What Is It?

Every time I feel the chains of bondage wrap around my struggling heart, I fight equally as hard against the urge to sadistically chuckle and mutter in Heaven’s direction, “This sin isn’t my fault. Fix it yourself, Jehovah. If you can… I dare you.”

We live in a fallen world. Because of that, there are multiple sins that are results of something done to us. One phrase heartbreakingly comes to mind: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have encountered multiple loved ones with PTSD who hopelessly reminisce about actions which go against the Word of God, but they feel like they “have to” do them. They can’t remember what survival without the action in question looks like.

Men and women alike who have been sexually assaulted or abused cringe when well-intentioned people speak boldly against sexual acts as sins when the victim has a brain programmed to think those acts are needed for physical survival. 

So, the question gets posed: Is it sin? When a person’s outburst of anger is because of a flashback they could not control… Is it sin? 

There are 2 types of people reading this: 

1) Someone who has no idea what I’m talking about… sin has almost always been circumstancial rather than positional. Praise God for that. I can only imagine the rest of this post won’t make sense.  

2) Someone who knows all too well what I mean and you’ve made a game out of hiding your struggle because good sane Christians don’t have problems or dilemmas like this. 

If you come from that second group hear me say first and foremost I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve suffered. I’m so sorry you’ve been told openly fighting against yourself for the glory of God should be easy… or atleast get easier over time. I’m so sorry if you’ve been told you’re just weak and should give up trying to reach sanctification. All of those things are well-veiled half truths.

Hear this warning come from someone who has lost almost everything by coming from the position of thinking my actions aren’t my fault. “Not my circus, not my monkey” has entered my “forgive me, Lord” prayers on more than one occasion. I can look back on my past and see the exact moment when my brain changed from human being to threatened victim… so blame shifting is d**** easy.

You may be able to blame-shift. You may be able to call yourself a survivor only when you do certain things that make other Christians cringe. When that happens, you are in danger of secretly breeding a level of pride that shuts the door of your heart off from anyone else getting in to possibly help you heal. That pride can get so thick you stop hearing God simply because you’re wallowing in your own self-pity and self-righteousness. 

The “prayer” I mentioned earlier? When I’m honest with myself, my heart is actually saying this: “You may be the Creator of the Universe, but I’m the one person you can’t touch and who can’t be affected by your love, redemption and mercy. I only need you for the attributes I can comprehend. You’re too weak to love me into changing.”

Be careful of hiding your pride behind the pain of your past. You may not see the root of your sin simply because it’s easiest to focus on your pain. My friend, that is the Enemy’s greatest ploy. 

Let God fight your battles, even if it’s not the battle you expected.

They’ll Always Need Me?

“You can’t leave… I love you.”

“If I had known you weren’t staying forever, I would have come out to hear you more.”

“You can’t leave… I need you.”

“I’m so sorry for messing up so much. If that’s why you’re leaving, ask God to forgive me and stay. I love you.”

All four of those lines were uttered over and over again by various men and women last night as I prepared them for the fact that I wasn’t coming to work with them anymore. Most of them had become valuable friends and siblings in the Lord. Most of them would say anything in order to get a smile and to sit next to me so we could talk. Some of them made me feel as if I was indispensible to them coming to the Lord. 

That’s why I left.

Here’s the thing about ministry: It’s incredibly easy to do godly things and yet not even realize you’ve been blinded to the fact that God has truly taken a backseat. I wrote in my journal several weeks ago, “Jesus, praying for these men and women isn’t enough. I can’t step away from them. They need me too much.”

There are several other serious frustrations that led to my choice to leave a ministry that continues to hold a part of my heart. However, the fact that I had started to believe that prayer wasn’t enough, that God couldn’t make changes within the hearts of the men especially without my knowledge… That’s terrifying. The fact that accountability and my own spiritual health and Biblical accuracy had become an option rather than a necessity was just as sobering.

What many of these men and women will never know is that obedience to the Lord in stepping away from them hurt more than I ever expected. But if I had stayed, I wasn’t loving them– I was using them. The addiction to being needed is an incredibly hidden, yet overwhelmingly strong bondage.

If I couldn’t break that bondage myself, how could I ever expect these people I have learned to love to break that bondage themselves?

Hesitant Reminders

Tonight was my last night with a two month commitment that started 18 months ago. A commitment that was supposed to be simply filling in as an interpreter for a short time turned into TTY phone calls, letters and weekly visits for 18 months.  

I loved it from the get-go. I dreaded it every Wednesday from the get-go. The look on the man’s face tonight reminded me why I never “called in sick”. The deep hug as he walked out the door for the last time reminded me why I never acted on the grumbling and frustrations I always seemed to have at the last minute.

God wanted me involved in this man’s spiritual growth. I agreed to it because “two months” sounded incredibly noncommital. Exhausted college students like noncommital things. God kept me coming even past the two month commitment date because He knew I needed that connection to the culture and language of my heart.

I learned seeveral things about ministry while loving up on this man for almost the past 2 years.

1) The more you dread the task, the more God’s work shocks you.

2) Most of what God does through you is incredibly miniscule and unseen– that’s okay.

