The Darkness and the Dawn

It’s been over a year and a half since I last published a blog post about my dad’s battle with Parkinson’s. It’s been a hard year and half; that’s for sure.

I pretty much slept through 2017, the full year I didn’t write a post about this journey. Most of the year is a haze for me, though I still managed to get most of the way through a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan and publish a really gorgeous book somewhere in the middle of it.

My last post hinted at this idea that my dad wasn’t sleeping through the night, that it was wearing down my mom and me. That post was merely the tipping point of a more-than-year-long fight in which the not-actually-a-sleeping-aid meds that dad’s doctors prescribed actually counter-acted the Parkinson’s meds, keeping him (and us) up at all hours of the day and night, him screaming for the shaking to stop and us screaming back for just one moment of peace and quiet…for over a year.

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They say you can never get back the sleep you missed… If I wasn’t at work, I was in bed. Somewhere along the way, after expending everything I had finishing The Rainbow Moment, I lost my voice. You lose a lot when you lose that much sleep, but this one thing in particular left me in a really deep fog of confusion, almost drowning in depression and anxiety. I just felt so  L O S T  without writing, even when I had no energy to do it. I’ve been spending the last few months finding that voice again, only it’s still hard to pay attention to what I’m writing long enough to actually get it finished.

I think that’s where dad is right now. He wants to be working, or at least doing something, but he doesn’t really have the energy to do much. He’s 72 and retired, but it’s not because he wants to be. The heat and humidity of a Georgia summer is no help, either. Most days, it’s all he can do to keep himself standing upright; the tremors in his legs make it hard for him to put one foot in front of the other. It’s almost too hard for him to get from the house to the car, then from the car to the church, and back. He makes it work, though; it just takes a while.

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There’s a part of me I recently realized I got from my dad… It’s this stubborn, I-can-do-it attitude where we refuse to ask people for help. Whatever we’re battling might be easier if we were to do it with someone else, but it’s almost like we have to prove we are capable of doing something, or our self-worth takes a hit. Parkinson’s sometimes makes it so dad can’t even sit straight in his chair, and he absolutely hates it.

Honestly? Though I wish dad would stop trying to do things he really can’t anymore, it’s better watching him fight tooth-and-nail to bend over and pick up a clump of dog hair off the floor than it is to watch him give up. It’s the moments he stops fighting that hurt the worst.

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I’ve never held back when I share in this space, but after spending so much time with dad, it’s become scary for me to be open and vulnerable, even though I know the people around me have no condemnation…and even though I know that what I share here helps other people.

The truth about this past year and a half is that I’ve lost friendships because I was too exhausted to be the person putting in the work. I sowed a lot into friendships along the years, serving and giving it all I had, but there are less than a handful of those friendships left. That’s a lot of loss, on top of watching the loss of my father play out over almost a decade so far. The truth is that sometimes, the losing…of friends, of sleep, of everything, it seems…becomes a burden too great to bear. Gratefully, some friends started fighting for me, and they listen and help me bear those burdens.

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The truth about this whole journey altogether is that people never know what to say; they never know how to approach me now, and they just…don’t. I’ve always struggled with abandonment/acceptance from people, but the reality of just how many people I thought were friends, who have given up relationship with me because I didn’t have it in me to be the one reaching out, well, it’s more than I can count, and that hurt has been overwhelming at times.

Learning how to live with a grace for my dad has helped me learn how to walk in grace for myself. Panic attacks and an apathy I couldn’t seem to shake were overwhelming earlier this year, and any task seemed all too much to handle. You know what? While I was in that period of my life, it became okay for me to just make it through the day…and that was an okay thing.

It was okay that I sometimes spent days watching Netflix because I was simply too sad or stressed to do anything else. It’s even more okay because I’m not staying there. I figured out that spending an hour or two painting in my smashbook leaves me feeling more at ease, and I do that more often now. I am getting better and getting more done. I’m still chasing my dreams, and just because the chase is somewhat slow and behind the scenes right now doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

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Even after all this time, there are still people praying for my dad’s complete healing, and that blows me away. After so many years of struggling and watching the struggle get worse and worse, there are still people who care enough to have faith for our family when we just can’t.

Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s while I was living at GGC, and I was gone for the first few years of it. It’s always easier for me to remember the closer past than prior years, so it’s almost as though the only Richie Lynch I know is the one with Parkinson’s. It’s hard for me to see him standing tall and strong, as the guys who’ve been in our church as long as we have remember him.

It’s good for me to see pictures that remind me of the person he used to be before the frustration and onset of tremors and weakness:

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You have no idea how grateful I am for these photos.

Dad goes into a home soon-ish, and I know this is but the next chapter of the disease he is fighting with every last breath he has.

People keep asking me if I’m okay with him going into a home, and I honestly am…as long as he doesn’t give up. Giving his care to people who can handle it better than we can doesn’t scare me. As I said before, the rare times he has given up have scared me… They have shaken me to my very core.

Mom tried to get him placed into a 1-on-1 home, but do you know what dad’s doctor said? It’s too much for one person to handle.

But my mom can do it on her own. She has been for so long. Please go out of your way to give her a big, squishy hug the next time you see her. She deserves it.

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I am proud to have a daddy who never gives up, who wants to fight to provide for us. I am proud that I’m becoming a fighter like him.

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I’m Officially on Patreon!

Good afternoon, everyone!

I’d like to take a moment to chat with you about Patreon, an online subscription service I’ve recently become part of.

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Do you know how people subscribe to magazines or services like ArtSnacks, Graze boxes, and other fun things? That’s what this is – only with my poetry and other goodies!

Patreon has different tiers (levels) of how much you want to subscribe to per month, with artist-created “rewards” you get for each one; mine range from $1 to a whopping $500! Depending on which tier you subscribe to, you get access to exclusive poetry that will never be posted elsewhere, LIVE Q-and-A sessions, and even in-person meet-and-greets! How exciting is that!?

patreonOne of my favorite rewards is a custom-made acrostic poem like the one below, placed in the $25 per month tier. All you need to do is fill out a short questionnaire I will send you, and we’re golden!

Here’s an example of my acrostic abilities:

MY PATRONS ROCK!!!

My heart is exploding! I hope you know
Your support means the world to me! Every

Penny counts in this
Artist’s world, more so
Than all the diamonds this world has to offer.
Real fans are few and far between; I am
Overjoyed to have you all. May I
Never forget the sacrifices you make to
Subscribe here and support my art. You guys are

Rockstars to the very end!
Our strength in numbers will
Conquer this earth in the name of art, with a
Kaleidoscope shower of peace, love, and joy.

I am truly excited to be on Patreon, and I know this is only the beginning ( 😉 ) of another grand adventure. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

If you like what you see or are interested in joining my Patreon subscribers, check out my page here. Even if you only subscribe to $1 a month, it counts, and I am so grateful for you and your support. ❤

the princess who saved herself

lovelace coverIn honor of Amanda Lovelace‘s release of her next volume of poetry WITHIN THE WEEK!!!, I’ve decided to write a review of her first volume: the princess saves herself in this one.

First things first: I read this entire volume of poetry in one day. That is unheard of! That is a testament to Lovelace’s ability to connect with her reader. I rarely have that sort of attention span, but Lovelace’s journey from pain to freedom is captivating. It’s also inspiring – if she can make it through all that heartbreak and still find love, maybe I can, too.

What I love the most about this book is Lovelace’s openness, her ability and willingness to bring the reader alongside her through her struggle and inevitable victory. From princess, to damsel, to Queen, this is an absolutely beautiful tale.

This book made me cry: sad tears and happy tears, both of them healing tears… Her grief is tangible, and her discovery of love is subtle, yet it changes the atmosphere of the book slowly and surely. Lovelace’s story of healing makes way for healing in her readers, and I think we all need that. If she can find the power to overcome all that and still look for love in the smallest places… If she can build an empire of love inside her self that had been so full of heartbreak, WHY CAN’T I? This queen assures me I can.

