Monday Morning Meditation: Remember the 523

Did anyone watch the Patriots vs. Broncos game last night?

Don’t worry; this post won’t be all about football. I try to limit my sports analogies 🙂 Especially since I don’t watch much sports!

That said, I grew up watching A TON on football. My dad played football in high school; as the kicker, his nickname was “The Toe.”

I couldn’t help but think of my dad when Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point (also called PAT: point after touchdown) in Sunday’s game.

In the moment, I didn’t think much of it. The Broncos were playing a fantastic game. But as time went on and the Patriots scored more points, I found myself wishing the score of the game would not be so close.

Because I knew how badly Gostkowski would feel.

Toward the end of the game, I did a little Googling. I found out that last night’s missed PAT ended Stephen Gostkowski’s NFL record of earning 523 consecutive extra points. The next closest record holder is 100 points behind him.

523.

523 times in a row, Gostkowski kicked the ball and scored a PAT.

But right now, he’s not thinking about the fact that he has to be one of the best of the best to even be in the playoffs.

He’s not thinking about his 10-year streak of scoring PAT’s: 523 of them in a row.

He’s not thinking about how it takes a team to win or lose a game.

He’s thinking about one miss, one loss, one misstep.

From sports.yahoo.com: Stephen Gostkowski reacts after missing an extra point .

From sports.yahoo.com: Stephen Gostkowski reacts after missing an extra point .

But right now, less than a day after the Patriots lost the game, Stephen Gostkowski blames himself.

Perhaps you had a rough weekend. You made a mistake, a poor choice, or maybe a lot of poor choices. You are dragging your feet, walking into Monday, because you feel like a failure.

My advice to you is this (and to Gostkowski 🙂 ): remember the 523.

Remember all the victories, remember all the good choices, remember all the times God carried you through. Celebrate those rather than dwelling on any failures. Ask God to forgive you, ask Him to empower you to choose well next time, and move on.

There is life after a loss. God is still able.

Remember the 523.

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 🙂

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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.

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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.

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Freedom Friday: Light & Momentary

As I write this, I am still pregnant.

I was supposed to have a September baby, but here we are, creeping into October. I wrestle with the odds stacked against me in having the birth I want. I went to bed last night, thinking about all the challenges. I won’t list them, but they are many.

BK_duedate

40 weeks pregnant

I woke up quite early today, before the sun came up. I lit a candle because I didn’t feel like turning on a light. I wanted to see the sun come up. I prayed, centering myself around God’s truth found in His Word. I got on my knees to pray (no small feat these days!). And the following verses came to mind:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

This is one of my earliest memory verses. When Jesus called me by name, I faced some difficult obstacles. I wrestled deeply with depression and anxiety. My default setting sent me into despair and hopelessness on a regular basis. I memorized a number of Scriptures to help continually turn my heart and my mind back to Jesus, what He had done for me, and the truth that He would continue to work in my life.

These particular verses were so much a part of my every day that Roy, my then boyfriend, and I would say to each other at trying moments, “Light & momentary, babe. Light & momentary.”

Whatever challenges you are facing today might feel monstrous. They seem insurmountable. But in God’s perspective, they are light & momentary.

Let that soak in for a second. Think about how much of your brain space those worries are consuming. Now think of something you have to deal with today that is light & momentary. Can you change your thinking to also view your challenges the way you’d consider what sandwich to pick for lunch?

The apostle Paul goes on to talk about how our souls groan to be in our heavenly dwelling, “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” But we are not there yet. And so how  do we keep this perspective? In this “meantime” in which we live, how do we remind ourselves that the trials we face are light & momentary?

We fix our eyes on what is unseen.

We have a tendency to stare deeply into our struggles, as if by analyzing them over and over, we will find answers. Psalm 25:15 says, “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” Notice it doesn’t say, “My eyes are ever on the snare, because only then can I figure out what to do.” That would be fixing our eyes on what is seen. That’s the opposite of what we are to do. Paul says, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5:6-7.

We walk and live in light of faith and what we know to be true, based on what God has spoken through His Word, rather than what we see. Our perspective is so limited. And we all have a filter through which we view life that is often damaged by our past experiences. We have to continually refocus our gaze onto the things of God.

