Category Archives: Resentment

Forgiving, Again

I’m sitting at my desk with the computer on, iPod playing with an inviting, warm mug of coffee sitting next to me.  They are waiting patiently for me to start work, but I don’t.  My feet are resting on the edge of my desk while I hold our big, fat cat in my lap.  She contentedly purrs and occasionally nuzzled me on the chin.  Absently, I notice how her soft, heavy, weight in my lap feels comforting.  I continue to stare out the window lost in thought.

My chest feels heavy like an invisible brick is pushing down hard between my breasts, my head aches, but it’s the heavy sensation on my chest that’s troubling me.  The weight isn’t the beginning of a heart attack; it’s the result of years of hurt.  This brick has been carefully constructed by the fibrous tissue of judgment, verbal abuse, bitterness, unjust behavior, self-protection, and un-forgiveness.  And it’s heavy, pressing down on my sternum making it hard to breathe.

The unusual thing about this brick is that it’s frequently weightless, as if gone from my life.  During this time my heart is hopeful and I want to spend time considering and praying about my relationships.  With a hopeful spirit I choose to forgive; I choose to lay my hurts down before God. I desire to draw closer to Him and see others through His eyes.

Then something happens to set off old patterns of abuse and hurtful words are hurled through the air and I feel the impact of them.   I feel them working their way into the brick, finding a comfortable resting place next to the other festering pain.  The brick is back, heavier than before, pressing mercilessly down on my sternum and I wonder how all those negative, hurtful emotions from the past can come back with such force after I have chosen to forgive and let them go. 

So, here I sit at my desk with every necessary tool for a productive day.  But instead of working, I watch the tree branches move to the rhythm of the wind while pondering the uncomfortable pressure of the emotional brick on my chest.  I want to know how to truly lay down the hurt from yesterday.  I want to forgive so deeply that past pain will not have the power to mix with and amplify the hurts of today.  But, I’m human and for some unknown reason God made us emotionally complex beings that feel passionately, struggle mightily, and desperately need His guidance.

With this knowledge I ask God for his forgiveness and help.  I acknowledge my pain is real, but so is theirs.  I admit my part in the situation, because I’m not innocent.  Then I thank God for the good within my loved one and within myself; we are both God’s children.  And the brick gets lighter; for now.  Each time I practice seeking God’s truth in the midst of emotional pain they strengthen me and give me courage to forgive, again.

I’m grateful that God’s forgiveness is not like that of humans, Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions (sins) from us.”  This verse is comforting and humbling; how can God forgive so completely?  I long to be able to forgive like God, but as of today, I don’t fully understand how to forgive the transgressions of others.  Maybe that’s the point. Maybe our seriously limited ability to forgive keeps us humble before God.

Debora Shelford Hobbs

 

 

The Bitterness Weed

The Bitterness Weed

Bitterness:    Strong and sharp in taste: having a sharp strong unpleasant taste.  Angry and resentful Difficult to accept: mentally painful, or very hard to accept Synonyms: sour, acid, acidic, tart, astringent, vinegary, pungent, harsh, acrid

I’ve been thinking about the act of being bitter and how bitterness, if not dealt with, can affect every aspect of our lives.  Bitterness can blind a person to the love that is around them.  Bitterness has the power to turn a person inward, making them selfish and self-consumed.  A bitter heart becomes brittle and intolerant.  A bitter person will find the bad in every situation, unable to see the good.  Bitterness can strangle our creative energy.  And a bitter heart is unable to open up to God’s love, it is unable to trust in God’s love because it is always in a state of self-protection.

Bitterness is like a weed, it is a living organism that need sustenance to survive and when it’s thriving it has the power to weaken our emotional, physical, and spiritual health.  The Bitterness Weed is nourished by our judgmental, negative, self-righteous, and unforgiving thoughts.  Because bitterness is living, it will either grow or wither depending on our ability to starve it with forgiveness or feed it with judgment.  Starving bitterness is not for the weak of spirit.  It requires surrendering our right to justifiable anger and judgment.  It demands that we not seek retribution ourselves for our pain, but allow God’s justice, which is a mystery to most of us, to have control.

All of us at one time or another have thought, “They don’t deserve forgiveness” or “It’s not fair, they feel no pain and are suffering no consequence for their destructive behavior” and we’re right, it’s not fair from a human point of view.  So, in an effort to bring justice to the situation, we self-righteously judge the individual deeming them unworthy of forgiveness.  And then we move on, right?  Nope.

The problem is we’re not capable of judging others harshly and moving on.  We continue to judge them in our thoughts and before we know it, we’re feeding the weed of bitterness.  Each time we ruminate over their bad actions and reassure ourselves of our righteous judgment, the bitterness weed grows stronger. Before long our outlook on life becomes more negative and our prayer time less frequent, and the Bible sits unopened for longer stretches of time on our night stand.

Before long we become bitter, leaving a sharp and unpleasant taste in the mouths of our friends and family.  Unbeknown to ourselves we’ve become acrid in our attitudes and relationships.  We have officially become bitter because of our self-righteous right to judge and not forgive.  We now have a healthy, bitter-weed garden within our spirit that only God can eradicate.

It’s true that starving bitterness is not for the weak of spirit.  It takes unmeasurable amounts of faith, humility, and forgiveness to starve bitterness from our spirit.  But if we choose to do so, God will help us, He will give us strength when we have none, and the courage to continue to forgive even when it seems like justice is not being served.  God’s ways can be a mystery to us, but when we follow them they always replace bitterness with beauty.

 

Debora Shelford Hobbs

 

Colossians 3:12-14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Ephesians 4:31-32 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

 

 

 

The Healing of a Wounded Soul

                Healing the wounded soul          

Amy let out a guttural growl followed by a loud “darn it!” Protectively, she wrapped her wounded finger tightly with the other hand, applying pressure hoping to alleviate the pain. Her frustration level was already high today. The kids were ornery and her husband Chuck appeared to be deliberately employing every last irritating quality he had.   Accidentally smacking her already injured finger on the counter’s edge was the end of her rope. She could feel the irritation boiling up inside; a full hissy-fit was about to erupt. “Family hide”, she thought, “I’m one unpleasant women right now.”

While running cold water over the offended finger hoping to minimize the pain,  Amy realized the house had grown strangely quiet. “Odd” she thought “they were just here deliberately bugging me.”  Putting some crushed ice in a zip-lock bag she headed to the family room for a little rest; the house was still quiet. Her mommy instincts said it would be wise to see where everyone went, but she didn’t want to, she wanted peace and quiet.

Lying down on the couch she propped up her right hand on a pillow. The pain was subsiding a bit however, her irritation was not. Lately, Chuck had been difficult, prickly like a Sea anemone, reacting to everything negatively. At first Amy had given him grace, after all his career had hit a difficult patch. But instead of receiving her grace with the minutest amount of gratefulness, he’d became more difficult. Amy’s feelings were hurt. She believed her reaction to his prickly mood would be different, maybe her patience greater, if they hadn’t been through so many difficult years already. Amy felt used up and tired. Why couldn’t Chuck just grow-up, mature, evolve, become a better man; and stay that way instead of lapsing back into old negative patterns?

Her finger began to throb even with ice on it and she wondered if it was broken; the house was still quiet. Laying there absorbed in her pain a thought wiggled its way into her considerations. Her wounded finger was much like her relational wounds with Chuck. Both wounds were easily injured and each time it seemed to take longer for them to heal. Truth is, sometimes the reinjured wound hurt more than the original one. “How many times do I have to forgive the same old bad behavior” she stewed. “God, I don’t want to forgive him again, please help me, I know it’s the right thing to do.”