3) The more you tell God you’re too weak to serve, the longer He surprises you with the strength to serve anyway.

4) You can go in thinking people need you and you will always leave feeling as if you needed them.

5) The second you learn to trust God with your time, resources and energy, He’ll trust you with His time resources and energy.

6) Heart involvment isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.

I closed the chapter of a huge part of my heart this evening as this man and I said our final good byes. He started out as a mission of mine and ended up a friend who taught me just as much as he learned from me.

Welcome to the unsung beauty of missions, Friends. Missions isn’t always romantically beautiful… but it can stlil change your life forever.

Lesson Behind Bars

The man walked into the jail with a swagger I had come to know well and love even more. One look at my friend and most everyone knows his story of his sold innocence. 

Drug dealer. Anyone who has spent even an hour around someone who wears that authority knows what to look for. The six-foot, 265 pound giant wears the identity with a secure pride; even while in stripes.

“Hi, Sweetheart,” he mumbled as he leaned in for his typical half handshake, half hug and pat on the back. I’ve known him for two years, but because of the tears we’ve shared over his choices, I feel like I’ve known him all my life. 

He knows how to play with people, but early on he shockingly exclaimed that he felt I was better at his game than he was. I’ve never figured out what to do with that proclamation, but his misconception of my “skill” has led him to a blunt, raw honesty he doesn’t seem to give too many people. You watch your back when you’re incarcerated. You trust no one.

“Have they sentenced you yet, Bud?”

“I know I’m serving 20 years. Don’t know when they’ll send me down State. I’m here for a while, Doll. I’m just ready to get my answers.”

He half-heartedly traced the words Holy Bible on the book he held in front of him. I knew he was thinking about his kids. 20 years was long enough to be written out of his kids’ lives. 

“Does that Book mean anything to you, Bud? Or is this just a quick fix to get good behavior written on your record and five years erased off of prison time?” I choked back tears as I asked the question.  In the last two years, I’d seen a change in the man that took my breath away, but I also knew the attractiveness of saying the right things to pull the right strings. I wasn’t stupid enough to take his proclamation of faith in Jesus blindly. The realization that he could possibly still be playing me like a fiddle comes to mind every time I sit down to talk with him.

“Cass, I’m good at drug dealin’. The guy I learned my stuff from used to tell me the Golden Rule was to ‘Sell, Don’t Consume.’ I got blastedly good at knowing enough to sell my stuff and get my money, but I rarely took a hit. Jesus is different, though. I have to consume Him before I can ‘sell’ Him to someone else. This Book means everything to me; it gives me Jesus.”

It’s a humbling thing to be convicted by something a prisoner says. How many times do I try and, as my friend put it, ‘sell’ (share) Jesus to a nonbeliever yet forget to ‘consume’ His truths, love and intimacy for myself? How many times do I try my hardest to impact people like this gentleman with the Gospel without first letting the Gospel impact me?

Oh, may it never be.


A Warrior’s Worry

“Don’t step up if you can’t keep up.”

At first, that phrase was cute and teasing. After several months, though, that phrase was said as the man cracked a beer, lit a cigarette and proceeded to belittle every thought and insight I had which didn’t leave him feeling in control. In not so many words, he was reminding me I was worthless without him. I couldn’t think without him. I couldn’t do anything without him or without his permission. 

Don’t step up if you can’t keep up. 

I was his puppet on a string; only there for his entertainment. The day God finally gave me the strength to step up to His standards and not this man’s standards both scared and freed me. 

It didn’t matter how I felt, though. The lie had been trampled and I was no longer worthless. 

Recently, I was faced with a mind-numbing situation where for several moments, I heard Satan cackle, “Don’t step up if you can’t keep up, you worthless warrior of God. Warrior? More like roach. Jehovah has called you to fight for Him in battle and you’re not strong, wise or ready enough. Let me remind you who you really are. Don’t ever step up again, you little wretch. You’ll never be able to keep up.”

With more authority than I felt, I smiled at my Enemy’s words. My heart raced, my skin grew cold, but I smiled anyway. I was being called to fight a spiritual battle I did not feel prepared for, and that petrified me. When my fear was just about ready to kill me, I heard my heart whisper back,

“No. Don’t step up if you can’t keep up. Jesus — I may not be able to step up, but He can. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

I learned a valuable lesson that night. When my value faulters, my God remains strong. When my ability to fight disappears, my God hides me in His wings. I am nothing when Satan calls me out for a fight. The Lord within me is everything.

If God Gave Up

Drunks have a soft spot in my heart. Jolly drunks break my heart but make me smile. If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew he was drunk and I knew my friend Peter had no idea; our five minute interaction with the hitch hiker would’ve been quickly forgotten.

Just another day in the life of the idiotic airhead who makes her loved ones terrified to leave her to make her own decisions.

It mattered to this guy to get picked up. It mattered even more when we discovered he knew me. Being able to drop names and relate dramas that I’ve known about for almost two years made him relax. He told me things I never would have heard from him when he was sober.

