Freedom Friday: Exercise Your “No” Muscle

Have you ever done a plank?

They’re a type of abdominal exercise. And they are hard.

planking

Prior to having Maggie, I planked regularly. At first, I held it for 10 seconds and had to stop. But I kept trying. I got to 20. And 30. And so on as my abdominal muscles strengthened.

For many years, I answered “yes” to temptation. I didn’t even know it was temptation, and I didn’t know I could say no. I thought my feelings dictated my life, and my desires dictated my actions. And every time I gave in, my “yes” muscle became stronger and stronger.

When I became a Christian, I was surprised how much power my “yes” muscle still had. My eating disorder was still ever-present. I even had another lesbian relationship, despite knowing it was wrong. I thought I was a new creation? I’d cry out to God, wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t figure out how to say no and walk away.

How did I move from that place to where I am today?

As I recently chatted with other believers, I realized something.

I learned to exercise my “no” muscle.

Prior to following Jesus, I exercised my “yes” muscle quite a bit when temptation came my way. “Yes! I will starve myself.” “Yes, I’ll have sex with you.” “Yes! I’ll drink too much.” “Yes, I’ll self injure.”

It took me a while to realize that the Holy Spirit wanted to empower me to develop my “no” muscle.

At first, it’s very difficult to exercise your “no” muscle when you’ve been so used to your “yes” muscle being your default. It will feel unfamiliar, even uncomfortable. But as you say “no” more and more, it will become easier, until it becomes almost your default.

I have exercised my “no” muscle in the area of sexual sin so much that now I can fairly easily exercise my “no” muscle when it comes to pornography, fantasy, or acting out sexually.

My book Learning to Walk in Freedom talks extensively about how I also needed to learn to exercise my “no” muscle in the area of my thoughts and struggles with hopelessness and despair.

I still working on using my “no” muscle in the area of food. I read Lysa TerKeurst’s devotional for folks like me called Made to Crave. This quote today really caught my attention:

It is good for God’s people to be put in a place of longing so they feel a slight desperation. Only then can we be empty enough and open enough to discover the holiness we were made for. When we are stuffed full of other things and never allow ourselves to be in a place of longing, we don’t recognize the deeper spiritual battle going on.

Satan wants to keep us distracted by chasing one temporary filling after another. God wants us to step back and let the emptying process have its way until we start desiring a holier life. The gap between our frail discipline and God’s available strength is bridged with nothing but a simply choice on our part to pursue this holiness.

A simple choice to exercise my “no” muscle on a regular basis.

In what areas do you struggle to exercise your “no” muscle? Confess this struggle James 5:16 style to a Christian friend and ask that person to pray for you. Then ask God, through His Holy Spirit, to empower you to choose better next time.

Romans 6:6 (NLT) says “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”

Exercise your “no” muscle. Watch it get stronger and strong as God empowers you to walk out the freedom He died to give.

The Abolition of Slavery and “Learning to Walk in Freedom”

Slavery, and in particular sex trafficking, is an issue that grips my heart. I gained a growing understanding through meeting missionaries like the Garrisons who work with kids rescued out of trafficking.

But it wasn’t until I attended a screening of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls that I really got a glimpse into the depth of the darkness that is human trafficking.

In September of 2011, I attended a screening of the documentary in Harvard Square. I walked away, truly changed. I couldn’t shake the horror of what is happening to those enslaved around the world.

Fast forward to 2012, when I ran 26.2 miles to raise funds for kids rescued from sex trafficking.

IMG_4521

I vowed since then not only to raise awareness, but to put my money where my mouth is. As I wrote Learning to Walk in Freedom, God laid it on my heart to give a portion of the proceeds to those trapped in literal slavery.

Thus, I included these words in my book:

I will mention in closing that God has called me to be part of an army He is raising up. It is an army of people who are willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Alongside my passion for spiritual freedom is my passion for physical freedom—freedom for those who are in literal captivity. Thus, a tithe on the profits from this book will always go to the abolition of slavery.

