The first time I tried to write this article I found myself beginning by listing all of the things that are so difficult in my life right now.

I was making excuses.

Perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind (my sinful, fleshy mind) I would still rather not take full responsibility for what I am going to share with you. Something tells me I’m not the only one.

The story goes like this:

I was busy yesterday and trying to get away for some sanity time at the end of the evening. Finally, I put myself together and was on my way out the door. My oldest son was helping take the puppies out so I wouldn’t come home to yet another mess.

He is helpful like that. Brian is always stepping up to help whether he has asked or not. I would like to take credit for this, but I believe it is more in spite of my parenting than because of my parenting.

Some people are endowed by God with a servant heart.

Brian is one of those people. I was one of those people as a child… and then the world broke me.

In fact, I can recall the exact moment when I decided I would stop serving other people; the moment I threw deuces to the rest of the world and decided to just “do me.”

One afternoon, as I visited with a friend, someone asked me for something. I think it was to get an apple for them from the kitchen or something like that. Something simple. Immediately I jumped up and went to go get it.

Why not?

As I walked into the kitchen I heard a voice behind me say, “good dog,” followed by a room full of hushed laughter.

No, this is not some story about how I was bullied by my friends.

It was one of my own family members sitting in the living room that said this to me. One of my sisters who had been encouraged by our parents in her taunting because it was “funny” and she was “just having fun”. Nevertheless, the part of me that cared started to harden that day.

With each subsequent request or need for help that I refused, my heart hardened even more.

This went on for years.

Now, as Christ is healing me from this, I realize I still have a long way to go. I had become like that critical mean voice in my head. Sometimes daily, I battle with it so that I don’t spill it onto my own children.

Each time, I have to turn it over the the Lord because I have proven no match against my own flesh.

So yesterday, as I ran to the car to get my much-needed “me” time (because it’s mine and not the Lord’s right?), I fussed at my son for not helping properly in the way I would have done it.

While he was helping, I fussed at him.

I caught myself and stopped. Then I hurried into my car, dropping my phone on the driveway in the process.

As I drove away I lamented my broken phone. The Lord put on my heart to consider where I am placing value.

“You would become so upset, so angry over a broken, lifeless piece of technology… And yet you fracture your son, your own son, and move on with no regard for what you have done?”

Ouch.

I hate that I still have this struggle against my flesh. I have known this struggle for sometime. I know why I do it. I know that Ido it less. I just can’t change it as fast as I would like… and that’s not good enough for me.

Such is the frustrating process of sanctification.

Sure, there are professing Christians that make few, if any, changes to their lifestyle. Personally, I could never live that way.

I have been forgiven so much that I consider even the smallest sin to be a terrible offense to my Father. I know He forgives me. It is because He forgives me that I want so much to please Him.

I know He was pleased when I returned to my son (I called him as soon as I realized what I had done) and asked for his forgiveness. I explained what the Lord had revealed to me about my behavior and that it was not my son’s fault that I had a bad attitude.

This process is always painful.

So the point of this particular post is simply tell you (for those of you who are enduring this as well), you are not alone.

We all struggle…

We all sin…

Those of us who are passionate about serving our loving God in a way that honors the Spirit He has gifted us are brokenhearted when we fall short. If we were not, we might do well to question why we have chosen the label “Christian.”

So, if this is you… if you find yourself in shoes like mine, rest assured you are in good company. There are many who toe the same line each day, learning to surrender old habits as we are being made new.

We are in this together my friends. Let us then, share our struggles openly and encourage one another. Please be in prayer for my continued sanctification as I will be also for you and yours.

Be blessed in the Lord today.

Your sister,

Monica

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Being alone stinks.

Anyone who has had to be alone can attest that my choice of the adjective “stinks” is a grave understatement… but you get the idea.

There’s something about being alone that is unsettling even for the most stable of us human beings.

When we are alone, the parts that are still to be healed, loved, and resurrected are undeniable. Whereas, when we are surrounded by people and busied with our many activities, it is all too easy to suppress our deficiency.

Because of this, most of us just avoid being alone in the first place.

