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From Surviving to Living
(17) LOVE & HATE: From Bitterness to Blessing
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In this episode, we explore the journey of healing and transformation through loving and serving others. Despite facing broken relationships and personal struggles, I discover the power of love and reconciliation guided by divine intervention. Delving into scripture and prayer, I wrestle with the challenge of loving even my enemies, ultimately overcoming anger and rage with the help of God’s grace. Join us as we uncover the profound impact of forgiveness, redemption, and divine guidance in navigating life’s unexpected paths.

TRANSCRIPT

Do you struggle with anger? Do you need rescue from the hurt?

In April 2016 I found myself on an unexpected path. God urged me to heal broken relationships at a time when bitterness and rage would be the natural response. He also gave me a ministry of loving others. Discover with me the freedom found in obedience to God, even in our worst relationships.

We’ll uncover the secret to overcoming bitterness and finding joy in relationships with others. Listen until the end, you don’t’ want to miss a word! This is Love and Hate.

It was April 2016, and I’d spent the past three months trying to find a home in Minnesota for my son Tim. It was not going well. Tim, now age 13, was growing more despondent. He’d spent the past 2 and a half years in a slew of foster and group homes in Washington, so many I’d lost count. Tim was desperate to go home. I was hoping to find someone in Minnesota to care for him until I was released from prison.

 “Did you see who’s back?” I turned to see who Jen was talking about. The day room in Tubman was full, with women watching TV and playing cards. “There, by the window,” she added pointing to a woman sitting by herself.

MCF-Shakopee was originally built to house a mere 250 women, but with expansion and make-shift modifications, had increased the prison capacity to 600. At times during my stay the population would swell to over 700.

For overcrowding relief the DOC would HoF out male and female inmates, housing them off campus in county jails and federal prisons. Some inmates were gone a few months, some an entire year. Spending a year in county jail can be a very rough experience.

I followed Jen’s hand and saw Tiffani sitting by the windows. Tiffani,in her early 20’s, sat alone. She stared out the window and sucked her thumb. Rocking back and forth in her chair and gripping a strand of her hair in one hand she appeared lost in thought. I remembered her well and my heart sank. Tiffani was a difficult person, like thirty behavioral problems in one package. Right now, however, she looked pitiful. I narrowed my eyes and considered her.

Still reading my Bible every day, I read that Jesus often prayed all night. I did not pray that much. In fact days or even weeks might go by where I didn’t pray at all. I understood that if Jesus needed to pray for hours then I needed to pray more too!

Jesus also stressed our need to love people. In fact He said,

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:44

I was not good at that either. I created a prayer list to help myself pray more, and I began to add people I didn’t like as well as those I already loved.

Are you interested in a more fulfilling prayer life? Do you struggle with this?

Now I stared at Tiffani and thought. She was an ABE student, which meant she would soon be in the class where I was a tutor. “Great, just great,” I thought miserably. ‘As if loving others wasn’t challenging enough.’

I considered adding Tiffani to my prayer list, but I didn’t want to because thinking about her any longer than necessary sounded unpleasant. Tiffani continued rocking in her chair as I thought, sucking her thumb, and staring out the window seeing nothing. I’d rarely seen her so quiet. Sighing, I decided I would add her to my list and pray for her and turned back to my friend. This choice would lead to surprising results.

One day I read in the Bible-

Regard (treat with honor, due obedience, and courtesy) your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God gives you. Exodus 20:12

I noticed it was one of the 10 commandments and the only one that came with a promise if obeyed. I puzzled over its meaning. I thought I understood respect, but I wanted to obey God exactly as He desired. Did I have to feel affection for my parents? Admiration? Would I need to ignore my own pain to obey?

I felt rejected in many ways by my parents – marginalized, disrespected, discarded. To cope I’d nurtured my hurts, grown them. I nearly screamed, ‘I will not be ignored!’

##I was hurting, angry at my parents. I had so many questions for God about what obedience to this command would look like in practice. Should I ignore what I felt in my heart? Did this mean never being validated? All these questions caused me confusion and concern.

‘Nice’ was what my family always tried to be. Defensive, hurt and angry were just below the surface for all of us.  I pictured a good relationship with my parents as one in which we ‘cleared the air’ and came to a mutual understanding about past hurts and disagreements. I believed this would alleviate my pain and rage.

After decades of trying to communicate with them in a way that would lead to mutual understanding I’d given up. Nothing had ever worked, in fact our relationship had grown worse, not better. I could no longer imagine improvement. Feeling stuck, I prayed, “Dear God, I see this command. Please teach me what it means to You so that I understand it.”