I want to share this video in closing. In this clip, Benjamin Nolot (creator of the Nefarious film) and his wife Lauren tell the story of receiving a special package from Cambodia, and how it became a life-changing moment for them.

WARNING: This is a graphic depiction of the evidence of a little girl’s abuse.

I plan to keep this post updated with the causes I have given to. So far, I have donated to Project Rescue’s Night Care Shelter program. From the website:

Evening Care Centers are adjacent to the red-light district and are open during peak brothel business hours. These centers provide a way to get vulnerable children out of their mothers’ rooms while they service customers.

Just let the horror of that reality sink in.

This is why I ran a marathon. This is why I give. This is why I talk about human trafficking. Not only for the women, but as the back of my shirt I wore for the marathon said: For The Kids.

 

Freedom Friday: I Am Not The Same

Today, Friday, is one of the very rare mornings where somehow I was awake before my beautiful 1 year-old baby girl. I snuck out of bed, searched for the baby monitor, and settled into my comfy chair to read some psalms.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

 

There is something about this familiar passage that is so life-giving. The song with these lyrics sings in my ears as I read – a song I learned in those early days of walking with Jesus.

My soul exhales.
********************

 

I prepared a teaching on Philippians 4 for the ministry this week. I wanted to share all my wisdom about how God’s Word would have us approach anxiety.

And wouldn’t you know it. I spent the 10 days leading up to the teaching, feeling more anxious than I have in a long, long time.

Times like these – I start to question myself. Why do I do this? I think. Who am I to say that Jesus changes lives? I’m as anxious as I’ve ever been.

There is something so familiar about these thoughts. Comfortable, almost. They are words I have heard in my thoughts for years. A voice of hopelessness.

In those low moments, I am unable to recognize those words for what they are, or whose they are: whispers of Satan.

This morning, I got down on my knees after reading a few psalms and repeated back to God:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

I spent thousands of days elsewhere. I dwelt in the tents of the wicked. As I pondered these words, my soul exhaled again as God spoke to me:

You are not the same Brenna that you once were. Do not give in to the lies. I have changed you and will keep changed you.

I am not the same.

Fall in a park

The leaves are changing color here in New England. They have no control over it, but are submitted to a more powerful force.
 
The same is true of us. If you are a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit in you is changing you day by day as you surrender your life to whatever He has for you. You may have some of the same struggles, face some of the same fears, but you are not the same.

 
If the anxiety returns today, so be it. Rather than wonder how long it will last, I will walk out the truths from Philippians 4 that I shared on this week:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Don’t let the devil whisper into your ear. Listen to God. Pray, and sink deep into God’s peace.

Sharing God’s Story At My Home Church

I had the privilege of sharing the story of God’s work in my life at our now home church yesterday. “New” is relative – we’ve been attending this church since January 🙂 I still get a little nervous when sharing, despite having done it for so long. I get even more nervous sharing at my home church! But God is gracious and able and only good, and He sustained me. Lots of folks shared their own struggles or their experiences having children who are gay-identified.

Some folks who couldn’t be there expressed interest in reading it. So here it is 🙂

********

I was born in May of 1975. With an alcoholic mother and a father who worked long hours, I spent much of my childhood alone with few close friends. I began experimenting sexually with girls at a young age. As a high school freshman, I began a physical relationship with my female best friend. Trying to make sense of what I was experiencing, I looked up “homosexuality” in a health book. The book said that if you had attractions for someone of the same gender, then you were gay. I remember thinking, “There it is, in black and white. I am a homosexual.”

This was not good news. I was living in a small NH town. This was 1990. That’s 7 years before Ellen DeGeneres came out and 12 years before Rosie O-Donnell. By age 16, I had a full-blown eating disorder and was also using self-injury as a coping mechanism.