We seek out people at every turn. If we are introverts or have trouble connecting, we seek out activities that we believe will foster connection. This only exacerbates our troubles as we replace organic relationship with forced homogeneity that comes about only by claiming allegiance to the same football team.

Those of us who do this are typically the most afraid of being alone.

Making an activity the primary source of our enjoyment rather than the people we engage with, helps us skirt around the pain that inevitably follows when a person hurts us.

And they always do.

With priority set on the thing that fosters community rather than the people (who are the life of community), we can go about our activity as though nothing ever happened, simply finding other people to do said activity with, when we are hurt.

This is what is happening when people “church-hop”.

I used to do this type of thing all the time. The activity was drinking. The activity was dancing. The activity was going shopping. The activity was even sex at one point.

All of these things became crutches in my life instead of things that I could enjoy in a healthy way while building relationship.

My activities were a replacement for authentic human interaction.

I suppose one could not blame me, given all the trauma I had experienced. However, I choose to take a higher road and evaluate where I may have been in sin.

Doing so has helped me to uncover:

1) The selfishness that lay beneath my desire to avoid loneliness, and

2) The toxic actions I carried out in attempt to accomplish this impossible feat.

My selfishness was the driving factor for manipulating people into staying around me, while simultaneously being the the very thing that hindered my ability to connect with them!

Some would say this is narcissistic behavior. Perhaps if I had been tested during that time of my life I might have flagged as mentally unhealthy and, in fact, narcissistic.

All I can say is that I have recovered and then share my reflections

I am grateful to have learned the importance and the art of being alone.

No longer do I react to my emotions, which still encourage me to fill quite time with things rather than introspection and theological reflection that enhances my relationship with my Father.

No longer do I view lack of activity as inherently “boring.”

Rather, I embrace a simpler lifestyle. I have found that all my needs have already been met in Christ.

This quiet time “alone” has proven to be a gateway into a place where I know I am never alone. A divine paradox that I treasure more than any other moment. A place where I can just be with my God.

It is, after all, this connection that gives life to every other relationship.

Each human connection I steward is precious to me, but I am first and foremost a disciple of Jesus… and my Savior has a peculiar, yet perfect, way of dealing with His disciples.

Jesus spoke many things to the public.

Many good things…

He told stories that revealed the incredible power of our Father and His divine kingdom.

He told tales of people who honor the Lord, giving everything they have… like the woman who had but a fraction of a penny yet gave it to offering at the temple, nevertheless.

But these things are not explained so openly.

It is when Jesus is alone with His disciples that He explains all these things to them.

I could learn the entire Bible inside out.

I could have every story memorized. I could have every chapter and verse roll off the tip of my tongue and possess a superior command of Scripture…

Still, none of this matters unless I am able to sit “alone” in the presence of God and hear Him by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

This coming weekend, I will begin a 21 day journey of fasting and prayer, corporately with my church. I so look forward to this time with my Lord!

I would like to invite all of you join me in this fast, as you are able.

You will never find anything so fulfilling than the realization that all you need is God Himself.

That He is not only the Provider, but the Provision!

Fasting draws us deeper into this truth.

God is always capable of meeting you where YOU are. He did that very thing when He went to the cross and died for our sins as Jesus Christ. But during a fast, we are able to reach out and draw closer to where HE is.

God needs nothing but Himself to exist.

As we relinquish things we rely on for comfort and even sustenance, we move into divine territory.

We express our deepest desire to know and be known by God. We put our words of faith into action and proclaim that He IS all we need.

Will you consider doing this with me? I promise it will change your life. It has for me! Fasting and prayer is the very thing I was doing when I received the unshakable faith I have now.

Whatever you decide for how you connect this year, I pray you have been blessed by my reflections and that 2018 is a year of joyful communion for you; with God and with each other.

Be well my friends.

Your sister,

Monica

When I was a child, there was only one thing my mother would ever ask for when a holiday came around. It didn’t matter whether it was her birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas, or some other occasion…

Her one wish was always that her children would “get along.”

As an adult and having children of my own, I now find myself repeating the same request. In our home it is often a daily request.

I have come to understand that this is the greatest gift that any child can give their parent: to love one another.

