What’s Your Nineveh?

There I was sitting in the middle of my bed, with knees to chest and my head hung low, while my arms hugged my legs ever so tightly.  The rocking back and forth was the only thing my body could do in an attempt to console itself. After what I had just been told, my lungs fought to take in enough air to breathe.  I was scarcely prepared for the direction of devastation in which things were moving so rapidly. 

It was the night before Mother’s Day of 2016, and my brain could hardly wrap itself around the type of disclosure I was receiving from my husband of seven years.  The following day would lead into our second separation in less than a year.  It was certainly not how I had thought that Mother’s Day would play out for me, or my marriage.

That year was by far, one of the most painful, yet growing years of my life as a Christian.  A year that was plagued by unimaginable pain and assaulting images that etched across my mind.  Yet unknowingly, God would use all of it to ultimately create a beautiful portrait and significant spiritual growth.  It was a time in my life where I longed to be back on a mountain top taking in God’s goodness. Unfortunately I would be spending all of that year in the dry parched desert relying on God’s Living Water to sustain me minute by minute through several years of long days and lonely nights.

The disconsolating feelings at times were unbearable, followed by the repetitive patterns of distasteful disclosure of the secret addiction my husband had held close to his vest since he was a pre-teen.  Just when I was told I could trust that there were no more details to be revealed, more disclosure would pound at my heart’s door, making it impossible to begin the healing process.  Nothing could have prepared me for words that spoke of unexpected details regarding acts of deception throughout my marriage, that gave way to an aching in my heart I thought would never heal.  Every word brought forth another piece that formulated a picture of a marriage that didn’t align with what I had seen and believed.  The lies were so deep, dark and disturbing; that divorce for me, was inevitable. My life from that point on, would never be the same… 

…and I was right.

My whole world turned upside down when I learned of my husband’s true character behind the closed doors of a world of which I knew very little. A world where the enemy’s dark fingerprints linger on the images of his favorite photography called; pornography.  Pornography is filled with lies, illusions and lust.  It leaves lude imprints on its consumers minds and souls that carry a lasting effect.  These destructive, delusional images become seared in the minds of every human who seeks enjoyment through them.  But sin never stays contained nor can it bring you contentment. So pornography becomes a pit stop, into a world of sexual fantasy with living lost souls who believe the lie that their worth is wrapped up in the solicitation of themselves.   

Though I was correct in my assumption of my life not being the same as it once was; in reality; it had only begun to turn right-side up, only I didn’t know it yet.  I had spent so many years longing for a husband, that when I finally received one, I unjustly seated him on the altar of my heart, while positioning God inappropriately at the bottom.  So when my life turned ‘upside down’, and my husband was now off the throne I had falsely seated him on, God was deservingly sitting in His rightful spot. 

Believing that my life wouldn’t be the same, was coming from a place of immediate pain, and an inability to see beyond my immediate circumstances.  I was coming to terms with the fact that the man I thought I knew, (and married) didn’t exist. My life was beginning to unfold in a new direction that would eventually turn a negative into a positive. This new life would solely be attributed to God, taking me through a long journey that only Jonah could appreciate.  

We learn of Jonah’s story through the book of the Old Testament that’s titled with his name.  Jonah is a man of God, whom God often spoke to, and lavished with inspiring messages to give to His people. But Jonah is immediately caught off-guard when God calls him to do something that goes against his hardened heart.  A heart that grew hardened by the thoughts and details of truth Jonah had learned about the sinful lives of many that resided in Nineveh.     

My heart also grew hardened by thoughts and details of truth I had learned regarding my husband, during the many months we remained living separated.  I honestly, didn’t know how to process, or truly heal while living in my ‘new normal’.  I lost weight month after month due to the inability to eat, especially if I found myself having to be in the presence of my estranged husband.  Being around him for the purpose of visitation with our kids, caused me to often become physically ill.  Over time I began to detest the man I once called my ‘best friend’.  The rage I felt while processing his ungodly conduct, led to me viewing him as an enemy.  An enemy who had betrayed me to the fullest.  

Divorce instantly became the focus on my radar screen, and I was counting down the months until the state of North Carolina could make that dream for me, a reality.  I had every reason Biblically and morally to support my decision, and was well on my way to seeking “judgement” through the dissolution of my marriage.  