Over the next 10 years, I had a series of lesbian relationships, including a long-term year relationship with a married woman. She and I had a mock wedding ceremony and from then on, she introduced me as her “wife.” I lived with this couple for close to two and a half years. When my wife suggested I have sex with her husband, I did what she asked. I had never been with a man before. This began a cycle of abuse from her husband. I never said no. I was a guest in their home and if I said something, I would have to leave. Proverbs 27:7 states, “One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” The moments of love and acceptance I experienced with this woman somehow made the pain of the abuse tolerable. I didn’t know if I could live without her love.

My life spiraled out of control in many areas, not only in the area of my sexual identity, but also my eating disorder. Christians seemed to start coming out of nowhere to share about Jesus’ love. They never took it upon themselves to say that I should not be a lesbian. Like everyone else, I was a sinner in need of Jesus in my life. That was my primary need. My sexual behavior was only one of many indicators of my broken, sinful state.

One of these friends gave me a CD by a passionate Christian artist. His voice sang of a friend who was always there, a friend who would give everything for him. That friend is Jesus. And this was good news. In the midst of that song, I cried out to God saying, “I want what he has!” God, in His great mercy, honored my prayer on that day in January of 1999.

I asked hard questions, of myself and of God. Was it really even possible to break free of the chains that still held my life in so many ways, and give myself fully to my relationship with Jesus Christ? I knew homosexual behavior was a sin. I knew Jesus was more real than anything I had ever experienced. I was faced with a choice: continue to embrace the familiar, which was the gay identity I had lived for so long, or take a major risk and trust that Jesus would be and could be enough. I did what I knew I shouldn’t do: I entered into another lesbian relationship. After 3 months, the girl I was dating said, “Listen – you can’t be a Christian and be gay. The Bible says you must either be hot or cold – one or the other, but not lukewarm.” While quoting Scripture, she ended our relationship.

Soon after, I said, “Fine, God! I don’t want this. Please – take these desires away from me.” And in some ways, He did. While my desires for women lessened, the events and circumstances of my life that led me in the direction of lesbianism, an eating disorder and self-injury had not changed. I knew I needed more help and healing than just my prayer of surrender. Romans 12:2 says, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” I went to a Christian counselor who helped me transform the way I lived and the way I thought.

Still, besides my closest friends, I didn’t want anyone to know about my past. I mean, I had seen how Christians treated gay people on Oprah! They basically tarred and feathered them! I remember being at a campus ministry conference soon after I laid my sexuality at the cross. There was a couple there – the husband had come out of a gay past. I talked to his wife, giving me my first glimmer of hope that maybe there was another way. Maybe I didn’t have to be gay.

Fast forward through a lot of pain and hopelessness and wrestling with God, and God continually pursuing me and teaching me He is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. It was the summer of 2002. I had just gotten engaged to my now husband Roy. I kept in touch with that couple I had met at that conference. I wrote to them, wondering if there was a way I could give back. They connected me with a ministry in Boston, Alive in Christ. Alive in Christ reaches out to Christians impacted by SSA, and they needed a women’s leader.

I thought, God, this can’t be Your will! I just wanted to lick envelopes! Did God really want me to build a ministry around this part of myself I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak openly about? I prayed and once again, like I still try and do every day, surrendered myself and my agenda at the cross. 8 months later, I became the women’s leader, and 1 year and a half after that, in August of 2004, I became the director of Alive in Christ.

Since then – well, I no longer have any issues talking about my same-sex attraction. It was a slow progression over the past 12 years, but in those years, I’ve been in the Boston Globe, on TV news, in 2 award-winning documentaries, on the TV show Pure Passion, and now speak at conferences around the US.

By the grace of God, I am married and have 2 amazing sons and a sweet baby girl. Still, I want to be really clear about something. I minister in this way despite the fact that I still experience same-sex attraction. It’s to a much lesser degree. Whereas once my same-sex attraction was like a swarm of killer bees, now it’s more like the occasional fruit fly. Experiencing temptation is not sin – but acting on it would be. Jesus was tempted – but did not sin. If we expect ourselves to never experience temptation, then we expect to be more free than Jesus.