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a few of my faves

This volume of poetry is filled with a lot of emotions, ranging from deep, gut-wrenching grief to the most wonderful, whimsical, yet heartfelt love imaginable. Rediscovering love and wonder after the amount of loss portrayed in this book is a long and hard journey, and I am grateful to have a window to the one Amanda Lovelace survived through, and to see she is now thriving. I am grateful to know I can make it there one day, myself.

One thing I should say, that has been pointed out to me more than once, is that if you are a stickler for grammar, this might honestly not be your cup of tea – and that’s okay. There isn’t much capitalization in this book, and this sort of free verse can tend to be a bit confusing at times. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy it. I like it when sentences are broken up between lines in poetry; that way, you know what parts of the sentence get emphasis and which are less important. It enhances the reading of the poetry, knowing more precisely what the poet wants to say.

That being said, I left this book feeling 110%, like a queen myself, and that’s the way it should be with books, poetry most of all.

Thank you, Amanda Lovelace, for this drop-dead gorgeous volume of poetry.

+ 95,000 smile points

2018: My Fight Song

2017 was a weird year. I slept through a lot of it, honestly. My dad’s Parkinson’s reached the point where he doesn’t sleep through the night without the aid of sleeping medication, which we didn’t get until the end of it, and my family spent the grand total of a year and three months repetitively not getting enough sleep at night – every night.

After I published The Rainbow Moment, I crashed really hard (I published a book, y’all, so the year wasn’t such a loss after all, right? Didn’t sell much, but I did it.). It had been about eight months of not sleeping enough at that point, and although I wanted to plan a launch for the book and start marketing, I just couldn’t.

Some people say they use lack of sleep as a form of torture. I believe it.

Yet somewhere along the line of sleepless nights and exhausted, nap-, migraine-, and tear-filled days, I became myself. I found my identity rooted in Christ and began standing firm in my faith…the true, gorgeous message you’ll find inside the Bible and not necessarily a sermon. (I learned I’m lucky to live and breathe inside a church that preaches and activates biblical teaching every week.)

In the middle of the blur, there were beautiful, soul-changing moments. Amidst the ashes of all the crashes, I found within myself a fighting spirit that lights my days with renewed vigor and deep yearning not to let anyone leave this earth without knowing God’s love for them and what Jesus’ sacrifice really did for us. This fight is sometimes dulled by my sleepiness, but it’s there, brewing like a righteous storm just below the surface.

But that year, that struggle, is now in the past, and I would much rather spend time on the here and now, this year. With sleeping meds that actually work for my dad, I’ve had a bit of a resurrection, and 2018 is looking quite bright. Dreams I’ve held in deep reserve are boiling to the surface ever more quickly, and things are falling into place every single day to make them reality.

I am excited to announce that my song for 2018 is “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.

 

‘This is my fight song, take back my life song, prove I’m alright song.”

This year, I am back and better than ever.

I am proving to myself that all the lies whispered into my ear are just that: Lies to be ignored and dropped like hot potatoes.

I am proving the value of dropping those lies one-by-one. I know my worth is not congruent to my production.

I am proving those liars wrong. My worth is so much more than they ever could have foreseen, and they are about to learn what they lost when they decided I wasn’t worth their time.

“Like a small boat on the ocean sending big waves into motion, like how a single word can make a heart open, I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion.”

I posted on Instagram at the top of this year: “I’ve got books to read. I’ve got books to write. I’ve got a voice I need to learn to control and begin using. I’ve got emotions to learn to live with and not bury. I’ve got businesses to launch – yes, plural.”

I meant that when said it. I’ve got businesses to launch this year…both of them ministries that are going to change the lives of creative people in our area. Because we’ve got hearts here that are hurting, hearts I’m here to help Jesus change, and the only way that’s going to happen is if I step out and do this. If I don’t do it now, I’m not sure I ever will.

“My power’s turned on. Starting right now, I’ll be strong.”

2017 was a year that happened to me; this year, I am going to happen to 2018.

“And I don’t really care if nobody else believes ’cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.”

