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The Secret I Hid From My Sister That Could Tear Us Apart

Written By Jackie G, USA

On January 4, 2016, I genuinely thought my life was falling apart. I remember sitting on my couch, alone in my apartment.

Normally, I would have drowned out my feelings with an episode of Friends and a bowl of cereal, but that evening, I just sat there in cold silence. I had been crying for about a week straight, my eyes were puffy, and I could barely see the pages of the journal I was writing in.

I had craved a relationship with my older sister for years, but it wasn’t until a few months prior that the bond was starting to form. Like normal siblings, my sister and I went back and forth with liking each other one day and getting on each other’s nerves the next. Growing up, we had our fair share of conflicts, such as when I made friends with people that my sister didn’t exactly approve of. It didn’t help that we didn’t stay together for a few years when she moved to LA to do music.

But deep down, I never stopped wanting her approval. I think part of the reason I wanted her approval badly was because, in the public’s eye, it seemed like Alex was perfect. It seemed like she had it all together. She was great at school, great at sports, and once her YouTube music career took off, it seemed obvious that her life was going places.

So I was thrilled that after my move to Los Angeles, Alex and I were actually getting to know each other’s hearts for the first time. We were finally learning how to be vulnerable and authentic about our own journeys. It’s not that we didn’t want to share before; I think we just didn’t know what and how exactly to share.

There was not one piece of me that expected a good outcome from revealing my sin to my sister. I genuinely hated who I was for doing it, and I didn’t want to expose myself to her scrutiny. But I felt like the more time I took to tell her the truth, the more I was going to hurt both her and myself.

I didn’t want to wait for another “tomorrow”. I was done waiting. I was done avoiding. I was done hiding from my mistakes. It was time to come to terms with it.

So I got into my car the next morning, blasted “Oceans” by Hillsong to escape my guilt for the moment, and headed straight to my sister’s house. I was going to tell her the truth, but more than that—I was going to tell her goodbye.

I took one step into her house and stood there, barely able to articulate my apology and acknowledge how much she was about to hate me for getting romantically involved with her ex-boyfriend. Because I couldn’t get the words out, my sister started guessing. It probably took an hour but when she finally guessed it, I simply nodded.

If you’ve ever experienced grace before—not just knowing what it means, but being shown it firsthand—then you’ll understand how I felt the moment Alex responded to me. All she did was to tell me that she loved me and forgave me. That’s when I told her the whole story—the words that I was so scared of. The words that I thought defined my very being. The words that I was fully prepared to hide for the rest of my life.

Think about the worst thing you’ve ever done, carrying on with it for years, then being completely forgiven and having your slate wiped clean for no logical reason at all. Think about the one person you’re most scared of if he or she were to find out the truth, then having them find out and still love you anyway. Think of that person knowing how broken and shattered you are, and hugging you and loving you anyway. That’s the living definition of grace. That’s the heart of Jesus.

Going on this journey of healing, of reflecting on my past and bringing it to light for others to see, is the greatest experience I’ve ever had. I’m not saying that it’s a joy to feel guilt and make mistakes. But going through it has changed my life.

That said, confessing my mistakes to my sister is not the solution to being forgiven.

Up until the morning of January 5, 2016, I had been under the impression that my sister’s choice to forgive me would decide who I was. In other words, I was making my sister my god. My sister is pretty cool and everything, but in no way should she or any human being ever have that kind of authority over someone’s life. If I had given her the power to truly release me, what would have happened if she didn’t? What would have happened if we didn’t have a relationship afterwards? Would it have meant that I would not have been forgiven?

I fully understand that I have a responsibility to confess where I’m wrong when I’ve hurt someone. But the heart of the matter is that I never actually needed my sister’s forgiveness to be free. Yes, I know that telling her was the right decision, but I also realize that if I had told her and she chose not to forgive me, I would still be forgiven and free. I wouldn’t be condemned, I wouldn’t be trash, I wouldn’t be any of those shameful things that I thought I was.

