Thursday, April 19, 2012

By The Riverside

Today’s blog feels like it was ripped from the pages of a diary of a mad black woman.  In Fatherheart School today, we embraced the subject of heart forgiveness.  Now mind you, I’m here as a team member and not a participant and while I readily admit that we’re all on a journey, I didn’t expect my journey today to be one of open-heart surgery.  But that’s exactly what it felt like and of course it left me wondering how many other people struggle with similar issues. So, using myself as a guinea pig, I’ll invite you into the pages of my life and share what Father is doing inside.

As a little girl growing up, I was unfortunate enough to witness my dad physically abuse my mom many times.  On one such occasion, his sisters joined in his attack trying to prevent my mom from fleeing as she was trying to get in our family car and drive away. One grabbed the door, one grabbed the keys from the ignition, another grabbed my mom’s purse and my dad jumped over them to grab my mom.

Adding to that memory, were plenty more that felt like rejection, emotional distancing and just plain dislike. I never felt welcomed in my paternal grandmother’s home, tolerated out of familial obligation, but not “I’m so excited to see you” welcomed. I felt like the dislike they had for my mom was passed on to me. I never experienced love, acceptance or any type of positive emotion inside my paternal grandmother’s home. To be honest, I don’t have one good memory of times spent there. I looked forward to our annual family reunion when people gathered there from different states. It was the only time I felt safe.  The glares were hid discreetly behind the niceties of fellowship with distant relatives. 

For years, even into adulthood, I managed my half of the relationship sending pictures of the kids here or there, going to visit for an hour when I came home. 
One day, as I sat in my Tennessee home reflecting on my childhood, I wondered if I would be missed if I just stopped going ‘down to the house’, as we called it. No one ever called me. No one ever sent cards or pictures to me. I felt like I was having a one sided relationship with people who could care less if I came around or not. So, I stopped visiting altogether.

But, I carried that rejection, that disapproval in my heart for a very long time.  I can’t tell you the number of times, I’ve chosen to forgive or the number of times I’ve repented for judging my paternal family or the number of times I’ve released them from my expectations of what family should be like, literally shredding into thousands of pieces every IOU I held against them.

Someone once said bitterness is when the pain of a memory is as fresh today as it was the day it happened.  You know there’s still heart work to be done, when you look at that person and still feel hate, still feel pain, still want to close your heart and run away.  Because I had chosen to disconnect myself from my family ties, I never had the opportunity to test the strength of my forgiveness towards my dad’s people. That is, until very recently.

A few months ago, my dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia.  That diagnosis, along with other conditions, caused the doctors at the Veteran Hospital to be concerned about his safety as well as the safety of my mother so they chose to hospitalize my dad in the psych ward while looking for bed space for him in a Dementia nursing care facility.  One Sunday, while visiting my dad at the VA hospital, his sisters came to visit.  It was the first time I had seen them in probably 8 years, maybe more.  They walked in. I greeted them with a smile. I felt nothing but love and an overwhelming since of honor that these ladies would love my dad enough to drive 40 minutes to come see him.

I didn’t walk away going, “Yippee!!! I’ve forgiven them!” I didn’t process any emotion or anything. On that day, we all had one thing in common. We loved the man sitting in front of us.  The next day, we moved my dad into his new bed space and while we were there, my mom’s phone rang.  It was my dad’s mother.  She handed me the phone and said your grandmother wants to speak to you. I thought she was referring to her mother.  I said hello and then realized the voice that greeted me back was not my maternal grandmother at all.  My dad’s mother and I spoke for a few minutes and the conversation took place as if time had stood still and it hadn’t been 8 years since I heard her voice. Even my husband remarked at how well the call had gone.

I felt nothing, no anger, no rejection, no ‘you owe me’, no pain of loss relationship…nothing.  Here again, this was a woman with one thing in common with me, we both love the man I was standing in front of: her son, my dad.

Since my dad has been admitted into the nursing home, several things have happened and all those estrogen-laden matriarchal figures want what they think is best for him: my mom, his mom and four sisters.  And their opinions most often don’t agree.  Because they don’t agree, it doesn’t often come out in the prettiest way towards my mom.  Being a few states removed from the scene and my dad no longer able to provide a barrier between “those who love him,” these differences of opinions   started bringing to the surface a lot of old memories and negative emotions towards my paternal family.

