and they do apologize, and then they do make it right.. Then, there are those other scenarios. Those situations that God allows to stay unresolved for His own divine reasons. These situations have no real finality or moment of closer. No grand moment of repentance with you standing over the person who hurt you while they are sobbing and begging for your forgiveness! Okay, so clearly I have given this way too much thought ! I told you this was a process!!

But, seriously, what happens when the sincere apology never comes? What if  the person who hurt you isn't sorry? What if they feel justified? Or they blame someone else? What if they don't even know that they hurt you? What if they don't care? Am I trapped? Forced into a forgiveness limbo that I have no control over, arrested in my development, never to heal or move on? Well I was.

I remember feeling, in several situations, like everything would be so much easier to deal with if this person would only say, "I was wrong, I did this, I am responsible, and I am sorry." I remember being paralyzed while I waited for these moments that never came. I remember staying victimized and feeling hopeless. From that hopelessness came bitterness and resentment. All of it was bondage. Just another form of slavery. Truthfully, there are still moments when I feel this way. Moments when I slip back into that victim mentality and back into the bondage that comes with it. But I know I don't want that. I hate the way it feels. Galatians 5:1 says "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."

The Lord has allowed me to see that this journey through forgiveness really is about healing. If I never hear the words "I'm sorry", if there is never any acknowledgement of my pain from those who hurt me, I will be okay. I will be better than okay, because I will be free. I will give to them the very forgiveness that has been lavished on me. A portion of the mercy shown to me by my Savior, and the countless people that my own sinfulness has hurt throughout my life. Rather than living life stewing in pain, I will allow forgiveness to be a healing balm. I can see now that good can come from even the worst of situations. I have learned who I wasn't in the midst of my hurt, but more importantly, I have learned who God really is. I can look at the worst hurt in my life and see the greatest growth of my life. Amazing!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Forgiving the Unforgivable

So as I continue on this journey, I have had to contend with the fact that there has actually been a ton of people trapped in the "holding cell" of my unforgiveness. More people than I probably would have cared to admit in another season of life. To be honest, I was hurt by an entire community of people and I was mad at them all. I know now that most of them didn't even know, but in the moment, I didn't care. To go from being a part of a huge Christian community to then being completely isolated was a hard pill to swallow. I hated it! I mean, it's almost easier to forgive the person that has intentionally stabbed you in your back and caused your pain, than it is to forgive the people who saw you bleeding on the ground after the attack and left you there because they didn't want to "get their hands dirty". I'm just being truthful. It's where I was. Today, praise God, I have a new perspective. I can see God's hand all in it. It is comforting to know that the Savior was not merely reacting to my situation, but was guiding all things for my good and his glory!! He could offer me more than moral support. (Isaiah 55)

The Lord had been pruning me, preparing me, and growing me in those areas that I thought I was doing okay. He was rebuilding my marriage. He was refocusing my attention. He was showing me my dependence on and fear of man. What everybody else thought of us was so important to me until all of the facades in my world came crumbling down! I would have never admitted then that I had issues with pride, a lack of compassion, bitterness and unforgiveness. My pride was not in check, my heart was going astray, and I certainly didn't realize that all of these issues along with unforgiveness would ruin me if not dealt with.

What if God decided to forgive me the way that I had often chosen to forgive others? What if he forgave me  “in His heart”, but never sent His son as tangible evidence of this forgiveness? What if he forgave us, but then decided that was it? No communion with Him, no peace, provision, or protection from Him? I am convicted to move from forgiveness in my heart to forgiveness that others can really benefit from, that God can get glory from.  I must live like my life is not my own. The bible says in Rev. 12 that “they overcame by the blood of the Lamb (shed for us by Jesus Christ) and the word of their testimony”. Testimonies are for the benefit of others, not to be kept in the “scrapbook” of our hearts. This is not all about me. An apple tree never grows fruit for its own consumption, and the fruit that I will grow though forgiving those who have hurt me the most will benefit my children, my neighbors, my disciples, and the very people who hurt me to begin with . Then I will know just a little more what it means to “wear a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of  mourning, the garment of praise instead a spirit of despair; that we might be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD, that He might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).
Still a work in progress!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why is this so hard?