My sister loving and forgiving me is a beautiful thing that I’m very grateful for. And I’m even more grateful for the grace of God. It blows my mind knowing that He gave me the opportunity to walk in freedom when I repented my sins before Him. Jesus has set me free from sin (John 8:36); shame has no power over me.

Knowing that God, the creator of the world, the all-perfect being who knows every mistake and thought we’ve ever had, loves us more deeply than our tiny human brains will ever be able to fully understand, is a pretty big deal. God doesn’t love a version of ourselves that we feel safe bringing to the table; He loves everything. He loves the cracks, the stains—all of it. That’s a pretty big deal.

My story is proof that we can be free.

What I’ve Gained From Memory Loss

The very poor memory of the fish, Dory, in the Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo, may make her character cute and loveable to most. On my bad days, however, she is my celebrity doppelganger.

About five years ago, I was a buckled passenger in a near fatal car accident. I’ve been blessed with a remarkable recovery, but my lasting injuries include a scar across my forehead, along with my somewhat rotten short-term memory. It’s been really difficult going from being a type-A, organized, over-achiever, to suddenly becoming forgetful and very easily confused!

Even though I can pat myself on the back for the number of compensatory strategies I‘ve learned to employ, I’ve had many instances of grieving the recently acquired need for such strategies. But, in my more mature moments, I can admit how my difficulty with short-term memory has taught me some valuable lessons.

 

1. Forgive as though as you have memory loss

For most of you, the forgetting part after forgiving someone is just not a possibility. Try as you might, you can’t always will yourself to completely forget something.

Do you still have a grudge against your friend for that incident two years ago? Do you often experience frustration with a family member over his or her choice in priorities? Pray that God would grant you the miracle of forgiveness and seek to replace any ungracious thoughts with uplifting ones.

 

2. Live in the Moment

Aiming to “live in the moment” may just sound like a catch phrase, but particularly in the early days of my recovery, my memory loss made it a necessity to do so. During that time, it was really challenging to identify what day of the week it was, the year, even my own age. I was 24 years old at that time, but, in different situations, confidently stated I was anywhere between 14 and 30.

Although I’m a planner by nature, I was experiencing an alternate reality, one that was devoid of time. So, a positive outcome of my memory loss was learning to appreciate the present. There is a time to plan and prepare for the future, but amid the busyness of normal life, try to stop for a minute. Instead of always thinking ahead, acknowledge who and what is currently surrounding you.

 

3. Be Grateful for Every Little Thing

Add to your awareness of the present, gratitude for each moment. In 1 Thess. 5:18, we’re instructed to “give thanks in all circumstances”, so I challenge you to give this a shot. Take a minute from your day to pause and really soak in what you are grateful for in that exact moment.

What are you gathering through your five senses that could otherwise slip by unnoticed? Try writing down at least one thing every day that you appreciate, without any repeats, forming a journal of gratitude that can be looked at and prayed over whenever. I am not advocating a perspective in which you discount life’s difficulties, rather, simply acknowledge the blessings. For example, I grieved not being able to run, but in its absence, I recognized more of the incredible skills that I used every day (like sight and hearing).

A significant loss I’ve experienced is my ability to play cello due to the weakness in my left arm and hand. Now, nearly five years later, I can acknowledge this life-changing loss, but I am also able to articulate gratitude for ever having had those musical abilities. If you need to ask God for a right and grateful perspective, know that you’re not alone! And, if you’re not at the point of being grateful for an outcome, you can still honor God by telling Him that you trust His sovereignty, despite the painful consequences of being on this side of heaven.

You can include in a daily journal of gratitude any of the mental and physical skills you may take for granted. Only when I couldn’t do many of the physical activities I loved (like run, rock climb, swim . . . ) did I realize how much I valued them. Likewise, suddenly experiencing difficulty with short-term memory opened my eyes to the importance of that ability in everyday life. If memory loss has taught me anything, it’s to not wait till I lose something before I start to value it.

