With a degree in music education, Rachel Howard is a middle grades chorus instructor who has a passion for teaching students about her love for music. In addition to inspiring adolescents in the public school system, Rachel is currently taking piano lessons and also enjoys photography, scrapbooking and Francine Rivers novels. A small-group leader at her church, Rachel leads worship on occasion and is currently enrolled in a women’s mentoring program through Broken Chains International (a Christian organization that provides Christian counseling and life coaching to individuals). In addition to these roles, Rachel is a wife and new mom to a ninth-month-old, Isaac. Rachel has recently begun writing here at Beulah Girl about what God is teaching her through her struggles – as a way to bring healing to herself and others. Rachel currently resides in Georgia with her husband and son.

How I Learned to Truly Forgive

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Has God ever spoken to you in a dream? While some dreams have no meaning or make absolutely no sense — probably most of mine — I can recall a small handful of dreams in my lifetime that I felt were truly from God. I believe that one in particular was used to teach me about the importance of forgiveness.

The dream centered on an offense that had happened about four years prior. I will not share the details, but it was a big one. An offense that the world would say is unforgivable. Although many people would tell me that they completely understood why I would be hurt, as a Christian, I knew I couldn’t harbor bitterness in my heart. I needed to be like Jesus. I had had several conversations with one of the offenders and had prayed many prayers about forgiving everyone involved. In my mind, I was good. But this dream told me otherwise.

In my dream, I saw one of the people who had hurt me. When I saw them, I felt my face and chest get hot. I was overcome with rage and began running towards them, screaming. Obviously, I hadn’t forgiven this person. But then came the even stranger part. As I was screaming, I started punching MYSELF in the face. Blow after blow after blow.

“Whoa, what was that!?” I thought to myself as I woke up in a sweat. Then I felt the Lord speak to my spirit, “You haven’t forgiven them, and your unforgiveness is hurting only one person … YOU. Let it go. Put it under the blood of my Son. These are the kind of things He died for.”

Jesus died for all sin. His death and resurrection was for all the penalties of sin, for the offender and the offended. To set us free from our own sins, as well as from the hurt and pain the sin of others can cause us. His redemption is for both ends of the spectrum.

It’s no wonder then that in Matthew 18:21, 22 Jesus explains to Peter that there is no limit to forgiveness: “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’ ”

The world will tell us that only certain things are forgivable. If someone crosses over the line, then we are to write them off as a person and to ban them from our lives and our love. This is not what the Bible teaches us. Should we sometimes set up healthy boundaries to protect us, our families, and even those who wrong us? Absolutely. However, we are called to be like Christ and to allow His love, truth, and forgiveness to flow from our lives.

Through this journey of learning to apply genuine forgiveness in my own difficult situation, here are a few more specific things that I took away and now try to think about when an occasion may arise.

1. Forgiveness is a heart issue.

Through my dream, the Lord revealed to me that I was still hurting on the inside. In my situation, I had “forgiven” these people. I had prayed about it, and even told them that I forgave them. But there were still wounds I was holding onto inside that became evident in my dream. I realized that I needed to “forgive from the heart” (Matthew 18:35).

This means that I couldn’t just say I forgave these people with my words and allow wrong feelings to fester. In all honesty, in my attempt to forgive, instead of dealing with my pain and anger, I had been simply pushing down the angry thoughts, allowing them to sink down deeper. To forgive from the heart, I needed to choose to let go of my resentment and bitterness and turn these thoughts and feelings over to Jesus.

2. Forgiveness is often an ongoing process.

Even after we have chosen to fully forgive a person, one of the enemy’s schemes is to remind us of the wrongs that others have committed against us at a later time. He whispers in our ears, “Remember what they did to you? They haven’t changed. How can you love someone like that?” When these kinds of thoughts arise, we have the choice to either agree with him or to instead align ourselves with God’s Word.

We must take those thoughts captive each time they surface and remember that Jesus can redeem anyone. Forgiveness is often not simply a one time thing. We have to continue to forgive. In every instance that follows where wrong thoughts arise, we need to challenge these thoughts and replace them with truth so that we can continue to walk in forgiveness.

3. Forgiveness releases Christ’s power and glory.

Forgiveness does not only bring healing and a positive change in our lives. When we offer forgiveness to others, we invite them into the same love and grace that we have found in Christ ourselves. We invite those around us to change by becoming a display of His transforming grace in situations that would otherwise be a mess. When we bear with each other and forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13), we will stand out and bring other people to ask the question, “How could you forgive something like that?!”

In my own situation, when I truly gave my offense to Jesus, He set me free to live in His love again, and to reveal Him in a mighty way. Forgiving my friend genuinely from the heart enabled me to be filled with love and compassion for them. And this extension of God’s love brought about a change in our relationship. Shortly after, I also noticed a change in my friend. Within a few months, we found ourselves in a place of full restoration, hugging, crying, and praying together.