This is SO important, in fact, that God says love is GREATESTeven higher in importance than hope and faith!

“Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

God, our Heavenly Father, wants no less than love and unity for and from us, His children. It pleases Him when we get along and love each other! He even went so far as to inspire Paul the apostle to write that we should be of one mind to honor Him; that this way of living is “worthy of the gospel of Christ“!

“Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel.”

Philippians 1:27

This is a precious goal for Him to see accomplished in His children because He created us in His image, and He is one.

Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Interesting how the statement of God being One is immediately followed by the greatest commandment? He does nothing by accident. This passage is so sacred that it is regarded as a biblical commandment and recited daily by Jews, along with several following verses.

You know what follows? “Repeat them (these verses) to your children.”

Now, in real time where we try to flesh this out… it can be hard. That’s why He included the part about using “all your strength”. Our Father knows it is not easy! He came and died on the cross as Jesus… our Savior who sweat blood during His prayer! Yet, some of us Christians get our feelings hurt and start acting like the world owes us something. Y’all, this is NOT the way of our Lord!

Thankfully, God didn’t leave us to figure out how on our own.

We’ve got worship to bring in gratitude to a Father who IS love, in Whose presence we are redeemed by His blood and then guided by His Holy Spirit. We have received this Holy Spirit Who helps us bring forth fresh and bountiful fruit. The most important of which, is love.

We are enabled to love each other and the rest of the world as Christ loves us.

Our Father is not ignorant to why we would behave in an unloving way. He has, in His great wisdom, revealed to us the reason for lack of love in this world.

It is always rooted and selfish ambition.

Always.

(2 Corinthians 12:20, James 3:16)

It is not because of the irritating person on the train. It is not because of the mother-in-law you don’t want to see this Christmas. It is not even because of your trauma. It is you and your selfishness. I wish I could give a better, feel-good reason… but I would rather give you Biblical than “better.” However…

We have in our possession the secret to world peace. Jesus.

God Himself who came here and showed us how to live surrendered in Love. Jesus Christ, whom we are about to celebrate this Christmas. We have no excuse, with all the materialistic preparation we do, for refusing to get to know Him more intimately through scripture, prayer, worship, and meditation…

Then pursue this beautiful goal of oneness and love.

We go into this Christmas season with hearts full of Joy and we would do well to remember where that Joy came from; that it is not to stopat us but to flow through us to our brothers and sisters and to those that Jesus calls the “least of these.”

Love is for EVERYONE.

So, whether you choose to be a vessel of love for your extended family whom you would rather not see, the woman in the grocery store that has a declined card at the checkout, or a homeless man who just needs someone to sit and talk to for a couple hours so he can feel like the human being he is… Be loving!

For it is not when we love those who love us that the world is changed, but when we love those who are in need of love. Isn’t this what Jesus did for us? Isn’t this why He came to be born in the most unassuming way… so that He might redeem us while we were still sinners?

Start today, and by Christmas we will see miracles take place!

Be One. Be Love. Live in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Your sister,

Monica

Last night I shared something with my husband that had been weighing on my heart.

Something that choked me up as I spoke it aloud;

“Thank you so much for what you do for our family!” I stammered as warm tears poured down my cheeks.

You see, it had dawned on me that I live quite a privileged life. Not only because of the favor of the Lord we enjoy, but also because my husband works really hard in response to that favor.

I basically get to sit at home in the presence of Jesus all day, reflecting on His goodness and then write about it whenever I feel so inspired (which is often). It has it drawbacks like anything else, but there are many wonderful things that I enjoy. For one, I don’t have to miss time with my children to go to work. I can be here for all the incredible, frustrating, and incredibly frustrating moments that bind a family together over the years.

None of this is without struggle, on my husband’s part or mine, but I want to focus here on his sacrifice. His selfless sacrifice.

Peter doesn’t work out of selfish ambition. When I thanked him for all he is doing (presently, it entails being away on deployment for long periods of time), his response was simply, “I asked God for a big family and I got it. Of course I’m going to take care of you.” All his hard work is a response to the grace of God shown in an answer to prayer that my husband had prayed since childhood.

Now… the backstory on why his dedication is so moving for me:

I have been without a provider.

