Scars into Stars

The enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy, but God gives life abundantly. Today’s post is a powerful testimony by my friend Cilinda. Thankfully, we serve a mighty God who brings beauty out of ashes and as Cilinda so beautifully says, “turns our scars into stars.”

I started out thinking I was going to write a very short rendition of my “autobiography” (which I have promised both myself and God, but have yet to do), but God has laid it on my heart to write my testimony in a much different fashion/form.

To cover my background and help it to make sense of where I am today, I will say my life has not been “the American Dream” in any manner. At the ages of seven and nine years old I was molested. My parents never knew because I was not capable of understanding what had happened to me, being so young at those times. It probably behooves anyone reading this, to think how something like that could’ve happened to a child and the parents not ever know. Fear and folly, I would dare to say, is what allowed me to keep it a secret for so many years.

My mother was forty-three years of age when she gave birth to me (my father was fifty-two years old). My precious mother had too many medical problems to mention, and needless to say, after having three daughters many years earlier in her life, was not “expecting” the birth of the fourth daughter (me)! But she and my father welcomed me into this world with love and their faith in the Lord knowing that my birth was His will and all would be right with the universe!

You may have heard the old sayings such as “ignorance is bliss,” or “what you don’t know won’t hurt you”… well, unbeknownst to me, as a child, I took those old adages and lived by them for several years. I kept the ‘secrets’ of what those two men did to me hidden as deep within me as I could possibly bury them. My life played out as I would consider “normal”, but as the years rolled by, I would find out that buried bones sometimes get dug up or uncovered.

As my high school graduation approached, I was more than excited over the life I saw before me! I was engaged to a military guy five years older than me. Our wedding was two weeks after my graduation, and I couldn’t wait to be married to the man of my dreams, have our own home and one day have children of our own! The “American Dream”, right? Well, all that soon changed and my vision of the “American Dream” was shattered into a million pieces and scattered to the uttermost parts of the earth, or so it seemed.

My fiancé and I were involved in a most tragic automobile accident May 2nd, 1978. A semi-truck ran the traffic light as we were crossing through our green light. The big rig hit our car on my fiance’s side, sending us spinning, striking another vehicle in our path, and leaving a mass of destruction in a matter of seconds! Four days later, I came out of a coma, to find out about my fiance’s tragic demise. The driver of the truck didn’t survive this horrendous accident either.

My future was ripped right out from under me; a feeling much worse, I felt, than literally having my heart torn from inside my human body! The one person I was about to vow to spend the rest of my life with… to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, was gone. Death… such a sudden end to a lifelong future ~ one that never began!

I sank into the darkness of depression, not wanting to be in any social gathering with family or friends. I didn’t have a reason to go on, nothing to live for! I just wanted to die! Twice I tried to commit suicide – once by taking an overdose of my prescription. The second time I had to battle thoughts in my head of jumping into my mother’s car and driving off a bridge! But God had other plans, none of which I was aware of yet!

I went through counseling with a psychiatrist, and then more with a psychologist. The pastor of our church also generously counseled me through the word of God (which was, by far, the most valuable and rewarding counsel of all!)

Four months after tragically losing my fiance, a relative passed away, and my parents needed to go to the funeral. They knew I would not be attending with them, as I was not capable of holding up through a memorial service. One of my sisters and her three children lived just down the road from my parents and me, so they arranged for me to stay with her until they returned after the weekend. Little did they, or any of us, know that weekend would be cut short…

My sister was divorced and was enjoying the activities of what single life entailed – going out to the nightclubs on weekends to dance and listen to some good old-fashioned music! Well, her three children had made plans to stay with friends of theirs that weekend, and an old friend of hers happened to come for a visit and ask her to go out on the town. Not wanting to leave me alone, she said I would have to come along. Much to my negative response of not wanting to go, she continued insisting and I finally, begrudgingly gave in.

We went to a nightclub that we had often frequented in the past and stayed for awhile until she and her male counterpart decided they wanted to check out another place. I refused to go and spotted a former friend I hadn’t seen in a while and engaged in conversation with him. She spoke to him briefly and said they would just go for a little while and would be back to pick me up. I took it that she thought my friend would hang out with me until they returned!

