Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Day by Day



Do any of you struggle with taking life day by day? I think it must be a pretty common issue based on the number of quotes and quips about living in the moment, savoring each day, and focusing on the present. There’s a definite balance to be had in remembering the past but not getting stuck in it, and preparing for the future but not missing out on the present. I myself have fallen into both of these extremes at one time or another, and doing that has definitely helped me to understand the importance of taking life one day at a time, not only for my own sake but also for others'. Think about it: if we were really focused on today—on the blessings to thank God for, the opportunities to serve Him and love others, the growth and lessons He could use to shape us—can you imagine how God could use us? I think that Satan likes to keep us distracted from the present by having us focus on the past or future because he also knows how God could use someone who is sensitive to the moment. So with that said, how can we grow in this art of living day by day? I’m glad you asked. Here is what I am learning.

LIVING IN THE PAST
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” 
~Luke 9:62
If you struggle with living in the past, I think the best remedy for that is to let go. I think this is an ongoing, conscious choice we have to make over and over:
  • To think back on sweet gifts and blessings we no longer have and thank God for them, but then accept that He has removed them now and walk willingly through the grief and loss with God’s grace and help. Psalm 143:5-6 expresses this well: "I remember the days of old.  I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done. I lift my hands to you in prayer. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain."
  • To learn the lessons gained from painful interactions or circumstances, but then let go of whatever bitterness, anger, or hurt we may be tempted to grip onto to protect ourselves from future pain. "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:13)
  • To acknowledge that we were disappointed or wounded by people and events, but then trust that God can (and does) use even those things to bring about good. The story of Joseph is an awesome example of this, but one verse in particular wraps it all up, when Joseph talks to his brothers after they sold him into slavery: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Geneis 50:20)
Isaiah 43:18-19 tells us, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” We don’t want to miss whatever new things God has in store because we are so caught up in the past. 

FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?"
~Luke 12:25-26

If your struggle is more in the realm of what is to come, I think the biggest remedy is to simply trust God, to have the humility to rely on Him and leave every part of your future in His hands. There are so many areas we can apply this practice:
  • If you are worried about having what you may need later, remember that it is ultimately God who provides, and He promises to meet your every need. Matthew 6:31-34 tells us, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
  • If you look to the days ahead and are overwhelmed by looming trials, grief, or challenges, remember that you don’t see the whole picture; you don’t know what kinds of mercies, grace, help, and strength God will provide to get you through them. Lamentations 3:21-23 says, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” God will give you new mercies for every new morning, perfectly tailored for whatever the day may bring.
  • If you find yourself distracted from today because you are caught up in making plans for success later on, remember that “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) We need to have the humility to remember that ultimately all of our plans may fail; only God’s will endures. I don’t think it’s at all bad to make plans and try to be purposeful in our time, but we still need to keep a sense of humility in understanding that ultimately God’s plans are the ones that will happen (which is really a good thing, since He says in Jeremiah 29:11 that His plans are to prosper us and give us hope and a future.)
Matthew 6:34 tells us, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Don't borrow trouble, worry, or stress from tomorrow. Just focus on whatever God has for you today and walk through it in His strength and grace. 


My favorite Bible verse that I’ve adopted as my life verse is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” I recently found out that “be still” is actually translated as the Hebrew word for "let go", which means that this verse is a perfect one to keep in mind in order to help us focus on living in the present"

“Be still (let go) [of the past] and know that I am God [trust me with your future].” 

 Let’s all try to remember to live this way and see how God can use people who are truly living day by day.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Sunday is Coming