I have been without protection.

I have been a young girl without a father.

I have been a mother without a father for my own children.

I have been a mother with a father for my children, but that man was actually relying on me to provide and he was happy to remain unemployed as I toiled in the strip club several nights a week.

I always thought there was something better. A better quality of man out there. A better way to run a family.

Then I met Peter…

This man has done nothing short of everything in his power to ensure the financial security of our home. It has never been for the purpose of being affluent or achieving some lofty, social status. It is all done in and for love. My wildest dreams are coming true, in large part, because of him. On top of being the breadwinner, Peter has been the iron that sharpens me and the embrace that comforts me. The voice that holds me accountable and stands by to soothe the delicate part of me when I finally breakthrough my pride, and my anger turns to tears.

This is what a Godly man looks like.

He is not perfect. But he is my leader.

I struggled for a long time, trying to shape Peter into the man I thought he ought to be if he were going to lead our home. If he were going to lead me. I’m not going to follow just anybody, you know. You had better know where you are going, because I sure do!

I wasn’t so sure he should be leading me.

Every so often, he was right about some important things, but Peter didn’t seem to have the adequate vigor for the Lord that I deemed necessary. He didn’t measure up to my standard of leadership. He didn’t qualify.

Then I reread this scripture:

“Wives, submit to your own husband as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.”

Ephesians 5:22-24

The verb “is” became the game changer for how I treated my husband. Embracing this truth is the very thing that allowed me to shift from a nagging wife who accused her husband of trying to control her, to being a woman who cries in overflow of gratitude for the sacrifice that he makes.

The truth is, Peter IS the head of our home.

“Is” is considered a verb is because it “expresses existence or a state of being.” The Lord didn’t say that he could lead if he was a good leader, deemed worthy by me on any given day… He said that my husband IS the leader.

Leader is his state of being, not a thing I decide for him.

My willingness to walk in submission to my husband ultimately became an issue of my willingness to submit to the Word. And while I can argue with my husband all day, often getting my own way after wearing him down… you won’t ever find me arguing with the Word of God.

It was in this place of surrender that my marriage began to find true peace.

I could write on this all day (and I will again soon, I am sure of it), but for today I will leave you with this:

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church… but wives, if he does not do this, he IS still your leader and you should honor him as such. The Word does not return void. Apply it without prejudice to your own life and watch it transform everything!

I have seen this myself, that even in our hopelessness, the Lord is faithful and just to fulfill His promises.

Love each other well and without selfish ambition, my brothers and sisters. You are the reflection of the living God who has created us. The world is looking to you, to us, for example of how our Father loves. What will they think of Him if we tear each other to pieces while claiming victory in Christ?

Follow Him, follow His Word, without reservation. That is the only way to bring about true revival that we long for.

Until next time, may the Lord keep you in His perfect peace and in harmony with one another.

Your sister,

Monica

*This is not a disclaimer where I will advise you to leave if you are in an abusive relationship. God can heal that too. If you don’t believe He can, however, you should leave because He probably won’t. If you do believe He can bring healing, you need to seek counsel immediately and ensure your continued safety while your spouse begins a process of healing and restoration in the Lord.

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Sometimes it is difficult for me to get to a place of relation. Really difficult. In this case, it has nothing to do with the positive. I do not struggle to relate to Bishop T.D. Jakes because of his powerful preaching or his obvious business prowess. All those things are inside of me too (yet in development still). It is more humbling than that.

It is hard for me to relate to him as a fallen sinner in need of Jesus.

Not because I don’t see him as one, but today I somehow forgot how sinful I can be. As far along in my journey as I have come, I still have much ground to cover. So does Bishop Jakes. We all do, which is why the Lord’s mercy is new every morning. We have new need of it every morning. My bout of pride, mixed with a little fervor for the holiness of the church, made for an interesting sequence of events.

I greatly admire Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation church. Last night I watched a live broadcast of his conversation with Bishop T.D. Jakes. There was some useful wisdom in there of what I could catch between running up and down stairs trying to put my daughter to bed (that child never sleeps!), and I was taking in all that I could.