An hour or so passed and my friend said he needed to leave, as he had to get up very early the next morning. I sat at the little round table in the corner alone, listening to the band until the bartender announced, “Last call for alcohol”. Next thing I knew, the bouncer walked up and told me I had to leave, “…time to vacate the premises & lock up shop!” I tried to explain that I was waiting for my sister to come back to pick me up, but he simply stated that I needed to “wait outside.”

I exited the building, not knowing what else to do. I looked around, hoping to see my sister and her friend pull up to pick me up. But not a sight of them anywhere! I noticed an army guy that worked with my friend I had talked to earlier and asked him if he could give me a ride to my friend’s so I could have him take me home. He said he was with other guys, but he would see if I could get a ride with them.

Without dragging this story out too long with daunting details, I’ll skip to where this “ride” lead. The car pulled up, and I got in with the “friend of my friend, the driver of the car and the passenger in the back seat. They took me to the dorms where “my friend” should have been, but after I checked his room, knocked desperately on the door (to no avail), I returned to the parking lot to see the three army guys standing by the car. I approached, telling them he didn’t answer and asked if they could take me to the police station so I could get a ride to my sister’s house. Their plans had already been decided. My night on the town soon turned into a night of terror.

During the next few hours, I was repeatedly raped and abused. Then I was taken back to the car. Instead of releasing me, one of the men then took me to another location. Fear enveloped me as questions ran through my mind. “Where was he taking me? God, why is this happening to me? Is this going to end? “How” is this going to end??? ”

Once again, I was raped. My captor then opened the car door, got out of the driver’s side, walked around to the passenger’s side, told me to slide behind the wheel, threw the keys at me as he slid into the car and said I could drive to my sister’s! My mind was not in a state of rationalization, nor did I remember the actions taken in driving myself to my sister’s house. All I can possibly accredit my safe arrival to is only the sheer grace of God!! As I pulled up in my sister’s driveway and grabbed the door handle to get out, he threatened me, “Don’t tell anyone what happened tonight, because the big guy WILL come find you!”

I broke down and told my sister and her male friend what had happened! Her male friend took me to the infirmary and the doctors called the military police. I was tended to & cleaned up, then taken to the crime scenes to verify my story. I had to return the next day for a lineup where I identified both guys.

Two years later I received a certified letter while I was living on a military base in Germany. I was married and we were expecting our first child. The letter was from the U.S. Dept of Criminal Justice, stating that the trial had taken place, and both militants had been tried and found guilty and were dishonorably discharged from the Army! But no sentence or jail time for either! I remember thinking, “Justice… is that what you call it?”

I continued to live my life, and raise two sons.  My first marriage lasted sixteen years. Thirteen years later I remarried. That one lasted four years. Although both of my marriages ended in divorce, I watched my two wonderful, blessed sons grow up and get married. One of my sons has given me two of the most treasured blessings I claim – my grandson & granddaughter!!

My family are my treasures and this life is where I am meant to be…The past? It’s dead & gone… buried! Those buried bones I spoke of earlier did get dug up… but not in the way you would imagine. Again, God’s mercy and grace prevailed!

I was approached at a random meeting by someone in the Criminal Justice Department in Texas (where I lived after I married & raised my children). I told my story and of how God brought me through everything with His protecting angels all around me. I shared how I could have died in these instances, but by God’s grace, I’m alive today and healthy and well, with bountiful blessings the Lord has bestowed upon me through His love for me – HIS child! His child… ‘that’ I am! I told him that God watched in pain as these things happened to me throughout my life, but He did NOT allow any of it to destroy me or take my life! He had guarded, guided, and protected me and brought me to a ‘safe’ place!’

After hearing my story, this official asked me if I would be willing to share my story with others and tell them about how it impacted my past AND my current life! I accepted, not knowing what I was getting into or the difference it would make in my life!