Our church had a “Good Friday” service this year, and it happened to coincide with my husband’s longest business trip in almost three years. He left early on Sunday morning, and won’t be back until late Saturday night, and though the week has gone well—the kids have been well-behaved overall, we’ve spent a lot of fun time together, and nothing serious has gone wrong—by Friday I hit the point of emotional exhaustion. My heart was so, so lonely, and I was tired of holding it all together and handling so much on my own. I almost didn’t go to the service, I was so depleted, but it was the first Good Friday service our church had done, and I wanted to be part of it. Plus I was honestly very swayed by the thought of having someone else watch at least my youngest (and at the moment, most challenging) child, and knowing I would have a little extra adult interaction after six days of "solo parenting". If my husband’s intense travel has taught me one thing, it’s to always take advantage of a chance to be with other grown-ups! So my equally tired kids and I all drove to church and filed inside, where one of the sweet teenagers gleefully took my toddler from me and brought him to the church nursery while I helped a visiting friend and her kids get settled. 
The service was very good—I was encouraged by the music and inspired by the video they shared, and definitely felt "filled up" by the time with fellow believers. The thing that struck me the most, though, was something our pastor kept repeating throughout the message: "Sunday is coming. Today is Friday…but Sunday is coming." He was talking about the grief, pain, and what appeared to be defeat that Good Friday held for the disciples and all who followed Jesus. Here was the Messiah and Savior that the people had waited centuries for, and who was supposed to rescue them and free them from all of their problems. But now, He was gone. Jesus was tortured, hung on a cross, killed, and then set in a tomb…and that seemed to be the end. We know, of course, that there was more to the story, and that in three days He rose again. Sunday came, and with it all of the joy and hope and victory of Easter. But the disciples didn’t know that. To them, Friday was the end.
Like those disciples, I feel the weight and pain of “Friday” myself. My husband’s travel season is hard--I miss him, and I often feel lonely and overwhelmed—but more than that, I’m reeling from an overall time of grief and loss. It has been a rough several months, and I have so many questions, and so much hurt, and not a lot of answers or healing yet. I am very much in a “Friday” season, stuck with those first Christ-followers in grieving what I’ve longed for and lost, and wondering how I’m supposed to keep moving forward when things look so very hard. 

But…Sunday is coming.

Friday isn’t the end. Sometimes it seems like Sunday will never arrive, but it did back then for the disciples, and it always will for all who follow Jesus. Jesus rose again; He overcame death; He won the victory. And more than that, He is going to return for all of His people. He is going to deliver us and take us Home with Him where there is no more loss and grief; where we never have to say goodbye to loved ones, or lose companions; where we won’t have unanswered questions and will understand everything perfectly. 
As I write this, it’s Saturday. My husband isn’t home yet, and Easter isn’t here yet. I am right in the middle of waiting for both temporary relief and comfort from a lonely and challenging season, and also a time of celebrating my eternal redemption and rescue from every hard, painful thing. My heart is still aching; I am weary and lonely; and I am dreading the road ahead.
But, I also know Sunday is coming. That means that although I don’t understand now, someday I will; although right now I am filled with grief, someday there will be joy; although right now I feel intense loss, someday there will be victory; and although right now I can’t see how things could ever turn out ok, someday they really will—more than I can even hope or imagine.
So, friends, if you’re like me, sitting with the disciples on that Friday feeling defeated, hopeless, and unsure of how to move forward, repeat after me: 
Friday isn't forever. 
Sunday is coming. 
It really is. 

"So shall we join the disciples of our Lord, keeping faith in Him in spite of the crucifixion, and making ready, by our loyalty to Him in the days of His darkness, for the time when we shall enter into His triumph in the days of His light." -Philip Ledyard Cuyler


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

While I Wait


I've never been very good at waiting. I'm more of a plan-and-act person: find the problem, discover solutions, and implement changes...BOOM, problem solved. I'm finding, though, that with some circumstances, this just doesn't work. We can figured out the issue, find all the solutions we can, and start working toward change, but ultimately it's going to take time for things to improve...and that means a lot of waiting.
I'm finding myself in this situation right now, where there is really not much more I can do to move forward. I’ve been faithful in doing all of the things I can do in my own power; now I have to let go and trust God to finish it and bring about the changes, healing, and growth I need in His timing. I’m waiting, and I have choices to make regarding how I will do that. Here are the things I am learning and trying to make purposeful decisions about while I wait.
1. Will You Whine or Worship?
In church a couple of weeks ago I was reminded that there will always be things we have to do that we may not enjoy, but if we’re going to do it, why not do it right, with a good attitude? I hate to be the bearer or bad news, but we are all going to have to wait sometimes. God calls everyone to a season of “not yet” sooner or later, and it is in those times that we have  the choice to do it “kicking and screaming”, or purposely choosing to look to the One who has placed us  where we are for a very specific purpose; loves us more than we will ever comprehend; and promises to work all things out for our good.
There is an excellent song by Lincoln Brewster called "While I Wait", and it has really spoken to my heart in this season. The words convey a purposeful choice to still worship God in spite of the pain and unknown in waiting for resolution:
Deep within my heart, I know You've won, I know You've overcome
And even in the dark, when I'm undone, I still believe it
I live by faith, and not by sight
Sometimes miracles take time
While I wait, I will worship; Lord, I'll worship Your name
While I wait, I will trust You; Lord, I'll trust You all the same

