Blog - Victorious Living Magazine

Hope That Never Disappoints

April 25, 2024

How long, O Lord, how long? 

I sighed and curled into my pillow, pulling the comforter tight around me. It had been a full day, but now in the quiet darkness with the kids asleep in their beds, a familiar prayer bubbled up to the top.

I closed my eyes to sleep, but my thoughts stayed in overdrive. I’d prayed so hard for so long for God to bring something specific about. I’d even given Him a timeline—ample time to answer my prayer. Yet here I was, tucking myself into bed years later with no evidence that I was any closer to God giving me a yes.

I’d tried not to become obsessed with this heart’s desire. I’d thrown myself into ministry and parenting. I’d formed new plans and dreams. Some days were so full I didn’t have time to think about my longing. Other days, I thought about it but felt content enough to hold it loosely, trusting God whether He chose to fulfill it or not.

But sometimes, like in the quiet of this night, the longing returned with a mocking ache. I had tried my best to surrender it to God. So many times I’d heard or read that God’s “hope does not disappoint.” Well, my hope sure seemed to have dead-ended in disappointment.

The next morning, I looked that verse up and read it in my Bible: “This hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:5 NLT).

Okay. Maybe if I read the whole passage, I could understand why I still felt so disappointed. So I looked back. Romans 5:3–4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (NLT).

Oh. So this isn’t a birthday-wish kind of hope that God will give us whatever we want. This hope is produced by persevering in suffering. It’s a confident expectation of all we have in Jesus. It’s hope that God’s infinite love is enough no matter what our circumstances are.

I felt this aching disappointment because I’d misplaced my hope. Any hope rooted in an outcome, a timeline, or any other person will ultimately disappoint. Only hope that is anchored in Jesus will never disappoint. I needed to realign where I was placing my hope so that I could realign my disappointed heart.

So I began praying a new prayer. “Help me want You, Lord, more than I want anything else. Even that thing You know I’m longing so much for.” It’s a prayer God always answers, and God has steadily replaced my longing with a calm contentment for life as it is right now.

Have you misplaced your hope in an outcome, a timeline, or a person? If so, start asking God to help you want Him more than whatever that other thing is.

That’s a prayer God delights in answering yes.

Dear God, help me surrender this deep longing and instead be completely satisfied in the fullness of Your love, no matter my circumstances. I put my hope in You alone, who will never disappoint. In Jesus’s name, amen.

LISA APPELO is a speaker, writer, and Bible teacher who inspires women to deepen their faith in grief and find hope in the hard. Formerly a litigating attorney, her days are now filled with parenting seven children, ministering, writing, speaking, and running enough to justify lots of dark chocolate. Find Lisa’s encouragement for faith, grief, and hope at LisaAppelo.com.

Changed into a New Man

Never would I have dreamed that I’d end up running from the police, serving time in jail, or developing drug-induced heart failure. But things like that happen when you live far from the Lord.

I was 18, entering my first year at AB-Tech Community College in Asheville, North Carolina, when my life turned toward darkness. Like many, I dreamed of attending college, getting a degree, and making something of myself. Doing drugs or becoming the community drug dealer was never a part of that dream, but that’s where I was by the end of my first year at AB-Tech. I dropped out of college and descended into a dark life of crime and selling drugs. I was far from the Christian values my parents had taught me.

I have no regrets about my childhood or my parents. They were hard-working people. My mom was a dedicated schoolteacher who raised me to know better and to live right. My dad worked second shift and lots of overtime at an industrial manufacturing plant. But with my parents both working so hard, I had time on my hands to get into trouble and be influenced by other people, movies, and music.

Paying for college was a big expense, and I didn’t have a lot of extra to spend. It didn’t take me long to realize that selling drugs could get me things, including money for college. I started by telling myself I would only sell marijuana. But that didn’t last long.

So many people “needed” me, and I began to feel important. Satan used that pride to gain a solid foothold in my life. I began selling harder drugs like cocaine and ecstasy and racking up drug charges and felonies, including the intent to distribute. Each day, I moved further from my Christian roots, until at age 19, I was on the run from South Florida police.

Galatians 6:7–8 says, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (NLT).

For years, I mocked the justice of God. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyway. I was a selfishly deceived man who was about to experience a decade of harvesting decay and death. From age 20 to 30, I spent 80 percent of my time either in prison or on probation.

With my first probation, I had a strict 6:00 p.m. curfew…but I disliked following rules. That arrangement didn’t work out well for me. I ended up with more charges and was locked up. Long jail time did nothing to change my heart, however, and when I was released, I went deeper into the drug life. Of course, that led to even more charges.

By then, I couldn’t even recognize the man I’d become.

Though my drug use would cause significant tension in my parents’ marriage, they never turned their backs on me. Mom was a rock, reminding me often that she was praying for me. She was concerned for my well-being; she could tell I didn’t care anymore.

“Jerrell,” she would say. “What’s happened to you? You used to take care of yourself and have good hygiene. You’ve let yourself go!” She was right. Mom would speak the truth to me. She also stood her ground against Satan.

I remember once during a dark time when she came to my door, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “Satan, you cannot have my son, in Jesus’s name!” Then she turned around and left. No matter how dark it got, my mother never stopped fighting for me in the spiritual realm.

Dad, too, continually reminded me to trust in the Lord and to stop leaning on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). He constantly warned me that drugs and the life they offered had deceived me. “Jerrell, seek God’s guidance and His understanding. He will lead you,” Dad said often.

In 2010, while in jail for the umpteenth time, I decided to become a better person. I started reading books, studying, and bettering myself intellectually. In and of itself, that was not wrong. But I also should have been studying God’s Word and allowing Him to transform me into the man He’d created me to be.

I, however, wasn’t there yet. I needed a changed heart, not worldly knowledge.

Released but with the same dark heart, I returned to my old ways. Two years later, I was back in jail. This time was more difficult because I had fathered two daughters during those years of freedom. I loved my girls and knew I wasn’t doing them right, but it would take me years to become a father they could be proud of.

Released again, I went back to selling drugs to make fast money. I sold cocaine and ecstasy—and then I started using, something I had said I would never do. Now, with an addiction of my own, I had to sell drugs to support my habit. With each passing deal, I stepped further into darkness.

I wasn’t all bad—after all, I didn’t sell drugs on Sunday. That had to make me a good drug dealer. Crazy, right? I was sure that it would be all right with God if I quit selling drugs and only grew marijuana. Dad was right; I was deceived.

In 2015, my home was broken into, and the police discovered my stash of growing marijuana. I was charged with manufacturing and producing 50 pounds of marijuana. Again, I went back on probation. But this time, two good things happened.

I got a steady job and started reading the Bible lightly. One day, I read James 1:27. It says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (NLT).

That scripture tugged at my heart as I realized I had allowed the world to corrupt me. I finally saw my actions of selling, using, and growing drugs for what they were—evil in the sight of God. God also showed me the humbling truth that I was corrupting others, and that was dangerous ground (Matthew 18:7).