Only my Jesus could do that.

Not every relationship will necessarily end this way. Sometimes people may not even see that they have hurt us. Sometimes people may feel that they are justified in their actions. Regardless of the response or outcome, our call to forgive is the same.

Knowing this, whether the offense is big or small, let’s forgive those who hurt or wrong us and allow Christ’s forgiveness to change us all.

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard

With a degree in music education, Rachel Howard is a middle grades chorus instructor who has a passion for teaching students about her love for music. In addition to inspiring adolescents in the public school system, Rachel is currently taking piano lessons and also enjoys photography, scrapbooking and Francine Rivers novels. A small-group leader at her church, Rachel also leads worship on occasion. In addition to these roles, Rachel is a wife and mom to two kids, Isaac and Evelyn. Rachel currently resides in Georgia with her husband and kids.

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Seeking Forgiveness When You Unintentionally Hurt a Friend

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (5)One of my best friends and I were working out at the gym together this past summer. We are both teachers, so summertime is the perfect time catch up on things we aren’t able to do during the school year. As we were both on the elliptical one day, we found ourselves in a conversation about friendship, specifically, when friendship doesn’t seem to go right.

We discussed our friend wounds. The times when we expected someone to invite us to an event, to reach out and give us a call, or simply to show that they cared more. The times when those things didn’t happen and we were left hurt. Then I began to think of all the people I have missed the mark with as well. And it hit me. We all have unintentionally hurt other people.

As our conversation continued, one specific instance where I had made a previous mistake with my friend Lauren came to mind. She was one of my dearest friends in middle school and high school. I have always enjoyed her company and gentle spirit. We did cheerleading together and had many sleepovers. We have had a close sisters-in-Christ kind of relationship, and she even asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. It was such an honor!

And then life happened. She was enjoying time as a newlywed, and I was focused on college and my boyfriend. Our friendship sadly faded into the background.

My boyfriend proposed, and we began planning the details of our wedding. (OK, maybe I did more of the planning!) One of the big tasks was to create our guest list. My initial list was around 175 people. As we looked at our budget, we realized we needed to cut down the guest list to 130 people. I went through the list several times and reluctantly removed several people. You guessed it: Lauren was one of them. And it has haunted me ever since.

As I headed home that day from the gym after the conversation with my friend, Lauren was the first person I thought about. I was heavy with regret and began to pray. I felt that I needed to reach out and apologize to her. I had thought of doing this several times before, but for some reason couldn’t find the courage. Well, not this time. I decided I was going to contact her.

We still kept in touch mainly on Facebook, liking each other’s pictures and occasionally leaving comments, so I decided to write her a message there. I finally apologized to her for not inviting her to my wedding, and told her how thoughtless that was of me. Thankfully, she graciously said I had already been forgiven. I’m so glad God worked that out! Even though we may not see each other very often, she is still someone close to my heart, and I would never want to hurt her.

Whether it’s on purpose, or a mindless mistake, we all hurt each other sometimes. We are a fallen, broken people apart from God. We need Him. None of us is excluded in this. He alone is perfect love, and He knows the way for us to be in right relationship with each other. Therefore, it’s important that we give our relationships to Him, the broken ones and all. He will mend them as needed. Here are a few things we can do in order to surrender our relationships to Him.

1. Ask God to open our eyes.

Ask God to show you where you have sinned against someone, whether you meant to or not. Take time to examine your relationships according to His Word. Did you say something that you shouldn’t have? Or maybe something you did was taken the wrong way? Or maybe, like my story, you hurt someone out of ignorance? Instead of casting the blame on someone else or making excuses, search your own heart and actions. Open your eyes to what has happened.

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If the hurt happened on both sides, don’t focus on their actions; focus on your own. Matthew 7:3-5 tells us, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

2. Take the first step and reach out.

Once your eyes have been opened to a relationship that needs healing, take the steps to reach out and make it right. Pick up the phone, write a letter (or Facebook message), or make plans to get together. Apologize from a sincere heart. Show the person that you care enough about the relationship to take a step of faith, even if it feels uncomfortable.

3. Trust God to bring healing.

Whether the restoration happens immediately or takes a while, trust God. Pray about it. Surrender the broken and the tainted things to Him. He is faithful, and His Word will not return void. He wants us to be in right relationship with each other, and “this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

I know there are other instances where I have wronged those around me. I’m praying that God helps me to do these three things as I continue to pursue needed healing. I fully believe that “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).

Let that be me and you.