So when those trials threaten to consume you, keep turning them over to God, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7. Fix your eyes on the One who is able to lead you out of those trials instead. Do this over and over. It takes practice and perseverance to make this a habit, to change that default setting.

God is able.

Lord, today, the obstacles I see threaten to overwhelm me. But instead of staring at them, I choose to adjust my gaze. I choose to look deeply into Your Truth rather than the apparent “truth” of my circumstances. I choose to remind myself of the “light & momentary”-ness of what I am facing, and ponder instead the great work You are doing in me as I take my eyes off the snare. Thank You that You are able when I am not. 

Merry Christmas! Download “Learning to Walk in Freedom” For Free on Christmas Day!

Tomorrow, for Christmas Day only, I am offering Learning to Walk in Freedom for free!

LTWIFreedom Christmas

If you or a friend receive a Kindle for Christmas, download away! If you have an iPhone or iPad, there is an app that lets you read books for Kindle. That’s what I use.

If you already downloaded Learning to Walk in Freedom, why not grab some other resources to help you start the year strong? Here are some of the resources I reference in Learning to Walk in Freedom.

 Relational Masks by friend and mentor Russell Willingham talks about more about the concept of core beliefs and how these false beliefs impact our relationship with God and with each other. He wrote another great book entitled Breaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus.

 Think Differently, Live Differently by friend Bob Hamp addresses how the way we think impacts our choices and the truth we live out of.


The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg is an easy but challenging read with a new take on spiritual disciplines. Learn how to work spiritual disciplines into your everyday life.

And then some personal favorites, also referenced in Learning to Walk in Freedom:
Healing Is a Choice: 10 Decisions That Will Transform Your Life and 10 Lies That Can Prevent You From Making Them by Steve Arterburn. There is an accompanying workbook.

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives with Bonus Content by Richard Swenson.

Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God by Gary Thomas – finding your spiritual temperament with its traits, strengths, and pitfalls.

Enjoy! And spread the word 🙂

Freedom Friday: Avoiding Moral Failure

This is a topic that has been brewing in my mind for a while. This is due in part to things I’ve been reading in the Bible (Isaiah, Acts & James right now, with a little of Hezekiah’s story mixed in), assignments I’ve been working on for grad school (a big essay on plagiarism), and partly because of life events I see occurring around me.

I also just needed to write this for me. It’s a timely reminder that we don’t just “fall into” sin. We will sin. Otherwise, we’d be perfect like Jesus 🙂 But there is a difference in the way various sins impact your faith and your life. I may lose my temper with my spouse today, and that may break trust a little momentarily (especially if it’s a pattern of mine), but if I were to have an affair, that changes our relationship in a different way.  All sin may be equal in the eyes of God (in the sense that there aren’t particular sins that are more difficult for Him to forgive or required Him to hang from the cross longer), but some sins are inherently different because of the way they impact our lives.

There are things we can do to actively avoid finding ourselves in major situations of compromise. Here are some suggestions.

1. Be watchful over your thoughts
Your thoughts matter. Proverbs 23:7 says “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

In the article 5 Lies that Lead to an Affair, author Julie Ferwerda shares her experiences about how she ended up choosing to have an affair. She writes, “Few people fall into adultery overnight. As with other ‘big’ sins, having an affair is usually the result of a series of small compromises in our thoughts, choices, and behaviors.” And the place it began for her was in her thoughts.

It begins with a thought, a temptation. Temptation isn’t sin, as I’ve written before. It’s our choice to nurture that temptation that can become sin, rather than choosing to lay it before the Lord.

One of the Freedom Steps is Think Like a Free Person. I share there how God commands us to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. The battle of freedom is a battle that begins in our minds.  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV1984)

Be watchful over your thoughts.

2. Be honest with your intentions
James says that we have “evil desires at war within you” James 4:1 (NLT). Believers are not immune from this. James writes earlier in his letter, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15 (NIV1984)We need to dig deep inside of ourselves and pray that God would help us be honest about our intentions in every challenging situation.Toward the end of 1999, I had been a Christian less than a year when I met a girl who had been raised in a Christian home but whose family had walked away from God. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could do that, and I desperately wanted to help her. I do believe that initially, my intentions were pure; however, my resolve for purity quickly faded, and we entered into a physical relationship.