An uncomfortable thought floated across Amy’s mind. “How many times has God forgiven you for the same sin?” “Is your intolerant reaction to Chuck’s bad behavior equally bad behavior?” Amy didn’t like this thought, it put way too much responsibility on her; after all Chuck was the one with issues. This self-righteous attitude didn’t last long, she could feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Again, “Is your reaction to Chuck’s bad behavior also sinful behavior?” She thought about all the self-righteous thoughts she’d had and the disrespectful words uttered in response to his prickly behavior. Painfully, it dawned on her that her own destructive behavior could be hindering both of their emotional and spiritual healing.

“Oh God please forgive me; forgive me for not forgiving as you forgave me. Forgive me for being such a hypocrite. Please help me to see Chuck as you see him. Please help me treat him in a way that honors you. I’m sorry God, I didn’t realize how out of line I was.” Amy knew she needed to ask Chuck’s forgiveness and that was going to be tough.

“Why aren’t you holding Chuck accountable for his bad behavior?” she complained to God, even though she knew the answer. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior, it’s the only behavior we can control. “Ok God, I’ll humble myself and ask for forgiveness.”

Suddenly the kids and Chuck appeared with a bouquet of flowers freshly picked from the yard and some homemade cards. Stunned, she asked, “What’s this?” “We’re sorry for being ornery today, will you forgive us?” Yes, of course I will. Thank you kids.” Now it was Chucks turn.  He approached her with one beautiful red rose, got down on his knees and said, “Honey, I’m sorry for being such a negative guy lately, please forgive me.” Amy stared at him for a few moments then did what she knew she must. “I forgive you honey, but will you also forgive me; I’ve been harsh and disrespectful toward you.” Chuck looked at her and said, “I’ve waited years to hear you say that. Yes, I forgive you.”

An uncomfortable sensation enveloped Amy. “He’s been waiting years to hear me say that? He thinks I’m the one with issues!” She started to laugh and the kids and Chuck looked confused at her reaction. “We’re all such nuts,” she said “perfectly imperfect nuts and blessed beyond measure to have each other and God’s unmerited grace.”

May you be humbled with God’s gentle hand of correction and may you know you’re blessed to have an imperfect family that loves you.

Debora Shelford Hobbs

REDEEMED

 Mary Redemption

Her room was still like time had stopped, Her eyes at nothing, stared                             Until a beep from the machine, brought her back crystal clear.                                       She looked down at her arm and saw the IV in its place                                                       Just for a moment, she had gone back, to another time in space. 

Tears trickled down that old drawn face, her lips began to quiver                                     As she recalled the years gone by and pain that she’d delivered.                                         It all seemed clear, as she looked back; it wasn’t clear back then.                                   She wished to have a second chance, some way to make amends. 

The angry names her mother hurled still made her cringe in pain                                  And knowing that she did the same brought grief, regret, and shame.                            She didn’t end dysfunction, as she was sure she would                                                        And life went by, so very fast; it was too hard to change. 

She looked up at the ceiling, and yelled out “Are You there?                                               Do You care about me? Can You remove despair?                                                                 Does hope exist? Can change be known? If so, then show the way!                                  Hear my prayer, see my heart; I’m buried in mistakes!” 

Questions filled her weary mind as she lay there exhausted                                                  Is it true that God restores the hurt and broken hearted?                                                   She shut her eyes; her shoulders shook, as tears continued falling                                With humbled heart, and contrite spirit; she longed for a new calling. 

The hours trickled slowly by with no response from heaven.                                                But a strange rest had filled her heart and peace was like a fragrance.                           That restful state was broken with a stroke upon her hair                                                      A voice that she had longed to hear said “Mom, I’ve news to share.” 

“A year ago, at my ropes end, I gave my heart to Jesus                                                               Since that day I’ve changed and grown, more than I can measure.                                        I’m learning to submit my will and die to my own way                                                                   The chains that tightly bound us, He’s breaking more each day.” 

“I love you Mom, and know your plan was never one to hurt us                                      You too were hurt, and it’s been said; hurt people… will hurt people.                            But hope has come into my heart, revealing a new path.                                                      We cannot change the hurt-filled past, but hopes with us at last!”  

“For I can see a future paved, with a new legacy                                                                         It’s there for us if we will grow and seek God on our  knees.                                                     In God’s all knowing timing, He’ll heal each hurt and scar                                                          Submitting all and letting go; our lives will be restored.                 

“The devil brought destruction, to our heart and soul                                                              But God is here to lift us up and take back all control.                                                             We can forgive each other, as Christ’s forgiven us                                                                     He’ll wash us clean and make us new as we give Him our trust.”  

“Dear Mother, I invite you, to join us in this path.                                                                        To know that you’re forgiven and all that’s past… is passed.”                                          That withered hand reached out to hers, as tears rolled down their faces.            With breaking voice the elder said, “OH…the years I wasted.”  

“I’m sorry for the things I’ve done, and for the words of pain                                                   I wish that I could turn back time and wash it all away.                                                              But know dear, that I love you, and I’m sorry for the hurt                                                           I need the hope that you have found to mend my broken heart.” 

Just before the morning broke with no bells or alarms                                                        With peaceful heart, she breathed her last, and went to Jesus’ arms.                             Her children knew that she was free from bitterness and shame                                  And they rejoiced, with hands upraised, to hope in Jesus’ name. 

God used her children’s hurt-filled past; took beauty from the ashes                                 As they reached out to hurting souls and others who had suffered.                               No troubled path, no chains that bind, no mountain sized life problems,                   Are greater than the power of God who brings good from our losses.                         But stubborn hearts we must lay down; to change, we must be willing                       And as we do, we shall fulfill, God’s awesome, glorious, calling.                           

Rhonda Shelford Jansen

Hidden Within

Hidden Within

This poem deals with ugly things hidden within the heart. These hidden things hold names such as discontent, self pity, jealousy, pride, self-righteousness, selfishness, and greedy grasping, and that’s just a few. Though we may conceal these things to observers and even ourselves, they are never hidden from God; He knows our heart even better than we do.
This poem reminds me that we really are mere mortals and we are desperate for God’s grace.

HIDDEN WITHIN

I listened to her stories, of traveling here and there
Of seeing many wonders and having not a care.
I longed to live a life like that; to know that kind of blessing
And as I sat there listening, self pity washed upon me.
But as I walked away from her, God opened up my eyes
He showed me my ungrateful heart and in disgust I sighed.

Oh God why do I struggle with discontent and greed?
I’ll never comprehend the grace that You extend to me.

He sat there all in smiles, excited with success.
A new promotion, a big ole raise, his life is now the best!
I thought that he was bragging to tell us all like that.
I sat there with the fakest smile; distain was in my breast.
I walked away and asked myself…why do I act that way?
Am I that mean and petty? My heart sunk in dismay.

Oh God why do I cringe at… success for someone else?
Forgive me Lord, please change me! This icy heart, please melt.

I listened to the story… knew it was barely true
Each so called fact that was described was exaggerated and skewed.
I wondered why he worked in lies; my heart filled with disgust
I sat there wrapped in righteous pride, my patience huffed and puffed.
But when I walked away from him, the veil fell from my eyes
I saw my own wrong doings and I broke down and cried.

Oh God my God why do you care for one as frail as me?
I’m overwhelmed, can’t comprehend, Your love that sets me free.

Just hearing her go on and on about her kid’s success
Set my skin to prickling, my heart had some contempt.
I walked away and asked myself just why I felt that way?
Was I that small and jealous? My heart sunk in dismay.
What’s wrong with me, why do I act so selfish and with pride?
I hung my head and felt ashamed; I wished that I could hide.

Its times like these my feeble heart will never understand
The mercy and the grace God gives, in spite of all my sin.

The project was my baby, I was so proud of it
And when she took the credit, rage filled within my chest.
Speaking up before I thought, I set the record straight
And in a flash, I looked so bad; I’d taken Satan’s bait.
I slunked away angry and hurt; I hated her that day.
But as I stewed God gently came and washed the pride away.

Oh Lord why do I strive for, importance be-fore man?
I don’t know why You love me, when I fight against Your plans.