With this revelation, I determined to develop a relationship with Christ. This desire ignited an intense spiritual battle. God and the devil were wrestling for my life, and there were times I felt I was losing my mind. My thoughts became so random and intense and dark.

I searched desperately for Christ anywhere and everywhere. I searched the Web and watched YouTube videos.

One day, an internal voice told me to run to St. John’s Church. I ran four miles in the rain, obeying the voice I heard. When I arrived at the church, I started crying out for God. The people there immediately called for the pastors to come. I was in obvious distress.

Pastors David Suber and David Perry came and prayed for me. And then, before them and God, I confessed with my mouth that Jesus was Lord and believed in my heart that God had raised Him from the dead for me (Romans 10:9–10).

I repented of my sins—the drug dealing, stealing, selling, and engaging in sex with random women. I repented of the lies I’d told and admitted I’d been trying to be my own god. I asked Jesus to come into my life and save me. That day, I became a free man. It felt like the fire of God burned every residue of sin out of me. God opened my eyes to Satan’s schemes in my life and my community. I experienced peace of mind and heart in a fresh way that could only be explained by the presence of God within me.

In 2018, I became a true believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. No longer was I a drug dealer, user, and grower, trying to convince myself I was a Christian. I began attending church faithfully. Hungry to learn about God, I started reading the Bible daily. I fell in love with God’s Word and allowed it to change how I think. No longer was I being conformed to the world’s ways, but I was being transformed into a new person by God and His Word (Romans 12:2). And people could see the transformation in my life.

God sent me back into the community where I’d sold drugs to help clean it up. I no longer grow marijuana; instead, I’ve developed a community food garden that provides food for the people there.

Today, I spend my days serving in an outreach program called “Brother’s Keepers” that helps men find freedom from addiction and the cycles of prison life. We then help by praying for and fostering relationships with people in the community as we share God’s love and message with them. Giving back to a place I once corrupted brings me great joy.

God has been so good to me. He’s healed my mind and freed me from addiction. He’s healed me physically too. Drug use had caused significant damage to my heart and led to heart failure. At one point, my heart function was as low as 9 percent. But since I came to Christ, my heart function has improved to 45 percent. God has given me a new heart spiritually, one that loves, listens, learns, and cares—but on top of that, He’s renewed my physical heart, too.

And it all started when I humbled myself before the Lord.

I encourage you to do the same. Second Chronicles 7:14, one of my favorite verses, says, “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (NLT).

When I humbled myself, began to pray, sought God’s face, and turned from my wicked ways, God forgave me and restored my mind and life. His love changed me into a new man.

And His love can change you too.

 

JERRELL BULLARD lives out his calling for Christ by being a part of a community outreach program called Brother’s Keepers, an organization that fosters relationships with those who were formerly incarcerated, drug addicted and more. Jerrell is a huge influence in the rebuilding of his community for Christ and witnessing to the lost.

Worth Living

“Get back here, young lady!” Startled, my mother tried not to make a scene as I pulled away from her and ran as fast as my little legs would carry me to the front of the church. The preacher had made the altar call, and I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart.

I was only five, but I knew something extraordinary had happened that Sunday morning. God had picked me up in His arms and given me a big hug. At that moment, I was the happiest little girl on earth, and not even the spanking I’d get for disobeying Mom in church could change that.

I spent much time hearing about God in church as a child, but as I grew up, I often wondered where He was in my life. Domestic violence and alcoholism were rampant in my home, and divorce tore our family apart. In that darkness, I was sure God had forgotten about me.

I felt like my father forgot me too, as soon as he left our home. I was Daddy’s girl; his departure left a huge hole in my heart. I could only imagine it was my fault that he had left.

Life with Mom was scary and confusing. I learned later that she was mentally ill, but to little me, her actions didn’t make sense, and life was hard. Right after Dad left, she remarried a raging alcoholic who didn’t like kids. I lived in constant fear of him.

Mom’s struggle with mental illness often left me unsupervised, and I became vulnerable to predators. Evil intruded on my innocence through multiple molestations before third grade. Afraid, I told no one.

Life improved briefly when I moved to Florida to live with Dad, but his new girlfriend wasn’t impressed with the broken child thrust into her life. Her jealousy over Dad’s attention led to severe beatings that often left me unable to walk or sit down. And things only got worse when they got married.

The beatings didn’t hurt as much as the verbal abuse, though. My stepmother’s hate-filled words were like daggers to my heart, especially when I was diagnosed with learning disabilities. “You’re going to be crazy, just like your mom!” Her taunting words reinforced my suspicions that maybe I was marked or flawed somehow.

Life at school wasn’t any easier. I struggled to fit in and make friends and was often bullied. Back then, there weren’t many resources to help kids deal with their emotions, so I was on my own in my struggles and losing the battle.

By the ninth grade, I was fed up with life and tried to commit suicide. When I didn’t die, I felt even more like a loser. You can’t even do that right, I told myself.

Finally, after years of being pushed around, I started fighting back. After ending up on top of a few fights, I realized I had a hidden superpower. I could fight, and I was done letting people get the upper hand. I wouldn’t be the one to start trouble, but I was prepared to finish it. From then on, I never backed down from a fight.

Holding my own felt good, and I liked making people regret messing with me. But one day, I encountered a situation where I couldn’t fight back. A teacher withheld a passing grade I needed to graduate until I let him molest me. I was overcome with the all-too-common feelings of being used, worthless, and dirty.

I graduated high school and grabbed a one-way bus ticket back to my mom. Things’ll be better there, I convinced myself.

Only five days after my arrival, it became clear that Mom’s mental illness and my stepdad’s abuse had only gotten worse. During a psychotic meltdown, Mom kicked me out of the house with only the clothes on my back. I had just started a new job, and thankfully, my new boss came to my rescue and saved me from becoming homeless. That was my dysfunctional entrance into adulthood.

Life was one disaster after another. I felt like a magnet that attracted toxic people, danger, and injustices. In the coming years, I was homeless more than once, was raped multiple times, and was even framed for stealing by a person who pretended to be my friend. I lost my job over that one. I also landed myself in a domestic violence situation much like I’d witnessed growing up.

Finding out I was pregnant saved my life. I didn’t want my child to be raised as I’d been, so I mustered up the courage to leave that relationship and never look back. I would take on the challenges of being a single mom before I allowed my child to be subjected to violence at home.

Needing financial stability, I joined the Florida Department of Corrections. I knew nothing about corrections when I signed up, but at 23, I felt up for the challenge. I’d developed some thick skin over the years.

My first assignment was at a men’s facility with mixed custody levels. I balanced my street smarts with a solid work ethic and jumped the hurdles of being a new officer. I advanced through the ranks and, in 2004, became one of a handful of female captains in my region.

But the trauma, abuse, and rejection I’d endured before joining the department made me a ticking time bomb on the job. I was hard-hearted and unmoving, and I refused to back down from anything or anyone—staff or prisoner.