One thing I did feel was confident that God would answer that prayer. The past few months had taught me this. I was now reliably sending child support, losing weight, giving money to charity and I hadn’t missed a day of work in a year. I was not just brushing my teeth but flossing them daily, making my bed every day, and this list was growing. I was finding it hard to recognize my own self! It was wonderful.

“Hi Mom! Guess what!” I paused and waited with excitement.

“What is it?” my mom asked. I’d called her after work to share my new confidence in God and commitment to obey Him.

“I’ve committed to being a respectful daughter who honors her parents! I read this command in the Bible and I want to do it!” I burst out.

“That’s impossible for you,” my mom responded immediately, interrupting. Surprised, I was drawn up short, speechless. I’d always thought of my parents as religious, knowledgeable about the Bible and God. My mind immediately flashed to something Jesus told the religious leaders of His day..

It said in Matthew, “Jesus replied to them, ‘You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor God’s power.’” Matthew 22 : 29

We ended the call and I prayed about the situation, kept praying. God’s commands felt counter to everything natural for me. I waited for answers and read. When I got to the book of Proverbs I became very interested. The first couple of verses promised some great things to the reader – wisdom, prudence, discretion, understanding. I wondered what some of these words meant, especially ‘discernment.’

I looked them all up in the dictionary, went searching for answers. I found a great description of discernment – it’s the expertise to easily tell the difference between two things that look alike to a lay person. For example, if I have an apple orchard I may easily discern the difference between two different breeds of apple. Anyone else may think they are the same kind of apple, even after careful study.

This excited me! Jesus often said the kind of people we are is made obvious by our ‘fruit’ – our results and behavior. I seemed easily fooled! I was twice married and both times I had thought I was marrying a Christian man. Both times I was painfully wrong. Clearly I had no discernment, but I wanted it! I dug into the book of Proverbs, ready to learn.

“My birthday will be horrible!” Amy complained the next day in class. A common sentiment, birthdays in prison were rarely fun. I looked over at her desk. Two women stood with her deep in conversation.

“I know what you mean,” Cathy soothed. “I’ve been here a year and my family has never sent me a letter or money.” All three women nodded their heads in understanding.

“Well I’ve given up on having a nice birthday,” Amy finished. She dropped into her desk, sulking. Special days here could be difficult. Suddenly I had an idea. I rose and headed for Amy’s desk.

“Amy, I heard it was your birthday,” I said as she looked up. Amy nodded, waiting. I kneeled down beside her and asked, “When is it?” She told me. Taking out a piece of paper I thought a moment and asked, “Would you mind if I sent you a birthday card?”

Surprise lit up her eyes as she smiled. “I’d like that!” she agreed. Greeting cards were purchased on canteen, which was unreliable. Never wanting to miss a special day for my children I’d learned to buy many in advance. I wrote her birthday on the paper along with her name and OID.

Standing again I surveyed the classroom. Twenty women busied themselves with work. Tapping my pencil I thought. Then I headed for the next student. “Kari, when is your birthday?”

‘Maybe I can’t make a good birthday for myself,’ I thought, ‘But I can help someone else.’ Soon I began keeping careful notes on a calendar in my room, and birthday cards became a regular canteen purchase.

 A few weeks had passed since I’d added Tiffani to my prayer list. Since added back to our class, I now saw her every day. This gave me the chance to discover how I could pray for her better. As I did so I found something interesting begin to happen. I began to care. Instead of wanting her to go away I wanted her to feel better. I prayed for her to get better. I cared about the outcome.

Anger, however, remained a problem for me. When I’d first arrived to prison my anger had been so acute I’d woken roommates in the middle of the night by swearing loudly in my sleep. I had nightmares of conflict and pain. I was ignorant of the fact that I had a rage problem, though. Once, many years earlier I had read that depression can manifest as anger. That resonated with me. I was not sad, but mad, so mad I felt paralyzed into inaction.

I didn’t realize how severe my rage was until given an anti-psychotic as a medication booster. This med was used to increase the effectiveness of my anti-depressant. I did feel better. I also stopped having angry nightmares and swearing loudly in my sleep. Then I learned it was an anti-psychotic and connected the dots.

There was one big problem. This extra medication had serious side effects, causing me to have tremors. Reluctantly I had stopped taking it years before, and the rage returned. Rage seemed to me less an emotion than a state of being. It didn’t feel like a constant emotion, but it was ever ready to explode onto the scene.