Lord, open up my eyes to see what’s hidden in my heart
Help me to change and grow in grace; please give me a new start.
Help me to stop comparing… my life compared to others
To be content with what I have, know-ing that others suffer.
Help me to grasp the fact of why You’ve put me in this world
Its to exalt Your name alone… not to exalt myself.
Help me to lay down all my pride and with You, humbly walk
To know You’ll raise up who You want, and in that I must trust.

May I help someone else succeed… even if I don’t.
May I rejoice in wondrous news that’s good for someone else.
Fill my heart with thankfulness so I might not forget
The blessings that you’ve given me and in those, be content.
Help me stop the judging of, somebody else’s heart
And may I live each day, O God, displaying Your pure heart.
May Your spirit fall on me and color all I do.
Help my eyes to see the truth; bid hidden sin, adieu.

Rhonda Shelford Jansen

The Importance of Being Grateful


Pam sat in the small auditorium eagerly waiting to hear the main speaker at her churches women’s retreat.  The theme of the retreat was “Living a Grateful Life” and she desperately wanted help in understanding how to live daily with a grateful attitude.  Somehow over the last several years her attitude toward life in general and her family specifically had become negative.  Pam knew her negative attitude was damaging her most precious relationships and that it wasn’t honoring to God.  With her whole heart she desired to change, but it was difficult establishing a new way of thinking.

The speaker began. “Lately I’ve been thinking about how important the act of being grateful is and how it can effects our everyday lives.  Learning to live a grateful life is such an important goal that when I type “being grateful” into the Amazon search box the results show 22,226 titles concerning this topic.  The Bible has more than 68 verses that specifically address “being grateful” or thankful to God for and in all our circumstances.   Pam thought, “68 verses!  I didn’t realize how important being grateful was to God.” 

The speaker continued.  “Why is it important to God that we Christians discipline ourselves in having a grateful spirit?  I think it’s because the act of being thankful focuses our minds on God, and His faithful hand of provision.  It puts the emphases on God and diminishes the frustration of our daily trials.  Practicing a grateful attitude helps us see and appreciate the many blessings God has given us, even when the blessings turn into momentary trials. ”  Pam identified with this last statement; so many things she’d once considered a blessing had become trials in her life.

The speaker went on.  “A grateful attitude is a powerful attitude because it can change our body language, tone of voice, thought pattern and interaction with others.  A grateful attitude increases our energy and inspires those around us.  A grateful attitude will help keep us mindful of the fact that we are blessed by God and he loves us mightily.  A grateful attitude may not change our situation or circumstances, but it will help gives us strength while going through them and make our days much more enjoyable.”  Pam wanted to be grateful; she wanted to be a blessing to others.

Next the speaker addressed the damaging effects of a negative attitude.  “On the other hand a negative attitude will have the opposite effect.  It will drain our energy, change our body language, tone of voice, thought pattern, and interaction with others; for the worse.  And it will discourage those around you.  A negative attitude will hinder our prayer life and Bible reading.  That’s why as Christians it’s imperative that we discipline ourselves daily to have a grateful attitude.”  Pam felt like the speaker was describing her and felt deep pain within her spirit.  She prayed for God’s forgiveness.

Concluding, the speaker addressed specifically how a God honoring attitude of gratefulness impacts the family.  “Sometimes our greatest blessings can also be our greatest struggles.  For example our families are indeed a great blessing.  However, when our husband’s idiosyncrasies start bugging us or when the children are whining, fighting, and generally driving us crazy, they can feel more like a curse than a blessing. This is when we need to practice the discipline of being grateful instead of giving in to negative thoughts about our loved ones.  If we allow that initial negative thought to take root in our minds, it can quickly grow and before long our annoyance with a few little quirks becomes the filter through which we see our spouses or children.  That’s why we need to discipline our minds to be thankful to God for the many blessings He has given us including our families instead of dwelling on our irritation with them.  When we choose to do this it will bring our negative thoughts into captivity and release ourselves to love as God has instructed us to love.”

That’s what Pam wanted, to honor God by disciplining her mind to be grateful so she can live and love as God intended her to.  The speaker passed out a list of Bible verses about gratefulness, Pam read them and determined to use them as her daily guide to disciplining her mind to be grateful daily.

Psalm 100: 1-5 (A Psalm for giving thanks.)  Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. 

 Ephesians 5:20  Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Philippians 4:6   Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippian 4:8   Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Psalm 28:7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.

Debora Shelford Hobbs

The Rest of the Story

A few years ago I wrote a post called Overcoming Resentment.  It is a story that covers a three year period in my life that taught me a hard lesson about pride, resentment, and forgiveness.  Since writing that post, the story came full circle and now I must share the rest of that saga because it is one that shows how the ashes of our lives really can be turned to beauty.

For background purposes, here’s a quick summary of Overcoming Resentment:  When my two youngest children were preschoolers an older couple living next door didn’t like the noise and chaos that radiates out of little kids.  The couple regularly called the police with complaints against my children for side walk chalk, wading pool noise, and laughing and yelling from childish play.  They tape recorded the kid’s noise and played it back at distortion levels into the street.  There were many other terrible events during that three year period and our neighborhood became a hostile place and I became bitter and resentful toward my neighbors.

I had been convicted for months to go and talk to the lady of the house but I always made the excuse that I wasn’t to blame for the problems;  I shouldn’t be the one to apologize…she should. But the Lord persisted with the conviction and the end finally came when I was flipping through my bible and landed on Job 36:13 – The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help.
After reading that passage, I realized that the Godless person full of resentment was me and I could no longer wait to apologize to my neighbor.  I had to take responsibility for my part.  I told God that I was too chicken to phone, but would go outside and work in the yard and if they came out, I would apologize.  As I walked out my door, their garage door went up and out stepped the lady.  With a pounding heart, I called her name and walked over to her yard and apologized.  After that conversation, they never called the police on my kids again. 

As the years moved forward, our previous enemies became our friends.  That in itself was an amazing shift but even more incredible was when she was diagnosed with lung cancer six years ago; I became an active part of her life.  This woman who once hated me, called me frequently for help and when she passed away a year ago, I held her hand as she lay dying.  But the biggest blessing of all was praying with her for salvation before she died.

After her death, I kept an eye out for her husband as he was in his late 80’s and alone as his children live out of state.   Two weeks ago, I pulled into my driveway late one afternoon and noticed that his outside lights were still on and the newspaper still lay in the driveway.  Dread overwhelmed me as he is like clockwork in his actions and his lights are out and newspaper always picked up by 10:00 AM.  I called him several times and went over to his house to ring the door bell.  There was no answer.  I peeked in his windows to see if I could see him on the floor but all I saw was the coat he always wore, hanging on the back of a chair.  I grabbed the spare set of house keys they had given me, timidly went into his house, and found him passed away in his bed.

So why do I tell this story?  Because it reminds me that God is a God of reconciliation.  It reminds me that my pride and self righteousness never work for good, but humility, when I allow it to grow in my heart, births something I would never known as possible.   At the time, it seemed unfair that God required me to apologize when I had never said a rude word to the couple…but God saw the evil in my heart…the evil I had try to hide away.  When God finally got my attention, He took what the devil meant for destruction and turned it into good.

The enemy (me) became a daughter, when God totally turned the tables on a very ugly situation.  And that’s what God does….if we let Him. 

Sometimes God requires us to do things that don’t make since or that seem unfair; things that hurt a lot or cost us our pride.  But rest assured God cares more about our heart and its spiritual state than one ounce of our pride.  As we get better at humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord, we will get better at getting out of His way and giving Him room to really move in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  That is when we will see with our own eyes that God really makes beauty from the ashes of our lives.

 

Rhonda Shelford Jansen

 

 

Armadillo Armor

 

                                         

A few days ago I reminded myself of an armadillo, all curled up in a ball protecting my tender underbelly from harsh words and careless actions of another.  Now, I wasn’t literally laying on the floor curled up in a little armadillo ball, but I had emotionally curled up, leaving only my protective armor exposed.  I had felt vulnerable but wanted to appear strong, so I donned my armadillo like armor and pretended indifference while giving voice to the unkind thoughts that had been swarming in my head.  My words hurt the other, like they were intended to do.