Insert Fatherheart lesson here: Trevor is teaching on heart forgiveness and he says, “When I forgive from my heart, my heart changes toward that person.  With Holy Spirit’s help, I can release that person from my unforgiveness and pour the cup of poison I’ve been drinking down the drain. Circumstances of life are just circumstances of life. Heart forgiveness doesn’t mean the person changes or that the circumstance will change.  It means you change.”

As he says this, I write the word HATE in big letters and double underline on my paper.  And then I begin a journal rant, “ I hate them. I hate who they are. I hate how they love. I hate their ridicule. I hate how they treat my mom. I hate that they don’t change, won’t change, don’t care. I hate that they don’t see how their behavior, their control damages our family. “

And I realize, this is too much for me. I need to be alone to process this with Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit. So, I opted to skip our community lunch and lunch alone with the Godhead by the riverside.  There I sat, food and journal in hand, ready to begin again.

As I open my journal to write, I immediately pen these words, “Father, I don’t hate them. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And then I ask Father, what was all that? I’ve forgiven them.

And He said to me, “ Those feelings are a familiar spirit.  Those lies are the voice of the accuser.” The evil one was trying to get me to go back and pick up those negative emotions as if Jesus never took them away.  He almost tricked me into believing that they were mine. 

Once Holy Spirit highlighted the evil one’s scheme to me, I began to journal again, “Father, I forgive them for being unable to love me like I need to be loved.  I forgive them for their lies, for bashing my mom. I forgive them for trying to control everyone’s life. I forgive myself for hating them, for not being able to trust them. From the heart, I forgive them. I am tearing up every I O U and I repent for being critical of them and for judging them.  These are Your kids, God.  And You love them.  Father, give me Your eyes, Your heart for them. Let Your voice, Your words be louder in my spirit than the voice of the accuser.  I’ve closed my heart to them.  I don’t know how to recapture what is lost. Truthfully, Father, I don’t know if I want to. “ And again that old feeling welled up within me, “I HATE THEM,” I railed.

“No, you don’t, “ He said, “you hate the brokenness. You hate the puppetry. You hate that their eyes are blind. I hate that too.  I long for them to know me. I long to be discovered by them. Daughter, just make sure your boundaries aren’t brick walls.”

“I don’t want to be in relationship with them,” I said.

“No one is forcing you to be in relationship with them.  Are you safe? Can you be vulnerable? Do you feel valued? Significant? You’re not required to be in relationship with everyone in the world, “ Father said to me.

Then, I had the thought; “Just because you’re born into a family doesn’t make them family.”

To which Father gently replied, “Even though it’s my desire for you to be family.  There’s something I’ve placed in you, they need and something in them, you need. Beloved, love always requires a choice. “

“Nah, I don’t want that for myself,” I admitted to God, “I can risk loving but it’s not worth the risk.”

Father God says to me, “Remember Redeeming Love (Redeeming Love is a must read fiction novel by Francine Rivers that retells the biblical account of the book, Hosea)? 

To which I reply, “Yea, but everyone can’t be Hosea.”

Again Father whispers gently on my heart, “ Love always requires a choice.  How have I loved you? “

I answer, “While I was yet in sin, Christ died for me.  Even when I couldn’t love you back. “

Father says to me, “So why are you requiring something of them they can’t give you?”

I answer, “ I’m not. “

Father again, “And yet you’re withholding love because of that.”

I say to Him, “No, I’m just choosing to not be in relationship. There is no connection.“ 

And Daddy God says to me, “ There is the blood.  Don’t repay evil for evil, my beloved. Overcome evil with good. “

“Hmmm,” I reply, “so what does it look like to manage my love towards them in a way that honors You? How do I re-present You to them?”

 Father says, “Are you doing this for Me or you?”

“Oh it would definitely be for you,” I answer truthfully, “I’m not interested in a relationship with them.”

“Why?” Father asks.

To Daddy God, I say, “Because I don’t want to be around them.” That was the nice answer.  My heart said, “I can’t stand the sight of them.”

Dad being Dad, who is more for something than against something doesn’t even address my verbal or heart answer.  He simply says, “So what can you honor about them?”

To which I reply, “ They love their brother and their mom the best way they know how. I feel nothing for them. I don’t hate them. I don’t have remorse or regret. I don’t even feel numb. It’s as if they are strangers. “

Father says, “Then love them like a stranger.  How would you love a stranger?”

I say, “I would speak when spoken to.  I might speak or wave or smile.”