When I fall apart, You are my strength; Help me not forget
Seeing every scar, You make me whole; You're my healer
I live by faith, and not by sight
Sometimes miracles take time
I live by faith, and not by sight
Sometimes miracles take time...
You're faithful every day
Your promises remain
You're faithful every day
Your promises remain

Though I don't understand it I will worship with my pain
You are God, You are worthy; You are with me all the way
So while I wait, I will worship; Lord, I'll worship Your name
Though I don't have all the answers, Still I trust You all the same

There are going to be many times when God’s timing just isn’t ours, and we have to wait for Him to come through with the miracle, healing, and answers we long for. In these times, though, He is still worthy of worship. He deserves our praise, not only for all that He has already done and will eventually do, but even for what He is doing in the waiting (whether we see it or not). So we all have a choice to keep our eyes focused on ourselves—on what we long for, how long it is taking to get it, and how very painful and hard it is to wait—or on the Unchanging One who is always worthy of our praise.
2. Will You Be Miserable or Make the Most of Things?
Until circumstances change and the desired answers and changes are provided, we can decide to sit around moping, grumbling, and depressed (yes, I have done this). Or, we can choose to find some kind of good in this waiting--or even better, create good in an otherwise very bad situation. I’m not at all saying this will be easy; in fact, in many cases it can be intensely difficult. The fact of the matter is, though, that grumbling about your circumstances will not make them change or improve any faster. All it will do is feed into your own misery and maybe even bring down the people around you. I’m not saying we shouldn’t share each other’s burdens or be honest with others about our struggles (just see my post on vunerability for more on that), but there is a difference between seeking support and help, and “venting” our yuckiness in order to gain sympathy or appreciation from others. (Yes, again, I've been guilty of this).
Instead of grudgingly “accepting” that things are just going to be bad now and waiting for them to get better, why not do what you can to make things as enjoyable as possible while you wait? Just this week I was taught a good example of this in my own life. The spring and summer are busy travel times at work for my husband, and he is often gone at least every other week for anywhere from 3-7 days each trip. After doing this routine for almost 3 years now, I’ve gotten pretty good about not feeling too anxious or upset by it. Yes, I miss my husband; of course the circumstances aren’t my favorite; things are definitely more challenging and tiring as a “solo mom”; and I am very much looking forward to when things ease up. I’ve grown to realize, though, this really isn’t the end of the world, and we will make it through this season. My counselor challenged me to take this one step farther: don’t just “make it through”, but make the most of it. She suggested I set up special things that are only done when Daddy is gone: unique meals, certain outings, little traditions, etc. “This way,” she explained, “the times when Daddy are home are good…and the times when he is traveling are good, too.” 
Someday my husband’s travel schedule will ease up, or he could get a less demanding job, or my kids will be old enough for me to leave behind so I can join him on more of his travelling adventures. I don't want to miss out on the joy and fun this season could have while I'm waiting, though! I want to make special memories with my kids so they look back on Daddy’s travel as special times with Mommy and not just a hard thing we survived but didn’t really like. What can you do, now, to make the most of the waiting time you are in?

3. Will You Tremble or Trust?
I completely understand the feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and dread that can surface while waiting. Whatever you are waiting for--change, healing, improvement, adjustment--any kind of delay can cause a lot of fear. The Bible even speaks to this experience: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” says Proverbs 13:12. I’ve had moments in my own waiting that I have crumpled into panic, wondering if things really will ever get better, or if it will always be “like this”. That fear can easily spiral into defeat and ultimately despair if we don’t battle it. The next part of the verse, though, gives us the answer in how to win that battle: “…but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” We can choose to trust that God will bring about what we are waiting for. It may not look exactly like we envision or hope, but things are not going to be this way forever; we will not be waiting and wondering for the rest of our days. Beyond that, we have ultimate hope in remembering and trusting that God is going to use every single part of this waiting for our good. It really comes down to that same lesson I myself keep coming back to: letting go (of our need to control, have answers, fix the problems, just be happy again)...and let God do what He wants to do instead.

