Hope in Disguise: How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

Hope in Disguise:
How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

“Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.”—Romans 12:12-13 NLT

If you read my last post (Waiting for Redemption) you know the last year has been a difficult one. But during that time, God has continued to sprinkle little blessings here and there via a couple of special women in my life. The friendship and support they have given me have often served to keep my head above the waves as I’ve attempted to tread water in a deep ocean of uncertainty. So many times I have wanted to give up, but at just the right time, their words, hugs, and even silence, have shot hope through my veins when I’ve needed it most.

 
One of the first things she said to me, shortly after I drug my tired, discouraged self into her home yesterday was, “How is the depression?” Four simple words never spoke so much hope into my life. I know, it doesn’t make sense, after all, how can asking a simple question about depression, of all things, actually bring hope? I don’t really know, but somehow it did. Not at that very moment, but a few hours later.

 
Anyone who has dealt with clinical depression (I have now for over 15 years) knows the feeling. Even the simplest activities of daily life seem overwhelming at times. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you’ve got the added guilt of not being a “good” Christian because you’re not walking around on cloud nine all the time (see How to Live When Depression Lingers). If you have a lot of people in your life who don’t understand what you’re going through, sharing your true feelings can be risky. It’s hard for people to resist trying to give solutions and pat answers to “help” you, when in reality all we really want is someone to listen and meet us where we’re at.

 
Anyways, later that afternoon her words sang through my head, “How is the depression?” I was able to speak to her freely about my struggle, while she nodded in understanding. She knows what it feels like too. And, as much as I hate that she knows what it’s like, I am so grateful for it. None of us want to suffer, but, admittedly if it weren’t for our mutual suffering, none of us could relate to anyone in any tangible way. Our struggles are often how we find those “kindred spirits”, the ones who will hold our hand through our trials, speak truth in love, but also listen at the right time, instead of always being the “problem solver” or “advice giver”.

 
Because of her own struggles with depression and hardship, my friend instinctively knew what I needed—to be listened to and met with grace. She didn’t offer up a bunch of things to do to fix my “problem”. Really, she just listened. And it had an amazingly therapeutic effect.

 
Later that afternoon I sat in my recliner, as I have done so many times over the past months, staring at the wall while warm tears flowed down my face. Only this time, it was because of hope. My friend’s four simple words brought me hope. She cared, she understood, and she wasn’t trying to change me. She was merely loving me in the dark places, and continuing to pray in earnest for my physical and emotional healing. In that moment I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness for the two special friends God brought into my life almost two years ago. We are “sisters” in every way. And it isn’t because we’re perfect Christians, it’s because we’re perfectly flawed Christians who know we can be transparent with each other without fear of judgment, criticism, or cliché advice-giving.

 
If you know someone struggling with depression, please try to avoid offering them “solutions”. Your intentions are amazing and appreciated, but unless you’ve suffered in the same way, you can’t really “know” what it’s like or how to “solve” the problem. Yes, we need to go to and stay in God’s word, and yes we need to focus on the truth and refuse to believe lies. Yes all of these things are true and helpful to the depressed Christian, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will produce spiritual rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes the depression lingers and sometimes all we really need is someone to listen. You can be a good friend without offering “answers” to every problem. Often, not spewing “answers” is just what your depressed friend may need.

 
In my case, just knowing how loved I am by a couple of flawed friends inspires me to get back up and move forward through the difficulties instead of allowing them to control me, and the prayers of my friends have been the greatest gift, more so than any “advice” they could have given.

 
So, ask God to bring to mind someone in your life who may need to hear four simple words. Maybe it’s not “How is your depression” but some other difficulty, “How is your [insert chronic illness]” or “How is your grief”? Just asking a question and listening patiently to the answer might be all your hurting friend needs to see a ray of hope amid the darkness of their circumstances. Choose to be that source of light in their life. And most importantly, continue to pray for them, even if it seems they aren’t “progressing” quickly enough through their struggles. God is listening, and in due time, He will answer (and quite possibly use YOU to be the answer).

 

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”—Proverbs 13:12 NIV

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If you or someone you know struggles with depression, or is going through difficult life-circumstances, please share this post. Instead of shying away from these “troubled” people, let’s come together and encourage them through the hope of Christ. Let’s be the hope of Christ in their lives.