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard

With a degree in music education, Rachel Howard is a middle grades chorus instructor who has a passion for teaching students about her love for music. In addition to inspiring adolescents in the public school system, Rachel is currently taking piano lessons and also enjoys photography, scrapbooking and Francine Rivers novels. A small-group leader at her church, Rachel also leads worship on occasion. In addition to these roles, Rachel is a wife and mom to two kids, Isaac and Evelyn. Rachel currently resides in Georgia with her husband and kids.

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When You Are Unsure of Your Purpose

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)

God made both you and me for a specific, unique purpose. He has a plan for every one of us, right? It’s something I have heard many times at church, youth retreats, and small group meetings. Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind, ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.’ ”

Well, let me be honest for a second. Sometimes, I am very unsure as to whether or not I am living in His purpose and plan.

I am currently in my fourth year of teaching middle school. Like many teachers, I decided to go into education because I really want to make a lasting impact on students’ lives. I have dreamt of being Teacher of the Year, being my students’ favorite teacher, and leaving a legacy for students and other teachers alike to follow. That way, I would certainly know that I am where God wants me to be … or so it seems.

Here’s the problem. I look at teachers around me who have gotten these kind of awards and recognitions, and I wonder if my personality and abilities are even comparable. I can be shy. I am usually not the most charismatic personality or the life of the party. I am not the one leading meetings, organizing the next after-school club — and probably not thought of as the “coolest teacher.”

Because of these “flaws,” I begin to compare myself to other teachers and come up with reasons why it sometimes feels like everyone prefers them over me. Why can’t I be more funny, like that one teacher? Why is it so hard for me to be organized, like that other teacher is? Thoughts of inferiority swirl around in my head, and I start to wonder if who I am is enough for this job. I wonder if I am in the career I was MADE to be in. I start asking God these questions:

Are you sure you want me here, teaching? Is this really what I am suited for?

What about all those days when I feel like I am making no impact … anywhere?

Perhaps I should look more into something else that I am interested in? Psychology? Photography? Or maybe I should be a stay-at-home mom because my family really needs me there? Maybe I would shine more in one of those things? Yeah, any of that sounds better to me right now.

How have You gifted me? How can I use my gifts here in this environment?

This is not a cry for an award or recognition or any change other than the one that I know God wants to do in me. I believe that God wants you and me both to better understand who He made us to be — uniquely ourselves, in Christ.

Here are three simple things that God is teaching me to do when I am unsure of my purpose and begin to compare myself to others.

1. Acknowledge your gifts.

Make a list of the things that you are good at. Focus on them and how you can incorporate them into most days, if not every day. As my husband has told me MANY times, “God placed certain gifts inside of you for a reason.” Stop discounting your gifts, and start using them.

Romans 12:4-6 tells us, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.”

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)

I may not be the most outgoing person, but I do care about people and enjoy encouraging others. I enjoy having real, honest conversations. So instead of wishing I were the life of the party, I will tune in to opportunities from God to encourage those around me. I will seek to speak into their lives the way that I know how, the way that I was made to. I will focus on my gifts.

What are your passions? They are usually things that you enjoy doing and that come naturally. Pray that God would bring those to the surface.

2. Be thankful for the gifts of others.

Instead of comparing yourself to others, appreciate them. God places certain people in your life for a reason. They may be able to do things that you can’t and help in areas where you fall short. Be humble. Be thankful for that. Maybe you can even learn from them! Don’t try to exalt yourself over anyone or prove that you are better. We are all on the same level in God’s eyes. He has made us each with a unique purpose, and no one is greater than another. Celebrate the gifts you see in others. Thank God for them and believe that He uses those things to benefit His kingdom.

When I see others around me doing something well, I want to tell them. I want people to know that I am thankful for and appreciate them. I am blessed with the opportunity to co-teach with someone who has been teaching for almost 20 years! He has a great sense of humor and knows how to relate to our middle school students. His passion for the kids and for music shines every day, and I am grateful to work alongside him. I hope to one day be half the teacher that he is, and God knows I wouldn’t be able to do this job without him!

3. Remember whom you belong to.

There will be days when your gifts and works go unnoticed. There will be times when you feel like all of your efforts fall short. And they do, when you are trying to do it in yourself. Without Christ, we are nothing and can do nothing that is of true worth. Jesus says in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” It is only when we are in Him that we can produce much fruit and live a life that will impact eternity. Let us remain in Him.

Ongoing prayer is probably the only thing that gets me through those hard days. Prayer helps me to keep my eyes on Jesus and remember who I am in Him. It helps me to “remain in the vine” and to focus on my biggest purpose — to glorify Him in everything I do.

Dear Jesus, I pray that you would help me to actively use the gifts you have given me and to not compare myself to others. Help me to understand where I fit in Your body. May I remember that, apart from you, I can do nothing. Amen.