The Prophecies Fulfilled – Prisons Series #4

So we’ve talked about the depth and the breadth of God’s love, and we know God keeps His promises. This week, the week of Christmas, I will answer the question of how Jesus fits into this freedom puzzle.

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In the second post of the series, I wrote about how a lot of Isaiah’s prophecies were about Jesus. A lot of these prophecies were encouraging to the people of Israel; they spoke about a new era of freedom, a day of vengeance against their enemies, a day they would win a victory the bad guys couldn’t take away. In some ways, they sound a lot like battle songs.

These prophecies include a lot of vivid imagery. Isaiah painted some really beautiful pictures so that the Israelites had something they could see in their minds and believe in. This imagery made it easier for God’s people to trust in them.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
To grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

Isaiah 61:1-4 (ESV)

Favor and vengeance go hand-in-hand in verse two, along with comfort to those who are in mourning. What a distinct difference. I think, in this passage, God did not mean vengeance against the peoples of earth but against the sorrow within it. His agenda in this prophecy is to declare war, not on an “evil” person, but on evil itself.

How does He do that? With love, of course. It is who He is, after all.

God declares war on evil, not with swords or guns, but with tender, loving care, by placing crowns on the heads of the poor and by building up ruins and replacing shattered dreams with new life.

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By the time Jesus actually arrived on this planet, the Israelites had suffered 70 years of slavery in Babylon and exile in other surrounding areas, and while they were allowed to return to their land, they still lacked their own king. Even more, for the 500 years or so before Jesus was born, God was completely silent; there were no prophets to speak to the Israelites on God’s behalf. At this point, they were not expecting a baby in a manger, a child who would become a carpenter for the majority of his adult life. They were expecting a warlord who would lead them into battle and righteous victory over each of their enemies, as King David had.

They were not looking for a man who lived his life guided by love and compassion for others before anything else. Raised on stories about the God who sent plagues that destroyed Egypt just to free them from slavery, their expectations of the Messiah prophesied about in Isaiah became corrupted. Their hope was in the God who destroyed their adversaries, God incarnate who was indestructible and would not lose a single battle, stomping every single enemy to the ground.

But God knew better. He knew something different was needed. After the way the animal sacrifices failed to cover the sins of His people, and even before He created Adam, He knew there would need to be a better answer, one that would end humanity’s striving for perfection and inevitably falling short each and every time.

Enter stage left: Jesus.

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Instead of a militant champion, the Israelites received God in the form of a human, who lived three decades as a normal human being in a normal human life. That, followed by Jesus’ healing and deliverance ministry, led solely out of compassion for the people in His vicinity, was enough to make the Pharisees seethe with hatred. They didn’t get the five-star general they wanted; they got what their thirsty souls needed: a shepherd who would guide their perfection-hardened souls home.

As it turns out, Jesus actually read the passage I posted above in the synagogue one day:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to [Jesus]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:17-21 (ESV)

Wow. I need a moment to let that sink in.

I kind of love that Jesus stopped right before the part about vengeance. It’s almost as though He didn’t want the people listening to focus on that singular aspect of the passage. There is so much kindness in the verse Jesus chose to read, so much compassion and generosity. These characteristics are defining traits of who God is, and I love that they are showcased in the one passage Jesus chose to read out of the entire book of Isaiah. Jesus knew His mission in life was to provide that Good News I wrote about last week, and He made sure to lead His sheep home well, in everything He said and did.

Jesus followed every letter of the Law until the day He died…but then He beat death itself and came back to life, and those rules that bound us to unattainable perfection lost their power. We should still follow the Law, but we can rest soundly, knowing that Jesus paid our debt. He carries our burdens for us. We can stop striving for perfection; stop trying so hard to be what we can never be. In Jesus’ name, through His life, we are free to be who we are and to know that identity deeply, truly, and fully.

Our freedom rests on Jesus’ shoulders alone, and what strong, sound shoulders they are to carry us home.

God Keeps His Promises – Prisons Series #3

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been delving into the meaning behind God’s love and the depth thereof. This week, I’ll show you how God keeps His promises.