The English writer, Alexander Pope wrote “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”  How many times have you heard that one? I do believe that he was on to something. Psalm 51 tells us that we are born as sinful people. Basically, to mess up is inbred in our genetic makeup.  I definitely believe it because I have watched my precious children look like angels while behaving like demons! The “erring” part is easy; we can do that in our sleep. It’s the forgiving that trips us up every time.  As I think about my own journey through forgiveness, I have to first understand what I am really holding on to and why?
For a long time, I believed that forgiving the person that offended me stripped me of the right to grieve. I had been told to just move on,  this happens to everybody, or even to act like it never happened so many times in life, that I felt like forgiving and “sucking it up” were synonymous. I think one day I just decided that if I had to pretend that “it” never happened, then I was never going to be able to forgive.  I had been holding back forgiveness and becoming more and more bitter because I was being held hostage by a warped idea of one of God’s most precious plans for our lives. Freedom through forgiveness. I was desperately holding on to my right to feel, but what I was giving up was the privilege and blessing of freedom.
We are yet another generation of wounded people that are going around wounding people. A generation full of intellect but no real answers to how to be free from the deep sense of hurt, bitterness and resentment that plagues us. A generation with resources and access to technology like no other generation in history, and yet we are unable to access the true peace that the Bibles says come from Jesus Christ (John 14:27). Where this left me is where most of us are left. Confused, angry with God, discontent, unable to experience true joy and pretending to be healed when I wasn’t even close.
Recently as I read through the story of Joseph and his brothers, there was a part that was extremely comforting to me.  After all of the years that had passed, all that he had been through, and all of the elevation that he had received, when he saw his brothers again he displayed a full range of emotions. I’m sure he was hurt, angry, confused, and even relieved all at the same time. He was human. He hadn't seen or heard from his family in years. He didn't know who had died or if they even cared that he had been gone. 

Now, he did make his brothers jump though hoops and even framed them for stealing (I said he was human), but Joseph new that he served the true and living God. He believed that all of the stuff that he had been through was going to be used to serve a purpose bigger than himself.  He had to have believed that from the beginning. From the day he woke up in his new life in a foreign land as a slave. I believe that is how he continued to serve with such diligence and integrity. He had to have learned many lessons over the years but one of the biggest is that forgiveness was not optional. (Gen. 50:15-21)
Forgiveness is not acting like nothing ever happened, or excusing someone’s sin. It’s not even forgetting about what happened, because for many people, the impact of our experience is so huge, that we may never be the same. That’s real. Forgiveness is, releasing that person from the debt that they owe me. It is trusting God to mete out his judgment, not mine. It is a powerful choice, much like submission, that is about surrender. It’s waving the white flag and being willing to put to death my pride and bitterness and resentment, and then allowing the fruit of the Spirit to fill the voids left behind. Forgiveness is being able to believe like Joseph, what men may have meant for evil, God meant for good to bring about this present result. 
No, this is not going to be easy, but it will be well worth it.  John 10:10!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Ball of Confusion

So on the list of difficult things that God expects from his people, I would absolutely put forgiveness at the top, coming second only to the whole “Be ye holy, as I am holy” concept. I know for sure that as a Christian I am commanded to forgive (e.g. Mark 11:25, Matt. 6:14). I am also sure that as a Christian I am totally forgiven (e.g. Heb 8:12, Matt 1:12). What I have wrestled with most, is how to know if I am truly forgiving. Can I say that I have forgiven once I can stand to allow my offender's name to be uttered from my lips? What if when I see that person from across a room, I can say that I’m okay because I am not mad? I mean, I’m not even thinking about them anymore. Shouldn’t that earn me a tally mark in my “Christian forgiveness" column?

If I look to popular culture for examples, I find that people are fickle at best.  Alicia Keys’ choices are celebrated but Fantasia’s are scandalous. We let Chris Brown move past his mistakes but Mike Vick, well he’s different because he hurt animals. Hilary forgave Bill and Vanessa forgave Kobe, but Elin hasn’t been able to forgive Tiger yet. Is Elin wrong?  How could she possibly know either way? Because moral absolutes are considered intolerant in our “anything goes” culture, the skills used to discern what's right and what's wrong are grossly under developed. Even Christian culture is on its own runaway train. Who can possibly define forgiveness when even we find it difficult to determine what is sin? There is just too much ambiguity.