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard

With a degree in music education, Rachel Howard is a middle grades chorus instructor who has a passion for teaching students about her love for music. In addition to inspiring adolescents in the public school system, Rachel is currently taking piano lessons and also enjoys photography, scrapbooking and Francine Rivers novels. A small-group leader at her church, Rachel also leads worship on occasion. In addition to these roles, Rachel is a wife and mom to two kids, Isaac and Evelyn. Rachel currently resides in Georgia with her husband and kids.

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What Does God Expect of Me?

What Does God Expect of Me

Earlier this week, a big Amazon package was sitting on my kitchen table when I got home. I knew exactly what it was. It was a brand new food processor I had just ordered a few days before. My plan was to start making all my own baby food, since my son was almost eight months old, and I was behind in giving him “other foods” (aka anything other than formula).

I decided that making homemade baby food would be a good idea in order to save money, and that I would be an accomplished, above-average mom. As I went to a kitchen drawer for scissors to open the package, I felt like I was supposed to be excited about it, but I wasn’t. I knew I wouldn’t be able to successfully do this. I knew I didn’t have all the time, energy, and drive in me in order to make this homemade baby food thing happen. I was defeated before I had even begun. I felt like a failure.

As I sat down for my quiet time this morning, my heart was heavy. My many perceived failures were piling up on me. I had a picture in my mind of the kind of woman, wife, and mom I was supposed to be.

I was supposed to have a perfectly clean house, a schedule of all of our meals for the next month, and all of our doctors’ appointments lined up for the year. I was supposed to be teacher-of-the-year at my school, go to the gym three times a week, and be up-to-date on all the latest fashions. I was supposed to volunteer in the community, serve in many facets at my church, and even be a leader of a handful of ministries. I was supposed to be an incredibly responsible, respectable, and put-together adult. I was supposed to have an organized purse and be able to create made-from-scratch baby foods.

The list was long and my strength was weak. Why couldn’t I be and do all of those things? Why didn’t God put the ability to accomplish these tasks more readily inside of me? I mean, a woman able to do it all is what would please Him and mean success, right?

With all of my weaknesses glaring, I cried out to God and realized something. I have been pressuring myself to be someone that I may NEVER be. And that is OK. Even better than that, it’s very possible that I have been wasting time and energy trying to be someone that I was NEVER SUPPOSED to be.

You see, as I got caught up in such a long list of to do’s, it was almost as if I was focused on being more like Martha instead of more like Mary. Let’s take a look at the passage to remind ourselves of these two sisters.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’ ” (Luke 10:38-42 –ESV)

Martha was focused on many things. She was distracted by them and trying to do, do, do for Jesus. Maybe, in a way, she was trying to be good enough for him. This is the trap that I have found myself in. I long to be a daughter that God is pleased with, and while that is a great thing, I had created all these things in my mind that He must expect from me. Things I thought I must do in order to be worthy of his presence. Like Martha, I was focusing on my to-do list rather than simply enjoying the company of the One in my heart.

Like Martha

There are a couple problems with this works-based mentality. The first is that my works will never make me good enough for him. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The second problem with me trying to do more for Jesus is that it takes me away from the real truth and beauty of Christianity — to be in a close and personal relationship with God because of what Christ did for me, not what I do for Him. To simply be in awe of who He is and to rest in and enjoy His presence, hear His teaching, and get to know Him more. And the funny thing is, time spent with Him is where I get the strength to do the things that He has called me to.

The world teaches us to accomplish as much as we possibly can and to earn our worth and acceptance. To be more like Martha. To work hard, and then we might be “good enough.” But that’s not what Jesus tells us to do. Jesus says for us to pause from our busyness and learn from Him. To believe that “in repentance and rest is our salvation” (Isaiah 30:15).

Yes, God has planned things for me to do, and I certainly want to do them. I want to glorify Him with my life, and I don’t want to miss what He has for me. But my hope is that I don’t get caught up in works. That I would not “be anxious and troubled about many things.” That I would be more like Mary and sit at the feet of Jesus.

Because resting in His presence will then allow me to clearly see the difference between the works He has called me to and the ones He hasn’t.

What about you? Have you become so caught up in trying to please others or meet your own impossible expectations that you haven’t been able to listen to Jesus lately? What is one way you can make time for Him today?

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard

With a degree in music education, Rachel Howard is a middle grades chorus instructor who has a passion for teaching students about her love for music. In addition to inspiring adolescents in the public school system, Rachel is currently taking piano lessons and also enjoys photography, scrapbooking and Francine Rivers novels. A small-group leader at her church, Rachel also leads worship on occasion. In addition to these roles, Rachel is a wife and mom to two kids, Isaac and Evelyn. Rachel currently resides in Georgia with her husband and kids.

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