As I walked away, armadillo armor still engaged, I spent a few minutes vindicating my behavior by creating a mental list of the other person’s wrong doing.   I double checked this list for accuracy then measured the other’s actions against my own.   Of course, I found myself cleared of all wrong doing because the other’s actions were so unbelievably ruthless.   At this point I’m feeling pretty good about my armadillo-armored-self and continue on with my day in a cloud of denial.

Now, the problem with dwelling in a cloud of denial is that the sun, which reflects God’s glory, burns right through it, leaving me exposed.  Exposed to my own bad behavior and the damage it has causes in an important relationship.  It’s painful to have my cloud of denial burned off, in fact at first I’m resistant to the light and remind myself about the guilt of the other.  But the sun grows brighter and the cloud of denial thinner.  Finally, my armadillo armor melts and my cloud of denial is gone leaving my unkind words gleaming so brightly I can no longer deny what they are.  They are sin. 

Dropping to my knees I asked God to forgive me for deliberately hurting His child, and for being resentful, and for hiding in my cloud of denial.  I remembered James 1: 26, “if anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” This verse is disturbing because it’s talking about my armadillo armor and my cloud of denial.  Sometimes when the light of God shines through His Word, it hurts!  But it’s a hurt that molds us into better people.  It’s a hurt that molds us into better friends, neighbors, family members, moms and dads, and spouses. 

I really don’t want my religion to be worthless, but it’s so hard to hold my tongue when others are not.  I want to make them be kind, to change their behavior,  but I can’t no matter how hard I try.  And that’s the key, it doesn’t matter what others are doing because I can’t control them or change them, I can only control myself.  That’s what God asks us to do, to control ourselves.  In 1 Peter 3:9 it says, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  The Bible doesn’t say repay kindness with kindness, it says repay evil with blessings!  Wow, that’s hard but not impossible because God is there to help us learn how to control our own armadillo armor and cloud of denial.   

Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

Proverbs 12:18The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

James 3:10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Proverbs 15:28 – The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.

Debora Shelford Hobbs

Fighting to Forgive

Forgiveness is a higher call
It challenges the heart of all.
It often goes against all reason
It seems like granting grace for treason.
But in this misconception lies
A home for bitter roots to hide.

God tells us that we must forgive
But we ask “Why?” as pain’s relived.
“They don’t deserve it… don’t You see?”
“Why am I the one You’re punishing?”
“They must pay an honest price!”
“Only justice will suffice!”

The hurt keeps circling in our heart.
Replayed by memories that won’t depart.
And as we pound the golden gavel
God weeps and sees our lives unravel.

For unforgiveness chains our heart.
And bitterness blooms… while joy departs.
A once soft heart turns to a stone
And bitterness rots once healthy bones.

And that’s why God says to Forgive
For bitterness dies as grace we give.
Its not to set the criminal free
But to heal and restore and set OUR souls free.
Forgiveness sets us free from shackles
Reminding us, God fights our battles.

Confront the one that brought offense
With love and grace… seeking to mend.
Leaving the heart of our offender
To our God… our true defender.
For there’s no heart that we can read
And if we try… our peace will leave.

Know that we are not our hurt.
That we are more than pain asserts.
Let go of bitterness, judgment, and wrath
Let them all go, let grace take their spot.
Knowing that God moves mountains for us
As we humbly submit and in His wisdom, trust.

It may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
But trust in the Lord… He’ll walk it with you.
Get out of God’s way… He knows what He’s doing.
Pray for the offender and for their renewing.

And blessings will fall, more than we can count
And love, joy, and peace will grow like a fount.
Out of the hurt new life will grow and rather than bitterness,
God’s love we’ll sew.

Rhonda Shelford Jansen

Ephesians 4:31-32
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Job 42:10  (NIV) After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored
his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.

The Bitterness Weed

 

                           

Bitterness:
Strong and sharp in taste: having a sharp strong unpleasant taste.
Angry and resentful. Difficult to accept: mentally painful, or very hard to accept
Synonyms: sour, acid, acidic, tart, astringent, vinegary, pungent, harsh, acrid

I’ve been thinking about the act of being bitter and how bitterness, if not dealt with, can affect every aspect of our lives.  Bitterness can blind a person to the love that is around them.  Bitterness has the power to turn a person inwards, making them selfish and self-consumed.  A bitter heart becomes brittle and intolerant.  A bitter person will find the bad in every situation unable to see the good.  Bitterness can strangle our creative energy.  And a bitter heart is unable to open up to God’s love, it is unable to trust in God’s love because it is always in a state of self-protection.

Bitterness is like a weed, it is a living organism that need sustenance to survive and when it’s thriving it has the power to weaken our emotional, physical, and spiritual health.  The Bitterness Weed is fed and nourished by our judgmental, negative, self-righteous, and unforgiving thoughts.  Because bitterness is living, it will either grow or wither depending on our ability to starve it with forgiveness or feed it with judgment.  Starving bitterness is not for the weak of spirit.  It requires surrendering our right to justifiable anger and judgment.  It demands that we not seek retribution ourselves for our pain, but allow God’s justice, which is a mystery to most of us, to have control. 

All of us at one time or another have thought, “They don’t deserve forgiveness” or “It’s not fair, they feel no pain and are suffering no consequence for their destructive behavior” and we’re right, it’s not fair from a human point of view.  So, in an effort to bring justice to the situation, we self-righteously judge the individual deeming them unworthy of forgiveness.  And then we move on, right?  Nope.

The problem is we’re not capable of judging others harshly and moving on.  We continue to judge them in our thoughts and before we know it we’re feeding the weed of bitterness.  Each time we ruminate over their bad actions and reassure ourselves of our righteous judgment, the bitterness weed grows stronger. Before long our outlook on life becomes a little more negative and our prayer time a little less frequent, and the Bible sits unopened for longer stretches of time on our night stand.

Before long we become bitter leaving a sharp and unpleasant taste in the mouths of our friends and family.  Unbeknown to ourselves we become sour, tart, vinegary, pungent, harsh, and acrid in our attitudes and relationships.  We have officially become bitter because of our self-righteous right to judge and not forgive.  We now have a healthy, bitter-weed garden within our spirit that only God’s love, wisdom, and forgiveness can eradicate.

It’s true that starving bitterness is not for the weak of spirit.  It takes unmeasurable amounts of faith, humbleness, and forgiveness to starve bitterness from our spirit.  But if we choose to do so, God will help us, He will give us strength when we have none, and the courage to continue to forgive even when it seem like justice is not being served.  God’s ways can be a mystery to us but when we follow them they always replace bitterness with beauty.

Debora Shelford Hobbs 

A Tree Called “Can’t Forgive”

There are many possible reasons for unanswered prayer. This poem deals with only one…the heart.   Other explanations for unanswered prayer can be that we must wait on God’s timing or the person we’re praying for is resisting the Holy Spirit since God gives us all free will.   It can also be that what we are asking for isn’t good in the long run or there may be something we need to learn before the answer can be delivered.  Lastly, a request  might very simply,  not be in God’s will or purpose for our lives.  This poem deals directly with the sins of the heart and the affect they can have on our prayer life.  The poem doesn’t mean that we can only see answers to prayer if we are sinless, for if that were the case, we would never see answered prayer.  But when God reveals something in our heart that needs to change and we resist, we run into all kinds of problems including a greatly diminished prayer life.

A Tree Called “Can’t Forgive”

With faith as small as mustard seed a mighty mountain falls Just a spoken word of faith uproots a tree and all Its written that a fervent prayer from a heart that’s right Releases heaven’s power and shackles evils’ fight. 