“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.” (Jeremiah 29:11)


“We know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) 

Waiting isn’t easy, and can be very painful and humbling. However, when we are called to these times, I believe we will learn more, grow faster, and draw nearer to God when we make the purposeful choices to worship Him, make the most of the time, and trust our loving Father...no matter how long it takes.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Blue Ball


For the last few weeks I have gotten to be part of a Bible study with my mom and "sisters-in-love". We spend a few hours enjoying my mom's awesome cookies, drinking coffee, and learning about the Armor of God. At our most recent gathering, my mom's dog, Winston, kept scratching at a closet door, whining and crying. We asked Mom what was up, and she sighed and explained that he was looking for "the blue ball". Apparently, up until recently, he had a blue tennis ball that he absolutely loved, but he had torn it all up so Mom had to throw it out. She had given him some others, but the result was always the same: he destroyed them. Because of that, my mom decided to stop buying that kind of ball, and was hoping he would just be content with the myriad of other toys he had.

Apparently, she was wrong. 

Poor Winston was absolutely convinced he had to have that blue ball, and nothing else would do. He kept looking at us piteously, scratching at the door and whining. "Maybe if you let him see it isn't there, he will move on?" I suggested. So she patiently went over and opened the door, even lifting him up so he could see that the blue ball was nowhere to be found. She set him back down, leaving the door open, and tried to show him the other toys strewn throughout the room. Winston, however, wouldn't have it. He spent almost the entire morning sniffing around that closet, whining, sitting back on his back legs to look up on the shelves, doing all he could to try to find that treasured blue ball. He could not let it go, and let all of the other toys and treats he had available to him go unused and not enjoyed, because all of them seemed to pale in comparison to his favorite toy.



Seeing him do that made me think. How often have I been like that poor, sad little dog? How often have I received a gift from God that I truly treasured and enjoyed, and then gone into a panic when it's time to let go of it? I try to hold on, long past what God ever intended, and continue to search for it after it is gone, to the exclusion of noticing and enjoying the other gifts God has for me. How much am I like Winston, scratching at closed doors, searching in empty places for what I so desperately want, choosing to lay and cry in misery rather than looking around at the other sweet things God has left for me to enjoy?
My mom absolutely adores Winston, and has faithfully cared for him for his entire life, providing all that he needs and even a lot of what simply brings him joy. As much as she loves him, though, it is barely a shadow of how God feels about me--about all of us. He always cares, provides for needs, and pours out sweet blessings to bring us delight. If He removes something from our lives, it is out of love and care, and is something we can safely trust was for the best. So, let's learn a lesson from little Winston and make the conscious choice to simply trust God, let go of what He says He needs to take away, and notice the other things He's given us. I have a feeling He has plenty of good in store.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

For Every Season

Something God has been spending a lot of time teaching me lately is about dealing with different "seasons" in life. Sometimes we are in a time of hopefulness and new beginnings, planting dreams and watching them start to sprout to life, like in springtime. Other times life is as carefree and happy as summer, filled with happy memories and sweet moments, drifting along in a relaxed and peaceful way. Sometimes we are in a time of hard work and transition, vacillating between enjoying the harvest of our efforts and grieving the endings of things, as we do in autumn. And sometimes, we hit an emotional "winter" in life and deal with intense storms, darker days, or a "coldness" in our spirits. No matter what season we are in though, God has gifts, lessons, and purpose in each one. Here are some of the things He is teaching me.
1. Change Your Perspective
It is all too easy in difficult phases of life to shut down, "hole up", or just grit our teeth and muscle through. All of these responses have the potential to keep us from seeing all that God has for us in each season, though. As hard as it is, we can choose instead to live purposefully in each season, to avoid the very real temptation to escape or just survive, and put forth the effort to see what God has for us.
A few weeks ago one of my littlest buddies set a powerful example of this for me. Every once in a while I get to take one of my close friends' adorable daughters on a "date" with me to my dance class, and on this evening I had her 7-year-old with me. We were riding in the car together, discussing everything from Baby Alive dolls to the weather, and were just enjoying the company and conversation. Eventually we started talking about summertime, and about how much we were looking forward to sunshine and getting to go swimming and enjoy warm weather again. "I do love sunshine," she said happily. Then, after a brief pause, she added, "But I also love the rain. Cuz then we can splash in the puddles and have hot chocolate!" I felt a gentle prodding in my spirit from my Heavenly Father. "Did you hear that? Did you notice that perspective?" This precious girl had found a gift in something that most people here in the Pacific Northwest barely tolerate at best, and usually have become quite fed up with by this time in the year.
I smiled at my little friend and commented, "I love your positive attitude! It's so good that you are able to look and see something good, when a lot of other people just complain. But there are good things in every season, right?" She enthusiastically jumped on board, "Oh yes!! Like in the winter we get to play in the snow and go sledding, and then have hot cocoa!" (I think she really likes hot chocolate.) She got quiet for a second and then said, "We could whine about having to wear puffy coats in the winter. Or getting wet in the rain."
"Yeah, we have to choose to either see the good stuff or the yucky stuff, huh?"
"Yeah. I like the good stuff, though."
And we spent the rest of the drive talking about the best parts of every season, and what gifts God has in each one.
Like my wise little friend did that night on our car ride, we need to change our perspective so we aren't focused only on the difficulties in each season of life.


