How faith in God gives us power to embrace self-respect and extend forgiveness

Joseph’s statement of faith: “ God turned into good what you meant for evil.”
Genesis 50:20 TLB

At New Hope Community Church where I worship, we’ve been looking at the Old Testament story of Joseph. Although treated with immense injustices in his teenager and early adult life, he did not become a victim of his circumstances. Instead, he made these amazing choices.

  • When his envious brothers sold him into slavery, he did not despair but recognized God was with him.
  • Instead of cowering before a rich and powerful sexual predator, he fled.
  • When falsely accused and thrown in prison, he did not linger in self-pity but held onto his confidence that God was for him.
  • Instead of embracing a victim identity, he focused on God’s accepting love and chose self-respect.
  • Instead of building resentment toward the prison guards who were over him, he used his administrative skills for their benefit.
  • Instead of reacting with a vengeful spirit, he forgave his brothers and at the same time confronted them with their wickedness in a way that caused them to repent.

How sad it is, today, when women, men, or children are told that the proper thing to do is put up with abuse, deny its effects and move on. Instead of giving victims of abuse the support and power they need to flee, churches often tell them they must stay. No woman, man, or child can do this and thrive in their faith. If we are Christians in this culture, we must have the kind of faith, attitude, and action that Joseph displayed and Jesus practiced.

Unfortunately, I have sometimes ignored messages and actions from others that are hurtful. In my poem, today, I talk about a more mature choice. I’m so thankful for supportive friends and a husband who values and supports me. Most of all, I am thankful to Jesus. It’s through my relationship with him that I find healing, wisdom, strength, courage, and love. Through him, I’ve discovered my true identity and I embrace it with joy.

 When I’m stuck in a rut of anger, suspicion, and resentment,
 How do I get back to self-control, trust, and contentment?
 I have a little talk with myself
 I ask Our Father for help
 I call some friends and ask them to pray
 I take positive action, without delay
 In this way, I show respect for myself
 And enjoy mental and emotional health
 I may be a victim but I have a choice
 I can accept my lot or make use of my voice
 I can call for support and refuse to remain
 A captive to any human’s chain
 I can prove who I am by doing good
 I don’t need to be hostile and start a feud
 Our Father in heaven sees the unjust
 He fights for victims of prejudice.
 Jane Ault

What I learned about teamwork through playing Scrabble with my husband

Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2: 4 NASB)

While eating breakfast this morning I said to my husband, “Playing Scrabble with me every day for the last six weeks has been one of the most romantic things you’ve done!”
He smiled, nodded his head, laughed heartily, and asked,
“How so?”
“I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about you. I discovered how we can work even better than we already do in our teamwork. This is what I will share through my blog this week.”

Four principles of effective and enjoyable teamwork which I re-discovered hidden in a game of Scrabble.

Principle no. 1: Cooperation brings more joy than competing does. When we first started playing I focused on which one of us would win. I, a more experienced player, felt confident it would be me. It happened. Most of the time. Did I feel happy?

Not really. I felt proud of the high scores I achieved. I felt impatient when my husband couldn’t immediately come up with a word. Did I feel closer to him? Not at all. Even though we were sitting together, I felt disconnected. This one-sided win did not feel like a win at all.
Finally, one day I said to John, “Let’s just work to get the highest combined score.” Doing this has proven to be much more satisfying.
Instead of hiding our alphabet tiles from each other, we show one another what we have. Instead of trying to block him from playing his “Q”, “X”, “Z”, I give him an opening. He does the same for me. When I can’t find a place to play my seven-letter word, he says, “There’s one!”

Principle no. 2: Generosity builds relationships; arrogance destroys them. John is truly a generous-spirited man. He played Scrabble with me every day for weeks, continuing to do so without complaining, while I won most of the games. Beyond that, he often congratulated me on my high scores. When I played a seven-letter word he said, “That’s terrific!”
Not, “I wish I could do that!” He felt genuinely happy about my win. At the same time, he did not think of himself as a loser. He wanted to do something that I enjoyed even though it wasn’t his favorite thing. Our relationship mattered more than his winning a game.

Principle no. 3: Doing the best I can for the best of everyone makes us both happier than being best of-all. Isn’t this what love is about? Loving our neighbor as we do ourselves? Even in something as small as a Scrabble game, we found this is true. What would happen in this country if each of us stopped pursuing happiness only for ourselves and began promoting happiness for everyone? What would happen if we stopped comparing scores and worked for the highest combined score? Not JUST for our nation. For the entire world. Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do? Whom did he not love? Whom did he not die for? Whom does he not care about? How can we say we are members of his “team” and think otherwise?

Principle no. 4: Through perseverance, everyone grows toward maturity. For us, a successful game is not about who draws the “A” and starts first. It’s not about who ends first and gets the most points. It’s about the size of our combined score.

It’s about developing patience as I wait for my husband to play. It’s about letting go of frustration if he played where I wanted to play. It’s about rejoicing about his win as much as I rejoice in mine. It’s growing in the simple but profound ways of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-5 NET)

I never imagined I could learn all this through playing a game of Scrabble!