I can serve and give, even out of my weakness, because God is God, I am not, and He never asked me to be! 2 Corinthians 12:9 says His power is actually made perfect in our weakness, in those places where I still struggle and have to admit that truly, apart from Him, I can do nothing. Gal. 5 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Freedom is not defined by how I feel; it’s defined by what He did. Freedom is not even defined by the mistakes I still make or how good my behavior is or how free I’m feeling on a particular day; it’s defined by the new identity God has given to me, and the freedom I’m learning to walk in. I am freed to serve, even out of my weakness, simply because of what Jesus did on the cross.

********

Sharing my life with new folks reminds me of how very blessed I am – a husband I never thought I’d have, kids I never imagined I could be blessed with.

Truly grateful.

IMG_1473

Freedom Friday: Straining Toward Freedom

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The above verse caught my eye in church on Sunday (Philippians 3:13-14). “Straining toward what is ahead,” it says. Not strolling into it or waiting around for it to happen – but straining. I looked it up in the Greek, and it means exactly what it says:

to reach out towards, to stretch out further, to strain for

Sprinter Crossing the Finish Line

No one ever wins a race by taking it easy. It takes training, it takes effort, and it takes straining.

Yet this does not make us happy. We, like the Israelites, look back longingly at Egypt when things seemed easier. We don’t want to stretch ourselves to reach towards what God has for us. We’d rather it be handed to us.

Why do we expect freedom to come easily? According to our nature inherited from Adam, sin is what comes naturally to us. Even with the Holy Spirit living in us, guiding us into all truth, we need to learn to walk in the fullness of the freedom Jesus died to give us (written about in Freedom Step 5 of my book).

Though believers are no longer slaves to sin, we can continue to allow sin to enslave us. Whatever inclination we choose to obey will become our master (Romans 6:16).

This is why we, like the Israelites, must forget what is behind in order to walk in the fullness of the Promised Land God has for us.

This verse has been used by some to “prove” we are not meant to process and heal from our past. That’s not what Paul is saying here. One of the ways we shake off those things that hinder us is by allowing God into those places of wounding so He can set us free.

What Paul communicates here is that we are to press forward (“endeavor earnestly to acquire,” the Greek says) in order “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v.12).

“Life is not simply a pensive look back to the known, but a daring leap forward to the unknown.” Mary DeMuth

There are times for rest, and times for war. There are times for waiting, and times for straining.

What is God calling you to strain toward in this season?

Great Article: “The Pastor’s Wife Who Went Crazy”

This popped up on my Facebook feed this week: The Pastor’s Wife Who Went Crazy

I so appreciate her honesty in sharing her story of mental illness, suicidality, and self-injury. The world needs to hear what she has to say.

While I never really tried to take my life, I frequently toyed with where the line was. How many aspirin could I take and still function? How skinny could I be without dropping dead? How deep could I plunge the razor without doing permanent damage?

In 2008, I “came out” on Focus on the Family’s webzine as a cutter. It was definitely one of the most difficult articles I’ve written.

As I read Heather’s article, I knew I needed to take my confession a step further.

I then shared with my husband several incidents where I experienced what Heather Palacios, the author of the article, describes: epsiodes where it was almost as if I lost all control of myself, where I didn’t even feel as if I was inside my body any longer. I was a animal desperate to harm myself, desperate to numb the emotional pain I felt.

As  a high school student, I hit myself so hard and so many times with a meat tenderizer, I gave myself a horrible black eye. Just imagine the rage that is required to hit yourself over and over with a hammer, and you will get the picture. I lied at school that week, saying I tripped in a dark hall and hit my eye on a doorknob.

A few years later, I got into a fight with my married girlfriend. As I was leaving the house, I took the boot I was putting on and repeatedly hit myself in the eye/forehead with it. I don’t remember feeling pain. When my girlfriend realized what was happening, she ran over and gasped. In my frenzy, I didn’t notice that I had been hitting myself with the sharp corner of the boot’s heel. I was covered in blood.