During my married life I’d thrown dishes and cell phones, stormed out of rooms, stomped out of the house, and worse. Often anger felt good, energizing. I didn’t realize how empowering I believed anger to be.

Sitting on my bed after work I read the Bible as I waited for dinner. I was reading the New Testament again. I came to these verses and after a quick scan I skipped them, then stopped…

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Ephesians 4:31

I had ignored this at first because it sounded unreasonable. I was willing to try; I’d been trying for decades! It was impossible. Now I reevaluated. Just like honoring my parents, this must be doable or it wouldn’t be in here. I was learning I don’t do the work, God does.

I re-read it and considered. I reviewed all the blessings God had given me this year. I compared this to my life previously. No! I could not go back to that! I was desperate to keep God, certain now that I needed Him. This verse said I cannot have God and my rage too. I closed my eyes to pray.

This year had been very unusual for me, but God was about to set off rockets. I had no idea. I began to pray, unsuspecting. My plan was simple – just admit to God that I’d read this verse and understood I had to choose- Him or my anger. I wanted to tell Him that I needed Him. I did not know how to get rid of my anger, but I understood the choice, and I choose Him. I said that all to Him.

I thought this would be like when I asked God for help understanding how to honor my parents. I’d ask often and slowly learn, trusting Him for answers. Before I could open my eyes, however, the room lit up like the brightest day. My eyes were closed, but I saw it through my eyelids. Before I could wonder about that an enormous weight lifted from me, and great pain disappeared from my body. Immediately I knew this weight and pain had always been with me. I’d become so used to it I didn’t notice.

Now that this weight and pain were gone I felt staggered. Imagine having a migraine for 30 years and then immediate relief. It was like that. It sucked my breath away. At once I realized rage had been a physical presence in me, and it was gone. I could tell because I’d occasionally experienced mild relief from some medications. I knew what it could be like. This however, was a total cure like I’d never experienced before.

My eyes snapped open in wonder and shock. Like a physically ill patient suddenly better I wanted to test the cure. Mentally, tentatively, I explored the sore spots in my mind. I prodded the once angry, easily irritated places. I was ready for immediate relapse. I had not asked for nor expected an immediate answer from God. In fact, if you’d asked me prior I might have told you I doubted God did such things.

Now I sat wonderingly, in awe. I lifted my arms, watching my hands, curious to see if anything else was different. Confidence was slowly bleeding through me, certain of God’s work. A fatally wounded body knows it’s dying. A person cured knows the illness is gone! I KNEW. I also knew God’s cures are permanent.

I ran to the phone again, curious to see how this would work when things got tough. Let’s dive into the deep end of the pool!

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to experience the most difficult year of my life. While I might get angry in the future, however, my rage, which had been a constant burden, never returned.

Listener, do you suffer from bitterness, indignation, or resentments? Do you hold on to your hurts to feel better? Does letting go of them sound like an even greater violation? Have you tried to let go of the pain only to have it return?

The Bible says in Ephesians 4

31 Let all bitterness and indignation and wrath (passion, rage, bad temper) and resentment (anger, animosity) and quarreling (brawling, clamor, contention) and slander (evil-speaking, abusive or blasphemous language) be banished from you, with all malice (spite, ill will, or baseness of any kind).

Have you tried to let go of things before? Was it difficult, impossible?

The Bible tells us in Matthew that

25 … the disciples … were utterly puzzled (astonished, bewildered), saying, Who then can be saved [from eternal death]?

26 But Jesus looked at them and said, With men this is impossible, but all things are possible with God. Matthew 19:25-26

The Bible talks often about salvation, mentioning it hundreds of times. Jesus’ very name, which is Yeshua in it’s original Hebrew, literally means ‘to save or deliver.’

The angel Gabriel told Joseph,

21 She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus [the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, which means Savior], for He will save His people from their sins [that is, prevent them from failing and missing the true end and scope of life, which is God]. Matthew 1:21

What is salvation? Is it merely forgiveness? It is not. It is something greater. It is one thing to forgive a person of a sin. It’s another thing altogether to rescue them from the wrong thinking or behaviors that caused them to need forgiveness in the first place. This rescue is what Jesus tells us is possible with God.

bitterness, rage, and resentments need forgiving, yes. We also need saving from these negative behaviors! Rescue! Jesus tells us it is impossible on our own, but possible with God.

Let’s ask Him for help today!

Dear Jesus, please forgive us for our sins today. We ask for salvation from these sins. Please correct our wrong thoughts and actions. Heal our minds and relationships today. Amen

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