I’ve never favored Bishop Jakes per se, but he’s got a lot of knowledge in some areas that I do not, so I listened carefully. My open-mindedness came to a screeching halt as I watched the end of the broadcast, when The Bishop led the congregation in singing “I Beleieve I Can Fly” by R Kelly.

I immediately set about formulating how to best make people hear that this is not ok. I thought of all the pictures from social media recently of church members marching against human trafficking for the A-21 Foundation. And here these two greats in the church are singing songs written by a child molesting, abusive misogynist who is currently under investigation for, guess what? Sex trafficking.

Talk about fire in my bones!

I could feel it welling up from the deepest parts of me and I had zero qualms about telling the world what had just happened. In a single zealous moment, I turned from a woman passionate about grace to a woman passionate about justice… forgetting that the two work hand-in-hand in the Kingdom of God.

I forgot that my God is already aware and working on this problem in the church. And I took to my soapbox to fill in for what I thought He wasn’t doing fast enough.

I started slamming Bishop Jakes on social media (not realizing this is what I was doing at the time because, well… righteous indignation, right?). Soon after, a friend confronted me publicly with her disapproval of what I was doing. I didn’t care. I was right.

The funny thing about being right is that, absent grace… we cease to be right.

Justification of my own righteous anger ends at the place where it turns to love, and declares, “I got this. I no longer need you.” It ends at the place where I start demonizing people in order to assign blame, which is only for my selfish desire of wanting the problem to be solved faster.

People turn to problems when grace departs from judgement, and no amount of me being “right” would ever justify dehumanizing anyone.

I know this in the pit of me and yet, being still a sinner on even my best day, I am prone to wander from truth. If I don’t intentionally remind myself that Bishop Jakes is not only a leader, but also a human being who makes mistakes and sins just like me, just like the rest of us, I can become a great tool of division against the very church I love so much.

I believe we are at a turning point in the church where grace is replacing judgement in our outreach to the world. Thank the Lord!

Lets not stop there. Let’s extend our leaders that same attitude of grace they have been praying for us to have for so long. I’m not saying they are always right, that’s why they need grace too. But I am saying that God will judge them in a way appropriate for what they have been entrusted with and we cannot assume the role of judge and remain graceful. By all means, speak out against injustice. But don’t do what I did today and stoop to throwing your brother or sister in Christ under the bus because of pride or impatience.

In the presence of the Lord we all fall short. We become Christians because we know this, and we know that grace is the solution. Not judgement.

Its not the end of the world because one of my favorite preachers did something I don’t agree with. It’s not even my job to argue that there might be some sinning mixed into this situation. I’m not in that room. Maybe someday I will be blessed with the opportunity to influence some of our promenant leaders. Today, I have you all.

That is not a lesser thing to me.

So now I ask forgiveness for failing to lead you well today. I ask you to stay with me. I might stumble but I still know where I’m going. I can only pray that, should I ever have such a great platform and responsibility as T.D. Jakes or Steven Furtick, you all will remember this moment and continue to extend me the same grace when I fall… as I hope you do now.

Grace to all of you. Thank you once again for being a part of my journey and letting me be a part of yours.

Your sister,

Monica

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This is a message I would rather not deliver. It’s so counter-cultural that it’s bound to cause some frustration with people. Even Christians. Nevertheless, there are lie-ridden, sweet sounding, “inspirational” sayings and twisted words we are accepting as gospel truth. The importance of sharing this today was made clear to me when I saw a woman, whom I admire VERY much, sharing some of this confusion on social media.

Brothers and sisters, the world’s view about forgiveness has become our own. This worldview about forgiving, its purpose, its necessity, and it’s function, are beginning to warp the hearts of the best of us. And, because we are to guard OUR hearts above all else, I am going to guard yours today for you.