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Also, I will be starting a new blog series titled “Choices”, and will be sharing more details about my journey over the past year, and how our choices, from the big ones to the seemingly insignificant, can have a lasting (positive or negative) effect on our lives and the lives of those we love most. Please sign up to receive new blog posts in your email and share this blog with your friends. Your support is much appreciated! Thank you!

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Fingerprints

Fingerprints

 

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, but I keep coming back to the fingerprints. If my funeral was tomorrow, what would people say about me? What kind of fingerprints have I left on their lives? I hope they’d say I’ve left the fingerprints of Jesus, but I’m not too sure that’s what I’d hear, if I could hear the people speaking at my funeral.

 

I think about the past, and the many years I lived for myself, for my pleasures, chasing the lusts of my flesh. I encountered many people during that time who knew my dad was a preacher, who knew I was raised in church, but who also knew I was “promiscuous” and no different than any other “worldly” person. Those people don’t know me now; they only know the “me” of that time. I wonder what kind of fingerprint I left on their life about God, the Church, and Christianity. Sometimes the thought is more than I can bear.

 

And I think of my husband. I wonder what he would say. Would he describe me as the “Proverbs 31” wife? Would he say I left the fingerprints of faith on his life, or the fingerprints of a control freak that was selfish and an overbearing nag? Would he be able to say he understood a little more about the Jesus I always spoke of, because of my character, or that my character conflicted with the Jesus I preached?

 

My husband has seen me from the beginning to the end, from the best and the worst. He met me in my addiction/eating disorder days, he managed to stick with me through my crazy days of psychotherapeutic drug treatments, he even stuck around when I over-compensated for my failures and became a Pharisee beating him over the head with my Bible. He still stands by me as I serve in church, write, and pursue an education in counseling. He’s a quiet man, but supportive of me in all things. Sometimes I think he’s left more of a “Jesus” fingerprint on my life, despite our differences of faith perspectives. Certainly God has used my husband to speak truth to me in ways I haven’t always understood and sometimes even resented. God is good like that, and I am grateful for all He has taught me through my marriage. I love my husband more every day, and hope that if he were to speak at my funeral, he would say that his wife failed in some ways, but Jesus changed her life for the better, and through that, made her a better wife and better mother. But, if I were to die tomorrow, I’m not too sure that’s what he’d say.

 

I think about my friendships. I have a couple great ladies in my life who have been a huge support spiritually. Though we haven’t known each other long, we are spiritual soul-mates. They sharpen me as “iron sharpens iron” and draw me closer to God just through knowing them. They are leaving the “Jesus” fingerprint on my life. But would they say the same about me?

 

Without a doubt I know some of the friendships of the past two or three years did not turn out that way. I’m pretty sure some of those people would describe the fingerprint I’ve left on them like a crime scene photo. Ugly, bloody, brutal—selfish, argumentative, judgmental. Much like the people who knew me during my prodigal years, these people know the me of the Pharisee years. And sometimes the thought of that is indeed, more than I care to consider. I have tried to “fix” some of these bad encounters, but sometimes the hurts inflicted burn the bridges beyond what can be rebuilt, at least on this side of heaven.

 

And maybe most importantly, I wonder what kind of fingerprint I have left on my daughter’s life? Have I displayed the “Jesus” in the Bible verses she has memorized? Or have I displayed the version that says, “I only approve of you when your behavior is good.” If she were to stand at my casket, could she say her mother showed her Jesus? That her mother was real, honest, authentic, open, and also caring, compassionate, and ready to show grace and mercy?

 

Last weekend Pastor Pat delivered an excellent message (as usual) about “time”. Afterwards we received a sheet of paper to map out our life plan. It contained some key steps like identifying important relationships, our priorities, and how we want to be remembered. I haven’t been able to fill mine out yet. I’ve been somewhat paralyzed as I wait for the doctor to call me with the news. Perhaps the road I thought I would travel will not be what I envisioned even a few weeks ago.

 

Either way, I’m in a time of contemplation. No matter what happens, I know God has used this “illness” to get my attention and get me thinking about the fingerprints I am leaving on people’s lives, what I can do to possibly clean the messy fingerprints off the past and create new ones, and what I must surrender to God today so the new fingerprints reflect Jesus, not Rebecca.

 

 

Finally, I think of a message a great man of God and influential teacher in my life delivered a couple years ago in church. I’ll never forget these words, “The only thing that matters in life is your answer to this question: what have you done with Jesus? What have you done with Jesus?”