When laughter comes, depression flees

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13 NASB)

I visited my doctor this week. She said, “You are depressed.” I tried to deny it but after honestly answering the questions she confronted me with, I agreed with her. Amazingly, I am not worried about this depression. I’ve gone through enough dark valleys to know sunshine awaits on the other side. God has always given me the strength and resources I’ve needed to recover. I know what to do. I do not lack hope.

Depression is something like sitting in a room on a stormy day with the window shades pulled down. At first, it makes us feel safe. After a while, the fear and uncertainty of whatever might happen increases and negativity occupies our souls. Problems loom larger. We can’t come up with solutions.

Loneliness contributes to this negativity. Loneliness is sitting in a room of depression by myself. Scientific studies have shown it’s a significant factor in mental and physical health, making us “more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, suicide, even the common cold. It’s more dangerous to our health, researchers tell us, than obesity, and it’s equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day” (Is There a Medical Cure for Loneliness?)

As I listen to news reports and see the storms in the world around me, I want to pull down my window shades. I want to retreat. Isolate myself. Insulate myself through soothing denial. What happens if I do so? Alone, in the company of only myself, depression sets in.

God may be with me, but I don’t see him. I feel angry, turn my back, and refuse to speak to him. I need a human voice to awaken me. To say, “You’re depressed.” To say, “You are lonely. Go spend some time with your friends.”

I heard my physician. I forgot about everything I’d scheduled for the day. I called a friend. Two of them. I stepped out of my house for a few hours and spent time with these friends. We laughed. We cried a little. We laughed some more. We made plans to meet again.

In just one day, my perspective shifted. I felt revived. Able to breathe. Able to think. Able to write again. I turned around, faced God and began to face my problems with fresh belief solutions are possible. For me. For others.

I am not closing my eyes to the pain and dysfunction of the world around me. I will continue to write. I will engage with my voice. I will intentionally be present with those who share their broken hearts with me.

I will not do this in isolation. I will stay connected to my face-to-face friends and to my online friends. I will open up my window shades and receive strength and courage through their smiles and laughter.

 Deeply wounded, in denial
 Grasping chemicals for survival
 Confused about sexuality
 Pursuing greed and unreality
 In a nation we call, “Christian”
 Families flounder in dysfunction
 People ruled by tyrants
 React in fear, hate, and violence
 Injustice flourishes
 Hope nearly perishes
 Another friend develops cancer
 Goodbye to fun, joy, and laughter          
 I see it all, stand in silence,
 Refuse, at first, to ask for guidance,
 Clench my jaw in my sleep,
 Ignore my pounding heartbeat.
 God, why did you give me so much sensitivity?
 I’d like to close my eyes, not hear, not see
 A doctor tells me I’m depressed
 I need friends. I must rest.
 I spend an afternoon with others
 Loneliness no longer smothers
 Me. I can breathe again. 
 I sniff fresh air. I'm not the same.
 Go back home. Make some phone calls.
 I am singing before nightfall. 
 In a child’s eyes, I see wonder
 God is holding back his thunder
 In this oasis of Grace
 Miracles still take place.
 Jane Ault

Joy in Making a U-Turn

“Turn to my reproof,
Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you;
I will make my words known to you.

(Proverbs 1:23 NASB)

If we want to sail with the wind of God’s Spirit, there are times that we need to change direction. In her beautiful book, Openings: Glimpses of God’s Grace, my friend Jean McAllister illustrates this.

She offers us fifty-two inspiring meditations, combining truths of Scripture with her rich experiences. I’m reading her book slowly, as she suggests, taking one meditation for each week of the year.

In her meditation “A Delight to Turn”, she talks about an occasion in which she needed to make a U-turn. Receive and learn from correction. After initially rejecting an editor’s critique and justifying herself, she admitted to the problem that was pointed out and followed through with necessary changes.

I admire her honesty and humility. I’m being challenged in my own growth as I read her valuable insights. Here are a couple of her gems: “His [God’s] love for us in correcting us gives us strength, as no ego-booster ever could!” “I’ve learned a bit of how God shows love through correcting me. I can even find joy in his gracious showings of my shortcomings, because I know that he will also take them away. (p.13 Openings)

God has shown me I need to make some adjustments in my life. Not a complete U-turn in which I give up writing. Just some tweaking. Other areas of my life need more attention. That means I may not finish a sequel to my book, Emotional FreedomThe Choices We Must Make this year.  

I feel embarrassed because it’s taking me so long to complete my promise to do so. But I need to adjust my sail. I can choose to do so and miss the wind of the Spirit, or I can correct my course and receive his blessing.

My word for this year is faithfulness. Faithfulness to Jesus means I obey him. “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones,” he says (Luke 16:10 NLT) When we are faithful with a few things, he will give us many more things. (Mathew 25:21 NIV)

 Jesus sits beside me as I make my plan
 I listen to him and do the best I can
 I must make adjustments all the time
 Because his vision is better than mine
 He wants obedience, not perfection
 So I don’t throw out my selection
 Or shame myself when I need correction
 That never helps; it’s a distraction
 When he corrects me through other people
 I’ll accept it, not accuse them of evil
 I want something beyond survival
 A fresh experience of revival
 A gracious gift of the Holy Spirit
 Lord, inspect my heart and prepare it
 Let me sit beside you as you make your plan
 I will listen to you—do the best that I can
 Jane Ault