So if my prayers are full of faith… are fervent from my heart Then tell me why my heartfelt cries seem empty and ignored I’ve watched and waited long O God… to see my mountains fall But all I see is empty space and silence from You pours. Here on my knees I cry to You, Renew my hope this day For I am growing weary and my scars, they blind my way.

 As I cried unto the Lord, His words came sure and true That if I hold sin in my heart, my prayers cannot be heard. 

And then God said so clear and loud; it shook my world that day A tree of unforgiveness, has hid you’re prayers from Me. For its dark roots have burrowed down and fostered bitter pride They furrowed deep within the heart and judgment worked its blight And now a tree called “Can’t Forgive” shades My holy light. It stands between your heart and Mine, it shadows prayers and cries And as it grows it suffocates My power in your life. With faith just like a mustard seed uproot that tree this day. And cast it out with roots and all in Jesus’ mighty name. As “Can’t Forgive” is toppled, My heart will join with yours And you will see with your own eyes, My power from heaven pour. 

 

Luke 17:6,  Matthew 17:20, James 5:16, Psalms 66:18 Rhonda Shelford Jansen

 

The Grace of God

 

              

 The grace of God pours down like rain, to wash away my guilt and shame.
The grace of God so undeserved, s
o free a gift that perseveres
Through all my fault and daily failing, through hardened heart and disobeying.
Why don’t You turn and run from me, why do You care to set me free?
From chains that tie me to the past and hardened heart that breaks like glass.
And when I fall and lose my way, You pick me up and gently say
Fear not my child, My love is true, it does not waver; though you do.
I’ll mold you into something new and bring new courage through and through.

O God to You I humbly bow, amazed by grace You give me now.
Your grace, it daily sets me free;  Your mercy, drops me to my knees
As I submit my will to You old strongholds fade like morning dew.
I’m overwhelmed, my mind is reeling, my heart is full with grace You’re giving.
Then dawns on me a fearful jest, t
hat I hold grace tight to my chest
But rather, judgment fills my heart; I hold contempt when they fall short
Forgetting all my sins and failing, I pound the gavel; pronounce them guilty
With pride filled heart I give no mercy.

How can this grace that I’ve been given be kept from those that need forgiving?
Forgive me God; help me to see that what I do is grieving thee.
Remind me when I am offended Your grace must always be extended
Grace isn’t mine to hold so dear but rather give without a fear
To make more room for grace from You to share Your love each day anew.

By Rhonda Shelford Jansen

 

 

 

 

Falling Short of One’s Potential


The Unerutilized woman

Webster’s dictionary:  Underutilize
– to utilize less than fully or below the potential use; to fail to utilize fully.



I know a woman who has it all.  She’s smart, naturally beautiful with olive skin and long dark hair, and graduated college at the top of her class.  As if this were not enough she also has two handsome, tall, athletic, smart, college bound sons.  Yet, she is underutilized.   I know this doesn’t make since, but it’s true.  How can a woman who has it all be underutilized?  The answer is she has hidden from her own potential most of her adult life.  How has she done this you ask? By allowing her mistakes, disappointments, fear, insecurity, and the negative life commandments spoken to her throughout her life to be the foundation she uses when making decisions.


Hiding behind the responsibility of parenting she has walked on the periphery of all social activity saying she was too busy to get involved.   She has neglected developing her creativity because it might take away from focusing on her children.  She has also neglected the development of friendships.  Socially she is reserved and slightly detached only allowing a few into her thoughts and this self-protection has contributed to her being an underutilized woman.


We are all born with potential to be creative, vital members of our society and it’s our responsibility to nurture this potential.  Throughout the Bible there are verses stating that it pleases God when we use our talents to help others, be creative, and contribute to our community.  However, life has a way of knocking us down, disappointments can make us bitter, and abuse whether verbal, physical, sexual, or religious, can take away our belief that we have something to offer others.  This is what happened to my friend.


During her life my friend has experienced many hardships, as a child she was sexually and verbally abused.  As a young college student she conceived her first child out of wedlock, having been brought up in a Christian home she felt great shame but determined to keep and love her child.  Eighteen months after her first child was born she married an energetic, ambitious, dynamic, and successful man and became pregnant almost immediately.  This marriage became verbally and physical abusive and she lived in fear for her children and her lives.  After five years she divorced him and moved back into her parent’s home broken and defeated.


A few years after the divorce she met a wonderful Christian man at church and they started dating.  After about eight months of dating she found herself pregnant once again.  Too ashamed to admit this to anyone she had an abortion.  The guilt she felt from the abortion led to resentment towards her boyfriend and soon they broke up.  Now, twelve years later we find my friend living with her parents, working low paying jobs, still bound to failure by the shame, hurts, and disappointments of the past.  Her one constant has been the unwavering dedication she has given her children, living vicariously through them while neglecting herself.


My friend has lost sight of her potential.  Without the deep rooted belief that she has something to offer the world she has lived an underutilized life.  She sees herself and the world around her through a lens of disappointment, insecurity, fear and defeat.  But God sees her as a beautiful woman full of promising potential and he wants to help her develop that potential so she will become a fully utilized woman.


Like my friend each of us has scars from past mistakes, abuse, disappointment, shame, and a feeling of loss over abandoned goals.  We have also been given a combination of talents and gifts to develop, nurture, and use as we navigate life.  The question is, will we let the hardships of life derail us from using them to their fullest potential? There is beauty in our hardships when we gain understanding from them and then use this understanding to compassionately help and encourage others.    


God forgives our past and asks us to move forward holding onto his hand, clinging to his word and his promises.  As we move forward in Christ, God can and will use all our past mistakes, hurts and disappointments to help others; he will open up the flow of creativity and will help us forgive ourselves.  In his capable hands our lives will be created into lives that are fully utilized.  He will turn an underutilized woman into a fully utilized one.  We, as women need to let go of our past mistakes, accept God’s forgiveness as complete, forgive ourselves, and diligently use our talents to honor God.



Debora Shelford Hobbs


 



 

The Battle of Words

                                   
The Battle of Words


Words whirl through the air like sleek, sharp, arrows with poisonous heads. 
I turn to protect myself and they pierce my back, between the shoulder blades.
It hurts and I pause for a moment then reload my bow with arrows intended for the heart.
I pull back the bow and take aim.
Did it pierce the skin and penetrate the heart?
His eyes will tell me. 
They flicker. 
My heart wrenches; I feel the pain constrict my heart ….along with his.
The poisonous arrow head pierced deeply; his shield was down just enough to let it slip by.
There is no glory in this victory; I have lost more than I gained.
Integrity has been sacrificed at the alter of my ego.


Forgiveness

To win the battle I must forgive and ask to be forgiven.
I offer a healing balm; words of lavender and honey, please forgive me, I was wrong.
I gently pull out the arrow and place a band aid over the puncture; I love you.
I softly kiss your chest; I touch you; your armor and shield are set aside.
I wrap you in a warm comfy blanket; I offer you me.
We have won.


 Genesis 50:17-18
…I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.  Now please forgive the sins of the servants of God of your father.  When the message came to him, Joseph wept. 


 By Debora Shelford Hobbs

Resentment Unleashed

Resentment and its devastating effects on the human heart are not unlike a chip in a car’s windshield.  A car is driving the road happily about its business when a rock fly’s out of nowhere and hits the glass so hard that it leaves a mark.  After the initial shock, the chip is easily ignored and is barely noticeable especially since the rest of the glass looks sturdy and secure.  The problem is, that chip when subjected to severe weather and temperature changes begins to branch out until the entire windshield is cracked, leaving it unstable and dangerous.  That original little mark morphed from a tiny flaw that no one really noticed into something that became noticeable to all.  This word picture became my story some years ago, as hurtful events hit me broadside and rather than dealing with the hurt, I buried it and it cracked my heart and behavior until I was merely a shadow of my original self. 


