When life knocks you down... Get back up!

An Interview with Sheryl Giesbrecht,
Author of Get Back Up
Did you know it is possible to survive a freefall from the Willis Tower in Chicago or a skydive with a failed parachute? It will hurt, and it will take some time to heal, but it is possible. Our lives can be a lot like that freefall, but we can survive whatever challenges God puts in front of us if we just get back up. In Get Back Up: Trusting God When Life Knocks You Down (Wheatmark/March 2013/ISBN: 978-1-60494-854-7/$ 12.95/also available in e-book), Sheryl Giesbrecht shares her personal story of triumph over tragedy to help readers understand they can not only survive their adversities, but thrive.

Q: For most authors, one defining experience drives them to write their book. You’ve actually faced many obstacles that would have kept most people down for the count. Can you share with us about a difficult time in your life when you had to trust in God and Get Back Up?

Several years ago, I found a lump under my left eye; months later, the lump had tripled in size, blocking my vision. I was afraid and skeptical when I went to the doctor. I could see the concern in the physician’s eyes when sent me to another doctor, a specialist, who sent me to get further tests. You can imagine my surprise when two months later, after no warning signs, such as being tired or sick, I was told I had stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. As a cancer patient, I felt out of control. My life was scheduled for tests, surgeries, doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy, side-effects—everything changed. For a control-freak like me, this was very difficult. I chose to trust God, to place myself in His control every day. Psalm 73:26 says, “My body and mind may grow weak, He is my strength, all I ever need.” This was a daily choice for me. On days I was tired or sick from the medication, I chose God’s way and not my past methods of dealing with adversity.

Q: How did the words “love covers a multitude of sins” draw you out of a life of addiction?

At seventeen, I was deep into drug addiction. I stayed high as much as possible, trying to fill the emptiness in my life with the highest high or the cutest guy while my need for affection only increased. I couldn’t wait to move out of my parents’ home. My family pulled strings to get me a volunteer summer job at a Christian camp. The staff assigned me lists of chores, such as washing hundreds of dishes in the mess hall, raking piles of pine needles around the campgrounds, and even moving logs around the outdoor campfire ring. Whenever I complained or threw fits over doing my chores or smoked cigarettes and dope, the staff said, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8 [NIV]). Their words, repeated over and over, immersed me for two weeks. The staff didn’t tell me to change anything about my appearance, attitude or addictions.

Instead, they showed me what the invitation of love looked like. They were kind; they offered the true love of God without forcing me to accept it. It got me to thinking, isn’t my sin too much for God to handle? That thought plagued me day and night. Their words, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” straight from scripture, began to penetrate my hard heart and foggy mind. I began to believe God’s love could cover the things that held me captive to my addictions: drugs and alcohol, lying and stealing, promiscuity and drug dealing. It was finally clear: I didn’t need to clean up my act before coming to God; He loved me passionately just the way I was. One night in my cabin, I submitted to the overwhelming love of God. He had reached out to me, and I, a most unlikely choice, finally grasped His hand. His abundant love did cover my multitude of sins. I accepted the invitation to live a new life. The invitation was from God.

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Q: When we feel worn-out and spread thin, what are some of the ways we can best rejuvenate ourselves?

It always helps to remind ourselves what God thinks about us. We can do this by meditating on scripture and every person’s identity in Christ. When you understand your identity in Christ, you can successfully live the abundant life He promises. This is how one moves with the rhythm of God’s grace.

Another way we can rejuvenate ourselves is we should learn how to ask God for help. This happens by constantly maintaining conversation with God in prayer. In Get Back Up, I talk about the Mom’s In Touch method of prayer that has helped me learn to pray. God’s prayer book is His Word, the Bible. If you want to learn to pray, use scriptural prayers.

We can rejuvenate ourselves if we learn to nurture ourselves. This is very difficult because it requires self-evaluation. It may mean quitting several of the programs for which you volunteer. “Nurturing yourself is not selfish,” said message therapist Rachel Donaldson. “It actually gives you more energy and patience to manage all types of stress.” If you keep multitasking to a minimum and choose just two or three things each day that are realistic and tangible, you will feel successful and less stressed. Keep your calendar open, allowing for those inevitable family emergencies that would come up. During a busy season of life, when my children were young and their activities required transportation, I set aside about ten minutes every day for a prayer time or just to talk to another female friend by phone. Often my time of renewal was when I picked up my son from my sister-in-law’s house. Although she was my child’s babysitter, we became good friends, prayer partners and confidantes.

Q: Why do you think we tend to want to handle things ourselves rather than hand our struggles over to God in times of doubt, despair and disappointment?