There were other episodes, some less frenzied, some more calculated. While many of my scars have faded, I will forever wear on my body evidence of one of the last times I self-injured: a “W” carved into my thigh. “W” is for worthless. I was a Christian when I marked myself in that way.

All I can say to close is God is able. Seriously, guys. When I began to allow Him to, He poured His very life into me and birthed a new freedom inside of me. Just because He loves me.

He loves you, too. And He can do the same for you.

So that is my confession. Now go read Heather’s article. It’s important.

The photo was taken from this article at Christianity Today.

Freedom Friday: Does Jesus Accept You as You Are?

Imagine you’re at a bus stop.

Technically, it’s a free shuttle. The sign at the covered bus stop says that the free shuttle runs on this route.

You wait. You wait some more. Several buses come and go, but no free shuttles, and none of them end up at your needed destination.

Finally, you ask someone walking up the street if they know anything about the free shuttle.

“Yes, the free shuttle goes on this route and will take you right where you want to go. Just sit back; relax. This is the route for the free shuttle. Don’t worry.”

Relieved, you sit back in the shelter of the bus stop and wait. You check your email on your phone, text a few friends, check your Facebook. Soon, you realize another hour has passed.

iStock_000000351209XSmall

Just then, another bus comes, and someone gets off. “Please,” you say, “do you know when the free shuttle will be coming? I’ve been waiting a long time!”

“It’s Sunday,” the man replies. “The shuttle doesn’t run on weekends.”

***********

3 weeks ago, I wrote a post on what allows me to still wear my LIVESTRONG bracelet and to still listen to the song, “Healer.” What allows me to do that is grace.

This week, with some big news in the Christian media (which I’m not going to comment on :)), I kept hearing the phrase: “Jesus accepts people as they are.”

I hear this phrase a lot from my American Christian friends. I can’t say that in the past this phrase ever bothered me all that much. I can’t even say I really gave it much thought until those recent conversations.

Something about the way the phrase was used didn’t sit right with me. I started to wonder if this phrase actually accurately depicts the fullness of the Gospel.

We generally use this phrase as another way of saying, “We shouldn’t judge where people are. Jesus accepts people where they are and so should we.”

But what if that’s only telling people half the Gospel?

Mary Heathman, in speaking at a conference I recently attended, said, “Grace and truth are two sides of the same coin. They are not two different coins.” She went on to say that one without the other isn’t grace or truth; it’s pseudo-grace and pseudo-truth. Grace and truth, in essence, are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other.

I immediately think of John 1:14:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

What if “Jesus accepts you as you are” is just the grace part? Can we really have grace without truth if Jesus was the fullness of both?

Isn’t that sort of like telling someone that yes, the shuttle you’re waiting for does run this route, but not telling them the specifics of how to get on the bus?

Did Jesus accept the rich young ruler where He was? How about the woman caught in adultery?

Can you think of examples in Scripture where Jesus accepted someone who was stuck in sin where they were (grace) without calling them to something better (truth)?

Because I can’t.

This verse is the closest I can think of to the sentiment of “Jesus accepts you as you are” stated by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 11:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Sigh. We all give a big exhale when we read this verse. What a peaceful, embracing sentiment. Jesus continues:

Take my yoke upon you

Now hold up! That doesn’t sound very “come as you are”-ish! Exchange my weariness and burdened self for a yoke?

Yes.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Jesus’s yoke may be easy, but it’s still a yoke. His burden may be light, but it’s still a burden.

Perhaps this is why He implored the crowds listening to His teaching to count the cost before committing to being His follower:

 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Luke 14:28-33

The problem may very well be with our definition of the word “accept.” However we couch it, the thought that Jesus might accept or embrace us where we are is not necessarily reassuring.

Because I don’t want to stay here.

What we do know is that Jesus is always calling us to so much more than what we’ve experienced thus far. He calls us to abundance. Therein lies the hope of the Gospel: the promise of life-changing transformation.

