“As I watched my father’s mistress put her suitcases in his car, an animal rage came over me. I felt I could tear her apart with my hands.” Yagmur, tall and elegant with perfectly styled blond hair, spoke evenly to the audience in the church, but the pain of that childhood memory was evident. “That day I made a decision to hate my father for the rest of my life.”

Yagmur’s mother was also angry, and took out her anger in the form of physical abuse toward her daughter. “As a young girl, I had scars and bruises all over my body from my mother’s beatings. I hated my father for his unfaithfulness. And I hated my mother for her helplessness.”

“Every day my mother told me I was ugly and stupid,” Yagmur continued. “Faith comes through hearing. And I started to believe in what I was hearing.” Escaping to her room and pulling the blankets over her head, Yagmur would dream of being a beautiful princess in a long, sparkling gown. And she would imagine her mother and father smiling at her, proudly. She longed for their love.

Immediately after college, she married a charming and passionate young man, desperate to escape the abuse and pain of her home life. But soon another nightmare began. Her husband began beating her too, accusing her of unfaithfulness, demanding to know why she was a few minutes late coming home from work.

Then one day her husband held a knife to her throat, insisting that she jump out of an eighth-story window. Yagmur clung to his ankles, sobbing and pleading for her life until he let her go.

In desperation, Yagmur fled to the U.S. to start a new life. But when her second husband’s drug abuse got out of control, she found herself becoming more and more hopeless, wanting to end her life. “There is hatred and pain everywhere I go,” she thought in despair. “I can’t escape.”

Eventually Yagmur found a job working for a Christian company. Wanting to impress the boss, she joined the early-morning Bible study at the office. They were reading the story of Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman. Yagmur couldn’t help blurting out, “Why did he forgive her? She was not worthy to be forgiven!”

“None of us are worthy,” a co-worker explained. “But Jesus forgives us because he loves us. Even if that woman had been the only person on the earth, Jesus still would have come to earth for her and died in her place, because he loves her.”

Called By Name

“I was that unworthy woman,” she recalled. All the shame of her childhood, the memories of being called ugly and stupid, the feeling of being worthless, the abuse of her marriages, the abandonment and emptiness and thoughts of suicide – it all culminated one day in a desperate cry in the office restroom. “Help me, God! Have mercy! I need You!” As she dried her eyes and walked to her desk, she wondered if He even heard her.

Before she could even get back to work, Yagmur’s boss called her urgently to his office. “I’ve never done this before,” he explained hesitantly. “But I feel Jesus prompting me strongly that I need to tell you something. He says that He has heard your prayer in the bathroom. He saw you when you were a little girl. He’s been with you all this time. And He loves you and forgives you.”

Yagmur crumpled to the carpet, weeping. “Do you want Jesus to be your Lord and Savior?” Her boss was asking kindly. “YES, YES, YES!” She sobbed. Finally she had found the love she had been searching for.

Eventually Yagmur was able to forgive her father and mother for all the pain they caused her for so many years. And today Yagmur has a ministry of bringing hope and healing to girls and women around the world, through TV programming and radio broadcasts. “You are loved, you are valued, you are beautiful,” she tells them. “God has a plan for your future. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” She knows it is true – she is living proof.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1b (NRSV)

 

I hate running. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

When I hear friends talk about the “adrenaline rush” of running a half-marathon, I’m convinced that they’re not fully human. What normal human being would willingly put themselves through the punishing physical torture of pounding the pavement mile after mile? It’s not right.

Now I consider myself to be in pretty good shape. I rarely eat fried food, desserts, or red meat. I enjoy biking, or walking forest trails, and I have even been known to jump “double-dutch” with my students at recess! But recently I was appalled that my favorite black dress pants have started getting a wee bit too snug. So with the motivation of fitting in my bridesmaid’s dress for a friend’s wedding next month, I drag myself out of bed this Saturday morning, put on my tennis shoes, and head outside for some exercise.

There’s a refreshing hint of fall in the air, and I fill my lungs deeply as I start off on a light jog. After just a few minutes, however, I’m already panting for breath. I tell myself, “I’ll only go to the next lamp-post, and then I can stop.” But at the next lamp-post, I decide that I’ll go to the lake. “I’m almost to the end of this street,” I think when I get to the lake. “I’ll just round the corner and go a bit more.”

By this point, old ladies walking their poodles could easily overtake my painfully slow pace. And I avoid eye contact with any serious runners I encounter, embarrassed at my wheezing and puffing. My lungs feel like they’re going to explode, and my legs feel like jello.