 

As you take proactive steps toward fully appreciating the blessings in each moment, you may become increasingly aware that life is fickle, here today and gone tomorrow. Do not allow the brevity of life rob you of enjoying the present. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but relax! Know that through Jesus, our eternal home is secure and the best is yet to come!

Giving God the Glory or Using His Name in Vain?

Some nights ago, I dreamed of *Kate, a friend whom I hadn’t talked to in over 10 years. I woke up in shock and had a hard time getting back to sleep.

This thought kept me awake for a long time, because Kate was someone I had deeply hurt in my teens. You see, before I came to know God and gave my life to Christ, I was a mean and nasty friend. I was insensitive to my friends (including my closest friends), had made many hurtful remarks, and also betrayed their trust. The worst part was that I had never apologized for any of this.

So when I was jolted awake by this dream, I knew immediately that it wasn’t just another dream to be forgotten. I sensed strongly that God wanted me to contact Kate and to do what I should have done 10 years ago―apologize.

When I got up the next morning, I thought to myself how tough God’s request was. I had all the reasons to ignore His promptings and get on with my day. After all, 10 years had already passed! Who would remember what had happened? Why should I disrupt her life with my sudden and awkward presence? But deep down I knew that I had to do it, because God was refining me. Immediately, I contacted a mutual friend and asked if she could put me in touch with Kate.

Kate texted me the next day. After the introductory text message exchange, I jumped right to the purpose of my text. In my zeal to stay focused on the task, I stated in my message factually that I needed to seek forgiveness from her as God had asked me to, and that I had to do it because I wanted to live right for God. I received no reply from her that day.

On the evening of the third day, I finally received Kate’s reply; it was not what I had expected. In short, it was a curt reply stating that I should only apologize when I sincerely wanted to—not because I felt like I needed to.

I have to admit that I was taken aback by her reply. And instead of feeling apologetic towards her, I felt anger rising from within. In my self-righteous state, I asked God why I received such a response when I had already obeyed Him. These thoughts continued to consume me the following day even though I knew they were not pleasing to God. But as much as I tried to stop thinking about them and move on from the entire incident, my efforts to do so lasted no longer than five minutes each time.

That evening, I tried to distract myself by doing household chores. While I was hanging laundry, the same self-righteous thoughts came back; the thoughts became more ungodly by the second.

Suddenly, a piece of laundry fell to the ground outside the laundry yard. The sound of the hanger hitting the ground rang in my ears and that was when I knew that God had intervened. It was as though God had had enough of my selfish and self-righteous reasoning, and decided to yank me out of my downward spiral.

I froze. At that same moment, I saw the word “vain” flash across my mind and I knew at once what God was telling me. “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”  (Exodus 20:7)

God showed me clearly that while I told my friend that I was seeking her forgiveness because I had wanted to please God, I had unwittingly used His name in vain—using it to cover up for my self-righteousness. My act of seeking forgiveness was borne out of self-righteousness instead of a truly contrite and repentant spirit.

I realized I had sinned, and I felt ashamed. I wanted to hide my face from God but there was nowhere I could turn to. I did the only thing I could―I repented of my sinful ways and thoughts. Immediately, I felt God’s loving grace wash over me.

Some hours later, I replied to my friend’s text message, thanking her for her reply and telling her again that I was sorry. Although I still have yet to receive any reply from her, I trust that God will make the situation right again in His time.

Prior to this whole incident, I had been asking God to light a fire in my heart for Him, as I want more of Him in my life. I believe that God heard my prayer and this whole incident happened as a result. Indeed, wanting more of God in my life requires me to die to myself and to my self-righteousness. While this has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn, God knew I needed to learn, and learn it fast.

God wants a pure heart that loves Him above all else, a pure heart that puts others above myself, a pure heart that does things out of love and not obligation. And I pray that God continues to refine me each day with His loving discipline.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24) 

*The name has been changed to protect privacy.

