More than a gift

Undeserved Grace - a lesson in forgiveness

Ephesians 1:7, In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace

As you'll read from the stories of the past two years of my life God has been hard at work. This story is one that actually began several years ago. I had been married for just over a year, and somehow the honeymoon phase had skipped over us. I was miserable and lonely with no one to share what I was feeling with. You see I couldn't tell my family because that would be to admit that I may have been wrong in getting married so young and I didn't want to hear the "I told you so's" or get the unwanted divorce advice I was sure would come. Mostly I didn't want to admit I had gotten in over my head and bitten off my than I could chew after I had spent most of my teen years trying to prove I was not like my family and that I didn't need them.    

I was at my lowest. I had been more depressed and miserable in the past but never this angry. I was mad. I was mad at my mom for divorcing her third husband after forcing me to stick it out and live through his abuse for years she ended it all when I had only one year left at home. It was like all that misery and sacrifice for her happiness meant nothing, like saying all the horrible things he said and did to me we're suddenly alright. I was mad that just when I had my life in order and planned out she flipped my world over. 

Then I got married to a man who I thought was ambitious and driven and we had a plan for our lives and somehow when we got married that plan went out the window. The guy I thought I was marrying disappeared and I felt trapped. Trapped by my own stubborn nature and inability to admit failure and throw the towel in. Have you ever seen a wild animal such as a tiger or lion when it is trapped and penned in? If you have you know it gets mad, not sad or wallowing in self pity. The sheer anger and fury of the trapped animal often times intimidates the captor into releasing it, or putting it down. That's where I was. I was the trapped animal sitting angrily in my corner waiting the moment to strike and run free.

At the time I was working for some friends bringing in our family's main income. My husband bounced through life painfully unaware of my pain and avoiding any form of conflict with me. My boss on the other hand was not one to avoid conflict. When I first started working at the job I loved it, it was hard and I enjoyed the challenge of learning something new, it took my mind off my pain. However I had come to master my daily tasks, except one, packing the boxes. I lacked a certain attention to detail and perfection that my boss, and friend, valued.

He began micromanaging me in this one area, checking over my work with such scrutiny it often took him longer to check my work than if I he had just done it himself. This micromanagement made me feel even more trapped. I also knew from past experience with bad employees he had a tracker on my computer and could and would read over my activity for the day. The lack of trust in the past would have caused me to rise up and and stand tall above the challenge, but because I was already trapped and angry it only made me more frustrated. I began typing in random statements here and there during the day wondering if he'd catch them. At first it started out harmless, something like 'I left a jar of pickles in the warehouse can you find it?'

When he never called me on these silly little things I began to be bolder and let out my actual feelings here and there, perhaps they were little cries for help. Again he said and did nothing about it. My misery grew exponentially and my boss, a person who I claimed was also my friend, received 21 years of pent up anger and frustration directed at him. The things I typed appall me and cause me great shame. I was at my absolute worst and I honestly don't recognize the woman I was in those last few weeks I worked for him. My husband recently sent me an email from his archives that I had sent him during that time period, I had to read it three times. The first time I thought 'wow our friend better fire that person' then I thought 'why would one of his current employees send my husband and email like this?' then with the full weight of shame I realized the email had been from me. It wasn't in my usual writing style, it was full of anger and hate and pain. I wanted to cry! I had known I was at my worst, but I didn't fully understand who bad my worst was until I read that email. I eventually was rightfully fired from my job and perhaps the hit my pride took in the firing prevented me from fully seeing how horrible I had become.

Needless to say all of these things took a huge toll on our friendship. Shortly after our daughter was born though we reconnected. We lightly addressed the things I would type in but not fully and I realize now after reading the email I did not and could not ever adequately apologize for my behavior and their continued friendship is mind boggling. You see in my family we write people off when they upset us and we write them off for good. If they are related by blood we 'put up' with them when we have to and we always hold things over each other. Their forgiveness to me is still beyond my comprehension, and the fact that they forgave me with so little attempt at an apology is even more awesome.