Then one day, God asked ME to go to Nineveh.

Jonah knew what that was like. There were many people in the city of Nineveh who delighted in their wicked and evil acts.  They clearly deserved God’s wrath, and Jonah wanted no part in going to that city and speaking God’s truth and mercy to them! Jonah wanted to see judgement fall on the wicked in Nineveh, as I wanted to see judgment fall upon my husband.

One day during one of my many counseling sessions, I proudly declared to my therapist that my husband just needed a really good ‘God experience’.  That was about all I could say that sounded in any way ‘encouraging’, or even ‘spiritual’ about him.  I knew change needed to happen in his blackened heart…change that I had hoped would eventually be displayed in his decision-making.  I wanted HIM to change, understand his wrongdoing, and somehow magically make my life better. 

The next day while vacuuming, the conversation I’d had with my counselor came to mind.  And the words that came swiftly through my head with the vacuum in-hand were… 

You’re right, he does need a really good God experience, and that’s why you’re here“.  

Like Jonah, I was shocked! Horrified really. I didn’t have a nearby town called Tarshish to run to like Jonah did upon receiving that kind of message!  But at the time, I would have probably welcomed being swallowed up by a large fish (like Jonah had been), rather than hear those words ringing through my ears, and taking residence in my head.  I instantly reminded God of what my husband had done to me, (as if He needed reminding) and that I clearly was not the person to offer up anything ‘God-like’ to that Ninevite that I knew!

As God’s thoughts engulfed my mind like a ship thrashing amongst the rough sea, my mind began to chew on that thought a bit.  That first ‘bite’, was like trying to chew on nasty seaweed.  It was repulsive to me.  I honestly didn’t know how to even begin to digest such a thought!  I was trying to, but my flesh wouldn’t have it!  I wanted someone else to give my husband a ‘God experience’; someone else like…. GOD!  

Not me.  

I wanted God’s wrath to come face-to-face with my husband.  I wanted my husband to be introduced personally, to God’s righteous anger. It was simply too late for grace to be given to a man like my husband, didn’t God know that?!  The ship of grace, had long since sailed, since my husband shipwrecked the marriage.  With my husband having been the captain of the ship, he was clearly responsible for sinking the marriage.  His atrocious behaviors had left me feeling isolated on my own island of pain, as I watched the life I thought I had…plummet into the depth of the sea.       

Then I remembered how God often uses those we’d least expect to serve Him, in whatever capacity He chooses to use. Those that felt the least equipped…

…like I did.  

It occurred to me that by God using me, He would receive all the glory.  God would take all the credit for the work He did through me, because on my own, I could never show God’s love and speak His truth to my husband after the betrayal and hurt I suffered due to his actions.

MY journey through Nineveh, took longer than the three days it took Jonah, once Jonah surrendered to God’s plan. The storms of fear often rained down upon me, casting me into the seas of regret and worry.   I often traveled to the city limits of Nineveh, then quickly turned back around when thoughts of betrayal got too painful.  Then there were times where I made the complete trip to Nineveh, all to find that the work there would take far more time than I had ever imagined.

But my journey, and time spent there, grew me. It’s ongoing completion has been through anchoring myself to God.   At times I felt my trips to Nineveh were more for me than I think my husband.  God wanted my husband to turn from his evil ways, and to fully repent as He called for the people of Nineveh to do.  Unlike Jonah’s story, going to Nineveh for me slowly healed my heart. The trip also educated me about one of the enemy’s most ingenious tactics to destroy marriages, so that my husband and I could educate our children about the traps the enemy uses, as well as help other couples. 

As for my husband, by the sheer grace and power of God, he gained sobriety from his sexual addiction immediately after it came to light, and has maintained that sobriety ever since. His heart was also softened, and over time, his eyes were opened to lies he had believed for decades, assisting his recovery. His love for me and our family also became the honest and sacrificial love it should have been all along. All of this was accomplished by God’s grace and truth over a span of five years, taking things one day at a time.

I had spent years prior to this tragic experience, praying that God would bring me His hurting people.  People I could help to heal and restore.  You know the kind; individuals that didn’t do anything to you.  The ones whom we get to pick, then feel good about ourselves; for having done such a great job in helping. 