“Here comes Lucifer,” was the warning that echoed through the compound during my shifts. I was the heavy-handed captain who ran a tight ship and demanded perfection. Nothing and no one moved me. I was completely unfazed and desensitized. I felt nothing except anger.

For years, I struggled to steady myself with one foot in the prison world and one in society as a mother. Seeking safety, I married a man 20 years older than me. Instead of security, I acquired the chaos of his alcohol problem and mental health issues. I wasn’t equipped to cope, and it hit hard when I realized I was subjecting my daughter to the very cycle I’d sworn to protect her from. That marriage didn’t survive.

I continued to work hard and provide for my daughter and me, but I was unraveling daily. By the time I met my second husband, I was a hot mess.

This man of faith was from a stable family with deep roots in the community. He was everything I had once put on my wish list to God. In fact, at first, he seemed too good to be true. But he was the real deal, and I’m so glad he saw something in me worth fighting for. Our marriage of over 26 years is a testament to God’s grace and my husband’s patience.

For many years, I’d felt no joy, no pain, nothing. I was completely disconnected and severely depressed. I couldn’t engage in meaningful conversations with anyone unless it involved work. Every day, I pushed through the void, putting on what I thought was a good face in the community. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as good an actress as I thought. People thought I was a snob, but I was just a shell of a person without any capacity to feel.

The traumas I had endured in my personal life and the horrors I had witnessed behind bars, plus the havoc I’d caused in other people’s lives, were now causing my body to physically, emotionally, and mentally break down.

My health declined because of obesity, anxiety, insomnia, and a heart condition for which treatments were failing. My doctor was distressed. “Melissa, if you don’t make some drastic changes, you’ll be dead in five years.” I shrugged off his advice as if I were invincible.

One day, as I walked across the compound at work, I heard a voice I knew could only be God. “If you don’t get out now, you’ll lose everything, including your life.” I knew that ignoring that voice would be my demise. My 27-year career with the FLDOC was over—I retired in April 2017.

You’d think that would be good, but I had no idea how to live apart from the corrections world. I was not imprisoned, but I  had become institutionalized, unable to function outside of prison fences.

Then, in the middle of my identity crisis, God provided a new job for me—selling insurance. I had to talk to people in a world I knew nothing about—the outside world. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, I sat in my car in a grocery store parking lot and sobbed. I felt alone, overwhelmed, and afraid.

“All right, Lord,” I cried. “Here I am. I did what You said. I quit my job. Now what?”

God responded by opening my eyes to the real problem—me. My bitter heart was dark with pride, self-righteousness, unforgiveness, and judgment against others.

I had spent decades keeping society safe from those I judged as the worst of humanity. All the while, I’d been ignorant of the truth that the sacrifice Jesus made was for every soul—those behind bars, those who had hurt me, and yes, His sacrifice was even for me.

I recalled the many things I’d done in my youth against God’s will, any of which could have easily landed me in prison had I been caught. I was no different than those I had looked down upon. This revelation brought me to my knees in sorrowful repentance (Romans 2:4).

Stirring inside of me was the desire to be well. Like the disabled man by the pool of Bethesda, I was ready to roll up my mat and walk toward a new life with Jesus (John 5:6–9). To do that, I’d have to rise up out of the pew. I’d been sitting in church for a long time, but that hadn’t made me a Christian.

I knew in my head that Jesus had died for my sins and I believed it, but I had no relationship with Him. I’d lived half a century missing how desperately I needed His mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

At 52, I surrendered myself to Christ and began walking with Him. With each step, I have discovered hope and joy, and my soul has found wholeness—my mind, will, and emotions are no longer in chains.

Early in my healing, I ran into a former colleague who knew the old me. She was amazed at the change. We cried as I shared with her my journey with the Lord. She was excited to hear my desire to serve and share the gospel. “I’ll go wherever God leads me,” I told her.

My obedience was tested when my friend introduced me to a passionate, on-fire-for-Jesus woman named Nicole Dyson. (You can read Nicole’s story in Issue 2023-3 of VL.) Nicole invited me to a Bible study, and there I came face to face with a woman who had served time during my years with Florida DOC. She stiffened when she saw me, expecting me to reject or belittle her. Resisting the urge to run away, I embraced her. We hugged and cried, and I asked for her forgiveness.

God used that pivotal moment to show me that my brokenness had caused harm to another one of God’s children.

Nicole invited me to volunteer with her organization, The Jesus Infusion, a prison ministry inside the Florida Women’s Reception Center. I politely smiled at her invitation and told her I would pray about it. But my conversation with God was much more animated. Are you serious, God?! There’s no way You’re asking me to do this!

Going back behind bars wasn’t on my agenda, but I soon discovered it was on God’s. So, in 2021, three years after I’d retired from corrections, I headed back into prison as an official volunteer to minister to the incarcerated. My past and my healing and transformation journey helped me relate to those women in so many ways.

Recently, God opened the door for me to return to a women’s facility where I’d worked for eight years. The response to my presence has been mixed. Many people remember “Lucifer,” that cold-hearted, unyielding person I was, and they aren’t sure what to make of this new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I’ve received bewildered looks and unkind comments, and there’ve been plenty of uncomfortable situations. But it’s okay. Watching God move makes it worth it. I’ve witnessed the power of Jesus Christ radically transform lives and have had the privilege of baptizing hundreds of women. The joy I experience in sharing the hope of Jesus is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

God has shown me that every season of my life—good, bad, and ugly—has been preparation for this moment on this mission field (Esther 4:14). And every day, I’m prepared to give an answer to the hope that lives inside me (1 Peter 3:15) and tell how God revived me from the dead.

I was once dead in my sin, and that resulted in me being dead emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. Then Jesus made me alive (Ephesians 2:4–10) to Himself, and He returned to me the life He created me to have—a life the enemy, others, and even I had tried to destroy (Genesis 50:20). It’s a life of purpose and connection. It’s a life fully worth living.

 

MELISSA LOTT is a warrior for Christ who combats the world’s ugliness with the gospel. Jesus has restored her heart, giving her the ability to feel, forgive, and see goodness in people. She enjoys joyful sunshine, being courageous in darkness, and being a whole bunch of trouble for Satan.

Get Revenge!

I recently shared with some young people from a local high school how God can take the pain of our lives and use it for good. I used the example of Joseph from the Bible, found in Genesis chapters 37 through 50.

I also shared how God often takes us through a process of being broken and stripped down so we can find wholeness and experience our destiny. It’s a process I’ve had to endure myself.

Afterward, I went to lunch and sat beside a kid who told me he liked Joseph’s story.

“It’s interesting to think that God can take the horrible things of the past and use them for good,” he said. “But really, it’s hard to believe. I’ve lost everything. My mom is gone, my aunt just died, and I recently quit my gang. And then, I was walking home with a friend when a rival gang member who didn’t know I’d quit took a shot at me. My friend jumped in front of me and took the bullet, and now he’s dead. How’s God going to bring something good out of that?”