 

I’m not sure what’s in my future, but I know this: Jesus has set my heart free, and I hope and pray you have experienced that same peace and freedom that surpasses any human understanding. If you haven’t experienced this full life that Jesus wants for you, won’t you consider doing so today?

 

Having lived life “my” way I can say the end result is never worth the perceived freedom of making your own choices. God’s way is really better, really. It gives meaning to life, and a future beyond the few years we have here on earth. It makes all of this pain actually worth something. And even the happy times are more meaningful when God is present.

 

How do you want to be remembered? What kind of fingerprints are you leaving on the lives of others? What can you do to allow God to change that this very moment? We can’t change the past, but God promises that He will make even our ugly failures work for our greatest good if we would only choose to love Him today (see Romans 8:28). Today is the day to make new fingerprints. Friends, please don’t delay. You don’t know what tomorrow holds, but with Jesus, you can know that your tomorrow is safe and secure no matter what life throws at you. And that is the only place to be. His fingerprint of peace rests on my heart; I hope it rests on yours.

 

“This is my comfort in my affliction, for your Word has given me life.” Psalm 119:50

 

A Special Prayer Request

Dear friends,

 

In the two years I’ve had this blog, I have never done this before, but today I am asking for your prayer. With a subject like spiritual warfare being the topic of focus for me, it is no surprise that the year has been wrought with more obstacles than I care to recall. In spite of that, choosing God’s word—the truth—has allowed me to continue to experience a spiritual freedom amid the difficulties.

 

Over the past two months, though, my health has deteriorated significantly, to the point where even doing basic things like grocery shopping is an overwhelming task. It’s been frustrating, to say the least, because I pay careful attention to my diet and physical activity. In fact, despite feeling so ill, I have continued to work out nearly every day and stay disciplined with my diet.

 

I had not been to a doctor in over a year, but after the fatigue, sickness, and chest pains increased, I relented and made the trip to see my primary care physician. While I haven’t been given all the details yet (mainly the “why”), I found out that I have a major Vitamin D deficiency. I had no idea that something so “simple” could cause so many problems! But because I have a heart arrhythmia as well as arthritis, the lack of vitamin D was making those issues worse, causing the constant chest pain (and at the age of 30, feeling like you’re having a heart attack every day is pretty scary) and bone pain/muscle fatigue. Come to find out, a Vitamin D deficiency can exasperate pre-existing conditions, and even cause heart failure (eek!). Anyways, I am now on treatment for the next several months (massive doses of Vitamin D that has its own icky side effects) but the process is long. It could take two months to a year to get back to “normal”.

 

My request is simply this: please pray that God touch my mind with His healing hand, because throughout all of this my concentration and productivity have been completely sapped. As a freelance writer, I only make money when I am writing, and I haven’t been able to write anything for publication in over six weeks. I have barely managed to keep up with this blog, and the material that I need to prepare for my life groups. I know God’s approval of me doesn’t depend on my performance (thank GOD!) but it’s hard not to feel discouraged (I know, I’ve gone back to my Deadly D’s list many times over the past weeks!) because of the lack of progress I’ve made with the projects I’ve been working on. Normally, I don’t like to bring attention to my personal physical issues, but right now I need you and your prayers more than ever. I’ll be a guest on a radio show later this month, and I really need to be mentally alert and attentive to the questions, so I can wisely give an answer for the reason of the hope and new life I’ve been given through Christ.

 

“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, and persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”~2 Corinthians 12:10

 

Thank you so much for your faithful support of this blog and for being committed to the truth of God’s word.

 

In Christ,

Rebecca Aarup

 

PS-

A special thanks to my friends Cheryl Lutz, Nancy Falcheck, and Melissa Fastrup, who have faithfully lifted me up in prayer and encouraged me through all of this. Your support and friendship is priceless and I am especially grateful that you never passed off my problems as “no big deal” but recognized the difficulty and acknowledged the struggle I’ve faced. Few things are more discouraging than, in the face of your pain, being told “it could always be worse!” None of you have ever treated me that way, and I thank you for that!

 

Breaking Up is Hard to Do…

“This is my prayer: that your love may abound more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” Philippians 1:9-10

Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit I recently made several dramatic changes to my lifestyle (1 Cor. 6:12-13, 19-20). I’ve found, through the implementation of these new habits, many “bad” habits came to light I was unaware of. As I mediated on such things I discovered three sources of influence over my choices:

#1-Parents

Some of the things I’ve done my whole life are a direct result of how I was raised (this is not a ding against my parents but merely a fact-see Proverbs 22:6). It’s extremely difficult to replace habits practiced for more than twenty years-but it can be done. The Holy Spirit has strengthened and enabled me to follow His will for my life today. (Phil. 4:13)

#2-Media

If I spend too much time reading/viewing secular media, I find it tempting to become overwhelmed with a wide variety of opinions (Rom. 12:1-2).  One week something is bad for you and the next week that same thing is good for you. If I choose to believe everything I read without seeking the will of God through His word and prayer, I will be on a constant roller-coaster of frustration.