Jeremiah writes (17:9 NLT), “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

I wanted this woman to know Jesus, but I was still deeply broken beyond my own understanding. This is why I wrote Who’s Got Your Back? The disciples went out two by two for a reason. This is why we need community, to lay ourselves as honestly as we can before others, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13), including truth about ourselves.

Be honest with your intentions.

3. Be upfront about your actions
I don’t like the phrase we often use in Christianity to describe our sinful actions. We say we “had a fall” or we “stumbled.” To me, those phrases do not take responsibility for the choices and compromises that led to that “fall.” It’s not as if we are walking down a path and all of a sudden, sin jumps out and grabs us! No. That’s in direct contradiction to the end of 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT): “When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

In the relationship mentioned above, I didn’t simply “fall” into it. I made a series of questionable choices (not all of them sinful) that ultimately led to grave sin. This is why we need to, once again, stay connected to believers, honestly sharing about our choices and actions, and even the things we are thinking of doing.

Be upfront about your actions.

4. Be desperate for the Lord
God is able. Really. He is able. He is strong enough, He is big enough, He is loving enough. He is enough. Say it with me: He is enough.
So often we live our lives, making our plans, living as we wish (and not even in a sinful way, necessarily), inviting God in occasionally. We simply forget to include God in every decision, every thought, every actions.

We need to cling to God as if our lives depended on it – because they do. “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus said (John 15:5).

Later in James 4:4b-5 (NLT), James writes, for emphasis, “I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful? He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires.”

Sin is crouching at our doors, always (Gen. 4:7). Through God’s strength and power, we can subdue it and be its master.

“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be dismayed. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will triumph.” Isaiah 50:7

Satan deceives; that’s his nature. Sin is always crouching at the door, desirous of us. Yet we can receive God’s help, determine to do His will, and know we will triumph.

Lord, help us.

Freedom Friday: What is Abundant Life?

Today, we are continuing the Jesus series as part of Freedom Friday.

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

What is abundant life?  What exactly did Jesus come to give us?

Abundant life is not free of pain or trials or heartache. Instead, it’s full of perspective.

Perspective.

How do you view your life? How do you view the challenges that you face?

As I began typing this, I immediately thought of Wosne.  I read her story recently in this blog post.  When her husband and the father of her 4 children died suddenly, she had no way to support herself or her family.  She wished God would end her life.

Let’s stop at that point in the story.

I have never been in this woman’s shoes, not even remotely, though I’ve certainly had situations where I wished God would just come and take me home.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy……

But God had other plans.

Two of her children were able to get sponsors through World Vision.  She was able to buy chickens and make a living by selling the eggs.  She bought more chickens, and then a cow, selling its milk. She eventually was able to purchase a modest four-room house for herself and her children: dirt walls with a tin roof.

The post describes Wosne this way:

The day we met Wosne she was radiant. Her children encircled her and quietly sat as we spoke through an interpreter. She shared her story of hardship yet beamed as she recounted God’s provision for her family. 

She had become so prosperous, in fact, she had adopted two other children in the village. She even had a couple of pieces of used furniture and electricity—a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. 

By our standards, she was still living in abject poverty. By the standards of her village, however, she was one of its wealthiest citizens.

A typical Ethiopian village

She was asked:

“Wosne, if you could have anything else, what would it be? How can we help you?” Her answer stunned us. 

“Nothing,” she declared. “Nothing at all. I have everything I need. I am the happiest woman in the world.” And she meant it.

Perspective.

When I started writing this post a month or so ago, I thought I’d write that abundant life is bountiful joy and overflowing peace and lavish love.  And it does bring all those things, if we keep a godly perspective.

Following Jesus is so much about how we choose to look at things.  Do we choose to look at our lives through His eyes, through the truth of His Word?

What frames your perspective?

There are many, many posts here about the way we think.  Here are a few to help you flesh out what I’m saying.

Think Like a Free Person, part 1 & part 2
Resources for the Journey