But God doesn’t let us decide what Nineveh we want to go to necessarily.  We’re called to be servants of His, which means going and serving those in lands we may not desire.  It may even be serving people, or a specific person we would not choose on our own. Sometimes, as in my case, our personal Nineveh is found where we least expect it…in our own home.

God doesn’t always let us pick where our Nineveh will be, but He does let us choose our attitude while going there.  We know Jonah’s attitude wasn’t where it should have been when he traveled reluctantly to Nineveh.  The story of Jonah could have ended differently, if Jonah had trusted God with dealing with Nineveh as He saw fit. (see Jonah’s full story in the book of Jonah) 

My job is to obey and serve God as He calls me.  God knew all the wrong that the Ninevites did, just as He knew the wrongs my husband did.  Being faithful to God, even when I can’t understand, has grown my faith, my ability to see Him more, and to face a Nineveh, that can only be faced by not running FROM God, but towards Him.

So what’s your Nineveh?

Run, and Don’t Look Back!

What is it about the sweet seduction of sin that is so enticing to us all?  Not the word itself of course, but how it seems to usher us into its grasp, leaving us mesmerized by all its alluring promises?

In Genesis 18:20, we’re introduced to the fury God is feeling over the people who dwelled in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, whose lives were consumed by unspeakable acts of sin.  

“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous.”  declared the Lord to Abraham in Genesis 18:20

Abraham’s concern for the righteous that may be living amongst the heathens there, ushers him dutifully to begin making desperate pleas to God. His pleading begins once he learns of the judgement God seeks to render, which is to destroy the inhabitants after obtaining confirmation of their wickedness.  God’s destructive wrath would wage war on them due to their vile acts of sexual immorality, and blatant disregard for Him.  So Abraham spends nine verses or so, attempting to save all the people in the land from imminent destruction, should God find a certain number of righteous folks…    

Suppose You find fifty righteous people living there in the city – will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes?”… “Suppose there are only forty five“… 

Then Abraham works the number down to a measly ten.  .“Suppose only ten? (see Genesis 18:23-32)

Have you ever wondered how sin becomes so infectious, how it bleeds throughout a community so rapidly?  How could all those people become so defiled, and what made sin so captivating to them- and sadly…to us? 

Sin notoriously distorts priorities and blurs the line of what’s right and wrong in our eyes.  It blinds us from recognizing the dreadful destruction of our lifestyle, causing our hearts to be far removed from God, as it did with the Old Testament population of these towns.  We may not always flaunt our demoralizing behavior like those we read about in this story of God’s Word, but our hearts frequently skip a beat at the pursuit of illicit activities that engage our flesh, and saturate our souls just like those folks in the book of Genesis.  We leap headfirst into what THIS world has to offer, not once ever thinking that there is more to life THAN this world. 

When we go back to Abraham, in Genesis 18:32 we read how God is more than willing to save the people of the land, from His wrath if ONLY TEN righteous people can be found.  But sin is like a disease, and it destroys from the inside, out.  It affects the heart and the mind first, then lends itself to obvious outward symptoms by allowing us to be immersed in a thought process that never goes beyond immediate gratification.  Soon we are thinking, plotting, and acting out in a manner we once proudly stated we’d NEVER do.

I succumbed to several years of my own version of Sodom and Gomorrah, where my heart grew desensitized and enjoyed the seduction of all the world had to offer.  Sure, I may have known how to function ‘normally’ in society, but privately, I was drowning in the despair of having cultivated a skewed sense of values and perceptions in my sin-infested soul.  I gravitated towards anything at the hopes of filling my unquenchable spirit, and my insatiable appetite for acceptance.   

God’s heart longed for those lost people of the city, to have seen Him, then serve Him, and allow His ways to have become their purpose for living.  But their choice was to rebel against God, causing a colossal decay amongst their society.  They became so entrenched in sin’s seduction that they failed to see the abrupt agony ahead of them.         

What amazes me is God’s ever-loving heart of patience when Abraham continued to attempt to lower the bar, by asking God over and over again if He would save the land, if only less and less people could be found that were righteous.  