This young man also wrestled with the notion that God had brought all this tragedy into his life. I explained that God hadn’t taken his mom, aunt, or friend—Satan had. I told him about Satan, the real enemy, the one who wanted to rob and steal and destroy his life. That’s who’d caused those things to happen, I told him.

Then I said something that shocked him. “You know what? God wants you to get revenge for what happened.” He thought I was talking about getting a gun and going after the one who had caused him harm. Of course, I wasn’t. I was talking about getting revenge on Satan.

Ephesians 6:12 (NLT) tells us, “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and the authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly realms.”

“It’s time to make Satan pay for what he’s done,” I said.

The young man was confused, so I continued to explain. “Your willingness to release your pain to God gets revenge against Satan. Forgiving your assailant gets revenge, too. So does using your pain to help others. Every life you touch for God, every person you help, hurts Satan because it’s one less person he can touch!”

Have you ever considered getting revenge on Satan for the pain you’ve experienced? It’s true—you can make Satan pay for the things he brings into your life when you accomplish God’s will by bringing others to Him.

Listen to what Joseph told his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).

Joseph gave Satan a significant blow by refusing to play the blame game or take on a victim mentality. He also hurt Satan by refusing to get even with his brothers—which, as the second in command in Egypt, he had the power to do.

I know it’s hard not to want to get revenge on a person in natural ways. But taking matters into your hands leads only to more pain for you and your loved ones, and it delays God being able to work all those painful things together for your good (Romans 8:28).

God wants to give your pain purpose. And that is the best revenge ever.

The Relentless Love of God

My friend Linda and I met years ago at a Cracker Barrel for fellowship and to discuss the correspondence outreach which she led at the time. After enjoying our meal, we went outside to pray for Victorious Living’s incarcerated family members.

We sat there in the rocking chairs and prayed with our eyes open so we wouldn’t attract attention. As we prayed, I noticed a man going in and out of the restaurant. He kept walking past us. I realized I’d seen him twice in the restaurant too.

Since God often uses repetitive scenes and phrases to catch my attention, I inwardly asked Him if there was something He wanted me to do. I felt God leading me to speak with the man. The next time he passed by, I introduced myself and engaged him in conversation. I was relieved when he responded in a welcoming manner. His name was Ryan.

I told him that I’d felt God wanting me to remind him that He loved him. I knew it was a God-ordained meeting when Ryan shook his head and said with a bit of laughter in his voice, “I don’t know why, but God just won’t leave me alone.”

I knew why—because God so loves Ryan (John 3:16). God’s extravagant love will go to any length to bring a lost son or daughter home. This time, God’s love had chased Ryan down using two ladies in rocking chairs (Romans 2:4).

Over the next few minutes, Ryan shared intimate life details, and then he said something I’ve heard many times from many people. “I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere.”

He went on to tell us how he had come to Cracker Barrel to meet up with his family, hoping that being in their presence would make him feel better and more complete. He’d been estranged from them for a while. Yet, even after a great meal and decent conversation, he still felt empty. And that emptiness had him pacing around the restaurant property.

For years, Ryan had been tormented by a sense of emptiness. He admitted to having tried to fill that void with many things, including women and weed. But everything and everyone had failed him. His love for weed had even cost him his job, as he had recently failed a drug test.

“I’ve been searching and wandering all through life. I’m so tired of being let down,” Ryan confessed. Then he added, “And I’m tired of running from God.”

I told him he didn’t have to run anymore, that he could take off those running shoes and rest in the arms of his heavenly Father. Ryan looked relieved. And then he bowed his head and prayed to the One he had been running from his whole life. When he said amen, he was beaming, as were we.

After he left, Linda and I marveled at the relentless love of God. It will chase you down anywhere! The question is, when we find ourselves face-to-face with God’s love, will we surrender to it?

Maybe, like Ryan, you don’t feel like you belong anywhere. Maybe you’ve been chasing after worldly offerings, hoping they will fill that void. The problem is, the things of this world never satisfy. Only God can bring contentment.

Right now, God is inviting you to stop running and surrender your life to His goodness. He is what you’re missing. He is where you belong! And He alone can transform your life from one of emptiness to one of fulfillment.

Pray with me. God, I’m tired of running. I surrender to Your love. Let it overtake me. I choose You over my fear, questions, unbelief, guilt, and shame; over relationships and sex, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, and _______. Take my life, Lord. Bring me home to You.

 

Kristi Overton Johnson encourages and equips people for victory through her writings, speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To learn more, go to kojministries.org.

A Lifer Set Free

I did not believe that God was real. From the time I was a kid, I had been dealt one painful blow after another, and if He was real, He sure wasn’t showing up in my life.

Alcohol abuse was rampant in my childhood home. My parents eventually divorced because of it, and when my alcoholic father married another alcoholic, I became vulnerable to a family member who molested me until I left home at 18.

Carrying around this family secret was hard. I was angry yet deeply ashamed of what had happened to me. Over time, those emotions became bitterness, and the poison of unforgiveness seeped into my heart and mind.

When I was 10, my stepmother swore off alcohol and started taking me to church. At first, I found comfort there and protection from my problems at home. I threw myself into all the activities the church offered, including going through the motions of being baptized. As I got older, I even helped in Vacation Bible School and worked with the youth. But I had no relationship with God.

While church felt like a safe place, it was only a temporary haven—I always had to return home to the abuse and chaos. I needed more than a place to hide.

Life grew harder as my eccentric stepmother became increasingly religious and controlling. She threw away all my cute clothes and forced me to wear only pants or dresses that covered my knees. I couldn’t even wear a bathing suit to the pool.

I couldn’t wait to escape. Upon high school graduation, I left home and ran straight into the arms of a man I thought would love and protect me. We were married two months before my 19th birthday without the support of my family.

Three months in, I knew I had made a horrible mistake. My husband grew increasingly abusive and controlling, and I had nowhere to turn for help. Still, I was determined to make our marriage work. Looking for more ways to control me, my husband next targeted my involvement with the church and refused to let me have a Bible.

I quit going to church and praying. It wasn’t doing any good anyway. Things got worse, and my heart grew hard. Blaming God for everything that was wrong, I washed my hands of Him and walked away.

I embraced and nurtured my victim mentality until the day I decided to eliminate the source of my current pain—my husband. He had controlled and abused me for seven long years, but we’d just had a baby. He wasn’t going to hurt her.

I bought a gun and waited for my chance. It came when he was released from jail on probation for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on another woman. I seized the opportunity. I shot and killed him.

But the pain didn’t stop; it intensified. Especially when, at 26, I was arrested for murder and sentenced to life in prison.

That was the darkest day of my life. My daughter—my only child—was nine months old. She had not even taken her first steps. That was the first of a multitude of milestones I wouldn’t see.