For that, I’m all in.

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #8: “The Cross and the Switchblade” by David Wilkerson

I finished my 8th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson

This book was a little different because I actually listened to the audio version. As I mentioned before, Christianaudio.com has a free monthly download. All you have to do is sign up for their email newsletter, and they will let you know what the free download of the month is. You go to the site, enter your email, and it downloads. You can’t beat free!

I’ve also shared that I don’t think absorb as much from audio books as I do from actual hold-in-your-hands books. But since I’ve read this book at least 5 times already (though probably not in about 5 years), I was very excited to listen to it.

The audio version did not disappoint.

If you’re not familiar with David Wilkerson, he traveled to New York City in the late 1950’s to minister to teens in gangs and with heroin addiction. He eventually began a ministry that is known as Teen Challenge today. This book is the story of that ministry’s beginnings. Teen Challenge is now one of the most successful drug rehabilitation programs worldwide.

The story is so compelling (even the 6th time around) that I limited myself to only listening to it while exercising. I found myself cheering, pumping my fists, crying and praying, even though I would be running or on the elliptical. I won’t give away the whole book, but I will share one story.

David Wilkerson comes from several generations of preachers. His grandfather was a preacher, and so was his father. One day, his grandfather said to David, “The day you learn to be publically specific in your prayer, that is the day you will discover power.” He learned the power of this truth one day when he was about 12.

He came home from school to find several cars and an ambulance at his house. He knew it was his father. His father had duodenal ulcers, and for more than ten years he was not free of pain. David’s mother warned him on this day that his father would likely die. Just then, his father cried out in pain. As his mother ran into the room, David saw that the floor and bedclothes were covered in blood.

I’ll let the book pick up there:

Ignoring my grandfather’s words, I ran just as far away from everyone as I could. I ran down the basement stairs, shut myself up in the coal bin, and there I prayed, trying to substitute volume of voice for the belief that I lacked.

What I didn’t realize was that I was praying into a kind of loud-speaker system.

Our house was heated by hot air, and the great trumpetlike pipes branched out from the furnace, beside the coal bin, into every room of the house. My voice was carried up those pipes so that the men from the church, sitting in the living room, suddenly heard a fervent voice pouring out of the walls. The doctor upstairs heard it. My father, lying on his deathbed heard it.

“Bring David here,” he whispered.

So I was brought upstairs past the staring eyes of the elders and into my father’s room. Dad asked Dr. Brown to wait in the hall for a moment, then he told Mother to read aloud the 22nd verse of the 21st chapter of Matthew…

“And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer,” she read, “believing, ye shall receive.”

I felt a tremendous excitement. “Mother, can’t we take that for Dad now?”

So while my father lay limp on his bed, Mother began to read the same passage over and over again… And while she was reading I got up from my chair and walked over to Dad’s bed and laid my hands on his forehead.

“Jesus,” I prayed, “Jesus, I believe what You said. Make Daddy well!”

There was one more step. I walked to the door and opened and said, loud and clear: “Please come, Dr. Brown. I have…” (it was hard) “I have prayed believing that Daddy will get better.”

Dr. Brown looked down at my twelve-year old earnestness and smiled a warm and compassionate and totally unbelieving smile. But that smile turned first to puzzlement and then to astonishment as he bent to examine my father.

“Something has happened,” he said. His voice was so low I could hardly hear. Dr. Brown picked up his instruments with fingers that trembled, and tested Dad’s blood pressure. “Kenneth,” he said, raising Dad’s eyelids and then feeling his abdomen and then reading his blood pressure again. “Kenneth, how do you feel?”

“Like strength is flowing into me.”

“Kenneth,” said the doctor, “I have just witnessed a miracle.”

David Wilkerson went from being a “country preacher” from the hills of Pennsylvania to ministering through the power of the Holy Spirit to teens in New York City with strongholds he’d never even heard of. He was able to do this because God enabled him to.