And Papa says to me, “My beloved, start with what you can do. I am the God of increase. I can take a meager lunch and feed thousands. I can take what you offer me and exponentially multiply it.

What did I learn today? What am I hoping you will learn by slicing myself open and sharing my insides with you? John 13:34 reads, “ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Father always manages His love towards us.

How has the Father loved you?  That commandment didn’t say love the people you like as I have loved you or love the people you get along with, as I have loved you.  So, the question to me and the question to you, how has the Father loved you?

When you can let go of every expectation of what love in return should look like, you are free to love unconditionally.

So what does honor look like in the midst of dysfunction and toxic relationships? Ask God to give you an honoring thought.  If that’s doesn’t come to you, ask yourself, how would you honor a stranger? For me, the answer is easy.  When I don’t know someone and I want to honor them, I always ask Father how He sees that person.  Then I love them through God’s eyes as I hear what He says about them.

Why is this so easy to do for strangers and sometimes not as easy to do for those we are familiar with? I’m not sure.  But I do know that Father hasn’t loved me based on my performance. His love for me is far deeper than what I did do or what I didn’t do. His love for me isn’t based on me getting it right, saying the right things, or even reciprocating love to Him at the right moments. In all of my frailty, in all of my failings, in all of my successes, in all of my confidence, His love never fails. It never gives up on me. So, if I am to love as Father loves, what does that look like?

1 Corinthians 13 is definitely a great place to start. Does this mean for me that I’m running back to my paternal family to reconcile? No, no it doesn’t. It means I’m free to love them right where I am today.  Reconciliation takes two.  Just as I’ve made no effort to connect, neither have they.  No connections = no relationship.

But I am committed to loving them. I am committed to seeing them and honoring them as Father sees them. I am committed to keep no record of wrong, which means I can no longer agree with the evil one every time they do something that reminds of days gone by adding it to my proverbial scorecard of wrong doing. I am committed to suffer long and to be kind. I am committed to not behaving rudely or being provoked. I am committed to NOT thinking evil of my paternal family. I committed to believe and hope that even in this, my relationship with my paternal family, reconciliation and restoration will come. I am committed to boundaries that don’t look like brick walls. Most importantly, I am committed to loving as Father has loved me.

I don’t hate them. I have forgiven from my heart. And today, beside the river, Holy Spirit empowered me with a plan to be more for love and honor than against being betrayed, rejected or hurt.

If you struggle with relational dynamics in your personal, immediate, or extended family, I pray you will grab a hold of the wisdom of Holy Spirit, the love of Father God, and the all sufficient grace that Jesus blood provides for us to love even has you are loved by Father.

I bless your coming in and your going out. I bless you to be bold, be strong, be resolute and confident in whom Daddy God has called you to be. May your face radiate His goodness and your children rise up and call you blessed.

©2012  Felicia Murrell

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Power of Words Not Spoken

This week I have the privilege of being a part of the ministry team for Fatherheart Ministries A School in Jacksonville, FL.  This is significant for me because of my own personal journey in finding Father. While Trevor Galpin was sharing on God, our real Father, I was having my own little time of revelation and reflection with Father God. Trevor read (NASB) Genesis 3:10, " He said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself."" 

I immediately began to dissect the scripture along with Trevor.  Four key points: 1) Adam says to God, "I heard you." 2) He admits to being afraid. 3) He acknowledges that he was naked. 4) He makes a decision to hide based on the truth, as he perceived it. I found myself asking the question, "When God comes into your garden, do you recognize Him as Father or do you hide from His voice in fear?"

Fear causes us to hide our real self. When you're afraid, what do you cover yourself with? Anger, Rage, Victim, Passiveness, Over Explaining, Blame Shifting? What would it look like to not need to defend yourself? What would it be like to live in perfect love without fear? 

As I began to reflect on my past, I realized that I grew up in churches where I never once heard the preacher, Sunday school teacher or anyone say, "You have a Father in heaven and He loves you." I mean, sure we sang Jesus loves me. But, we were never told that Father God loves you. In fact, all we were ever really told was what we shouldn't do, couldn't do or what would happen if we did. There was a lot of emphasis on how to behave to assuage God's temper. 