2. Savor the Unique Blessings
I am a total "snow grinch"; I really, really don't like it when it snows. It makes me anxious to be stuck at home, dressing my kids in their snow gear, and dealing with cold and wet and inevitable sickness that comes for weeks after the snow is gone. However, the weather where I am has called for a lot of snow lately, more than we usually get, so I have to make a choice: will I hole up inside, muttering and grumbling about how much I hate the snow until spring finally shows up? Or, will I be purposeful and try to find whatever good things I can in this season? On our last snow day, I decided to try to make a bucket list of things I wanted to do when it snows, things that we could only do in snowy weather, so that it was special and unique to this season. Just like that, we can make our own "bucket lists" of things we want to do in each of life's unique seasons.
Right now part of my season in life is preparing to say goodbye to one of my close friends as she moves forward in God's calling on her life. My "bucket list" is full of things related to that--savoring each moment I get with her, doing all that I can to support her and help her prepare for her big adventure, and finding ways to help myself and others in our group deal with the grief of this transition. The circumstances are not my favorite; in fact, they are sometimes agonizing. However, knowing I am doing all I can to find gifts and blessings in this time has made it so much richer and more meaningful, and I know it will not be "wasted".
We can do this no matter what our circumstances in life are. Are you in a season of isolation, unable to leave the house to be with others? Maybe a bucket list item could be to maximize the extra alone time to work on a project or hobby that doesn't lend itself well to lots of people being around, or to focus your efforts on projects around the house. Or maybe you have the opposite situation, and you find yourself stuck in your car a lot, in a season of driving all-the-people all-the-places all-the-time? Find yourself an awesome worship playlist, podcast, or audiobook and turn those hours of driving into something sweet and "filling-up". It isn't always easy to find the unique goodness that different seasons hold, but if you really pause to look for it, I promise you will always find it. Our God is so, so good, and that doesn't change just because our circumstances do.
3. Remember There is A Reason for Every Season
God uses every stage of our lives to develop us into who He wants us to be. He uses the good times to show us His love, cause us to praise Him, and sometimes to test us and see if we will still rely on Him when things are going well. And He uses hard times to grow character in us, strengthen our faith, and forge stronger bonds with Him and others. Those are just a few examples; there are so many other lessons, growth, and outcomes that God gives us whether things are going well or are so hard we struggle to even get out of bed.
Sometimes I believe God even uses seasons as a source of protection and preparation. I had breakfast with a friend a few weeks back and she mentioned something that really struck me. It was just after I had written the post on "blooming where you are planted", so the idea of plants and gardening was still fresh in my mind. My friend's husband works for a nursery, and she mentioned off-hand that they were worried about the weather turning warm too early. To combat this, they were placing the plants into a chilled, dark storage unit so that they wouldn't bloom early and end up being killed by the next frost. This hits home for me because the "winter" season I am in has felt so long and so hard, and I am longing for spring (both literally and figuratively). My friend's comment reminded me, though, that my Gardener knows what He is doing. He is keeping me in a dark, cold season for a purpose. If things get better too quickly, it won't prepare me for the next "frost" that could come around. Maybe the season you are in is doing the same for you, preparing you for what is coming up next, and protecting you from premature "blooming"? God never wastes a season. He has a purpose, plan, and perfect outcome for every single one. 
God tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." God brings us into different seasons of life for a reason, and He has unique lessons, blessings, and growth for each one. There are some seasons we will enjoy and savor and wish would never end...and there are some that we aren't sure we will even survive. We need to remember, though, that God uses every single one in specific ways, and each one provides us with things we cannot receive any other way. I hope you will each join me in trusting our loving Heavenly Father and looking to Him as we walk through each season, whether that means trekking through the trials and pain of winter, or dancing through the glorious hope and joy of spring.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Who God Is