#3-Christians

Many well-meaning Christians have a variety of opinions based on their interpretation of Scripture and their own experiences in life (often relating to how they were raised-something we all do). More often than not, I have experienced a great deal of criticism within Christianity regarding lifestyle choices, especially anything that contradicts what someone else is doing. Everyone has an opinion, interpretation, and a judgment. (Matt. 7:1-5) The only way I can really know what is best for me is to spend time in the word and prayer. (Phil. 4:6-7)

This isn’t the first time I’ve received negative feedback regarding a personal choice, but I do believe I am following God’s will for my life (recognizing this is not His specific calling for every believer). I’ve done research and made, what I believe to be, an informed decision based on that research and my relationship with God. I am the one who will answer for my choices; it is imperative I do whatever it takes to maintain a clear conscience before God. (James 4:17)

I’m now questioning every choice I make under this light: is it God’s word and Spirit guiding me or the habits and opinions of others?

Godly Friendships and the Bible

Godly Friendships and the Bible

 

What does the Bible say about Godly friendships? What does the Bible say about how we are to conduct ourselves once we have found ourselves in a Godly friendship? We can be certain that there are principles to be found in the Bible relating to this important message and how we can be sure our friendships are God-honoring, personally edifying to the glory of God, and sanctifying to both individuals.

First and most importantly we are told in Ecclesiastes 4:12 that a close Godly friendship is essential in our Christian walk. It is not really an option if we want to be successful and victorious in our Christian living.

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken.” (NLT)

 

A Godly friend is necessary if we hope to stand firm against the Enemy’s attacks. Without that companionship we are made weaker. So, once we have found that Godly friend/s, how are we to act within that friendship? Will it always be perfect since all people involved are “Godly” and seeking Him first with their whole hearts? What happens in real life within the parameters of these friendships?

1-Face to Face Fellowship

“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Exodus 3:11 (NIV)

In this day and age this simple concept is quick to be overlooked. We text, we type, we email. Rarely do we meet face to face in real time fellowship with our friends. Can you imagine God texting Moses? Did you laugh? It sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? You might argue that this is the day and age we live in, and while there is truth in that statement, there is even greater truth in the words we read in Exodus. Friends see each other face to face. Let’s face it, when we can talk to each other and see each other’s facial expressions, hear each other’s tones, it lends itself to a lot less misinterpretation, misunderstanding, hurt feelings…etc. (Why didn’t she text me back? Why hasn’t she emailed me in 3 days? She hasn’t called me back, I know she must be mad, I better call so and so and talk about it!) Let’s commit to getting back to basics within our Godly friendships and just have some coffee (or tea or whatever!) and have some real fellowship, because that is how true Godly friendships are cultivated in a healthy way.

2-Influential

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)

It’s very clear from this simple verse that those we choose to keep company with will influence our attitudes. Whether that’s in a Godly way or in a worldly way depends on those we spend time with. Proverbs is full of wisdom written by the wisest man on the earth, and we would do well to listen to the advice given when choosing that Godly friend. If we have our radar set on someone, we should ask ourselves, is this person going to influence me towards the character of Christ? Will this person be “sharpening” me into the fruits of the Spirit or the lusts of the flesh?

3-Openly Honest and Always Sincere

“An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” Proverbs 27:5-6 (NLT)

Sometimes even our best intentions are hurtful. The fact of the matter is this: even in the closest and Godliest of friendships, people are going to get hurt. This proverb tells us as much. It also tells us that this “friendly fire” is better than an enemy who merely pretends to be nice to your face while speaking blasphemies behind your back. I think we all know what it feels like to be betrayed in this way. You find out this person who you know and trusted has been gossiping about you, spreading hurtful rumors about you all the while pretending to be something totally different to your face. We are warned about this person, this person is double-minded, and not to be trusted. The friend who wounds us in their sincerity is much more desirable.  You can be reminded that even this wounding is a blessing! Your Godly friend is being honest and sincere as God has designed! Not that it makes the hurt any less painful…but we will deal with that.