I spoke to parole officers in training, as well as “parolees” who were in prison for committing the same crimes that had been committed against me!  How powerful our God is!! This was another chapter of my life – the one I call “the forgiving chapter”! This is where I came ‘face-to-face’ with those who have hurt and caused pain and suffering to others like myself… THIS was GOD reaching out (through me and my life’s story) to these criminals (sinners) to let them know that HE is all-powerful, yet He is a forgiving God! He allowed me to witness to these men about how HE brought me through all of my past! And through this came “forgiveness”.I realized I no longer had the hate and anger ‘buried’ inside of me toward those men from my past for what they had done to me! In a sense, you could say “God brought me ‘to’ prison to free me ‘from’ my own prison!”

God had allowed me to be a part of a family who knew Him, served Him, and loved Him. My parents taught me how to believe in God. Through attending church regularly, I was taught about how we, our world, and everything in it and beyond was created. I learned about the hardships of people throughout the Bible and about how God delivered those who believed through it all! I learned about Jesus’ birth, His life, and all the torture, pain, and suffering He went through before dying on the cross for the sins of the world. And I learned about how Jesus resurrected back to life so that I/we could live beyond all the tribulations we have here on earth!

At the age of thirteen, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. I realized then that I was not alone on my journey and that He had been by my side in my “innocence of life!” Although I did encounter terrible tragedies later in my life, I now know that God was, is, and ‘always’ will be by my side no matter what my future unfolds!

Today, through my past, both good and bad, I reflect on where God was in my life. He was by my side, holding my hand, and carrying me through the parts of my life that I would not have survived – without HIM! I am blessed to attend a wonderful church who loves and serves God “wholeheartedly”. I too, serve in this church through ministries God has placed before me to show how awesome He is and how HE provides for each and every one of His children, through any and all circumstances throughout our lives!

Besides working in our church bookstore, I am a leader of a wonderful Life Group called “Challengers”. I also am a part of an amazing God-given ministry called God Behind Bars, which allows me to attend ‘our’ church’s service in the very same prison God took me to when He opened the door for my healing to begin, as well as my “purpose” to be revealed! God is so  awesome, and amazing beyond our comprehension, but totally within our acceptance!

There are precious memories I hold on to of years gone by – that I will forever reminisce and thank God for as I smile with much appreciation and gratitude…Thank You, God, for always staying by me, for preserving my life, for showing me there are greater pains than all I have ever been through, and for my life eternal – my salvation!

One day I shall see my parents who are in Heaven… along with my sister and other loved ones who have long since passed. But as long as I am on this earth, I daily thank God that I can minister through my testimony and I am grateful that He has molded me into a vessel that He so carefully and lovingly guards, guides and protects, yet employs for His services to others.

Forgiveness is the key to a faulty lock that you thought could never be opened! How did I get through all of my past, you ask? Not ‘just’ by the Grace of God, but by His genuine love, His purpose, and His plan for me…And now, today…I look forward to my future, watching my children and grandchildren as their lives change, grow, and unfold the way God plans… watching and living the rest of my life, as it, too, turns page-by-page, as my book is being written by the hand of our Almighty God, who turns our scars into STARS!

 

The Gate

Today’s post is about an inspiring encounter my dear friend Brandilynn had this Easter weekend. 

As I drove towards Tarpley, Texas on Easter weekend; an overwhelming sense of emptiness filled my heart. Like an empty cup turned upside down; I felt nothing left. I was excited for the weekend, yet felt afraid I wouldn’t fit in with the group. They all knew each other well and I was just new to this church group. They were like one big happy family that joked and bantered back and forth with inside stories I had yet to understand. The old familiar thoughts entered in. Was I good enough? Could I measure up? Would I be on the sidelines looking in? Could I make a difference? I asked God to equip me as I rounded the corner to “The Gate” that would forever change my life. I sat in front of this huge black iron gate that towered above me. As I entered the code and the gate opened; I couldn’t shake a sense of something great is about to happen.

 

I quickly unpacked my bags and got settled in. Everyone began arriving at the second of two cabins on the Lake Front Hill Country Getaway. …and so began my journey to receiving the greatest fulfillment in a group setting I can remember. This group is different I told myself. Everyone busily got situated into both cabins and later that night we sat around eating burgers and listening to Pastor Mark share a message on what it means for God to get the glory in your life. He shared that this weekend was about focusing on the Lord and leaving the worldly cares behind. We delved into discussions about God and Jesus in a way that felt different. James had been discussing feelings of LACK in the previous church meetings.He shared to take those feelings and just ask God…  “Hey, what is this Lord”?!  It amazed me that it could be simplified so easily into one action.