War for the Planet of the Apes: Forgiveness and the Darkness Within

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Photo taken from Official Trailer

Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

It’s the third instalment of the critically acclaimed series and it’s epic—an epic showdown between man and ape, that is.

For the uninitiated, here’s how it all began.

In the first film of the series, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), an experimental drug intended for curing Alzheimer’s disease is tested on chimpanzees. It ends up increasing the intelligence of Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee raised by a young doctor. Caesar releases the chemical into other apes, which makes them smarter. But it results in a “simian flu” that causes the deaths of the majority of the human population.

In the second instalment, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014), Koba, an ape who suffered torture and experimentation at the hands of humans in a research facility, rebels against Caesar’s leadership and starts a war with humanity. The human settlement sends a radio call for help that is picked by an army base, resulting in a large-scale military engagement with the apes that lasts for two years, bringing us to “War of the Planet of the Apes” (2017).

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead] Forgiveness, mercy, and redemption are major themes in the third film. Early on, Caesar returns four survivors from a human attack in a show of mercy. He just wants the apes left alone in the forest. Caesar recalls that Koba could not forgive humans for his suffering, and could not let go of the darkness inside. However, things take a turn for the worse when he encounters the Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

The Colonel is a man who has eradicated mercy. The latest effect of the simian flu is the loss of human speech, and the Colonel kills anyone who manifests this symptom or who disagrees with his ruthless approach. He has even killed his own son. Harrelson, in camouflage paint and shaven head, reminds one of Marlon Brando’s Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic war film Apocalypse Now (1979), with his cruel atrocities conducted in the name of war and his refusal to answer to higher military command. When he kills Caesar’s wife and son, the primate leader chooses the way of revenge over leading his troop to safer surroundings. Having now suffered terribly himself, Caesar refuses to walk his talk. Can he overcome this journey into his own heart of darkness?

Maurice, a former circus orangutan who serves as Caesar’s advisor and conscience throughout the series, challenges Caesar and at one point, saying, “You sound like Koba.” Later, when Caesar is captured along with the other apes and is rejected by his colony for his lack of leadership, a young chimpanzee, Lake, implores him, “Forgive them. They’ve been through so much.”

The battle rages within Caesar. Before the tale ends, Caesar will face his ultimate test in confronting the Colonel; will he seek an eye for an eye, or will he find within himself—once again—the capacity for mercy?

One reviewer has described director Matt Reeves as having created “a pseudo-Biblical epic shot through with apocalyptic fervor”, with the old world in its death throes as a new order rises. The Exodus motif is clear through the film. A safe and good land has been found “across a desert”, according to the positive report of two scouts, and the apes are freed from oppression and slavery and led to the new and “promised” land.

The question is, will Caesar be able to let go of the hatred that darkened Koba’s heart, and enter the land with his people? Or will he, like Moses, fail to enter the land of promise, seeing it only from a distance?

In his classic book Mere Christianity, Christian writer and apologist C. S. Lewis writes, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” Yet, as hard as it can be, forgiveness is central to the life to which we are called to in Christ.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of our Christian faith. We ask God for forgiveness, as we forgive those who have sinned against us (Luke 11:4). The most common Greek word in the New Testament that is translated as “forgiveness” literally means “to release, to let go, to hurl away.” It is to pardon an offender, to choose not to demand payment for a debt. French philosopher Simone Weil said that when we forgive such debts, we give up our self-centred claims on the world. As we forgive, we can also set ourselves (and potentially the perpetrator) free from the cycle of bitterness and blame.

We also forgive because we have experienced God’s forgiveness. The apostle Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Counselor Dr. David Seamands concluded that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. We long for grace, but so often we do not live in the reality of grace.

May the good news of the gospel saturate us so that we become a people of grace in a world of un-grace, and so glorify our Father in heaven.