God’s love for humanity was clearly illustrated when Abraham’s final count of ten is mentioned, and God agreed to that incredibly low number.  He’s the God of the universe who created heaven and all of earth, yet He is also a personally-invested God who longs to have a relationship with His most prized creation….man.  

Pouring over the scriptures we see the travesty that occurred with Abraham’s extended family members (Lot’s family), when they are warned by God’s angels to flee this sin-stricken land that had become their home.  It was land where their own welcome mat had laid proudly at their doorstep.  Having been given specific instruction to ‘flee, and not look back’, Lot, his wife and daughters began to safely make it out of the city just before the annihilation of the town was about to commence.  

But there was just one last look that Mrs. Lot simply had to have.  

What is it that leads even the best of us to make nonsensical choices such as gazing back at the face of sin?  God was ready, able and willing, to free Lot’s family from the polluted swarm of sin that ravished the city, yet something about the land, caught Lot’s wife’s attention.  Maybe it was the familiar sounds, or the captivating memories that flashed before her, along with the way of life her flesh had grown so accustomed to?  

God sent help my way too, to drive me out of a mindset of sinful indulgence, and into His rescuing arms that offered a life of spiritual fulfillment and wholeness.  I’d like to say I never glanced back, or pined after the past, but… at times I did.  

During times of heartbreak and loneliness, in which feelings of insecurity would stir bitterly in my heart, my fleshly tendency was to glance back with a longing for the sense of comfort that sin promises, but never truly fulfills.  

Our memories are selective in recalling only the appealing parts of sin, as we brush away from our mind the recognition of its destruction.  I assume that might have been the case for those living in that spiritually bankrupt town in Genesis.  People diving into things they thought they never would, craving some kind of purpose in their lives that sin promised, but never delivered to them.  

I’m extremely thankful that in all of God’s merciful ways, He didn’t allow me to become like Lot’s wife when she turned back to look at her past.  In Genesis 26, not much more is spoken of Mrs. Lot, other than, “But Lot’s wife looked back and she became a pillar of salt.”  She sadly became the ‘pillar’ of her community all right, but not in an upstanding way.  

She’d had a chance at life, with the Creator, living out her true identity that He had designed her for. But with one look back, she became salt.   Yet how many times do we look back? Maybe it’s just to see how an old love of the past is doing? Perhaps it’s to contact an old acquaintance that lived in the same cesspool of sin we once bathed in, or maybe it’s even a glimpse back that stirs within us deep sadness and regret.  

Regardless of our reasons, God clearly called the few He DID save from that land, to run the other way, and not look back.  We don’t have to become table salt as Mrs. Lot did, in order to learn that lesson.  We can see the sinful lifestyle we once lived, for what it was, and not what the mirage of sin depicts.  

Either way, God has a plan for us moving forward in life, and it’s not fulfilled when we look in any other direction than forward.  It’s not found through the skewed lens of the eyewear Satan tries to get us to wear by entertaining memories that don’t honor God.  And it’s not found in the land of regret.

The next time God asks YOU to ‘Run and not look back’, what will you do?  Will you trust in the Lord’s instruction, or will you gaze back even ever so slightly?  If He’s calling us to not look back, it’s because He has great plans ahead!

Bright & Shiny Things

What is it about bright, shiny things that seem to constantly compete for our attention?  A ‘bright and shiny thing’ can be anything.  It can be the shiny new car you’ve driven past one too many times while passing a car lot.  You know the one…the one that should have your name on the title!  Or, it could be the flashy-looking outfit you see at the corner boutique.  

But what if that bright, shiny thing belongs to someone else, or you’ve been told you simply can’t have it?  

What if you are a six-year old boy, and those sticky hands of yours are reaching for that bright and shiny object that has caught your eye?

It was morning, and I had just been greeted by my youngest daughter.  “Mommy, Chase took the fruit out from under your bed”.  My first thought was that I didn’t even know we had fruit under the bed!  I left my room, and walked over to our staircase.  There stood my six-year old son Chase, with a look of concern on his face, and a somewhat nervous smile.  