If that doesn’t get you excited about what God is capable of, then you might not be alive!

Grab a copy of The Cross and the Switchblade. Your local library might have it. And prepare to be changed!

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Freedom Friday: Why I Still Wear my LIVESTRONG Bracelet and Listen to the Song “Healer”

My dad gave me a LIVESTRONG bracelet to wear as I ran my 2nd 5K in 2008.

I had raised over $1000 for cancer research and was super excited to run. This was my first race to run for those who can’t run themselves. I’ve worn it for every race since.

My dad had been wearing one for a long time and supported the LIVESTRONG foundation in other ways. He identified with Lance Armstrong’s own battle with cancer and his decision to live life to the fullest as long as he is able.

Lance Armstrong admitted to doping shortly after my father died of cancer.

I still wear my LIVESTRONG bracelet.

Running the Baltimore Marathon in Oct. 2013, LIVESTRONG bracelet on

Running the Baltimore Marathon in Oct. 2013, LIVESTRONG bracelet on

*********************

Michael Guglielmucci composed the song “Healer” in late 2006 after announcing he was dying of cancer. This song was a popular choice at the church we attended in Boston prior to moving to Virginia. I cried through many choruses, declaring, “I believe You’re my healer, I believe You are all I need,” all the while recognizing that God didn’t appear to be healing my father. I sang with passion, “You walk with me through fire; You heal all my disease. I trust in You – I trust in You,” knowing that trust is a choice to believe in God’s character, to rely on His goodness, to ask for His eyes to see clearly when nothing seems to be making sense.

At some point in the last year, I was told about the history of the song which had surfaced in 2008. Michael Guglielmucci had faked his illness, an attempt to create a diversion from a 16-year battle with pornography addiction.

I still sing the song “Healer.”

*************

We often lack true grace in our society. I’m not talking about sloppy or cheap grace – the counterfeit that allows us to continue in our sin when God beckons us to live in freedom.

I’m talking about real grace.

The kind of grace that Jesus extended to the woman caught in adultery, recounted in John 8 – grace that extends a hand when you’re down, helps you up, and then commands you to “Go and sin no more.”

The kind of grace that Jesus talked about when He said to forgive “seventy times seven” times.

The kind of grace that hung from a cross so that we could have a chance at the abundant life of freedom we were created to live.

How many second chances has Jesus given you?

What about third? Fourth? Fifth? One hundredth?

We need to learn about true grace. We want justice; we don’t want to forgive. We laugh at others’ failures in hopes that somehow, it shows us in a better light. We try to negotiate when forgiveness is appropriate, as if Jesus’s words weren’t clear. We don’t extend to others the grace we expect for ourselves.

I wear my LIVESTRONG bracelet (I don’t wear the original one my dad give me; I now wear his) as a reminder to live a life of goodness, one of my father’s aspirations. I wear it, reminded of a man named Lance Armstrong who had imperfections, but chose to do much good with the influence he had gained. Yes, he made some big mistakes and then he lied about them. Is that unforgivable? I wear this bracelet so that I remember to not lose heart when life gets hard. I wear it as a reminder that nothing is impossible with God.

I sing the song “Healer” because Michael Guglielmucci knew God could heal him of his pornography addiction. He knew it so deeply in his soul that he wrote a song about it. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know I don’t believe God heals us in a bubble (James 5:16), that healing generally happens in the context of community. I pray now he has found the healing he needs. I sing the song because the words aren’t any less true just because Michael Guglielmucci was lying about having cancer when he wrote that song; the truth contained in the song has not changed because the writer’s lies were exposed. I sing “Healer” because I desperately believe in its sentiment.

For nothing is impossible for You
Nothing is impossible
Nothing is impossible for You
You hold my world in Your hands

Extend grace to someone this week, even if they don’t deserve it. Especially if they don’t deserve it. That is what the cross did for you and me. Forgive someone. Ask God to search your heart and show you your own graceless attitudes.

Lord, help us to be more like You.