The first nick in my psyche was when our neighbor’s started attacking my family and children in a bizarre set of scenarios that cast my family into a resentful and stressful state as recorded in “Overcoming Resentment.”  That situation had penetrated my heart with deep resentment and it was branching out and reaching into other areas of my life.  For as I was soon to learn, a root of sin always spreads, even when our intentions are quite the opposite.  Perhaps that’s why I fell so easily into resentment in yet another area of my life. 


During the last two years of high school my oldest son, dated a very nice girl named Shelly.  Her family loved Cody and bent over backwards to make him feel important.  It was just a mild annoyance until Shelly’s mom started crossing boundaries by contradicting our belief system and undermining our discipline. Anger boiled in my heart and I began to resent her interference.  My patience grew even thinner as my son went on and on about his admiration for their “perfect family” and their “perfect parenting” skills.  By the time my resentment was in full bloom, my son was a senior and I was hesitant to confront the Mom due to the fact that he was nearly 18.  I didn’t want to be that “interfering Mom” that needs to let go of their child nor did I want to cause a breach in my relationship with Cody so I stayed quiet and stewed in my resentment. 


School Committees and sports dominated my time in those days so I constantly had contact with many other parents. As I grew more agitated, I took the liberty to vent my frustration whenever other parents asked me about Cody and Shelly.  Without hesitation I provided far too much information about her mom’s behavior and then nicely framed it with “But, I’m sure she means well.”  Far too much energy was wasted with negative thoughts about this situation and my ongoing neighborhood battle.  As the resentment cracks grew in my heart, even a small offense was cause for animosity.  More and more I assumed evil intensions from anyone that offended me; I judged their hearts rather than offering mercy and understanding.  I have become convinced that there is nothing that tips a woman toward insanity quicker, than to have someone mess with her kids.


 There I was, on a path of self justified, wrong behavior and I dishonored God with my words and heart.  Yet, I felt justified because she had disrespected us and was interfering in our family – particularly with my son.   But God gently showed me that He doesn’t care about who instigates a problem.  He only cares about our behavior and our character growth in the midst of injustice.  Wrong behavior never justifies a response of wrong behavior but that is exactly what I was doing. 


Unfortunately, I never made this ordeal right because Cody and Shelly broke up when he went to college so it ceased being an issue.  I occasionally reflected on the situation however, and feel embarrassed and guilty that I never discovered a functional, Godly way to solve it. There was no reconciliation and to this day I don’t if  Shelly’s mom was aware of my back biting and feelings.
But I know. 


Looking back, I ask myself what I could have done differently.  Rather than allowing my bad feelings to pile up, I should have confronted the woman in kindness and respect, and explained how her actions hurt our family.  If I found that impossible, I could have simply let go of the situation and given the family mercy, knowing that God takes care of his children and vengeance belongs to God alone.  Resentment was a strong-hold for me and an area that the enemy easily got me going in the wrong direction.  As I wrote in “Overcoming Resentment” God stopped me in my tracks the summer after Cody graduated when I opened my bible and read with new understanding “The Godless in heart harbor resentment, even when He fetters them they do not call for help. They die in their youth.” Job 36:13.
That scripture drove a spike through my heart and revealed the destruction that resentment had wrought in my life.  Within three years, resentment that started from my neighborhood battle steadily grew inch by inch, offense by offense, until it had branched out into a network that overwhelmed my heart.   I had changed from a positive person to a negative person.  With great mercy the Lord opened my eyes to the truth in those verses and He helped me to understand my responsibility when faced with personal offenses.  He gave me a new heart, one of forgiveness and mercy and a knowledge that I need to trust God in all situations, even ones that are unjust.


I have learned that many times, God allows us to stew in our trouble in order to burn away the rubbish in our hearts and build us in character and spiritual maturity. He truly does take beauty from ashes.  Since resentment has been a stronghold for me, I must be on the watch for it whenever I am offended. And especially be on watch for the motivations of my heart because resentment can be easy to justify and hide.  The Lord has taught me that I must quickly forgive and offer mercy and understanding while allowing the Lord to repair hurt so that resentment cannot grow into an all consuming root system that breaks me and blinds me to my own destructive behavior.
Lastly, I am amazed by the fact that even when I am unmerciful, God is still merciful to me…how humbling is that?


By Rhonda Shelford Jansen


BEAUTY FOR ASHES

The joys of marriage bliss are great
but constant trouble turns love to hate.      
Where do we turn when weighted down
When hurt and pressures do abound?                                                    
In our saviors arms we will find rest
Renewal of hope and peace thats best 
He’ll lift you up and turn you round
And give you joy like never found.  


Over the years my husband and I experienced many tough times in our marriage.  When the trouble first started I fervently prayed with unshakable faith and believed that things would change.  However, as the years wore on and change was slow in coming, I grew weary of waiting and all the things I prayed for seemed little more than a distant and unattainable dream.   Discouragement was sucking the life out of whatever hope remained in my heart and bitterness blossomed where love had once lived. 


There was nothing in the natural that could promise me change; there was no quick fix and no easy solution.   As hopelessness grew, my desire to pray waned and bitterness grew more.  One afternoon the Lord spoke to me and reminded me that the enemy was trying to reply history in my life.  You see, my own mom had struggled with depression due to marriage problems and now it was happening to me.  The thought struck me with terror because I had watched my vibrant mother become withdrawn and broken with her gifts and talents completely shut down.  Right then, from a very dark place I cried out to God to break the cycle of depression and I bound the enemy from replaying destructive family history in my life.  I practically yelled and said “You will not destroy me; you will not cause depression and its lies to prosper in my heart.  By the strength of the lord and in the name of Jesus I will be a new example for my kids, I will start a new pattern of victory! I rebuke you Satan and your lies; I bind the spirit of depression and hopelessness from me now, in the name of Jesus Christ.  You have no authority over me and my savior has good plans for me, plans to prosper me, plans for hope and a future.”   That day, I rose up in hope and became aware that God wants to give us beauty for ashes but the enemy wants to destroy us in our problems, and he will if we let him.  That wasn’t the last time  Satan has tested the soil of my heart with hopelessness but the Lord has opened my eyes each time and as I reach for Him like a drowning man, He pulls me out. 


There is a joy available in all of our troubles and it is deep.  It is found in our complete submission before God and our awareness that the enemy is waiting for a chance to pounce.  It is also found by releasing our control when things go wrong and by viewing life and whatever it hands us, through the scope of eternity. Each time I hit that place of complete surrender I make better decisions, I deal better in my marriage, and am a far better example to my children.  As in most of life’s challenges it’s not easy to stay in that place of surrender and joy.  Some new problem arises and uncovers old wounds and the process starts all over again.  Before I realize it, in through the floodgate comes the justified anger and bitterness; the judgment and hard heart, and finally my straining to control outcomes; all of which lead me right back to the face of depression.  But when I listen, the Holy Spirit speaks to my troubled heart and I fall on my face before God; letting go of what I want and submitting my heart to the Lord.  His joy and hope flows deep into my heart and once again I am refreshed to pray and to face the trials of life. 


I have learned that we are in control of absolutely nothing in this life…except our own behavior.  The rest is up to God.  If we seek him, he will give us wisdom regarding what we should and shouldn’t do in the midst marriage issues and other problems. God specializes in taking beauty from ashes and we can be assured that He we will do that for each of us if we will surrender our desires and place our hope in Him instead of the things we desire in this world. 


By Rhonda Shelford Jansen 

FREEDOM FROM THE PAST

The Power of Forgiveness:

An old wooden cart is rumbling up a dusty, desert trail.  The day is hot and cart is pulled by a nameless man intent on doing his task. Sitting in the wooden cart is another man; he is sickly and slumping against the rough, wooden slats. His boney face is drawn and sad and he is wearing nothing but a bleached, ragged loin wrap.  Not a word is spoken and each man acts as if the other isn’t there. 
Chained to the leg of the sickly man is a rotting corpse but he seems unaware of its presence. 
This doomed man isn’t crying for help nor does he try to remove the decaying body so he can be healthy again; he just sits there, completely subject to his circumstances.
As people pass by they cry out “Break the chain and bury the corpse or it will poison you.” 
The man hears them but does not listen nor heed their cry but continues on, a prisoner to the corpse and cart. 
The corpse decays more and the stench becomes so great that no one can stand coming near.
Even those that cared enough to try and convince him to unchain the body can’t take it anymore so they give up and stay away. 
They leave the man to die in his own, self-induced misery.