Around the bend, I finally see it – the river pier. Out of somewhere deep within me comes a sudden final burst of energy. I find myself picking up the pace. “I’m almost there! I’m actually going to make it!” It seems there should be a marching band and helium balloons in honor of my accomplishment. At the end of the pier, I pause for a moment to soak in the morning sun sparkling over the still water. For one who despises running, I’ve just proven that miracles do happen – I CAN run.

Now this isn’t one of those underdog stories where I suddenly am able to compete in the Ironman triathlon. I doubt I’ll ever really ENJOY running. It still seems like cruel and unusual punishment. And it’s definitely not in my nature to keep doing something that’s painful and uncomfortable.

But I hate to say it – running is actually biblical. Paul writes in I Corinthians about “running to get the prize”. He says he “beats” or “punishes” his body, because it’s all part of his training (I Cor. 9:27). I can relate to that. Multiple times during my short run, I came very close to stopping. I started to feel sorry for myself, and felt like I “deserved” a break. It would have been so much easier to just stop.

Don’t we often feel that way when we’re faced with hard things? That nasty co-worker who seems set to make your life miserable. The difficult child who tests every boundary you set. The family member who knows exactly which buttons to push to get you riled up. Jesus never promised us that life would be easy. In fact, He assures us the opposite – “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

Life is tough sometimes. But we can’t just sit it out because it’s too hard. So we press on. We forgive those who have offended us. We confront in love. We ask for grace in our difficult relationships, not responding out of anger or hurt, but out of a heart of forgiveness and freedom. Not because it’s easy. But because our Coach, our loving Heavenly Father, has already run the path ahead of us. He’s cheering us on. And it’s His whisper in our hearts that says, “Just a little bit more. You can do it. You’re almost Home.”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside.”
1 Corinthians 9:27 (TLB)

Freedom Series: Part 1 – Session 1

 

It’s no secret to those who know me well that I like to be in the spotlight. As a young girl, I would practice gymnastic routines in my backyard. I would imagine the roar of the crowd as I won Olympic gold for my country.  Or I would pirouette in front of my parents’ floor-length mirror, pointing my toes just so. I would try to hold my head erect with that graceful look of the ballerinas I saw on TV. And my performances in school plays, to small audiences of proud parents and squirming siblings, seemed to be just stepping-stones to my glittering future career as an actress on Broadway.

But the spotlight’s not on me tonight. As I slip in and out among tables of happily chatting guests in the candle-lit reception hall, scooping up dirty plates and refilling water glasses, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. The black dress shirt, black pants, and long black bistro apron of my uniform are intended to help me blend in rather than stand out. My goal is to be unnoticed, so that all eyes will focus on the star of the show – the bride. Not me, a server for a local catering company.

As I scrape leftover food off salad plates and lug bags of trash outside to the dumpster, navigating the hot kitchen with bustling cooks and scurrying servers, I have to smile to myself. God certainly has a sense of humor. For a girl who loves to be admired and appreciated, it’s challenging to be in a job with very little recognition or appreciation.

Jesus’ Identity

A verse suddenly pops in to my head – “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty”. It’s from Luke 17. Jesus is making the point that when you’re working as a servant, you don’t expect thanks or reward for your efforts. Jesus Himself was our ultimate example of this attitude of humility and self-sacrifice. The Bible says that He came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

What would make the omnipotent God of all Creation take on fragile, weak human form? And make Him put up with the pettiness and potential pain of life on planet Earth? What made Him confident enough to kneel in the dirt, so that he could wipe the grime off Peter’s, John’s and even Judas’ feet? Jesus knew that His identity didn’t come from others’ praise or recognition. One week the crowds were ready to crown Him as the conquering hero. The next week they screamed for His death. But Jesus knew that “the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God” (John 13:3). His identity was secure in WHO He was and WHOSE He was.

Value Apart From Recognition

“Thank you, Smiley”. My internal reverie is broken by the kind voice of a gray-haired gentleman in a meticulous black suit.

Concentrating on trying not to spill as I pour water into his glass, I’m momentarily taken aback. I didn’t realize I was smiling. But his comment makes my night. “You’re welcome!” And I can’t help grinning even wider. Though it’s certainly nice to be appreciated, tonight has been a good reminder that my value doesn’t come from the recognition of others. My value comes from my identity as the beloved daughter of my Heavenly Father. And that is definitely something to smile about.

Going Vertical!
MJ

Freedom Series: Part 1 – Session 2