Problem: Feeling lack (of any kind)
Solution: Holding that up to God and asking him about it

Pretty easy concept! How I missed it all these years is beyond me.

That night, I had a lot of time to think about what God was doing in my life and in the lives of others around me. I woke up the next morning with only a few hours of sleep. I felt strangely energized as I met up with the others in the group. The day unfolded perfectly as we talked around the picnic table. Later we hiked a mountain that later became known as “Won Shoe Mountain” and at night sat around the fire in God’s presence. We laughed and cried and sang and talked. A sense of wonderment came over me when I realized that in our group of twelve. Like the disciples, Jesus sat among us! I could feel his presence like never before. I could feel LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, JOY, HONOR, HUMILITY, COMPASSION, FAITHFULNESS, COMMITMENT, ANOINTING, GENTLENESS, ENCOURAGEMENT, and DISCERNMENT, to name a few. I was amazed to hear, as we went around the campfire; the thoughts that others had formed about me. Nothing but the love of Jesus could allow them to see into my heart that way. As each person took their turn my mind ceased to function and my soul leaped forward. I realized this is a taste of heaven on earth, as I felt unending love in that moment. A sneak peak into the UNCONDITIONAL LOVE that God has in store for us all as we (in time) enter into the heavenly gates.

NO LACK existed!

The next morning I awoke feeling satisfied that I had opened my heart, mind, soul, body to God in a way that surpassed previous moments. I felt closer to God than ever before in a way that humbled; yet excited me. I drove out and back up to the gate with new purpose and an overflowing cup. I sat in front of the Gate for a moment… NOT wanting to leave.

I understand now entering the code to the gate…. symbolic for saying, God, I am here… ready to be in your presence. I leave everything behind at the gate entrance and enter into your kingdom and majesty and righteousness. I realized I had left ALL worldly things at the front of the gate. We can’t bring those things into his presence.

In closing, leaving you with one final thought. When you are sitting in front of that Gate… staring up and deciding whether to enter…  or sit back in the worldly things… will you decide to enter into God’s presence and feel his majesty and love surround you and change you in a profound way. Letting the world fall away off of you… your body, your mind, your heart, your soul. To renew and bask in the presence of God that seems to change you down to the very cells of your body… to fill your heart so full it is bursting with Love, Adoration, Kindness, and Acceptance for everyone and everything around you. …but even greater still a deepening love of the Lord your Father in heaven that cannot be contained or explained.

…as I drove out the gate… I looked on the side of the road and could see the worldly cares I had left when entering, still sitting piled up; that I had dumped right outside the gate. I paused for a split second in thought as my eyes welled up with tears of joy. I drove away… leaving the pile still sitting there. I won’t be needing those again I thought as sweet tears began flowing down my cheeks. A sense of an atmosphere shift lingered with me in the car. A heart overflowing and a feeling of pure love beyond measure.

To those that don’t know God….  the code you enter to “The Gate” is Jesus. Ask Jesus into your heart and the gate will open for anyone who will ask.

All the love in the world to you.

-Brandilynn Edgerton

Eggciting

Last Easter, a few of the ladies in my Bible study and I celebrated Easter with the women and children at our local women’s shelter. The message we shared was about the three eggs of Easter.

The first egg was empty. It represented the empty tomb.

The second egg had a marshmallow chick in it. It represented the sweetness and fullness of God’s love and new birth.

The third egg was a chocolate egg that was wrapped in gold foil. It represented restoration. After empathizing with the women concerning their current situations, and encouraging them that God could and would restore their lives, my friends and I handed each of the women a golden egg. The Holy Spirit moved hearts and tears began to fall. It was a beautiful experience!

The way I celebrated this Easter was very different from last year’s celebration. Instead of meeting with abused women in a park, I spent the weekend with my pastors and church family at the Yellow Rose Ranch. The weekend was so amazing and life giving it would take many blogs to share about it, so I will just refer back to the three eggs of Easter,

The empty egg: Although there was no Easter sermon, the message of Easter was everywhere as relationship with Jesus and the victories He has given us were present in every conversation.

