When you feel Shame

Ch. 4 from Amber O’Brien’s book Love.Always.Wins.

Sometimes an earthly example —such as that of a criminal before
a judge— might help explain one of the most overwhelmingly,
incredible, and mind-blowing spiritual truths.
Imagine that you are about to go before a Great Judge. You have been
apprehended, and you must give an account for any wrongs committed
during your lifetime.
In private, you meet with your attorney and you confess all that you have
At the scheduled time, your attorney, who acts as your most important
advocate, appears before the judge, and states your case: “Your Honor…
yes, I agree, she is guilty as charged.”
Your mouth drops open, and your eyes widen with fear. You stand shocked,
feeling betrayed. “What?!! I thought that you were here to defend me?” You
scream, turn red, and fall on the floor, “Why don’t you help me?!!”
If the illustration stopped here, then we would all be without hope, but…
What if we caught hold of the heavenly picture given to us in God’s Word?
Now imagine that you are sitting with your advocate, Jesus, before the Great
Judge, God, whose role is to make sure that Heaven remains holy and perfect
with no sin, sickness, or sadness.
“Your Honor… yes, I agree. If she came to our heavenly home, then her sin
would ruin it. I concur with you that she deserves the death penalty, and
that she should spend eternity in Hell. She is guilty as charged, and justice
demands that she die as a consequence.”As this spiritual court holds greater authority than any earthly court, you
crumble under the hopelessness of the crushing verdict. Plummeting to the
ground, you sob, and cover your tear-stained face.
But finally, when you manage to look up, you realize what you could have
never expected. Pure, hot holiness flows from your advocate’s eyes, and blinds
you with an indescribable love. He stands and declares boldly, “I have taken
your death sentence for you. I love you, and I want you to spend eternity in
Heaven with Me where there is no sin.”
Then He asks, “Will you let Love stand in your place?”
Overcome with joy and tears all at once, you cry, “Thank you… Oh, Jesus!
Thank you so much! I will! I do! Yes! I believe You.”
In an instant, you notice that the handcuffs and shackles of all your past
wrong-doing falls from your arms and your legs. You are free!
Jesus kneels to embrace you. He calls you a child of God, a family member, a
He lifts you up and renames you ‘princess.’ Now, you are a flawless, beautiful,
and restored daughter of the King of Kings.
Hand in hand, you and your heavenly advocate dance out of the courtroom
as you hear the judge in the distance pronounce:
“Not Guilty.”

The Garden of Paradise
~~Sometimes Love Means Losing Count~~
While no one would describe me as having a green thumb, I do know some
gardening basics:
Water the plants early in the morning before the hot sun comes out,
Prune dead branches to let the sunshine in, and
Pull a few weeds every morning so that your beautiful flowers are not
Gardening requires daily, steadfast attention, as is necessary for any relationship. In a similar way, God invites us to co-garden our hearts with Him
personally, every day.
Living in community might give us a glimpse into someone else’s garden. It
can get complicated if we peek over the hedge and jump to judgments about
what should be done about someone’s plant (or, a weed) that we notice.
I carried a regret for years when I reacted too quickly to a situation where I
did not have all of the facts.
It all began when I overheard talk of a friend’s major life choice that I quickly
labeled as a huge mistake. Instead of taking the time to call her, and to listen,
my quick assumption added to her painful stress. It had been a tough time in
her life, and she’d had to make monumental decisions. I lacked information,
and did not understand her whys.
The situation grew even worse when I left her a passionate voicemail pleading
with her to change her mind. Instead of coming alongside her to understand,
to hold her hand, to comfort her, or to assist her in any practical way, I stood
at a distance and drew conclusions.
Our friendship died.
Weeks later, continuing to think about her, I decided to send a quick apology.
I hoped that she would hear my perspective. But still, I had not heard hers.
Mother Teresa wisely said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love
For a couple of years, this corner of my garden lay barren, wrapped up with
the weeds of my own self-righteousness, pride, and regret. This small area
lay neglected because I did not invite Jesus into it during our gardening dates
in the cool of each morning.
It was only after much time had passed since my insensitive responses that I
wrote a true letter of apology. With more life experience, I realized my wrong.
I felt truly sorry, and told her so. This time I made no excuses.
Then, I waited. And waited. And waited. For a reply. Two weeks seemed like
an eternity.
The day finally came that I opened up the mailbox and saw the pink envelope
with her name in the return address. “I received your kind words, Amber.
I just want you to know that I forgive you, and I love you. God knows
everything about it, and He loves us both,” I read.
Collapsing into a nearby chair, I soaked in the refreshing, life-giving words.
Grateful tears began to flow down my cheeks as I thanked God for helping
us… He enabled me to write a sincere apology, and then He helped my friend
to gracefully forgive me.
How can I describe the relief which I felt when I saw these generous words?
Like a fresh rain in springtime, they watered the dry garden of my heart.
These actions pulled up the weeds of regret leaving holes in the dirt that
God could now cover with His liquid love. What could be a sweeter gift
than a friend’s undeserved forgiveness? What is more beautiful than a freshly
weeded and watered garden?
The result encouraged me about the importance to never stop weeding, and
watering, and nurturing the garden in my heart.