Not long ago, Duce and I had a wonderful opportunity to minister together and just share our testimony. Later, as we were debriefing, the topic of forgiveness came up.  My husband said to me that often, while he is speaking to others about forgiveness, he is secretly hoping that I would hear and be challenged as well. He told me that he was not really convinced that I had forgiven certain people in our lives. Then, he went on to say how he has never actually heard me say that I have forgiven them, and that If I had, I am not really doing anything to communicate my forgiveness for them, to them.  In the moment, I must admit that I felt cornered. I was totally appalled and definitely offended. How could he say that? Hadn’t I had proven to him that I have the ability to forgive! Of course I have forgiven them. Of course I have, right?  Well, either way, he can’t possibly tell me what I am thinking and feeling. So I said to him emphatically, “I have forgiven them in my heart!” 
What?!?  Now, I know that is about the saddest “cop out” line around. I have forgiven them in my heart. That’s what everybody says when pressed to justify why no one can really find any evidence of their alleged pardoning of their brother’s transgressions. Of course, that couldn’t be why I would say such a thing. I am positive that in the moment, I had really convinced myself that I believed it. That forgiving people in my heart was as good as it gets! But, as soon as the conversation was over, I knew that my heart wasn’t really as light and airy and free from the trappings of bitterness as I would like to have convinced my husband (and myself) that it was.

Have I really forgiven them? What about my husband, can I say he has been truly forgiven by me? Have I really forgiven her? Have I forgiven the people who have excommunicated me from their lives and gone on as if I had never been there or was never really important to them? How about the people who have hurt my children? How about the people who turned my private crisis into public humiliation?  Do I forgive my dad?  What about my mom? What about the guy who stole my mom’s change from me when I was on my way home from the Lucky 7 in the fourth grade? Are these people really being forgiven by me? What does it even mean to actually forgive someone? Is it even possible to truly and totally forgive? 
I was just reading in Genesis about how Esau forgave his brother Jacob for hurt that occurred many years before. I was moved by the fact that Jacob was terrified yet, the bible says “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” (Gen. 33:4).  I am so amazed at how many times I run into actual examples of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Bible. What scares me about this is how it always seems to just expect it. I keep looking for (more like pleading for) scripture that says something more along the lines of… “Forgive after you have taken ample time to get over the offense.” Or, better yet, “Forgive, but please don’t feel compelled to have to deal with the person that offended you, after all, just looking at them may just drag up the pain again and you don’t deserve that.” Instead, I find…“Bless those who curse you and pray for those who despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:28) “If your brother trespasses against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3)  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:23) This seems so cut and dry, so black and white. It almost sounds like it’s supposed to be easy.  We read about Esau forgiving Jacob, Joseph forgiving his brothers, David forgiving Saul, and Jesus forgiving us! This proves that it’s possible, but none of this could have been easy.

 Wow, this is going to be a process.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

How did we get here?

As Christians, we can be sure that in every one of life's situations, God has a purpose and a plan. God is not random and I can see Him working out so many things in me.  But what I have often failed to consider as well, is that what can't be seen in our situations are the thousands of things that God is doing "behind the scenes" in the lives of other people. He is using it all for His glory and our good. I can't tell you how much that has bought me comfort in my darkest of days.

In April of 2009, my world came crashing down. My husband confessed to me that he was having an affair. He was having an emotional affair with a family friend and ministry partner. She was someone whose family was deeply interwoven with ours and who had been given unique access into our lives. I admit that I had suspected it for a while, so I was not totally shocked by his confession. But believe me; my suspicion didn't soften the blow at all.  As someone who honestly never lived in fear of infidelity in our marriage, this whole season was like being in the "twilight zone".

  Even though I was suspicious, I think that I really wanted to believe that my husband was not capable of having an affair. That he wasn't really willing to risk losing everything for something so stupid. I imagine that this is what it must feel like for the parents of a missing child. You want to be hopeful. You try to ignore the dread, anxiety, or fear that is constantly looming in the background. You do not want to believe that your situation will end in tragedy. You live day to day almost numb. Then one day, you get the news that the very truth that you may have suspected, but prayed so hard against, is now your reality. This is when the pain and grieving begins. No more hope, numbness gone. I wouldn't wish that much pain on anyone.