Many men and women are wounded. They mourn in silence, yearning for freedom, yet they remain unable to acknowledge the love of God. They can’t bring themselves to reach out for the hand of God. Disabling circumstances sap their strength, often beyond their control, yet they don’t respond to God’s invitation to get back up. Why do some choose to live life in a state of numbness? Because they believe renewal is for friends, husband, parents, even children—anyone but them. Some think their damaged emotions are too ruined for God to heal. They don’t trust him with their pain. They need to see that the power to get back up begins when the believing starts. That’s what trusting God is all about.

Q: How does forgiveness and letting go of grudges play into us being able to get back up?

God wants to release us from our frozen state of bitterness to a graceful walk in the freedom of forgiveness. God asks us to forgive, but He also gives us the ability to do it. Consider Matthew 18:33: “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as had mercy on you?” (NIV).

Remember: Forgiveness is giving ourselves a gift, not giving a gift to the person we’ve forgiven. In fact, the person we forgive may not ever know we’ve forgiven him, but God will. Forgiveness is between God and us. Confessing our forgiveness to someone who has not first asked for it can cause more problems than it solves. Forgiving others should actually begin at the time we are offended, but it can still be accomplished even if the hurt occurred years ago—even if the offender is now deceased. Forgiveness is good for us!

Letting go of a grudge is good for your health. Grudges increase tension and stress, deplete energy, cause isolation and prevent old wounds from healing. Grudges steal joy, disrupt sleep and harden hearts and arteries. Such bitter emotions can even get in the way of prayers. Resentment keeps us in chains unless we recognize it as bitterness. Give up the grudge and our right to get even, and we will gain peace, sound mind and restful sleep. We can train our minds to refuse to keep score of the wrongs others have committed against us through the power of God’s Word. Remember that 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (NIV).

Q: Survival during a physical fall is dependent more on how you land than how you fall. How can we prepare to land on our feet when we fall figuratively?

We can prepare and plan ahead because we know it’s not if but when we will “fall.” We can spend time with God in prayer and in His word every day. In times of “peace and prosperity,” we might want to take a vacation from spending time with God. If, instead, we choose to put down our roots, we will invest in a huge spiritual return. So when we do “fall down” in the changes and challenges of life, we sense God is near. We believe God is just a prayer away and waits for us to ask Him to help us get back up when we are knocked down by life. God wants us to reach out to Him in times of difficulty, doubt, despair, depression, disappointment, disease, destruction, divorce, discouragement, domestic violence or death. God’s hand is extended to us. His will for us when we are down and out is to turn to Him and ask for a hand up. He asks us to lace our fingers into His. “God gives a hand to those down on their luck, gives a fresh start to those ready to quit” (Psalm 145:14 [The Message]).

Q: Why do we feel we have to clean up our messy lives before turning to God? Isn’t the whole point that we can come to Him as we are?

We are afraid of being vulnerable before God. Some of us can hardly stand ourselves, so we wonder why God would love or how he could possibly love someone like us. We forget the church should be a hospital for the sick. We measure ourselves against others around us, masking our pain and hiding our true feelings. This belief system is an addiction; it’s called perfectionism. If we read our Bible regularly, we find the testimony of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:12-16 is also extended to us. It reads, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” Now that’s a great example of God’s unconditional love!

Q: You are the Executive Director of International Christian Ministries. Can you tell us more about what ICM does and your next mission trip?

I love leaders. As a pastor’s wife for more than 28 years, God gave me a heart for women in leadership and showed me the importance of the role of a pastor’s wife. Years later, opportunities came for me to work with leadership training events involving men and women. Back several years ago, I was fortunate to get involved with ICM and now am on the full-time staff.

International Christian Ministries’ purpose is to serve the church by training, equipping and discipling its leaders. We focus on top-level servant leaders and exponentially expand our training through training leaders. Leaders are the influential gatekeepers who control what their organizations will learn. We utilize our influence and resources to train leaders at every level of a denomination or ministry. Our partners are Equip, Walk Thru the Bible, Lead Like Jesus and the Purpose Driven Church.  Most of our work is done in Africa, but we also train in the Middle East, Europe and Canada. 

I am leading an ICM team in spring 2013 where we will serve the African people in Kenya and Uganda. Our team will be presenting Vacation Bible School programs at orphanages. I will also be teaching a leadership training seminar. I’m so very excited and appreciate your prayers. You can keep up with our trip via my blog (http://sherylsblog.icmusa.org/), as well as Facebook and Twitter (@SGiesbrecht).

Learn more about Sheryl Giesbrecht on her website, www.FromAshesToBeauty.com. She also invites readers to follow her on Facebook and on Twitter (@SGiesbrecht).