Reflecting further, I realize that I transferred this same model of behavior modification into my parenting paradigm.  In my early years of parenting, I struggled with showing love and affection to my kids. I felt like 'well, they know I love them'. I need to tell them what to do and what not to do.  So, I focused on teaching them how to behave, what to say, good manners, etc. I even had an IF…THEN chart that told them what would happen if they did. Then one day, I began to wonder how my kids would behave when I wasn't around to enforce all of the rules we had set in place to keep their behavior in check.

I started thinking once again about my experience in the church and the number of teenage girls, including the pastor's daughter and myself that got pregnant out of wedlock. I started thinking about the number of people who professed to be believers but were sleeping around or doing other things from our list of don't do, shouldn't do, and if you do do, bad things will happen to you and I realized there was an unfortunate parallel happening between my parenting paradigm and my pastoring paradigm under which I had been shepherded.

In the absence of love, the emphasis for how to do life is based on rules, on behavior. With rules, at least for me, I'm only motivated by your ability to punish me when I'm in your presence. So if the enforcer is not present, I don't keep the rules. I'm sad or disappointed when I'm caught, but not enough to not break the rules. 

In my former church culture, you saw this often with a cycle of repentance. People would sin. They would feel guilty or get caught. They would flood the altar to repent and then they would repeat the process all over again, week after week; sometimes month after month. There was no power to sustain a victorious lifestyle.

In parenting, we would work with our kids on an issue. We would punish or chastise them to 'teach them a lesson.' They would continue to repeat the offense over and over again. Always repentant, always remorseful, definitely sorry to have gotten caught; they didn't like the consequences of their actions, but for some reason, it wasn't enough to keep them from making the same foolish choice time after time.

What was missing in both of these scenarios? Love. In both cases, love was never expressed, never shown. I can know in my head that you love me, but that head knowledge isn't enough to help me make good decisions. Love has to be expressed, felt. Love is to be experienced with your heart.  I'm not convinced in my head, I'm convinced in my heart. And it is out of our heart the issues of life flow.

I began to wonder, "What would it be like to have someone believe in you? To affirm you? To actually look you in the eye and say I love you?"  I wonder what would happen, if we would stop for the one and say, "Sweetheart, you're way too amazing to be doing that. I love you. I believe in you."

All of my life, I believed myself to be a failure because I couldn't stop doing all the things I shouldn't being doing. Thus, I lived in constant fear and regret; fear of disappointing people I very much wanted to be proud of me. I lived in regret because I kept disappointing those very people I didn't want to disappoint over and over again. To date, I've never had the pleasure of hearing my earthly dad say I love you. Growing up, I never had the pleasure of hearing a minister or church leader say, “Your Father in heaven loves you.”

I often wonder would I have made different choices if I had.  I can’t go back and change the past. I’m grateful that my past has led me to this place of finding God, my real Father. And while I can’t change the past, Father has graced me with the amazing privilege of being able to speak love, affirmation and blessings into the lives of four wonderful children.

In our home, day after day, I get to see our children make decisions and choices as they manage their part of our relationship. I get to see them direct their love towards their father and I in a way that honors us. I get to see the freedom and the strength in their character as love is expressed.  I get to observe them finding  security in who they are because of our expressed, felt love for them.

Don’t assume that people know you love them.  Tell them.  Don’t for a second give the evil one the power of words not spoken.  How are the words we are not saying impacting the lives of those who matter most to us?

What would hearing I love you do for you? What would I love you do for those around you? What could you accomplish if you knew someone believed in you? What could those around you accomplish if they knew you believed in them? What would you stop hiding if you knew that even your failures were safe with the people that surround you? Are the people around you safe with you even when they fail or make mistakes? Can you keep your love turned on even when someone is displaying their worst and look at them with acceptance and love despite their poor choices? Could your decision to love and to say I love you be the very thing that draws someone from the pit and bring them to the Father who loves them?

How will we know, if we never say the words?

©2012  Felicia Murrell

Monday, April 9, 2012

In Search Of The Missing

Today has been one of those days for me.  Do you know what I mean? Graham Cooke says when we are in Christ, we no longer have good days or bad days, we only have grace days.  Some days, God gives us grace to enjoy the day. Other days, God gives us grace to endure the day.  Today was definitely an enduring day for me.

If I was completely honest, I'd admit that it has been a bit of an enduring season for me, in one aspect or another. One of the benefits of such a season has been a deepening of my friendship with Holy Spirit. In moving to Georgia, 17 months ago, life and friendships as we knew them in the past shifted. While I enjoy a wonderful friendship with my husband, he is my absolute best friend. I am admittedly woman. I like the sound of a girlfriend's voice, her laughter, the way she sees things that's altogether different from a man's perspective. I've missed the shared camaraderie of the deep friendship one shares with a girlfriend. At holiday times, the magnitude of this loss seems to be even greater than it honestly genuinely is. But the pain of missed shared memories and happy times is certainly immense.