When it was just Peter and I in the car 10 minutes later, Peter said something like, “He doesn’t understand how to start over.” Though neither one of us claimed hopelessness, we understood our passenger was caged in it and didn’t want help getting free.

Just the comprehension of our friend’s hopelessness made me mentally throw my hands up in the air. “He’s unreachable, Lord. He doesn’t trust anyone he can see; how could he ever trust You?”

With a grin in His voice I could almost hear God say, “Once, you were the self-proclaimed wretch who swore she’d never be forgiven. I didn’t give up on you. You came back.

“You were just as deep in the mire of your sin as this man is. Remember the distance I ran to bring you Home.”

The God I Lusted After

Recently, I received a very interesting note from an admirer. Thankfully, it wasn’t from a fellow college student; if it was, I wouldn’t be able to shrug it off and use it as a weird illustration. It wasn’t the most tastefully done note I’ve ever received… I know one thing: he loves me. Or at least he thinks he does.

Problem #1- The man doesn’t know me. He recognizes my face, knows my singing voice… But he doesn’t know me. He knows I’m the person to come to for cheap sign-language, but he doesn’t use sign. So his attraction to me is incredibly unfounded. But he’s convinced he would enjoy me. Ohhhh, okay.

Problem #2- The man has no idea what he wants. One line of his note said, “I want to hold your hand and cross the line that says ‘do not trespass…'” Wait. What? Why? There are so many levels to that plea… Which one… Oh never mind. No. He wants companionship but he has no way to rationalize the fact that his request logically can’t be met. (Believe me, I get it… But no.) The second I start fleshing out his fantasy with my character, his fantasy will fall apart. Let me say it again– he had no idea what he was asking.

I’ll be honest, praying for this man’s confusion hasn’t been on my mind this morning. I’m too fascinated by his version of reality, I jumped into analyzing. Someday, hopefully not too long from now, I’ll pray first, analyze second.

As I read over my newly acquired note for the third time, it hit me like a ton of bricks. My admirer was doing to me what believers in Christ (myself included) often do to God.

1. We don’t know God, but we want intimacy with him that we don’t have to work on.
2. We have no idea our fantasy of “easy love” doesn’t go deep enough to answer what we long for. The second we get to know the God we say we want, we’ll realize that our fantasy of the “get-what-I-want Jesus” doesn’t work. But we’re willing to see if our half-butt attempts will work. Just in case. We don’t know what we want. But hey, we like Jesus. That’s enough, correct?

My note had one more part that broke my heart. “Write me, call me… I have no one.”

Although carnally I refuse to give this man what he wants… I could just hear the days when my heart screamed to my God, “Write me, Call me.. I have no one.” I could also hear God weep as He whispered, “But Child, I have. You want lust, I offer love. The choice is yours. Go deeper. I’m here.”

When men find out…

I locked arms with a free man who killed someone over 20 years ago. We weren’t fighting, and I was not in danger. He served 17 years and learned to tell openly about it. He shared his story, and I saw someone many saw and many feared. But I saw his transformation. He came to Christ in one of the harshest prisons in the Midwest. I knew the truth- as did he. He was no longer the man that killed an innocent to solve his anger. He was a man of God. He needed a hug and wanted to pray. How dare I tell a brother no?

He was a big man. I understood why someone would say he was intimidating. He was. But he learned along the way how not to use that “skill” to hurt someone. The man that stood before me was huge, but humble. I told him I saw my Lord in him, and he wept. This man understood the cost of transformation. In order to initiate that transformation, Someone had to die. In this man’s life, two men died before he decided to allow change to take place. Christ shines from his eyes, but for that to happen, an inconceivable price was paid.

I heard his story four times that morning. After the fourth time I approached him and simply said, “You and I are more alike than I want to admit, My Friend.” … Instead of distrust and anger, I got the brightest smile from the giant.
“You have a story people tell you not to tell, don’t you?” He asked. “Have you ever worn a number?”

I unashamedly told him I had not. We then talked about how it’s terrifying to be responsible for a testimony that revolts your loved ones and terrifies strangers. Although no one was afraid of me, I had learned what it was like to be closely linked to someone that others were afraid of, once upon a time. All the sudden when that happens, your story becomes something you fight to hide… And you don’t really care, nor consider, how many times you’ve squelched God from working through you because of it.

Through the course of the discussion, this dear man who was old enough to be my father asked me a pointed question. “Why, Cass? Why didn’t you hide? When the Master called you back, why didn’t you completely forget your (metaphorical) chains? Why do you still identify with them as a redeemed woman?”

Call it being a chicken, I turned the question back on him. “Why didn’t you?” He grinned that Santa-Clause smile again.

“I remember and talk of it because people need to know that there’s nothing too bad for redemption. If God can restore a murderer, he can restore anything. I still grieve for the hundreds of people that paid for my choice. But God restores. I will never deny the thorn in my side of grief, but someone here tonight needed proof that God can do anything.”

He hugged me again, stepped back and said, “Never deny the consequences, Sis. But never deny your story. It’s not your reputation that concerns God. It’s his glory.”

I’ve learned the hardest, most beautiful lessons from the most unlikely person.