This is a dream that came to me three times and each time the cart was pulled by something different.  The third time it disrupted my sleep I sat up and said “Lord, why do I keep having this horrible dream? Are you trying to teach me something?”
In an Instant, I knew the meaning:


The sickly man in the cart is broken from hurt, disappointment, and the traumas of life.  He is hopeless which has birthed a consuming depression.  The corpse represents situations from childhood to present and retell a story of loss, failure, shame, fear, and abuse.  He hates and loves it at the same time and it constantly reminds him that he will never be free.  The cart symbolizes how small his world has become because his focus is on the bitterness of the past rather than on what good can come from those experiences.  His world has become more and more about “him” and less and less about what he can contribute.


In the three dreams, a man, a donkey, and a train were pulling the cart.  They demonstrate that the sickly man is no longer active in determining the outcomes of his life. He isn’t pulling his own cart.  He sees himself as a victim caught in a life that someone else controls.  He allows his circumstances that change from day to day to determine where he goes, how he acts, and what he does. The stench represents a cloud of self pity and bitterness that have been birthed from refusing to let go of the past.  He see everything that happens as a personal offense and others don’t like being around him because he is a black cloud.


The people willing to help are friends, family, and counselors that advise him to see the past through different glasses.  They try to convince him that God can take beauty from all the ashes of his past and he is willing to listen and receive their attention but he never implements any of the advice.  Now the friends have given up and have left him to die with the corpse of his past.
__________________________________________________________________________


This is a warning to all of us.  We all have hurts from the past that we haven’t truly let go and certainly haven’t fully forgiven; they are dead weight and would love to destroy us.  The problem is, the enemy works overtime convincing us that to let go of those hurts would make light of their gravity and to forgive the offender(s) would offer undeserved mercy and free them of responsibility for the crime.  We have a determined loyalty and obligation to the very past that is damning us. 
 
To forgive and release the offender or event doesn’t change the fact that it happened nor does it remove responsibility; it only changes us and sets us free.  When we refuse to let hurts go, the event stays active in our lives, and the act is committed over and over again.   If we don’t release the past our legacy will become one of darkness, self pity, and bitterness. God wants to do something good with our hurt…WE ARE NOT VICTIMS.  We are individuals that have experienced hurt that others too have experienced and we are going to become better and richer in character because of that hurt.  Becoming free of the past will take a conscious decision that the experience will no longer destroy us.


Another step toward freedom from the past is to be aware of our words and behavior.  Speaking out and thinking in a positive way…even when we don’t feel like it will help to break old patterns.  We must quit paying attention to how we feel and act on the truth of God’s word.  Our feelings change from day to day and are unreliable.  Our state of mind must be built on the solid foundation that God has something good for each of us, that bad things happen to good people to make us stronger, to develop our character, and make us more useful to society.  It is also important to be interested in other people’s lives and ask them how they are doing; to be more interested in hearing someone else’s story than in telling our own.  It will birth awareness that there are many other hurting people in this world and our experiences, as we learn to let God use them, will help others.


A final thought.  Many times our hurt brings either a hidden or an overt rift with God.  We feel abandoned because he didn’t protect us from our situation. After all, we would use any means possible to protect our kids from harm, and aren’t we God’s kids? The doubt and distrust places our relationship with God at arm’s length.
The belief is hidden deep in our heart that God chose not to bless us with good things so we must somehow be less. Never forget that God allowed his own son to be tortured and crucified for a purpose far greater than those immediately involved were able to understand and Jesus had to walk out the pain in order for the good to be realized.  Imagine if Christ, about half way through his torture, said “Father, if you really loved me, You wouldn’t allow this to happen to me.”  And while hanging there, hardened his heart against God and determined to fix things his own way.  What if he used his supernatural power to get off the cross then killed all the soldiers and walked away?  He could have and things would certainly be different now, wouldn’t they?  Even though Jesus cried out in hurt and pain “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” He submitted to God, kept his heart soft toward his father, and walked through the pain, knowing there was great purpose in it and there would be a future reward.  Furthermore, he didn’t hate the Jews or the Soldiers even though they had committed a terrible crime.  He forgave them fully.
You see, Jesus, God’s own precious Son suffered great injustice.  He felt abandoned, hurt, and deep pain and it wasn’t because He wasn’t blessed or favored by God.  There was a great purpose for it that would change the entire course of the world.




By Rhonda Shelford Jansen

OVERCOMING RESENTMENT

Resentment: 3 years in a fiery furnace:


In scripture the number 3 is said to mean completeness.  Christ was in the tomb three days but arose new and complete. Jonah was in the whale 3 days; Esther and her people fasted for three days before she risked her life for the Israelites.  After three years of deep stress and resentment, the Lord opened my eyes to see my family’s responsibility in a situation where I had previously believed my family to be the victims.  I arose out of a fiery furnace forever changed.

In less than two years our family of 3 swelled to 5 members and our cars and home were suddenly too small.  We purchased our first large SUV and began praying and looking for a new house.   After two years of looking, we settled on a home that was everything I had prayed for.  It was situated in a cul-de-sac with a large yard on a greenbelt and even had a sound view.  The existing colors inside the house matched all of my furniture and accessories perfectly.  It was God’s gift to my family, tailor made for us.

The neighbors were friendly in our 5 house cul-de-sac but we were disappointed to learn that there were no children.  We were delighted however, that a little farther up the street the neighborhood was packed with families and our kids quickly made friends.  To our right, an older couple, Lucille and Jim lived one house away and seemed particularly kind.  They even helped introduce our two youngest to other preschoolers up the street.  To our immediate left lived Marta and Paul.  They were somewhat aloof but nevertheless warmly welcomed us along with the other neighbors. 

Laughing, yelling, and childish busyness followed my two youngest everywhere.   The neighborhood children frequently congregated in our cul-de-sac and yard, raising the noise level even higher.  There were many days where you could find 3 kids on the trampoline, 2 riding big wheels in the cul-de-sac, and another 2 playing whiffle ball on the front lawn.   My daughter, Jenny took great delight in filling our cul-de-sac with multi-room houses drawn in bright side-walk chalk.  To say that there was nonstop fun and chaos at our house was an understatement but the children never harmed any neighbor’s property. 

 Within a year of our moving into the neighborhood my preschoolers and their noise were driving Marta and Lucille crazy and they started showing signs of impatience and agitation toward our family. In the front yard, Marta’s grass was joined to ours with no separation and it drove her absolutely nuts when my little Caleb would wonder onto their property.  She would sometimes scream; “GET OFF MY GRASS!”  But it was pretty hard for my 4 year old to be aware of an inexact, invisible boundary since all the grass looked the same to him.  Our driveway was long and since our garage was full of riding toys, I frequently parked my car down by the sidewalk.  Several times, when Caleb, Jenny and I walked down our long driveway, Lucille and Melissa sat side by side in lawn chairs pointing and laughing at us as we made our way to the car.  It was intimidating but I did my best to pretend they weren’t getting to me and to ignore it for Jenny and Caleb’s sake.  When the kids were laughing and jumping on the trampoline Marta screamed over the back yard fence in hysterics “SHUT UP!!”   Jim was quick to hose off the sidewalk chalk shortly after Jenny’s artwork was complete and she couldn’t understand why. It didn’t help matters when Jenny told Lucille that our family believed they needed to paint their garage and that we wanted them to move so we could buy their house…this exaggerated and made up childish rhetoric enraged Lucille. 