Greater Rewards - a lesson in humility

Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this isnot your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The story doesn't end there, in fact that is only then prolog to the actual story. In January of 2013 Jason and I found out we were pregnant with our third child. After a previous miscarriage a few months earlier I was hesitant to make any changes in our plans and life style just in case something went wrong with this pregnancy. We had been making an effort to pay off our ridiculously large student loan debt and prior to finding out we were pregnant we were laying out plans to to become even more aggressive in our efforts hoping to pay off over 70k in debt I just two years. Yeah we dream big when we dream. We knew that buying a van would take backseat to the debt free goal, after all we had two mostly reliable vehicles that were debt free we could make the sacrifice of driving separated if we wanted to go anywhere as a family for a few years.

In an effort to be transparent with Jason's parents and seek advice from them, they had just paid off the last of their debt December 27, 2012, we told them of our goals and plans. Jason asked his parents for any help or advice they could offer us in our goals in a weekly phone call we had with them. A week later in our next phone call his parents told us they had decided they wanted to help us get a van and would contribute $2000 towards a van and if we sold my car that would fund the vehicle without cutting into our debt reduction goals (and when they came to visit wouldn't need to get a rental car). Their one condition was that we communicate to my dad our plans and ask if he would be willing to help out as well. They were willing to help no matter his reaction but wanted us to ask just the same.

For me that is a really hard thing. I know my dad works very hard for his money. I know money was the biggest issue in my parents divorce. And I know my dad often times thinks I am spoiled and haven't had to work for things in life, entirely my fault because I haven't shared our struggles with him for fear of disappointing him. I made the call and asked, sucking up my pride. He agreed to help but we didn't nil down particulars, it was an awkward conversation that I just wanted to be over.

Two days later Jason asked me if God had recently given me a word for the direction of Noodlehead, our company, I told him no but that I would pray about it. The next day I took the kids for a drive and prayed and the Levitical text on the sabbath year kept circling around in my head and the more I drove the more I realized that we were actually about to go I to the seventh year of officially running the business from GA. I was scared at the thought of giving up control in such a way but felt an immense peace about it so that night I told Jason what I felt god had shared with me. He prayed about it, the company team members as a whole prayed about it. After lots of prayer and bible study and discussion and planning they set the start date of our Sabbath year as April 1st, the day after Easter.

We knew that the sabbath year would bring financial adventure, but we were somewhat secure in our van fund remaining intact because that money wasn't tied to our bank account but rather the money our parents were going to give us and the money from the sale of my vehicle. Just before the sabbath year began I felt like we were supposed to sell my car. I told Jason and he told me we weren't going to sell it yet. I called my dad up to ask his opinion thinking that if we sold it and waited until August to buy a van than we'd save on gas and insurance for a few months and potentially add to our van fund. My dad was opposed to the idea and told us he would prefer if we bought a new car first then sold mine and he would front the money that was to come from the sale of me vehicle. I dropped the subject and two weeks later my car broke down. An easy fix, a faulty battery under warranty but almost a warning from God that we were supposed to have sold my car before the sabbath year began.

Time drifted on and the sabbath financial roller coaster was heavy under progress. I started to doubt whether we would be able to get a trust worthy vehicle for what we projected our budget to be. I'm a couponer and bargain hunter and one of the sites I subscribe too posts all the sweepstakes that are out there in the world. I received several emails for sweeps for SUV's with 3rd rows and entered them not really wanting an SUV, but something was better than nothing and my dad’s frequent saying rang through my head “beggars can’t be choosers”. It passed the quiet time in naps to fill out sweepstakes.

In the back of my head though I was praying God would just give us a van, not just any van but a low miles Honda Odyssey, because I knew that was out of our budget. One day I was talking to a friend about the sabbath year and the vehicle dreams and she said to me "you just wait I really feel like God is going to surprise you and give you that van." I was skeptical, you see my Ford Escape was given to us and I just kept thinking I've received more than my due of Gods amazing generosity and I have done nothing to deserve it and had even fallen into indulgence when Madison was a little baby buying her all sorts of silly toys. I felt like I didn't deserve God's generosity and not only that, but that I had tapped out His ability to be generous.

Her words sat with me though and when I thought about it I realized I had a peace about the vehicle situation, I knew we'd be taken care of. It was when my flesh got involved and started nagging away about not being able to go to the store until Jason was done with work because I wouldn't be able to get there with 3 kids or that I wouldn't be able to just go do things that I wanted to do that's when I started worrying.