Knowing I had lost my daughter forever, I descended into depression. I was a lifer; what hope did I have?

I thought about turning to God, but my angry and bitter heart refused. “God hasn’t done anything for you,” I told myself. “He doesn’t want to have anything to do with you either. He’s mad at you. That’s why He’s allowed all these terrible things to happen in your life.”

I believed those lies and continued to run from God, the only One who could light up my darkness (Psalm 18:28), heal my broken heart, and set me free (Isaiah 61:1).

In prison, many people went to chapel, but I refused to go. I wasn’t about to sing praises to a God who was the reason I was locked up. Well, maybe He wasn’t the reason, but He certainly hadn’t stopped it from happening.

Funny though—even while I was running from God, He was still chasing after me. Something, some little voice in my head, kept challenging me to do more than merely exist in prison. I needed to prepare for the future. (What future?)

God was guiding me, but I didn’t know it yet.

I noticed how girls all around me in prison were getting hooked, overdosing, and dying. I didn’t want that to be my story, and my spirit rose up to fight.

That’s not common for a lifer. A life sentence in prison feels as much like a death sentence as the real thing. It’s hard for someone with that sentence to find purpose in continuing to live, and it’s easy for them to fall prey to Satan’s lies. Convinced that they have nothing to live for and nothing to lose, they give up and act out.

I started in that direction, but God kept whispering to my soul. I didn’t want to admit it, but I found myself hoping against all hope that my life had purpose. I even believed I might be released one day, and I began preparing myself for that possibility.

I got an education. Attending classes was exciting, and it wasn’t long before learning became my drug of choice. I devoured everything I could. As soon as I finished one program, I started a new one.

Many lifers thought I was crazy. They didn’t understand the hope in me. Even my friends told me I was stupid and to give up. I told them, “God’s going to open the doors for me one day and let me go. He won’t be mad at me forever.”

These are interesting words from someone who’s running from God, I know. But something in me knew He was real. I just wasn’t ready to acknowledge it all the way.

Staying busy helped the years go by more quickly. Finally, in 2017, I was allowed to go before the parole board. I was elated when they told me I’d be released in six months. All my hard work had paid off; I was going home!

But six weeks before my release date, the board decided that I would have to complete a two-year faith-and-character program first. I was livid. “They can’t make me do this faith-and-character crap,” I shouted to anyone who’d listen. “Where’s my freedom of religion?”

But the program was required, and if I wanted to go home, I’d have to do it. So, reluctantly, I signed up.

The intense training plus the job I was working wore me down. There were 479 women on the compound, and I oversaw all their laundry. It was exhausting, and one day, feeling like I didn’t have the strength to take another step, I nearly collapsed.

Feeling drawn to the vacant chapel, I went inside. Before I knew it, I was face-down on the floor, my arms outstretched. Years of remorse poured out of me as I cried out to God.

I began apologizing for my anger, for blaming Him for every bad thing in my life, for refusing to go to chapel, for not praying, and for everything else I could think of. I admitted I had purposely been running from God my whole life.

“Oh, Lord, forgive me,” I begged. “Help me, please. Take control—I can’t do this anymore. I need You. Take my life; it’s Yours. Whatever You ask, I’ll do it.”

An inexplicable peace (Philippians 4:7) and an unfamiliar rest (Psalm 73:26) settled over me. Somehow, the song “My Life Is in Your Hands” by Kirk Franklin filled the empty chapel, and I looked around in awe. God’s strength filled my soul (Isaiah 40:29; 2 Corinthians 12:8–10), and I knew that God would lead me home.

In June 2019, the State of Florida granted me parole. At 53, I was finally a free woman.

Being home after decades of living behind bars was challenging. So much had changed in 27 years. I had to learn about email and cell phones and computers. Surprisingly, I had to learn how to make decisions again too. Even ordering a fast-food meal was overwhelming—there was so much to choose from. Deciding what to eat after being fed routine meals for decades practically gave me a nervous breakdown. Only through the grace of God did I overcome my anxieties.

When you leave prison, you have to start from the bottom and work your way up. That’s a challenging task if you don’t have money, support, or transportation. But God provided.

My first job was at a grocery store. I walked five miles to and from work every day. God impressed on my heart to stay faithful and do whatever was in front of me for Him, not for other people (Colossians 3:23). As Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7, I kept fighting the good fight of faith and trusting the Lord.

Trusting Him, though, required obedience too. Through studying the Bible and praying, I realized that I needed to forgive those who had hurt me. Hebrews 12:15 taught me that a bitter root allowed to grow would “cause trouble and defile many” (NIV). Matthew 6:15 taught me that I couldn’t receive God’s gift of forgiveness if I harbored hate.

It took time and commitment, but God helped me let go of my bitterness toward my childhood abuser and completely forgive him—even though he has yet to apologize. God also helped me forgive my husband who had abused me so badly. Only the Lord could infuse me with this spirit of forgiveness and love.

Family members witnessed my life transformation and began their own journeys with God. He challenged them with the same command to forgive. It took some time, but my daughter extended the gift of forgiveness to me. We now have a flourishing relationship.

Watching my daughter’s faith unfold has been a beautiful gift. She was 27 when I was released and understandably angry. Forgiveness restored our relationship; it set us both free from the poison of hate and bitterness.

I don’t know of any other person on life parole with a volunteer identification number, but now I return to prison to share the transforming power of God’s love and forgiveness with those who are still there. With God, anything is possible (Matthew 19:26).

If you had told me I’d (willingly!) return to prison after living behind bars for 27 years and 30 days, I would have said you were crazy. But I go every opportunity I have. I want everyone there to know they can be free—even if they never set foot in a free society again. A prison number or the length of one’s sentence doesn’t define a person’s worth. God does.

I was so scared the first time I went back into prison to speak. I pulled into the parking lot and sat in my car, crying. The warden called, wondering where I was. “I’m here,” I told her. “But I don’t know if I can do this. I’m scared to death.”

She came outside, wrapped her arms around me, and prayed. Peace and courage filled me, and we went inside. I was given visitor’s badge number 53. I cracked a smile. I was 53 when I walked out of those prison walls. It was a God-wink, for sure.

It’s been almost five years since I was released, but the truth is, God’s redeeming love, grace, and forgiveness had set me free long before I exited those prison gates. I can’t begin to count all God’s blessings. Every day, I wake up with a grateful heart—even through the struggles. I’ll forever praise God for lifting me from that bottomless, despairing pit of hate and unforgiveness that almost consumed me.

Please don’t let bitterness or hatred consume you. Satan wants you to be a lifer in a prison of despair—regardless of which side of a physical prison wall you live on. Don’t do it! Instead, let go of those consuming emotions. Forgive those who have hurt you, even if they never ask for your forgiveness. This isn’t about them. It’s about you being free. When Jesus, the Son of God, comes into your life, He sets you free no matter where you are (John 8:36).