Even after decades of walking with the Lord, I still find myself often surprised and humbled by learning a new facet of His character, or being reminded of what I already knew about Him in a deeper way. This actually happened to me again recently, when God used two of my closest friends to fix a false idea I had about Him, and to remind me of Who He really is.
It had been a pretty tough week, in the midst of an already hard season. Our whole family had been sick, and I was going on day 3 of being isolated and trapped at home with very little to do. I was lonely, bored, and completely "poured out" from ministering to 3 sick little ones (and a sick husband) while also feeling lousy myself. Thankfully, once Sunday came around, 2 of my kids and I felt well enough to make it out to church. I was so relieved to be out of the house, eager to get my heart filled up a little bit with worship and fellowship. The sermon was wonderful, as always, and I so enjoyed getting to worship God with my brothers and sisters at church, but after the service I still felt like something was missing. I was still feeling "wobbly" and wiped out, and realized I just really, really needed a hug from one of "my people", my close friends.
 Have you ever experienced that? An almost painful longing for someone to just wrap their arms around you and hold on for a moment? I've found that the harder my season of life is, the more hugs I need. I explained it to a friend once by saying, "Sometimes my heart feels like it's so broken that all these tiny pieces are flying around inside me, and I just feel so insecure and rocky; but when someone hugs me, all of those pieces get smooshed back into place, and I can hold it together a while longer." Now, I could have gotten a hug from any of the amazing people at my church (one of the reasons I love it so much is because all of us treat each other as a family), but in this case I really needed it to be from someone close to me; someone I had history with, and that really knew me well and understood me without needing any explanation for why I so desperately needed a hug. On any "normal" Sunday, I could get that in the blink of an eye, just by turning to one of my friends and saying, "Hey. I need a hug."
But this, of course, was not a typical Sunday.
I think maybe the intensity of the week finally just caught up to me. My kids were being crazy, it was too loud and busy in the space I was in, and I felt an intense urge to "escape". My friends were all in conversations with other people, and in the moment I just couldn't make myself interrupt them to ask for that hug I needed. I stood frozen by indecision for a few moments, torn between asking for what I genuinely needed, and also wanting to get out as quickly as possible before I broke down. Finally, I hurriedly gathered my kids and herded them out of the building and into the privacy and relative calm of our car. I sent a quick text to my friends to say goodbye, and then I drove away. And as soon as I left the parking lot, I burst into tears and proceeded to cry all the way home. I was honestly completely bewildered by this. I'm an emotional person as a rule, yes; but I didn't understand why missing out on something as "small" as a hug could have such a massive impact on me. For whatever reason, though, my heart could not let it go. I regretted my choice. I knew I had hurt my friends, too, by not taking time to say goodbye, and I felt bad about that. Needless to say, the rest of the day was not very pleasant.
Still, I told myself I needed to move ahead and just deal with the choice I had made. "You'll see them again later and can get a hug then," I reasoned. "You made the choice to leave. Now you just need to deal with the results." I didn't even feel like I had the "right" to ask for anything different. See, even after all God has taught me about Who He is, His loving character and grace, I still had in my mind that He wanted me to just accept the "consequences" of my choice and that it was wrong to ask for relief from that...for mercy and grace. Of course I see how "off" my thinking was in retrospect; it's almost embarrassing to admit I would let such thoughts linger at all. Still, that's the state my mind was in at the time, and it shows that even firmly "established" believers can fall into a false view God, and we should all be on-guard. 
I moved through the day as best as I could, and finally pulled myself together enough to go out and do the grocery shopping. As I wandered through the store aisles gathering what we needed, I was kind of in a daze, still feeling very drained and down. Just as I was almost finished up, my husband sent me a text asking which store I was at, and if I could go and see how much new pants would cost him there. I thought it was a little strange that he was suddenly needing to know this information, but I shrugged it off and dutifully went to check the prices for him. Every time I sent him a price, though, he asked me to check something else. Finally, after the 5th time, he decided he didn't want them right now after all. I was confused, but kind of laughed it off, and proceeded to gather the last few things on my list.