The full egg: The sweetness and fullness of God’s love was mirrored in action as each person considered others better than himself/herself and truly loved his/her neighbor. Serving one another was easy because it was out of love and not duty. Protecting one another was natural because we truly cared and wanted what was best for each other.

The golden egg of restoration: There were some precious times, usually around the camp fire, when we spoke words of encouragement to one another. My church calls this “kisses from heaven”. As we affirmed each other and made agreement with the restoration God has for us, the Holy Spirit moved hearts and both laughter and tears fell. It was beautiful!

Two different Easter experiences, but the same three eggs: Victory in Jesus, the fullness of His love poured out to others, and the beautiful restoration that He brings to our lives.

Because the tomb was empty, our hearts are full!

Be abundantly blessed!

Jeannie

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters”(1 John 3:16 NIV).

Stand to Serve

In my last blog I mentioned that in 2012, the Lord took me off the beaten path into a season of care giving for my parents and special needs sister. I would be lying to you if I told you that my heart and attitude were always right. My patience was often severely tested, reminding me that God is more concerned about our characters than our callings. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I now realize that it was His loving faithfulness that took me off the beaten path—and even into the wilderness for a season, not just to care for my family’s needs, but in order to bring me more revelations of His love and cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in my life. While my flesh often cried out, “I can’t do this! And sometimes even “Get me out of here!” My spirit cried out, “Jesus, make me more like you!”

I often felt as if I were in a tug-a-war. The reality was that I was. I wasn’t aware of the intensity of my battle until one Sunday while I was listening to a sermon about serving. The pastor talked about how during the Passover meal Jesus stood, stripped, stooped, and served. I took his words to heart.

When you and I are in challenging situations we often want to stand and run, instead of stand and serve. After hearing the sermon, I realized I needed to take a different kind of stand. When I returned to my parent’s house that afternoon I changed my prayer from release me to reveal more of your love through me. My prayer for revelation helped me to release the rope, receive peace, and gave me the grace to continue to serve.

Maybe you can relate. Have you been taken off the beaten path into a place that is difficult for you? Have you wanted to stand up and run away? If so, I would encourage you to join me and pray the following prayer:

Lord, humble me and help me to stand for you. Continue to strip me from what hinders me and empty me of myself. Gird me with Your strength and help me to serve with a willing heart.  Teach me to love by filling me with more of you! Thank you, Jesus, for doing in me what I am not capable of doing. In Jesus mighty name…Amen!

Be abundantly blessed!

Jeannie

“The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” John 13:2-5 (NIV).

 

 

 

 

 

Living

Contributed by a friend who desires to remain anonymous

Have you ever had a bad day on the way to accomplishing a goal or reaching an objective? I have. Many times I have felt like quitting. Sometimes my drive has kept me going. Sometimes others have kept me going. Sometimes the goal has kept me going. Sometimes God has kept me going. Sometimes I have everyone’s luggage and can’t turn around, and sometimes there is no way out but to carry on.

Am I proud of this? No! Would I like to always carry on for the higher objective and for the glory of God? Yes! What would that look like? It would look like the difference between “living” and being alive and “dying.” When we quit, we are in death mode.

The Apostle Paul gives us an idea of what living to a higher objective looks like. In Philippians 1:20-22, Paul writes, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!”(NIV).

Wow! Paul lived for the benefit of others, and he was willing to die for the benefit of others. This was his definition for continuing, even when he was having a bad day.

Just so we do not miss the impact, what was a bad day like for Paul? In his second letter to the Corinthians he writes, “I have worked much harder [than any others], been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands” II Corinthians 11:23-33 (NIV).

We also know that Paul was bit a by poisonous snake, he worked long hours, and at various times was abandoned by nearly everyone that he was serving.

Paul has had almost everything and everyone against him and he did not quit. That is living. That is power. He pirouetted between service/sacrifice and glory. He chose service and sacrifice, understanding that glory would take care of itself.

What is your objective for “living”? Don’t be drawn along by life. Attack it and choose whom you will serve and why. Choose how you will “live.”

Have a great day…regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in.