Here are a few phrases we need to reconsider:

“Forgive yourself”

This one is just utter nonsense that doesn’t derserve a mention outside of me reminding you of something you probably already know…

You cannot give what you don’t have and we are NOT the creators of forgiveness. God is, ergo you can’t “forgive yourself”. If you could, then the cross of Christ was a cruel and unnecessary joke. (Which we know to be otherwise)

Next we have this gem of earthly “wisdom”:

“Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace”

It baffles me on how this even made the cut to get into our thinking in the church. These words musthave found a back door into our minds through the gate of pride, sneaking in like a thief in the sheep pen. I deserve peace, but another does not deserve forgiveness?? Um, excuse me if I am wrong here (I’m not), but didn’t Jesus die because NONE of us deserve anything but hell? Where do we get off professing to be Christians (which means “little Christs”) and saying stupid, hateful things like this?

Best to drop this one in the trash, set it on fire, and walk away triumphantly as pride goes up in flames behind you like a scene from a bad action movie (think Steven Seagal explosions).

We need to obliterate this saying from our vocabulary and, more importantly, from our mindset. Not only is it used to show unjust partiality to our selves, but the idea that a person should be forgiven because they “deserve it” negates everything we know about Jesus’s sacrifice and what grace is. It steals the hope of our own salvation (not salvation itself, but our surety of it), and stifles our ability to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit in carrying grace and forgiveness to a dying world. Each time we spew this lie, it is as if we are at the foot of the cross, jeering insults with the crowd as Jesus hangs for us.

Lastly, we have a beautiful, theologically sound statement (by a theologian at that), which has been taken out of context as the be-all-end-all authority on forgiving, rather than an excerpt from the discussion on forgiveness that it actually is.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that prisoner was you”

The man who spoke these wise words, Lewis B. Smedes, was a brilliant and renowned thinker… but that doesn’t mean he got it all right. Mr. Smedes also referred to “people who do terrible evil” as “monsters”. Clearly there was something clouding his judgement which led him to speak in contrary to what the Word tells us. Which is this:

For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.

Ephesians 6:12

This great thinker had some other wise words we should consider, especially in light of our current discussion on forgiveness. Lewis Smedes once stated:

“There are some things about God that, were I to stop believing them, my world would change color, my hope would turn sour, and the meaning of my life would be yanked inside out.”

I couldn’t have said it better. This is precisely that state of heart we are headed for when we take upon any manner of considering what forgiveness is that is not fully and solitarily defined by what occurred at the cross of Christ.

We seem to of lost touch with the purpose of forgiveness. We stand in public and profess our faith, even dunking each other under water to make sure people see what we are proclaiming about forgiveness and “death of self”, and the next moment we stand in judgement as though we are God Himself.

We agree, heads nodding and smiles widening, that forgiveness is solely for the person who does the forgiving. This is not only incomplete, it is an offense to the cross and what Jesus did there. I know this is redundant, but I will say it a hundred times to see my family freed of this lie…

Jesus forgave us for US! If there were anything He did for Himself in dying on Calvary, it was to make way for a restored relationship (another topic for intricate dissection at a later date). His intention, as ours should be, was for restoration of relationship with the Father. 

I will forever be an advocate of the rugged cross and the severity of what was accomplished there… through a sovereign God who loves us WITHOUT RESERVATION, even unto death. It is only at that cross that we comprehend Love and it is only in bearing that cross that we can show that Love to the world, thus healing it.

So here it is…

Yes, forgiveness is for you

But it is not ONLY for you

If it is… you have missed the whole point of Jesus’s death and ministry.

The church needs to embrace, once again, the fullness and the extremity of the sacrifice of the man we profess to be our Savior… and then we need to walk that out in our own lives.

Until next time, may God keep you humble and forgiving without reservation or partiality.

Your sister,

Monica

 

Today could have been a horrible day for me.

It could have been a horrible day for my family.

My husband has been deployed in Afghanistan since March. This opportunity has been a huge blessing in many ways, however the lack of his presence is felt and grieved by us all. It is especially interesting for me to realize today that Thanksgiving has never been the most wonderful day for me.

At best, it has been a day to prepare and eat some food, try not to get stressed out, and start again tomorrow trying to accomplish all of the normal things I put off in order to “celebrate”.

Today was different. It was different because I decided that it would be different. I decided to remember not only what I am thankful for, but Who I am thankful to.

There are two other Thanksgivings I recall with impeccable detail. Days that I was alone. Days that I felt abandoned, betrayed, and hopeless.