4-Loves at All Times

“A friend loves at all times.” Proverbs 17:17

Here we have the first solution to our issue of hurts. Love. It doesn’t say “A friend loves when it feels good”, or “A friend loves until he is hurt”, it states very clearly “all times”.  Love is an action, and it is a choice. Love is not a feeling in the context of this verse. There comes a point when the hurts are going to be so deep, perhaps the pain so intense that love will not come easily, and it may not seem possible. The most logical choice may seem to move on and be done with the whole mess. It is at this moment we are faced with a crucial choice-will we love at any cost? This is the Godly friend that you want in your life! This love has no strings attached, it is unconditional, and is not related to circumstances. It is the love that Jesus has for us, and the love He tells us to have for each other.

5-Forgives First

“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” Matthew 5:23-24 (The Message)

Loving through hurts must involve forgiveness. This passage could not possibly be interpreted any other way then to forgive first before bringing your worship to God. God is not interested in your lip service when you have outstanding debts of bitterness against your friends. Settle all accounts before offering your praises to God! He sees our hearts, knows our thoughts, whether or not we like it! There is no way around this one. If we are hurt by the actions or words of another, we need to speak up and be honest and sincere always of how we feel, in love. Our feelings are valid, and our friend’s feelings are valid. We need to be heard, and they need to be heard, and we need good communication in order to have Godly friendships that glorify and edify each other towards love and good works! When we fail to communicate in a timely manner we allow the hurt to fester as we turn it over in our minds, often making things bigger than they are, and further misinterpreting the situation, so by the time we do talk about it, emotions are really running high. It makes things that much harder to be made right. These are the times we are tempted by our Enemy to “end” relationships. We are whispered lies that we must give up on this friendship, that it wasn’t what we thought, it wasn’t the right person, we were wrong, we failed again, we messed up again, we better just start over with someone who agrees with us on everything we believe in or hold to so as to avoid any problems. That is when we need to hold fast to the TRUTH of God’s Word, and what He says about Godly friendships. If we have already determined that the friendship we are in is an “iron sharpening iron” friend for Godly character then we must go back to our principles laid out under such a friendship. Am I loving, am I being honest, am I forgiving. Have I laid aside all my offerings to run to this person and make things right? Have I done all I can do to bring restoration, or am I insisting on being right and is that getting in the way of peace? I think the most important question here even than all of that is: am I honoring God in my decision to end this, or would He want me to obey His own command in Matthew 5:23-24? That seems rather clear. (There are SOME exceptions where relationships do need to end because of excessive sinful lifestyles or rebellion…etc, but for the sake of our discussion, I am not referring to those specific incidences.)

6-Sacrifices

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (NIV)

Jesus as our Friend made the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, the price we could never pay. He gave His life, so we could have eternal life with Him. With this He modeled His idea of the Godly friendship for us. The true Godly friend is one who sacrifices without question. I’m not just talking about the sacrifice of taking a bullet for your friend in some “what if” scenario that will likely never occur. I am talking about the much smaller things, but perhaps more difficult. The sacrifices of time: the middle of the night phone calls, the house calls, the food delivered when sick, the trips to the hospitals, the sleepless nights, the hours of Bible study when your friend has a crisis and needs an answer, calloused knees from hours of earnest prayer….on and on it goes. These are the sacrifices of life that the true Godly friend gives without a blink of an eye. This person is selfless, and giving, and authentic. This is the person you want as your Godly friend, helping you on your journey of sanctification. If you have this person in your life, thank them, and pray for them! Because you have an Enemy who wants to destroy the beautiful relationship that God has joined together. Satan knows you are stronger together, and it scares him!

Remember to keep up the face to face contact with your dear friend to avoid that confusion and misinterpretation of email and text that may occur, especially in the early stages of a growing relationship. Ask God to help you have the Christ-like influence on your friend that you desire them to have on you, and commit to always being openly honest and sincere no matter how difficult that may be. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in speaking the truth in love at all times. Face to face is best! Throughout everything, choose to love and forgive quickly. As you reflect on building your own character, ask God to help you continue to become the sacrificial friend that He modeled for us in His Word. Putting the needs of our friend first, and truly esteeming each other better than ourselves. In this way we can cultivate our Godly friendship deeper and draw closer to our Creator in unity.

A Godly You+ Your Godly Friend+God Himself=A Triple Braided Cord Not Easily Broken!