It’s time to choose freedom. “The Lord is a God of justice,” Isaiah 30:18 says. “Blessed are all who wait for him” (NIV). Put those who hurt you in God’s hands and let them go. Then you can embrace His abundant life (John 10:10).

 

MARIANNE VAN DONGEN frequently returns to the same prison where she was incarcerated for 27 years, ministering to women through the Jesus Infusion (thejesusinfusion.org). She also volunteers with parole and probation programs and at various correctional institutions, helping persons who are reentering society to successfully complete the parole and probation process.

Managing Stress

We all encounter difficulties that cause stress. Jesus even promised it (John 16:33). Stress can come through difficult people, circumstances, and changes in this world. Even good things can create stress.

Stress can lead us down two paths: one of painful unrest or one of peace. Our response to stress determines our destination.

For many, stress leads to painful unrest. This creates a loop of anxiety, fear, depression, physical sickness, obsessive thoughts, and straight-up panic. It’s a helpless and hopeless place to be.

Some of us have operated in that realm of toxic chronic stress for so long we aren’t even aware of it. It’s all we’ve known. Others recognize the stress but have no idea what to do about it, so they continue in it and just become more stressed about the stress.

For the first 37 years of my life, before I met Jesus, I lived in a state of toxic chronic stress. I sought ways to manage the difficulties I faced and the emotional pain I felt but failed to find any healthy solutions. The unhealthy, worldly solutions I did come up with only brought more stress and damage to me and those I loved.

I became bitter, not better.

Stress impacted every area of my life—spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, financial, and relational. Because of the way I handled it, I ended up alone, broken, and desperate in a pit of incarceration and addiction.

Jesus redeemed me from that pit, but staying out of it has required me to learn new ways to manage life’s stressors.

Learning to properly manage stress is the key to staying out of life’s pits. Satan wants us to be overcome by stress, but the Lord wants us to overcome it with His rest. Whew, that’s a mouthful! Read that truth again.

God cares deeply about what stresses us. He knows that anxiety and unrest can imprison His children if we ignore them. Satan knows it, too, and he takes advantage of it every chance he can. Satan knows that if we don’t properly manage stress, we lose sight of God and His promises. We take matters into our own hands and become defeated, discouraged, anxious, fearful, and bitter.

Stress disrupts the shalom of God. Shalom is a peaceful resting in Him, His promises, and His ways. God has good plans and purposes for all His children (Jeremiah 29:11), but to experience them, we must learn to manage stress.

To do that, we must first identify our triggers—the situations, people, places, and things that lead us into a state of unrest. These are different for everyone. Haggai 1:5 says, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you!” (NLT).

We can prepare for and cope with stressful encounters only when we know our triggers. That takes intentional monitoring of our thoughts, emotions, and reactions.

Upon examination, we might identify a particular situation or person that causes us to worry or become obsessively concerned about things outside our control. Maybe we get defensive when someone says something to us, and we immediately argue or fight instead of considering their words.

Maybe we run away instead of facing the thing or person that’s bothering us. For me, I know that in uncomfortable situations, I freeze and am unable to respond appropriately.

Once we identify our stressors, then we determine the underlying reasons for them. This will take some soul searching with God (Psalm 139:23–24). There’s always a deep-rooted reason for a reaction. Sometimes professional counseling is needed to work through this—and that is perfectly okay.

Once we know our triggers, then we can identify a better way to react to them that will promote the peaceful rest, healing, and wholeness God desires (Psalm 37:8).

Since we will never eliminate every stressor, learning to cope with them is a must. It’s best to seek a holistic plan that provides care for the whole being—body, mind, and spirit. God created humans as three-part beings (1 Thessalonians 5:23). If any part of our being is out of balance, it will impact the others.

Taking intentional care of our whole being is God’s will for our lives; He desires every part of us to be healthy (3 John 1:2). Our bodies are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 6:19–20). Think about that—if you are a believer, God lives in you! Knowing this should cause us to treat ourselves well. Making self-care a priority is not selfish but sacred.

We care for our bodies by eating healthy, getting adequate sleep each night, avoiding harmful substances, and exercising regularly as we are able. We care for our minds by monitoring our thoughts and identifying the negative  ones.

I know that my mind is a scary place when left wild and untamed. Negative thoughts create crippling unrest and impact both my soul and body. That’s Satan’s plan (John 10:10). Only by changing the way I think can my unrest be transformed into rest (Romans 12:2).

I like to use relaxation techniques like deep breathing and taking a time out when I’m stressed. It’s difficult to make good decisions when my mind is running in circles. I must calm and quiet myself (Psalm 131:2). Learning to avoid those impulsive reactions isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort.

My relationship with God is a lifestyle, not a diet. It is a personal and ongoing journey. It involves intentional choices and a commitment to nurturing spiritual well-being amid life’s challenges and joys. My relationship with God is, in fact, my personal life support system.

Meditating on God’s Word comforts me and helps me find a fresh perspective. God and His Word are my source of life (John 14:6) and hope (Romans 15:13). He is my ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).

The chart below contains 12 biblical truths I lean on when I’m stressed.

  1. God is with me and will not abandon me in my stress. Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5
  2. God sees and understands my stress. Genesis 16:13; Psalm 10:14; Psalm 33:18
  3. God wants to give me peace when my heart is troubled. Isaiah 26:3; John 14:27
  4. God wants to carry my burden and give me rest. Psalm 4:8; Hebrews 4:9–11
  5. God wants to guide me when I am too stressed to make decisions. Psalm 32:8
  6. God wants to strengthen me when I am weak and weary. Isaiah 40:29; Matthew 11:28
  7. God wants to deliver me from my stress. Psalm 24:4–5; 107:6; Isaiah 41:10
  8. God wants to comfort me in times of stress. Isaiah 51:12; 1 Peter 5:6–7
  9. God wants to use my stress to increase my dependence on Him. 2 Corinthians 1:8–9
  10. God wants me to talk to Him about my stress. Psalm 118:5; Philippians 4:6–7
  11. God wants me to trust Him to be my refuge in times of stress. Psalm 32:7; 62:8
  12. God wants me to worship Him and acknowledge His constant presence even in times of stress. Genesis 35:3; Acts 16:25–26

Stress does not have to have the final word in our lives. Jesus has promised we can have His peace and presence (John 16:33). We can come to Him and find rest for our weary souls (Matthew 11:29).

Surrender your stress to God and invite Him to help and give you the hope you need. He will provide you with courage, endurance, and perseverance for this journey to experience the Prince of Peace, His rest, resilience, and well-being.

 

SHERIDAN CORREA is a Trauma-Informed Biblical Counselor. She’s a wife, mother of two teenage boys, singer, and avid runner who has been radically changed by Jesus. She is VL’s director of content development.

Resilience in the Valley

“The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10 NIV).

Resilience is the ability to bounce back after adversity. Life can hit you like a ton of bricks. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Recently, it seemed that everything that could happen to me happened, all at the same time. Tuition increased at the daycare. All four tires on my truck needed to be replaced. The refrigerator stopped working. Between my husband and the kids, we had several trips to the hospital within a two-month period…and the list went on.