I love to sit and ask questions. Today, as I was reflecting on authentic connections and intimate friendships, a Danny Silk teaching, "are you your own happy manager or do you need someone to manage your happy," came to mind.  I had to ask myself, "Why am I sad that no one invites us over for dinner? Why does it make me sad that no one calls to invite me on excursions to the mall or to grab a glass of wine?"  To which Holy Spirit responded, "Is it really true that no one invites you over?" No, it's not true. We've received invitations to dinner since we've been in Georgia. Even Doug, reminded me of one such invitation this morning. Why is it so easy to get swept away in what's not happening? Why do we naturally gravitate toward negative emotions? Why is it so easy to attach ourselves to discontentment?

So I asked Holy Spirit, "How do I partner with you to find joy in solemn times?"  His answer, "Cry until you can't cry anymore. Find something to make you laugh and laugh until your side hurts. Rehearse my goodness. Tune into my love."

And suddenly I realized, it's all in the choosing. Joy is all around. Peace is all around. Love is all around. Contentment is all around. But so is all that other stuff: loneliness, depression, despondency, fear, anger, panic, rejection, betrayal, abandonment, and that list goes on and on.  Sometimes it can feel like a battle to choose well, but it's so worth it. Just a slight turn of the head gives a person a completely different perspective.

As long as I keep waiting for a friend to come along to "make me" happy, I'm going to be miserable. The truth is, no one makes you anything.  Happiness is a choice. I can keep waiting for a flowered path or I can choose to shift my focus and enjoy the flowers on the well worn path of life I'm currently traveling on. Our situation may not change, but when what we believe to be true about our situation changes, we have the ability to look at the same situation through lenses of hope, lenses of confident expectation where at first there was no hope.

In my adult life, I've moved several times. I'm no stranger to change. It's like two sides of the same coin: I hate to move. I love adventure! I miss my friends, my routine, all things familiar. I love discovering new places, meeting new people! Looking back at each move, I realize it took about 2 years to develop that genuine, ride or die kind of friendship with another woman. There's a level of risk to fully opening your heart and sharing you with someone else. I understand the levels of authenticity that one must progress through in order to reach this stage of friendship.  So what's really going on?

Outside my husband and my family, I want to be important enough to someone to be willing to take the risk. I want to surround myself with people who are important enough to me to risk knowing them, really knowing them. My picture of authentic, intimate friendship is much deeper than surface, know by name friendship.

The truth is people need the core needs of their heart met.  They need to be loved unconditionally. They need to be accepted.  They need to be significant. A person has to have a sense of value, of dignity. A person needs to know that who they are matters and that they can and will make a difference. When asked the question, If I moved away tomorrow, would my absence be felt?  They need to know, the answer is yes. 

First and foremost, this needs to happen in an encounter with Father God.  We must have a vibrant, love-filled, intimate connection with the Perfect One before we can ever connect with imperfect people. Am I looking to gain from people what only God can give me? If my answer is yes, I must first return to His lap and allow Him to love me.  But knowing that it was never God's heart for man to be alone, if the answer is no, I receive His grace to endure the waiting with joy filled expectation that friends are all around, while partnering with Him to build deep, heartfelt connections with the people He's placed on my present path.

Just a slight turn of the head, from 'oh woe is me' to 'wow! what an opportunity'. Does the loneliness go away? No, I'm still very much in search of a friend to share my life with.  My situation hasn't changed.  But I'm no longer looking at my situation with hopelessness. I can choose to be overwhelmed by the absence of deep, heart to heart friendships or I can choose to be overwhelmed by the opportunities to build those friendships. Life always has a way of bringing us back to this choice.  What are you choosing to be overwhelmed by?

Today when my present alternative is sadness, I choose joy.  Today, when my present alternative is loneliness, I choose His presence.  Today, when my present alternative is despondency, I choose hope.  Today, when I could be disenchanted, I choose to be encouraged. I will not partner with fear. I will not befriend the 'dis' family - discouragement, disenchantment, disillusionment, disappointment. I will not live with regret. I choose to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith.  Today, I will marvel in His goodness.