Nine months after the stress began we took a two week vacation to Hawaii. When we arrived home we were welcomed with a letter signed by six neighbors telling us our kids were a bother and to keep them indoors or take them 4 blocks away to the neighborhood park for play time.  Several of the neighbors immediately apologized and said they felt pressured to sign it and completely disagreed with the premise.   In spite of the apologies, we felt isolated and afraid of our neighbor’s and anxiously wondered what they would stop at to make their point.  A year later I received a notice from the state that I was to cease my day care business immediately and was called to court over having an unlicensed day care.  I had no daycare nor did I ever have one. Fear grew in our hearts and I was actually afraid that Lucille or Marta would make a false child abuse report against me just to get rid of my kids. 

It is important to note at this point that our children never destroyed anyone’s property; they were simply a frequent, noisy and cluttered presence.  The noise wasn’t a 24/7 phenomenon as we live in a cool, wet climate with short summers so many days were spent inside. To paint the two women accurately, Marta was in her 30’s, an admitted witch and a worshipper of nature, she had no children.  Lucille was in her 60’s, a Sunday school teacher, and had no children as well.  A Sunday school teacher and a witch seems an unlikely pair but common goals can unite the most unlikely of persons.  Whether that goal was to harass us into moving or to banish us to the interior of our house, I will probably never know.  

During the second year Lucille started taking pictures of the kids playing, their toys strewn about, and of our wading pool full of children.  We knew from her behavior that it wasn’t because she loved the kids and our imaginations ran wild wondering why she was doing it.  The situation quickly escalated into the realm of insanity. Lucille in her frustration repeatedly recorded the children’s noise on tape cassette. She would then put her boom box in a window facing the cul-de-sac and played back the recordings at total distortion levels for all to hear. After a couple of years she reported to a neighbor that she had 25 such tapes.   Several times, when the kids left a riding toy on the sidewalk near her driveway, she was seen taking the toy and putting it in the trunk of her car.  To her credit, we always got missing toys back.  Police visits to our house became normal as Lucille and Jim called 911 for anything from loud children & side walk chalk to my husband and Jim hurling insults back and forth over the property lines.  The sympathetic, local police had a file an inch thick with complaints and copies of Lucille’s photos…I know, because they showed it to me. Taken together all of these actions kept us in a constant state of anxiety and anger.  We prayed for resolution but received none.


For three years the stress took a mountainous toll on my family.  Fear grew in my youngest children and anger and resentment in my oldest son, husband, and me.

To imply that we did no wrong… would be wrong.  As the trouble wore on, there were many times I said to myself  “You don’t like the noise of children, well… I’ll show you even more noise.”  And would allow more kids to come over and make as much noise as they liked, smiling to myself all the while.  If my daughter hadn’t been out with the side walk chalk for a while, rather than being relieved, I reminded her that she should go out and draw her “extra large” chalk houses again.  My husband and oldest son fell into verbal battles several times with Jim and they weren’t nice and were peppered with profanity and insults that were shocking.  Feeling justified and self righteous, we told many people about the antics of our neighbors, describing in detail just how abused we were.  Of course we were being mistreated, especially my little guys, but we didn’t need to spread the sickness.  A boiling anger burned deeper with every action taken against my kids and roared into an inferno as I watched fear take over their sweet personalities.  But paying evil for evil never pans out. 


Besides being astonished at our neighbor’s behavior and the way we answered it, the thing that disturbed me the most was that anger, resentment, and suspicion was beginning to creep into every facet of our lives. We began to distrust the motivations of good people, believing that they were always against us.   I even saw signs of it in my youngest and that was heartbreaking. 

Sin never stands still and nor can we put a cap on it.  It always grows and always puts it roots into every area of our lives until we dig the sin out, roots and all.  I knew where it was coming from but was unwilling to put my self-righteous pride aside; to humble myself and make things right as best I could.
There were numerous times that I would hear that little voice “Go talk to the neighbors and try and work things out.”  My quick, self righteous response to that would be “Why should I be the one to apologize?  We are the victims here; she should talk to me.”  The final time that voice came to me was one Sunday, after church.  I stood in the kitchen nonchalantly thumbing through my bible when I came upon Job 36:13.  
The Godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them they do not cry for help.  They die in their youth.”      
                                                                                                                                 
I had read the verse before and in fact it was underlined in my bible.  I had arrogantly applied it to my husband and would pray for him with the scripture in mind.  That day as I read, the eyes of my heart opened wide and I realized that I was the one the verse applied to.
It was pretty humbling to say the least. I could physically feel the blood drain from my body at the realization that I had huge resentment in my heart toward my neighbors, and that meant that I was Godless. 

I was so humbled by the knowledge that I said “Lord… Ok… if you want me to talk to Lucille and apologize, I will.  I don’t have the guts to call her, but I will go outside to work in my garden for a while and see if she comes out of her house.   I am asking you to bring her outside if you really want me to talk to her and apologize for my resentment.” 

Please understand that Melissa was gone by now, as she divorced her husband a year earlier and her husband had never participated in any of the behavior.

I grabbed my pruning shears and headed out the front door. As I rounded the corner of my garage, I heard Lucille’s garage door go up and out she came.
I quietly said “Ahhhhhh, OK Lord, you obviously want me to do this.” …A deep breath…pounding heart …and…. “Lucille, can I talk to you?”

It had been so long since we had spoke, that she jumped when she heard my question. Nevertheless, she tentatively answered “Ok.”  I walked over to her property line and said “Lucille, I want to apologize for the resentment that I have had in my heart toward you and Jim, it is wrong, and I also apologize for the rest of my family’s resentment and hatred toward you as well. I was just reading my bible and the Lord convicted my heart of our behavior and I am so sorry.”

She said “I accept your apology but… you know, just yesterday I was going to call the police; the kids were …”  I put my hand up and said “Lucille you and I will never agree on how to raise kids, so I think we should stay away from those conversations.  If my kids damage your property or are rude to you in any way, please inform me and I will take care of it, but if its noise or kids playing in the cul-de-sac, then we are going to have to agree to disagree.” 
She said “Alright and we are sorry too.”  I told her that her apology was accepted and the conversation ended.

A load lifted off my shoulders like nothing I had ever experienced.  I felt free and even had a new compassion for Jim and Lucille.  I finally admitted to myself and my family that we could have brought this to an end a long time ago but I was too busy standing on the belief that it wasn’t our fault, that we were only victims in this and completely blameless.  Boy was I wrong.  It was stubborn rebellion and resentment that lived in us and I hope the lesson learned stays with me forever. 
God always calls us to bigger and better behavior and isn’t real worried about whose fault a circumstance is.  He wants us to be concerned about our behavior and walk blameless before God and man to the best of our ability…regardless of what someone may do to us. 

It has been years since, Jenny is 20 and Caleb is 18.  We are still neighbors and still friendly with Jim and Lucille.  Unfortunately, after we settled our differences, they went on to harass the neighbor whose house sat between theirs and ours.  They were a couple that had their first child shortly after we moved in.  Unable to deal with the stress, they moved away before working out the problems. 

God taught me that nothing in life is about us.  That we are truly servants and are called to reconciliation as much as it depends upon us.  I regret that it took me 3 years to get over myself and my kids but learned lessons that I will never forget.  Maybe we should have moved away after a year of the stress but it just didn’t work out that way.  Instead, we have learned valuable lessons about trying to nip a situation in the bud.  If that’s not possible, then perhaps moving is the next alternative.  But the story went differently for us and it became a battle of wills.

In God’s perfect time, he opened my eyes and brought us out of the furnace. Much waste and chaff was burned away from my mind and heart. I learned that I had a heart of not only resentment but judgment too and boy could I be vindictive. I’ll never know why I didn’t believe “vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay.” But God knew those strongholds were in my heart and that He had a work to do in me; a cleansing.  That fiery furnace left an unknown, darkened part of my heart clean and pure and I will forever be grateful.

By Rhonda Jansen