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Now, we all know that famous verse in Jeremiah, chapter 29 verse 11, but the greater context of this book of the Bible enhances the beauty of that verse 100-fold. Jeremiah was called “The Weeping Prophet” for good reason; he foretold of Israel’s induction into slavery in Babylon and that the people of Israel would be strewn across the earth, even outside the area of the Middle East. All the other prophets of that time lied and told the Israelites what they wanted to hear; Jeremiah was the only one who stood up for what God truly wanted to tell His people, and he withstood a lot of persecution because of it.

But the thing is, Jeremiah didn’t just tell of how God was turning His back toward Israel; he followed it up with how God was going to bring them back, each and every person who was thrown into slavery or exile, no matter how far away they found themselves.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”

Jeremiah 29:10-14 (ESV)

The Promise here is oh, so sweet. God promised that the Israelites would find Him, and now that we are included in the fold of His flock, we are included in this promise. Even while we are in exile or feel enslaved by our circumstances, we can still seek and find Him. We can pray and know He will listen! God will bring us back from exile and restore us to fullness in Him!

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If I’m not mistaken, Jeremiah always followed his prophecies with promises like this one, constantly reminding his people that there is not only bad in their future, but good as well. There is so much hope in that. The Israelites had committed unforgivable acts of treachery toward God – they had begun sacrificing their children to false gods, yet God still promised to bring them back and restore their former beauty.

Do you know what happened after seventy years passed while Israel was enslaved in Babylon and Assyria? God followed through on the promises He gave through Jeremiah and delivered them in the best way:

“Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

Ezra 1:2-4 (ESV)

God kept His promise and then some.

Not only did He send them back home as He had promised, but God actually sent them back with all the resources they would need to rebuild the Temple and their cities, as well as food and livestock and money to make their long trek back. King Cyrus made it the law that people were to support the lost Israelites coming home.

As ocean waves crash continually upon the shore, we know that God’s good plans for our freedom come new each day. We can be assured that though we pay consequences for our actions, that perfect, agape love still abounds. If God can forgive heartless murder of hundreds of children, there is nothing God will not forgive in your life. All you need to do is seek Him first above everything else and ask for forgiveness. God never planned for hardship to be the only way we live. He is a God who frees His people.

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If you look at Ezra 1:4, King Cyrus does not call the Israelites slaves, though they were that. His viewpoint of God’s people was much higher than that; he calls them survivors!

If we are to step into all God has for us, we need to let go of the old labels that have held us back. For instance, I am no longer a shy, timid little girl anymore; I have been freed from that old me. I am a bold writer and speaker who has no issue calling people out of their mess and into the beauty of who they were created to be, and when I feel those tendencies crop into my heart, as they inevitably do, I need to remind myself who(se) I am. I am a survivor of my bullies, no longer a slave to their lies.

The identity of survivor instead of slave is only one prayer away. Your salvation is between you and God, and if you ask with a humble heart, He will never say no. The Good News is that your consequences have been paid for you! The moment Jesus died on that cross as a sacrifice, the very Law that gives us rules we can never been good enough to attain was fulfilled in completion for every soul that walks this earth. Our God is faithful and just, and since Jesus’ sacrifice took place, He is obligated to forgive us because our dues have already been paid. All we need to do is acknowledge our need for that salvation and ask for His forgiveness.

Your new identity is waiting. Salvation is only one prayer away.

To Bring the Prisoners Out from the Darkness – Prisons Series #2

Last week, I wrote about how God created this world with freedom in mind. This week, I’ll delve more deeply into how His perfect, agape love demands freedom.

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In the book of Isaiah, we see a deep portrayal of the character of God. In this part of Israel’s history, God begins calling His people back to Him, hoping they won’t follow a future king into the kind of rebellion there is no coming back from, though God knows they inevitably will.

Let’s read an excerpt from one of Isaiah’s prophecies:

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives birth to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,
To open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

Isaiah 42:5-9 (ESV)

I love the honor Isaiah starts with here. He has the privilege of opening up for what God has to say, and he chooses to open this prophecy with the fullness of how God created our universe, from the broad expanse of the heavens to the intricate inner workings of the human: not just body but spirit as well.

