I am not a cheater!

Oh how my little girl heart has wanted to shout this for years.

As a teenager, working very hard on my 4H judging project, I was accused of cheating at the completion of my first competition. The woman that accused me was the county extension officer at the time. I said to my mom a time or two before this event even transpired that I thought she was out to get me, she just didn’t seem to like me. I didn’t understand why she didn’t like me, because while I struggled with peer relationships, I always seemed to get along with the adults without much trouble.

I waited for nearly a year to be old enough to compete. I studied, practiced, attended all the meetings. Judging was it for me. Judging was my ticket to college – to vet school – and I had to be the best I could be. I was studying both livestock and horse judging, and although the ag teacher at the high school said I should stick with livestock judging because they award more scholarships, I was determined to get one in horse judging because I love horses, and I knew I could do something I loved with a higher degree of excellence.

We made it to the competition and I was ecstatic. It was finally official – I could be on the actual judging team for our county, and I could put all of my study hours to use. Our team did very well, and I remember being over the moon about my individual scores. But a weird thing happened. When we got the official results, I had been scored separately from my team, and dropped from the team’s roster. I didn’t know what to do or why they would do that to me. It even hurt the team’s overall score to be without my scores, so it made even less sense when I figured that out.

My mom went to the extension officer to find out what happened, and she accused me of cheating. She accused us of it really. She said my mom had written my reasons for me, and had helped me prepare for my oral presentation. She didn’t believe that I’d done my work for myself, and she wouldn’t hear our side of it, either. I was off the team and told not to return to any future judging practice or competition.

We walked away from 4H. My hopes and dreams and plan for my future got left behind. I am a planner by nature and it was such a big plan that I didn’t know how to recover. Without a judging scholarship, I couldn’t afford school, and I knew my parents couldn’t either. Goodbye CSU, goodbye being a vet.

But who was I if I wasn’t going to be a veterinarian? I did not have a clue. But the accusations against me came on the heels of my parent’s own gigantic accusation and suddenly there I was being accused myself. It made me sick. And I floundered. My feet came right out from under me and I made some awful choices that led up to me running away from home. I still had no plan for my life, so even when I got drug back home, I floundered about. I felt lost.

When I first realized how all of this affected me so deeply, I wished desperately that someone would have told me judging wasn’t the only option for college. I wished someone would have grabbed me up and marched me forward into a new plan. I wished for a hero. And I wanted to tell everyone from that time in my life that I didn’t do it. I didn’t cheat at that competition. My mom wouldn’t even let me sit with her so nothing could be said. I had to sit by myself and do my work for myself. Because we aren’t cheaters and Mom didn’t even want to give the wrong impression by us sitting together.

God has carried me through a season of healing this summer. It came at a great cost and as a result of brokenness, but it is well with my soul. My identity wasn’t in Christ as a young teen, and I wonder if it would be now if I’d made it through vet school. My identity was in the fact that I was going to be a vet, and without that, I had no idea who I was. I am grateful, and humbled that we serve a God that gives beauty for ashes, that makes all things new, that works together all things for the good of those who love Him. What happened wasn’t good at the time, but it is part of my story that helps me depend more fully on Jesus.

I got to say to my 4H leaders recently that I did not cheat. However old that event may be, I needed to “clear my name” and tell them. I wouldn’t have stolen their countless hours of dedication and instruction and ruined it by being a cheater. They were both gracious, and don’t recall the event. Neither of them ever thought of me in that light.

But, as God has shown me about some of the pivotal things I remember, we have an enemy, and he is a liar. He saw an inch and stretched it a mile and I’ve defended the notion that I’m a cheater for years. I lay it at the cross now, the enemy cannot use it against me anymore. I know I am not a cheater in any sense of the word. I work hard and I work honestly.

Our God uses all things for the good of those who love Him (doesn’t mean all things are good), He gives beauty for ashes, He makes all things new. Where I stood wrongly accused, He has given me the ability to give people multiple chances. He’s given me a strong desire to stand between the accused and the accuser. I believe the best about people in almost all situations. He has made me merciful as a result of someone showing me no mercy and giving me no chance to speak for myself.

God is good, all the time.

New Year’s Thoughts

Seems that I have the same recurring thought every year for New Year’s Day, and resolutions, and fresh starts.

We all love a fresh start, a clean slate, a point to move forward and improve from. There is so much hope that hangs around starting a new year. I love seeing the hope, the inspiration, the motivation to do better.

But what if we started each day with the recognition that God gives us a clean slate for that day? What if we went to bed every night with a repentant heart, and asked God for His forgiveness, and we started each day new? New for us? For our families? Our coworkers and friends?

Instead of waking up, still hurting, angry, or disappointed by yesterday, we woke up renewed and ready to make the best of that day. I know that living this way is not a sure fire way to having 100% perfect days, but if I didn’t wake up mad about yesterday’s messes, how much better could I cope with today?

And if I asked God to forgive me every night for the specific mistakes I made that day, and woke up without shame, or guilt, but covered by His grace, how much more grace could I give to those around me? How much brighter could I shine the light of Christ to the world?

God gives us a brand new start every day…we don’t have to wait for a new year to start fresh. How much different could this whole year, and possibly the rest of our lives be if we lived in the peace, comfort and grace of a daily fresh start?