I said, “Chase, were you in my room without asking? Did you go under my bed?”  The truth immediately spilled out of his mouth and onto the floor.  “Well, I think I’m going to be in a lot of trouble right now!”  my son stated.  Then he proceeded to tell me that he did not go under my bed to get a piece of plastic fruit, but to place one there that he originally took from choir practice.  “I really liked the pretty colors on it Mommy, and I really wanted it. My hands accidently took it.”  I asked for clarification from him as to HOW his hands could have accidently taken something.  I asked him if he CHOSE to take it.  He then reluctantly confessed that it was a choice he had made.  

The item that stole his attention, and that he chose to steal in return, was a brightly colored piece of plastic fruit.  A peach, to be exact!

I couldn’t help but go back in my mind as to how much like Adam and Eve we really are.  Eve was also tempted by a piece of brightly colored fruit! (see Genesis 3:6)  She and Adam had the entire garden filled with wonderfully delicious things to eat, yet somehow she had to have THAT piece of fruit. Fruit that was not for her to take. (see Genesis 2:16-17)  How tempting that fruit must have been once the engaging serpent reassured her that she would not die, as her Father had once told her. Instead, she was informed of all the ‘wisdom’ that was within her grasp, if only she would give-in to what visibly appealed to her senses, and exchange following God’s truth, for her own logic.  (see Genesis 3:4-6)  

My son was captivated by the beauty of the plastic peach he saw in his own special garden; the choir room at church.  It caught his attention, then he made the decision that it was simply something he ‘had to have’, abandoning all truth his parents taught him.   Like the scene in the Garden of Eden, my son and daughter have many pieces of brightly colored fruit to choose from in their playroom.  My son didn’t NEED that specific one, yet the desire to take from something that wasn’t his was just too enticing.

I wonder how much Eve believed that she ‘had to have’ that beautifully colored fruit she saw?

When God approached His children back in Eden, He knew EXACTLY what they had been up to.  In our limited ability, my husband and I had no idea what our son had been doing.  It wasn’t until information was provided to us, that we were able to seek the truth from our own child.  

It was a learning experience for my son.  He was able to learn that taking something that doesn’t belong to you isn’t worth the joy you thought having it would bring…as I’m sure Eve discovered too.  My son’s attempt to hide his little secret from us, gave him a sense of shame, and a need to rid himself of the item that once caught his eye.  This ‘must have’ item that he went to great lengths to snatch, failed to maintain its alluring luster and pizzazz, motivating him to toss it under our bed, when it didn’t deliver what sin had promised.  

In the same way; Adam and Eve’s ‘must have’ item left them filled with shame, and certainly no bed under which to conceal their sin, like my son found.  So they attempted to camouflage themselves amongst the trees and greenery by sewing fig leaves together (see Genesis 3:7b-8).  

I sat with my son on the stairs, and we talked about how our hearts often want things that are not ours.  We talked about what God has to say about taking things that do not belong to us.  We spoke about how that was the reason that Jesus had to die on the cross; because our hearts are filled with wanting to do things that will always lead to separation from God.

At the end of our conversation, my son understood that when we do wrong, we need to go to the One who can help us to get it right.  We need to confess our sins to God, and ask for forgiveness.  We need to then make things right with the ones we wronged.  My son knew that he needed to go back to the church to return what he took, and admit his wrongdoing to them.  

Unfortunately for Adam and Eve, it wasn’t as easy as simply handing over the piece of fruit THEY took.  Someone perfect had to right that wrong.  Jesus had to place Himself up on a tree, to replace what had originally been taken off of the tree in Eden (see Acts 5:30).

Satan is a master at letting us believe that we need that one thing that we can’t have.  He loves to get our attention with shiny things that look SO good that we believe they can’t really be THAT bad.

So, what bright and shiny thing is the enemy using to entice you??

A Cheerful Giver

What is it about giving, and doing it cheerfully, that is so challenging for us?  We read in the Bible that God ‘loves a cheerful giver’, ( see 2 Corinthians 9:7).  But too often we give with reservation in our heart, or even begrudgingly.  Have you ever given to someone out of obligation, or begrudgingly? 

I have. 

Sometimes we get so caught up in self, that when we do give, it’s in an effort to appease our own guilt, by giving at a minimal level. Have you ever given to God thinking that He might be satisfied with what He sees on the outside, and overlook the motive or heart on the inside?  