Read again what the Lord has to say here. Listen closely to the kind of love He offers. God knows that each and every other thing we idolize holds us captive without us realizing it. He knows that every other thing we worship demands more and more from us until we have nothing left to our names but empty shells. God knows He is the only one who sets us free, who gives us more than we can hold or ever offer back, and He refuses to allow false gods to take His glory, and rightly so.

In this passage, God reminds us that He is the one and only God who opens blocked-off hearts to feel again and sets those hearts free from soul-bondage. Our Lord is the only one who does that; why would we ever choose another?

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Do you know what makes this even more beautiful? The Lord is talking about Jesus here. A lot of Isaiah’s prophecies speak about the Messiah to come…before Israel has even lost its standing with God. The Lord saw the sin to come and knew that animal sacrifices could only ever go so far. He knew we needed something someone, a better sacrifice. Before God ever created us, He knew that in order to save us, He would have to give Himself up as a sacrifice – an eternal being that was perfect and could never die would need to do just that. When the Lord speaks of a covenant that opens the eyes of the blind and sets prisoners free, he is speaking about the person of Jesus and all He would do as He walked this earth!

Can you imagine 12-year-old Jesus asking the priests in the temple about the prophecies of old? Can you imagine the sheer weight of Promise laid onto His shoulders as they spoke about all Isaiah foretold? Can you imagine with me, for a minute, being this 100% God and 100% human person, still a child, living and breathing on this earth, hearing this passage truly for the first time and knowing it’s about you?

“…I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness…”

What a mighty calling.

God came down from His high throne in Heaven to become one of us, so that He could become the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Animal sacrifices and peace offerings could only go so far, but this one would stick. This Sacrifice would end it all, the striving, the trying and failing, the never-being-good-enough-to-get-to-God….because He came down here to get to us.

What a mighty thing to think,
that we’ve been called to be the very same thing
to the sick people who have not yet found this Doctor.

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Love does not just demand that we be free. It also demands that we set each other free.

Earlier this year, I was told about Isaiah 58, the chapter on fasting. This chapter of the Bible revolutionized the way I view fasting. Did you know it actually has nothing to do with “me” or even my own relationship with God? We are meant to fast our food in order to give it to people who have none. We are meant to fast clothing in order to give it to those who have none. We are meant to fast our bad words in order to encourage the hurting souls who have no good ones. I’m sensing a trend here…

When I asked God what I should be fasting during that season, I felt led to the following passage:

“…If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour out yourself for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

Isaiah 58:9b-10 (ESV)

That first phrase of this passage embodies love: “take away the yoke from your midst.”

That thought can get a bit convoluted in our minds. It took me months of asking God what that meant before I realized…the answer here is forgiveness. If our hands are full of grudges, there is no room for His goodness. If our souls are full of resentment, there is no room for that perfect, agape love of His.

I haven’t kept it a secret that I was bullied as a child. I forgave the children who did most of that bullying last year; you can find that story here. In May or June of this year, I was actually approached by one of those children. This now-woman, who was not my worst bully by far, wound up apologizing for treating me the way she had so long ago. I  could tell she’d held it against herself for so long…since it happened in seventh grade.

It was good for me to hear that apology, but do you know what was better? Months later, as she read a letter of forgiveness that told her not to hold herself against the person she used to be, I got to watch tears of healing roll down her cheeks.

Taking away the yoke from our midst, releasing people from the prisons they’ve locked themselves in, means letting God remove each bit of hurt and pride and then sharing that healing in our souls with the people who need it most. Oftentimes, the people who hurt us the worst are the ones who are hurting in the worst ways themselves.

Take away the anger and declare peace in your heart.

Strip away the resentment and share forgiveness with each other.

Wipe clean the slate of shame and replace it with freedom.

Let us help each other in releasing each human being from the prisons we hold ourselves in. As prisoners, we can’t get out alone, but together and with God, we can lift the gate doors off their hinges and break free.

We cannot do this alone.

But together, we can.