 

Freedom Friday: What One Reader Thinks of “Learning to Walk in Freedom”

If you’ve ever wondered how God can use challenging situations to His glory, here is one example.

You may remember the woman with bulimia who I met in Whole Foods 2 months ago. After I wrote that blog post, I just “happened” to get an email from Constance Rhodes, the author of Life Inside the Thin Cage: A Personal Look into the Hidden World of the Chronic Dieter. It was a mass email as I am on the list for the organization she leads, FINDINGbalance. She and I have chatted a couple of times before over the last – oh, probably 8+ years since I saw her speak at SoulFest, but I really don’t think she’d remember me. I had written the blog post by that point, and I sent that to her in an email along with a handful of questions.

She replied to my surprise and asked if I’d be interested in guest posting at the FINDINGbalance blog. My answer was a resounding yes! That post is here.

Through this opportunity, I met the blog moderator, Abby Kelly. We are becoming quick friends 🙂 In fact, I will appear on her blog sometime in the near future (when I get my act together – ahem!).

LTWIF.front.cover

She sent me her review of Learning to Walk in Freedom this week. Wow, she is generous with her words. If you’re wondering if this book can help someone without same-sex attraction, here is your answer.

I first read Brenna Kate Simonds in a brief blog post that she shared with FINDINGBalance. As the editor of that ministry’s blog I approach most submissions with a critical eye. I usually find a sentence or two to prune and sometimes the story just doesn’t address our audience. However, when I read Brenna’s story, I knew it was not only well written and would appeal to any audience, but that it would speak to, and change, anyone who was blessed to read it.

Immediately, I headed over to Brenna’s website, Living Unveiled. I had to read more from this bold and beautiful woman, a woman who unashamedly writes from her pain, and bravely pours life into the secret wounds of strangers. It was there I discovered her book.

Learning to Walk in Freedom: A Journey in Five Steps, is the culmination, for now, of Brenna’s ministry to any who feel bound by sin, failure, defeat, loneliness and fear. I say culmination, because to produce a book this deep is a monstrous effort of faith and energy, but Brenna is only on the cusp of what God intends to do for and through her.

I picked up, Learning to Walk in Freedom, as one now walking in freedom after 15 years of bondage to anorexia. I felt camaraderie with Brenna from the very start as she tells her story of battling an eating disorder. But almost anyone will find common ground with the author, who also shares of struggling with same sex attraction, emotional dependency, self-injury and chronic low self-esteem.

With empathy, Brenna lays open her own wounds and tells of the healing Jesus Christ gave her—how through Him she learned to walk in freedom. Then, employing an almost simplistic strategy she walks her reader through five steps leading them straight to the throne of grace.

Now lest you fear that this is a preachy book, written only with the holier-than-thou, assured-of-their-salvation, from the preface, Brenna invites everyone to join her on this journey. She writes:

‘You may not be sure you really know God, or you may be quite confident that you don’t. You may not be sure that you want to know Him anymore. Perhaps you have experienced a measure of freedom, have long since moved past that “gasping for air” feeling, but still dream and hope, as I did, for more than this. This book is for you all.’

Brenna doesn’t abandon her readers after a careful explanation of the five steps to walking in freedom. Instead, she grips their hand a little tighter, tugs again and says, “Let’s make this personal.”

For each of the five steps, Brenna compiles all of the Scripture references used in the book. Then, she asks pointed, inductive questions to help the reader, “feel the ground beneath their feet”, as they take each step.

Lastly, Brenna shares her testimony in full detail. I love that she saved the gritty intricacies of her story until the end. Such humility. She gives her readers enough to identify with her and feel safe as they follow her through the steps toward freedom. But she doesn’t offer up her story of courageous recovery until the very end. Throughout the book, the focus remains on the reader and on the work that God can do, will do and is doing in their own lives.

You will be hearing more from Abby here as well when I interview for the release of her book. Thanks, Abby, for reading Learning to Walk in Freedom and for your generous review!