Cain knew what that was like!  We meet Cain in the book of Genesis, (see Genesis 4) shortly after the story of his parent’s abrupt eviction out of Eden.  He and his brother Abel, are the first offspring born in this world as babies.  The first to have earthly parents, first born with belly buttons, and the first to undergo sibling rivalry!  While growing up, Cain apparently was taught to do ‘right’ on the outside, but lost sight of giving from the inside.  He was great at obligatory gestures, but lacked the heart it took to give beyond that.  

The Bible is filled with examples of how God is a God of the heart.  He’s a God that sees all things, including our heart’s motive. (see Jeremiah 17:10)  And sadly enough, what’s in our heart is revealed by the attitude we project before God, and others.        

It was the middle of a very hot day in July, and I had taken both my two children grocery shopping with me.  Whether it was the heat, or simply human nature, the shopping experience that day was ‘less than delightful’.  My son’s demeanor while I searched for the items on my shopping list, was one of drudgery.  As he ‘helped’ in the fetching of our needed items, his face revealed that every item he helped to retrieve, was draining him of precious moments here on earth, as well as every ounce of energy.  His six-year old sister would often announce to her brother that his attitude was not ‘helpful’, while she had a steadfast disposition of cheerfulness.

So as we left the store and journeyed homeward, I shared with my children how I desired their help in unloading the groceries, and most importantly, I’d like to see helpful attitudes.  Once they completed the task that was asked of them , they would each receive an ice-cream sandwich. 

Siblings that contrast each other, started in the beginning after our distant-grandparents were escorted out of their very own paradise; The Garden of Eden.  Both Cain and Abel were called to give sacrifices to God.  Like Cain and Abel, both my children ‘sacrificed’ once we arrived back home with a van full of groceries.  But similar to the first siblings on the planet, one of my children had a heart of joy in sacrificing her time in helping me, while my other child did not. 

My daughter offered her very best, while slaving away in the hot sun carrying bags that were half her body weight.  My son, who was more equipped to carry those items, did the very minimal to appease his mother’s wishes.  One child used all the strength her body could muster, while the other one moaned and groaned as he yanked the plastic bags out of the van, then dragged them across the driveway, then to their final resting place; my kitchen floor.  The smell of obligation permeated the path he walked; repeatedly, while always making his burden known.

God saw the difference between His children’s hearts, much like I did with my children.  God made it clear to Cain, that his sacrifice fell short of what Abel’s was, (due to what was in his heart) just as my son’s did, compared to his sister’s (see Genesis 4:3-5).

When it came time for the ice cream sandwiches to be handed out, I presented my daughter with hers.  Then, when my son sat down to receive his, I offered him half of one.  “Did you eat the other half of the ice cream sandwich?”, he asked with a surprised tone.  “Why yes, I did!”, I replied.  He began to state his case about how he had been ‘helpful’, in the store, as well as with carrying in the groceries.  I said, “Yes, that is true, which is why I gave you half of one.  But your sister is being given a whole one because her heart revealed a joyful attitude in giving to me.”

I then proceeded, “Son, I’m looking for where your heart is when you are doing things for me, as is God.  God wants us to be cheerful givers.  He is a God that sees our hearts, and my role is to teach you to be a cheerful giver, to those He puts in your path.  If you can’t be a cheerful giver with me (whom you can see),  how will you learn to be one for Him, whom your eyes cannot see?”

My son acknowledged his shortcoming, then humbly accepted what little of the ice cream sandwich he received.  His consequence was much lighter than the consequence Cain endured (see Genesis 4:5).  My son receiving half of his ice cream sandwich was a lesson for me, just as it was for him.

I, like Cain, find MYSELF, often giving without a heart of gratitude and lacking in joy as I give. How many times do I miss out on the whole ice cream sandwich that God may have wanted to bless me with, all because my sacrifice to Him was like that of my son’s; smelling of obligation, and laboring as if it were a burden? 

It’s easy for us to judge old ‘Uncle Cain‘ harshly; yet if we look closely, we find the family trait of giving ‘begrudgingly’ is in us at times too.   So when God asks you to sacrifice for Him, will you give with Cain’s attitude?  Or will you give of your heart willingly, as Abel did, delighting in the opportunity to offer up your very best?