I was barely catching my footing from one blow before the next one hit. Life was getting the upper hand, and I was undoubtedly in the valley.

“Where are You, God,” I cried. “When will You show up for me? How long will I have to endure all this suffering? Don’t You think I’ve learned my lesson? Come on. I need a break.”

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever questioned how long your storm would last? Have you ever contemplated throwing up your hands and saying, “I’m done. I’ve had enough. I can’t do this anymore. It’s just too much. I’m over it.”

Thanks be to God, storms don’t last forever. We suffer, but only for a little while.

I’m a living testimony that the darkest nights inevitably see the breaking of dawn. Don’t lose hope—God’s joy does “come in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). A brighter day is ahead.

Here are some promises that can help you through those dark valleys. They have helped me.

  • God will give you His strength when you get weary. You will experience increased power after being weak (Isaiah 40:30–31).
  • The trying of your faith will develop patience and the ability to persevere (James 1:3–4).
  • God has already overcome everything the world and the enemy can send your way (John 16:33).
  • God is always with you, and nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:38–39).

Don’t lose sight of these and other promises from God. They build resilience and will help you stay the course and keep the faith until the end.

Look back at all the storms you’ve encountered. They were bad, weren’t they? But look—you’re still here! You’ve made it through your trials before, and with God, you can do it again. You can overcome anything with God on your side (Philippians 4:13).

The valley you’re walking through won’t last forever. Take the journey with God,  and you’ll be stronger, better, and wiser than you were before.

What storms are you battling that have tested your faith or caused you to be frustrated, doubt-filled, or afraid? Give them to God. Cast every care over to Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Trust Him as you face the storm or move through that valley. Take one step at a time. God’s track record is proven.

According to Psalm 34:17, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles” (NIV).

Don’t ever stop praying to the Lord. Keep crying out to Him. Your words are not in vain. He hears you, and He will deliver you from all your troubles.

 

Na’Kedra Rodgers is a Southern belle with sass. She enjoys empowering women as a speaker, author, and podcaster. Her mission is to inspire, encourage, and point lost souls to Jesus. Connect with Na’Kedra at www.nakedrarodgers.com.

Finding Beauty In The Storm

He was a charismatic, energetic, young founding pastor, an evangelist who flashed a bright smile as he extended his hand to greet me. This man quoted scripture verbatim, prayed fervently, and executed his sermon deliveries and altar calls masterfully.

I was quickly captivated by his displayed passion for Jesus Christ and his love for others, and after a brief courtship, we ran down the wedding aisle. I couldn’t wait to be a pastor’s wife.

It wasn’t long, though, before I discovered a dark truth about my husband. He wasn’t at all who he appeared or claimed to be. Hiding behind clergy cloth was a pathological liar and a manipulative pedophile.

The coming years were traumatic on many levels. After three years of verbal abuse, multiple separations, and spousal abandonment, we divorced. My faith was shaken to its core; my heart lay shattered in a thousand pieces.

Deep inside, I screamed out to God. Where are You in all of this? How could You have let this happen to me? I am a woman of faith!

I loved the Lord profoundly and had served Him faithfully, and this was what I got? I blamed God for the horrible circumstances of my life—but they weren’t His fault.

The reality is that the Lord had sent me many warnings about my relationship with this man. They had come through the nudging of the Holy Spirit, certain events, and the words of my parents and siblings. Not to mention, an internal siren was blaring. My own gut instinct had warned me to run the other way. But I ignored it all.

I kept looking for the answer I wanted. When I didn’t get it from my usual sources, I turned to other people for spiritual advice regarding God’s will. One adviser laughed at me and scorned my concerns about my soon-to-be husband.

Trusting his judgment over those who loved me, over my own instincts, and over the Holy Spirit’s promptings, I ran mindlessly down the marriage aisle and settled in a place God never intended.

But now, on the other side, I can see my part in the story. Today, I own the fact that I contributed to my unhealthy marital experience.

If I had listened to the warnings, trusted God, and waited patiently instead of stubbornly pushing ahead, I could have avoided the intense depression, grief, and embarrassment I would experience as a minister of the gospel and church leader. I could have avoided the pain of our marriage.

Years of deep soul-searching and authentic self-reflection, prayer, and therapy have brought me to this realization. Thank God for His mercy. He stayed close and helped me navigate many uncomfortable emotions. With every step, He revealed His grace and unconditional, eternal love.

Today, I am healed because of God’s grace and my willingness to partner with Him in self-discovery. God has taken the ugliness of my life and turned it into something beautiful.

My decision to get married was a result of my naivete, my desire to be accepted, my fear and anxiety, and my low sense of self-worth and self-love. I had stopped trusting God’s plan and timetable for my life.

The truth is, I ran to the altar because, as a 28-year-old virgin with no social life, I was convinced no one would ever ask me to be his wife. Church culture had taught me that he—my husband—was supposed to find me.

I had been waiting and waiting, but with each passing year, I became more fearful and disappointed. Godly men came and went, but none chose me. So when this young pastor that no one knew expressed interest in me, I shoved aside the suspicions I had and ran down the aisle.

Why? Well, I could hear my biological clock ticking away. If I didn’t marry this man, surely I’d miss my opportunity to have a family. I was so afraid I wouldn’t have what I desired most—children.

I also ran to the altar because I wanted to be a preacher’s wife. Growing up in the faith community, I had witnessed women hitting the glass ceiling that prevented them from advancing in ministry. I was afraid that the scope of my ministry, though ordained by God, would be determined and severely limited by people in the church. I also knew that glass ceiling didn’t exist for women whose husbands oversaw the church, so that’s who I wanted to be.

I now know that my poor choices were the result of an unhealthy perception of who I was. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see myself as God saw me—His beautiful, handcrafted work of art. I didn’t understand that God had masterfully created me in His image.

Childhood traumas and young adult experiences had left me unable to imagine that I was a person to be valued or loved. Despite my involvement in church and my desire to minister for God, I truly couldn’t see myself as someone He would treasure. I wasn’t good enough for that.

So I ignored the relationship standards I knew should exist and grabbed the first opportunity that looked like my dream.

I quickly knew that’s not what it was, but since I probably didn’t deserve love anyway, I accepted my lot in life. Absorbing my husband’s verbal and emotional abuse, I allowed myself to become a victim of my circumstances.

I settled in a place God never intended, far from those good plans and that hope-filled future I’d read about in Jeremiah 29:11. That’s what happens when a person doesn’t understand their worth and value. They settle in a dry, barren wilderness and lose themselves as they search for validation and acceptance from others.

On top of the difficulties in my marriage, I pressured myself to be what I thought a pastor’s wife should be. I wore myself out trying desperately to meet the expectations of others. And I constantly fell short.