Two weeks later I got an email informing me about a sweepstakes for a 2014 Honda Odyssey fully loaded DVD player, 8 seater, the works. I diligently filled out the form and before I hit submit I sent up a little prayer and this is what I heard in response to that prayer "you really think I'm going to have you win this contest to get you a van? If you win who is blessed? Only you. If you win to whom does the glory go? The odds. No I'm going to take care of this need, but not for your sake but for the sake of someone else. You will be the benefactor of their blessing, but the blessing isn't for you it's for the one who will give it to you. When I choose to bless it is so much bigger than just the recipient of a gift. The giver is blessed, the recipient blessed, and all those who witness and hear of it are blessed." Needless to say I didn't hit submit I closed the window and stopped entering ALL sweepstakes.    

I went into preterm labor at 28 weeks and spent 3 days in the hospital as the doctors stopped my body from contracting and delivering Joshua too early. They released me on full bed rest for 6-8 weeks, we went to leave and my car broke down again, in the parking lot of the hospital. Once again an easy fix just a cracked hose. It was replaced and a day later it broke down again. Once more it was an easy, free fix, the belt they had put in was cracked as well. It became clear that we were supposed to have sold it in March and the vehicle, which was once a blessing, was now becoming a curse.

We decided to go ahead and sell it since it wasn't getting any use anyway. I had hopes of selling it for top dollar and that combined with the money from my in-laws would hopefully get us a used Honda Odyssey and whatever my dad contributed would just sweeten the deal. My car sold for nearly what we were asking. Then came the unexpected medical bills from my stay at the hospital that started the whole bed rest thing. It ate up all the profits from the sale of my car leaving us with only what his parents had pledged, which wasn't enough by any means to purchase the vehicle we needed.

Stuck with just my husbands car we put smiles on our face and tried to figure out how we'd get 3 car seats into it. There were a few people aware of our need and the situation we were in, two of those people happened to be my former boss and his wife. We casually had lunch with him one day and chit chatted about the need, and he encouraged me to talk about my 'dream' car. Now this was a hard task, I had given hope in so many ways and these 9 weeks of my life have not been marked by dreaming and hope. I reluctantly described the car fighting back my sorrow that it just wouldnt be possible for us. At the end of our lunch our friend stood to say good bye and added in 'hey I just wanted to let you know my wife and I have been praying for you guys and what, if anything, we are supposed to do for you through this time. We don't want to get in the way of what God is doing, and we ally don't feel like there is anything we are supposed to do right now."

We shrugged and thanked him for praying having not expected him to do anything and on my part I hadn't even expected them to pray about helping us. I was the last person who deserved their help.

A week passed and my due date drew near. I needed my husband to measure the backseat of his car so I could look into creative solutions for fitting 3 car seats in there. I had driven my sister to the air port in his car and was totally frustrated and worried about the overall safety of having our family in his car, it needed a lot of work before the kids could ride into with no ac in the summer and no heat in the winter. I broke my bed rest rules and got out the baby car seat and not so cheerfully put it in front of the front door demanding he measure the back seat ASAP then stormed my way upstairs to my bed rest fortress of solitude and figure out a way to pay for all the work the car needed AND purchase new car seats.

About an hour later I hear a knock on the door. My hubby answered it and it was our friend with his wife and their new baby, who I had yet to meet because of my bed rest. They asked us outside to meet her so again I broke my bed rest rules and jogged out to meet the little baby. A moment of ohing and awing passing and he took a step back and announced "so I lied the other day when I said we didn't feel like God had lead us to do anything for you guys, actually we already knew exactly what God had called us to do for you I just needed more time to find the right one." he then pointed down the parking lot towards a van parked at the end. I don't think I said anything at first or even did anything. I think I knew he was saying he bought us a car, but I didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to accept it in the first 30 seconds knowing how totally undeserving I was of their continued friendship I certainly wasn't deserving of their kindness. I turned my face and hugged his wife crying because I didn't know what else to do. How do you respond when you receive a gift you are so totally undeserving of? Do you jump up and snatch it before anyone can realize you don't deserve it or do you reject it in self pity and shame? Or do you humbly accept what is given to you, thankful it is given knowing you can never repay it and have done nothing to deserve it? Our friends, whether they realized it or not gave me a very real and tangible illustration of God's love and mercy for us and The wholly undeserved gift of Jesus Christ's life even for those who had mocked him. I want to be a person who forgives and one who gives undeserved gifts of love and grace all the time because God has humbled me and shown me His relentless love and pursuit of my heart.

Daniel 9:9 the Lord is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebeled against him.

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