Not long after, a different situation arose that caused me to realize that
another corner of my garden had a great need of tending. This time, though,
it was me that needed to pull up the bitter root of unforgiveness.
While in front of my computer early one morning, a former trusted friend
messaged me. She requested a meeting, implying that she might want to
reconnect again. I felt conflicted.
Years before, this person and I had separated for good reason. She had
betrayed me, and had left only heartache in her place.
Now she wanted to meet at a local restaurant. How should I reply? I decided
to accept. I missed her, and I truly wanted to hear what she had to say. I
had a tender softness for her because I’d mentored her, and understood her
difficult situation.
However, I continued to wrestle with how this interaction might go. In my
mind, I played out a conversation and determined what I thought should
happen, adding, “God, she had better take responsibility for what she did!
She needs to show how sorry she is!” I thought that certainly she might, at
least, shed some tears.
A portion of scripture pierced my heart as I drove down the highway the next
day: “Love does not keep a record of wrongs.”
Ouch! Immediately, I caught a glimpse of the list I had held in my mind of all
the ways in which she had wronged me. Her selfish choices had been like a
surprising, stinging downpour that caused mulch to scatter everywhere in a
yard after a storm.
I wanted her to feel my pain. I wanted her to grovel. I wanted her to show
me that she “got it.”
It now occurred to me that I was not yet ready to fully forgive. I realized
I needed to pray and ask God to help me more in this process before our
scheduled lunch.
Shifting from my laser focus on her shortcomings, I redirected my thoughts
to how I had mentored her and loved her like a daughter. That is why her
betrayal hurt so much. I focused on all of her beautiful qualities, and on
how helpful she had been in so many tough situations because of her calm
Then I imagined how hard it might be for her to meet with me. She must be so
The story of the prodigal son became my source for instruction. The father
had not waited for his son to fall on his knees in front of him and to show
visible anguish. Instead, the father ran out to greet him, and even had a gift (a
ring) ready for him. The father connected the dots that his son’s decision to
walk toward home showed a change of heart.
With this idea in mind, I picked out a special bracelet to give her, and I grew
eager for our meeting. In the meantime, I prayed for her, and focused on the
positive memories from our past times together.
By the time the actual meeting took place, the need to go into detail about the
reasons we’d parted ways seemed of little importance. Our conversation
flowed, and we caught up on each other’s lives. By the end, she simply
confided, “It’s been hard, but I’ve made a lot of changes over the past couple
of years since I saw you last.”
“I know,” I gently answered.
We returned to our reminiscing, and shared pictures of our families.
That day, a poisonous weed of unforgiveness that had been in my heart had
been pulled up, roots and all. The newly tended soil gave opportunity for
God to restore our relationship in the days to come.
Months later, I received an unexpected card in the mail from her that
contained the words I’d originally hoped to hear. Although her actions
had already spoken them, she shared her precious thoughts in writing. She
communicated how grateful she was to now be a part of my life again, and
also, how forever sorry she is for her past mistakes.
My eyes grew misty as I read this letter of acknowledgment —a letter so
much sweeter now that I did not require it.

Who Will Fill the Hole? Poem by Amber O’Brien

I should have used my ‘big girl voice,’
I should have said, “Will you please fill the hole?” as the family
Packed up their plastic toys and shovels.
For I knew what they did not; for
A hole left open can lead to heartache.
Years before a woman on a nearby shore stumbled in the dark,
And she fell into a neglected hole;
She couldn’t climb out and she soon fell asleep.
Early the next morning a sand-cleaning machine
Pushed the sand over her and
She. Was. Buried. Alive.
The reporter urged the viewers, “to please fill in the holes,”
After scooping sand, and sculpting castles.
But, there are some gaps we cannot fill up,
On. Our. Own.
I thought of my own mistakes:
As a mother. As a friend.
As a sister, a daughter, a wife,
Would my regrets ever end?
So many pits, so many pangs of remorse.
How many people have fallen into the holes that I’ve dug,
With clenched fists of selfish pride and fear?
Or, on the other hand,
How many people have hurt me, and bore huge holes in my own heart?
But I worsened my wounds with unforgiveness and
Allowed the gaping holes to fester with self-pity.
This huge hole left in the sand in front of me
represented all my failures, and
I sat anxiously in my beach chair pondering what to do.
I didn’t have a shovel,
Or the strength…
for I now finally comprehended that,
All these holes together formed a Grand Canyon-sized chasm that separated
me from holy heaven.
Who will fill the hole?
Downhearted and distressed,
I grievously gazed at the ginormous gulf,
Paralyzed with despair.
Who can fill the hole?
Then a lifeguard,
Wearing a blood-red tank top,
With a white cross sealed over his chest,
Climbed down from his high white stand,
Kneeled in the sand, and
With his open, bare hands,
He gently, and carefully, pushed the sand from the rough edges,
And He. Filled. The. Hole.

Ch. 3
Discussion questions for those who want to delve deeper:

  1. Have you ever been to court before? Did your lawyer defend you? Did you
    plead guilty, or not guilty?
  2. Read slowly I John 4:7-21. Where does love come from?
  3. Why is Jesus the perfect mediator? Read 1 John 1:8-10 and 2:1-2. Why is
    being honest about ourselves to God necessary?
  4. Why is it so hard to forgive others? Let us look to Jesus who prayed these
    words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they
    are doing” (Luke 23:34).
  5. Describe the process that you use to forgive. For example, the author
    sometimes finds it helpful to write a letter to someone who has hurt her, and
    then to rip it up. Next, she writes down ten good characteristics about the
    person in order to gain perspective. What helps you to root out unforgiveness?
  6. The poem Who Will Fill the Holes? is a modern twist on Revelation 5:1-10
    which says, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” Why?
  7. Read 1 Peter 4:8. What soothes the wounds that others cause? Is there
    someone who needs you to gently cover them with forgiveness? Or, do you
    need to forgive and show compassion to yourself?

Time for Dessert
Close your eyes, and imagine Jesus earnestly praying for you:
“Father forgive her, she knows not what she does.”
Now picture those wounded hands embracing you tightly
with a warm, long, and strong hug.
And then… the Holy One takes off his pure white robe of righteousness,
and wraps it around you.
How do you respond to Him?