And then one day, everything changed. I gave up the chase. I quit playing the victim card. I laid down all the things I thought were supposed to make me worthy and turned to the only One who could. That’s when God took me by the hand and walked with me through the storm.

The light of His presence overshadowed the darkness (John 16:33), and even though pain still existed, His love opened my eyes to the beauty of my life and the person He had created—me! Seeing myself through God’s eyes was the key to my healing.

So how does God see me? How does He see you? Let me share some of the healing truths I’ve found.

God sees a masterpiece, each person fashioned and formed in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13–16) by His very hands (Ephesians 2:10). God can only see beauty; He simply doesn’t make junk.

God sees people of purpose, filled to the brim with gifts and talents that can impact the world (1 Peter 4:10–11). When God looks at us, He announces to all creation, “It is good” (Genesis 1:31).

God sees His home in us. Second Corinthians 4:7 tells us that God places the treasure of His Holy Spirit in broken, messed-up us. And He lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16).

God sees people who bring value into every space we enter. Jesus calls us the world’s light and says we are salt that brings flavor and healing to others (Matthew 5:13–15).

God sees people He loves, people who were worth dying for (John 3:16). Despite all the horrible things He knew we would do, God still sent His Son to die for us (Romans 5:8). This sacrifice demonstrated His love for humanity and affirmed our worth. Nothing we do or say will stop Him from loving us. Nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38–39).

God sees the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). This signifies His affection for us and the lengths He will go to care for us. He even calls us His friends (John 15:15).

God sees perfection; people in right standing with Himself (Romans 3:24), even with our flaws and shortcomings. He doesn’t see our sin; He sees the sacrifice of His Son. Our past, no matter how grievous and dark, was removed from us the minute we placed our faith in the work of the cross. (See Psalm 103.)

Throughout the Bible and history, God has declared His love for us and our worth. Isn’t it time that we start loving what God loves? Yes, I mean us.

Matthew 22:37–39 tells us to love the Lord with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It’s the greatest commandment. But here’s the thing: we can’t love others unless we first love ourselves. Neither will we experience the fullness of His love unless we love ourselves the way He intends us to.

To love ourselves, we must embrace our identities, including our flaws, strengths, weaknesses, and experiences. God accepts us as we are, without limitation or condition. He expects us to do the same. Christ-centered self-love is paramount to the health of every relationship we’ll ever have.

Do you need help loving yourself? Ask the Lord. Meet Him at the foot of the cross where He paid the price to make you right in His eyes. There, lose the “strong Christian” facade. Talk to Him and surrender your self-hate, low self-esteem, distorted self-perception, and anything else preventing you from receiving His love and accepting your worth. Then rise and walk with Him into freedom. Take one step at a time. You’ll find peace and joy in His presence (Philippians 4:7).

Healing doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Even a believer who fully surrenders to God and walks in His perfect plan may still experience a long, painful journey (John 16:33). But we’re no longer alone.

God promises to walk with us through every storm in life and to give us His strength to endure and wisdom to navigate. And along the way, He will heal every broken place within and reveal beautiful truths about Himself, your circumstances, others, and you.

His truth will help you recognize and reject unrealistic expectations. It will also help you embrace the accurate and relevant expectations founded in God’s Word. As you renew your mind with His truth, you will find yourself in the center of God’s perfect and pleasing will (Romans 12:2).

Unearthing the past and the things that made you who you are can be uncomfortable. But God and the loving faith community you surround yourself with will help you move forward.

It’s a journey, but it’s worth the effort. God can help you find beauty in the storm.

Essie Faye Taylor is a wife, bilingual author, educator, speaker, psalmist, and interpreter. As the author of the Finding the Love You Deserve series for women and teens, she is deeply committed to sharing the healing power of the gospel. Learn more at www.essiefayetaylor.com.

God’s Approval Is All That Matters

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1 NIV). The psalmist David was intimately acquainted with feelings of fear and rejection, feelings that started when he was a shepherd boy and stayed as he became king.

For instance, when the prophet Samuel came to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel, David’s father initially excluded him from consideration (1 Samuel 16:10–11). King Saul later became so jealous of David that he tried to kill him (1 Samuel 18–19). Even David’s son Absalom conspired to overthrow David and assume the royal position of king (2 Samuel 15). Imagine how all that felt!

There’s no doubt that these situations hurt David. His writings often expressed his feelings of disappointment and sadness over the rejection he endured, but he had also learned to lean into his heavenly Father as a constant source of comfort and provision. Psalm 27 illustrates David’s confidence that everything he needed came from the Lord, not man.

The same is true in our struggles today to feel like we belong.

For most of my life, I went to extreme lengths to avoid rejection. In elementary school, I endured relentless teasing and bullying that caused terrible anxiety and daily panic attacks. Often, I would pretend to be sick so I could stay home and avoid the fear and loneliness I felt.

And then, in the third grade, I figured out a way to make the kids like me, at least temporarily. It turns out mean kids like candy, and they would leave me alone if I gave them some. Many were even nice to me all day.

So I started sneaking out my bedroom window at night and shoplifting candy from a grocery store near my house to take to school. I could’ve gotten in a lot of trouble for stealing, but the risk was worth it. Nothing was worse than feeling rejected. Talk about an early lesson in manipulating circumstances.

I carried that bad habit of people-pleasing into adulthood, doing things I knew were wrong so that people would accept me. I took crazy risks with my life and freedom and made foolish, impulsive decisions to avoid feeling left out or overlooked.

Those choices, of course, came with heavy consequences. Some even landed me in jail and prison. But no matter how hard I tried, my actions never won me the acceptance I craved.

When I learned that God loves me unconditionally despite my flaws, mistakes, and sins and that He loves me so much that He wouldn’t leave me that way—it changed everything! God pursued me throughout my life to adopt me into His family (Romans 8:16–17). I am a child of God, chosen, set aside, and called for His purpose. And you can be too. All you have to do is ask. It’s not what we do for God or others that puts us in the right standing with God; it’s all and only because of what Jesus did (Ephesians 2:8–10).

Moving away from people-pleasing has been a journey. It helps when I remind myself that seeking people’s approval hinders me from serving the Lord. Galatians 1:10 puts it this way: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (NIV).

Wholeheartedly serving the Lord is my greatest desire. I consistently evaluate my motives to determine whether what I am doing is for God’s glory or if I’m seeking to gain approval from others. I don’t want to harm my witness for Christ or contradict the way God calls me to live. My relationship with God is most important.

Besides, even my best efforts couldn’t gain the approval of everyone…and that’s okay!

I remind myself that even mature Christ followers can fall into the people-pleasing trap, and we must all guard against it. The best way to do that is to understand our identity as a child of God.

Search the scriptures to discover the many ways that you are loved and chosen by the Creator of this world. And then embrace a life free of the fear of rejection.

 

Christina Kimbrel serves as VL’s production manager. Once incarcerated, she now ministers hope to those held captive by their past and current circumstances while sharing the message of healing she found in Jesus.

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