About 12 years ago, my Thanksgiving was spent riding the metro into DC for my shift at Archibald’s. It never occurred to me that the strip club I worked at would not be open yet. I just figured since I had no family that wanted to be with me I would head in early. The club wasn’t open yet. Being quite hungry at this point, I walked for 10 blocks up 14th St. to find a 24-hour CVS. There I purchased a protein bar and a bottle of water for my Thanksgiving dinner.

As I walked past homeless men and women sitting on the sides of the street eating their meals on paper plates, I longed for what they had.

The longing wasn’t so much that my stomach was hungry, but that my soul was hungry… for someone to care enough to want to feed me. But no one could have me around. I don’t blame them. I was that toxic person who would inevitably ruin the event to which I was invited. So I stopped getting invited.

I had never learned how to be proper. How to be sober. How to be “normal.”

My lack of stability was linked to the other Thanksgiving I recall so well. And so many like it. So many years that echoed the solitude of the holidays.

As a teenager, holidays were never enjoyable in my home. I don’t mean “never” as though I had experienced no happiness ever, but rather to say that actual joy was lacking. There is a cosmic difference between a moment of happiness and experiencing real joy. My mother was fabulous at curating happy moments.

Joy however, being a thing that one cannot create or arrange, was difficult to come by in our home.

Thus, I began looking for it elsewhere. I’m not really sure what took place the Thanksgiving after I turned 15. I only recall that I could not be in my home for a moment longer. There may have been nothing actually wrong on the surface. It could have been a regular day. But there was a void. A void in my home. A void inside of me… so I just left.

I went for quite a long walk that day. It was about 2 miles to the grocery store nearest our home. I walked all the way. When I got there nothing was open. I turned around and started walking back. I was not far from my neighborhood when I approached the entrance to another community where a friend of mine lived.

Lacking in social etiquette, I decided it would be a good time to go and visit.

When I arrived, Nicole’s parents welcomed me in. I sat down to dinner with them. This wasn’t the first time I had intruded. They always welcomed me. Still, I can only imagine what they were thinking when I showed up on a holiday that people are usually with their families, being only a child myself.

I loved that house. That family.

The environment smelled like fresh food. Fresh food that had not been burnt or cooked ahead of time and then donated. I learned how to wash and dry lettuce. I heard people laugh and saw them hug. I witnessed parents discipline their children in a way that didn’t break them. When we sat down to eat we sat at the table instead of in front of the TV. We held hands and prayed. No one argued at dinner.

I had always hated when everyone finished their food. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to go “home.”

Reminiscing on all of this today has brought me to a place of peace and gratitude.

The addictions and the sin that once bound me (and left me more destitute than someone who was homeless) have been broken and forgiven by Jesus. My God has changed not only my life but my heart.

That home I found comfort in as a child has now become my home.

I am married to a man who works hard to provide so that my children do not have to rely on strangers coming to bring them food on holidays. We get to be the people who bless others today!

My daughter and I made homemade mayonnaise together this Thanksgiving.

When my children cried today or became frustrated, I had the privilege of praying with them and correcting them in love when necessary.

We sat at the table together instead of in front of the TV.

We held hands and said grace.

No one argued at dinner.

When it was all said and done, we visited with a neighbor who had invited us to eat with her family. My children sat at a different table than the adults. When I walked over to be sure they were settled, I saw that they had all been patiently waiting for me to come and pray with them.

My neighbor is not really the prayerful type. She’s not really into the Lord like I am.

She didn’t see any of this… but we prayed for her home and her family. We thanked the Lord for her hospitality and asked that He bless her and bring joy into her home. There is no lack of happy moments there. But because I have found the joy I have sought after, I could not help but pray that for her as well.

The greatest joy I have found, the deepest gratitude, is in the fact that our family gets to do this. We are privileged to be part of an eternal Kingdom that brings purpose to lives and joy into homes.

My prayer is that you also have experienced joy today. As much as you have longed for fulfillment, may it be granted to you today by our Lord Jesus.

When you find it in Him, because you will when you seek Him, pour it out on everyone around you and bask in the new level of joy that comes with being a vessel.

I love you all and wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

Your sister,

Monica