At the time we were co-leaders of a church plant. We were both completely immersed in our own separate lives. My husband was pioneering a unique work, shepherding, teaching, recording, and traveling. I was serving in several capacities, attempting to be a disciple maker/mentor, a ministry leader, helping with building remodeling, planning, teaching and catering for both the children's and women's ministries, and scheduling and hopping from meeting to meeting to meeting. I am also a wife, a mom, homeschooling our children and I was even attempting to be an entrepreneur. I was so overwhelmed but couldn’t see any way to jump off the train and find rest. Wow. I am overwhelmed now just thinking about it all.

I began to see that things were coming apart at the seams. I felt compelled to keep it to myself to maintain a certain image. No one really knew that I was drowning in almost every area of life. I was constantly being convicted by the Holy Spirit, the godly models around me, and of course God’s word. If I knew then what I know now, I would have done a better job of insulating and protecting my family. I would have prayed harder and said "no" more often. Unfortunately, my priorities were not in order and I allowed myself to believe that I was really able to handle it all myself. Though I needed to be rushed into an intensive care unit, I was actually sitting in “triage” trying to dress my own wounds and manage my own care.
Sadly, I was also beginning to suspect that I was not the only person in our home that had fallen off track. Without intervention, disaster was inevitable.  Duce and I were burning out and were not at all diligent about getting help or warding off the devil’s attacks. During this time I saw things, found things, even investigated things that really began to drill a whole into my life and a deeper wedge into my marriage. This was a slippery slope we were on and I was not able to brace for  impact.                
Ultimately, the deterioration of my marriage, the suspicion of infidelity, the proof, confrontations, and eventual admission of it, and then finally, the public announcements that followed, had taken a huge toll on me. I was at my weakest physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was empty. The pain was excruciating, and I was angry, terrified and humiliated.  This was also our lowest point as a family. What I would have described then as needing a “breather”, was actually us in critical condition and in need of much help. We needed to be cared for, to be to nursed back to health, and to be surrounded by the people in our church family that knew us best and loved us unconditionally. Sadly, that was never able to happen.                                                                                                                                                
God knows we were in no shape to be handling this mess on our own.  All I wanted was for the nightmare to end and for a while I didn't care how. I am so grateful that God in his wisdom and grace allowed two pastors and their wives to see us in crisis and rush in to help. When we were almost completely destroyed, the Lord sent help. These pastors, along with their wives and a few other godly men and women, saw us in need and were willing to help. We needed to know we still had friends. They knew that we needed to be pointed directly to God’s word. These are the people who really walked with us throughout the ugliest moments.  These are the people who saw to it that we got professional marital counseling, counseled us individually, challenged us, prayed with us and kept reminding us to trust the Lord through this season.
 I remember being encouraged not to let the devil win by giving up. To see life as bigger than me. To take God's word seriously and to believe his promises wholeheartedly. I stayed in my marriage because the Lord used these men and women to keep reminding me of His greater glory and how it would be achieved in my life by walking through this hurt and learning how to really heal through the process of true biblical forgiveness.  So, here I am Lord, use me.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Neccessary Introductions

My name is Missie Branch. I am a Christian, a wife, a mom, a daughter, a friend. Like everyone, I have hurt others deeply and have been hurt deeply. I have wrestled with both giving and receiving forgiveness. But why? Probably because I have not fully understood what forgiveness has meant. I haven't considered what it costs, who it costs or even why it is so important. 
In our home, we teach our children to apologize to and forgive each other. When someone is crying, the offender says "I'm sorry" and the offended says "I forgive you". That's it. It almost always works and just like that, it's over. But, what has happened in their hearts? What, really, was supposed to happen? That's where it has ended for me for as long as I can remember. Right at the "I forgive you".
I believe that we all understand it on the most basic level, but forgiveness is the one topic that, for me, has been very difficult fully to wrap my heart around. I understand what it means intellectually, but am I really ready to understand what it means for me practically? What is forgiveness going to cost me? This is my journey.