Out of the blue, two people rushed in on either side of me and I suddenly found myself squished into the best "sandwich hug" I've ever had. I knew it was my friends right away, and the reality of the situation hit me all at once: they had come to find me, just to give me the hugs I had missed at church, because they knew how much I needed it. In that moment it was like God whispered to my heart, "See? This is who I am. I don't make you live with your regrets because it's 'what you deserve'. I have grace and mercy. I don't leave you to deal, or let you run away; I pursue you with love." It's a miracle I didn't break down and cry right there, because I can't think back on this moment or share it now without tearing up. It was such a personal, powerful reminder of love from God, and gave me clearer insight into Who He is; specifically, three things about Him that I had either never fully understood or had forgotten entirely.
1. God Pursues Us
My friends took the time and effort to find me, and it wasn't a totally easy thing to do. They don't live very close, and while they were in the area at the time, they had errands to run and needed to get back home. They had also originally stopped at my house to bring me my hug, only to find out I was out shopping! Rather than calling it quits, though, they worked with my husband to figure out where I was and to keep me there long enough for them to circle back around to the store and come find me (hence why my husband suddenly had a dire need to know the prices of jeans at Fred Meyer).
God is like that, too. He is purposeful about pursuing us, doing what it takes to reach our hearts and show us His love. Sometimes I think when we hear that God loves us, we don't realize the intensity of that sentence. He loves us personally and actively, not at all passively. While He never forces His love on anyone, He pours it out willingly and seeks us out so we can experience it, and He gives it regardless of whether we deserve it or not.
 2. God is Full of Mercy and Grace
I did not "deserve" for my friends to come and find me and give me those hugs. It was my choice to leave church without saying goodbye, and while it wasn't necessarily "wrong", it was pretty inconsiderate. It would have been completely understandable for them to just wait until I saw them again, to move on with their day and leave me to go on with mine, but they had grace on me. They knew that for whatever reason, I really needed to be hugged. They didn't hold my mistakes against me, or leave me to deal with the consequences; they chose to overlook them and to give me what I needed, and that's what God is like, too. This isn't to say He isn't just. He still allows consequences in our lives when we mess up; and no, He doesn't allow us to get away with full-on sin. That would not be loving at all, and would go against His holy nature. However, He also knows our hearts. He differentiates between simple moments of weakness and full-out rebellion, balancing out whether we need to be taught more of His justice or His grace for each situation. He doesn't always give us what we deserve; didn't he prove that in the in the most profound way possible when He sent His perfect, sinless Son to die in our place? God is gracious, giving us what we don't deserve, and He is merciful, not forcing us to deal with what we do deserve. 
3. God Delights in Our Joy
My sweet friends were just as happy to surprise me as I was to be surprised. They were almost giddy, giggling over how it all worked out and how they got to "surprise hug attack" me. I kept turning back and forth between them, hugging each one in turn, and they just stood there and hugged me back, laughing and sharing in my happiness. God is like that, too. He isn't stingy about blessing us, half-heartedly "allowing us to be happy once in a while". I envision Him laughing when we laugh, getting a big smile on His face when we receive His gifts, and entering into our joy with as much exuberance as my friends did with mine. What an amazing, delightful God we serve.
I don't think my friends knew just how much that choice to come and hug me would impact me. They were just being good friends and having fun, but they represented such a powerful picture of God's character to me that day, and I really don't think I will ever forget it. What an amazing blessing it is, having friends that point me to God; and what a gift it is to have a loving, gracious, delighting God who takes time to teach me Who He is. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Agape

Every New Year for the last four years I've tried to choose a single word to focus on as a theme to help pinpoint my goals. One year it was "grace". Then "enough". Last year, of course, was "raphah" (let go). And this year? This year I chose agape-love, the Greek word for love used in the New Testament to describe the kind of love God has for us, and wants us to have for others.
As last year came to an end, I felt God calling me to grow both in my understanding of love, as well as how I express love to others. This was another word that frankly scared me and overwhelmed me because agape love is not the kind of love we may be used to. It isn't easy to do; it doesn't always feel good; it is an active choice, a resolve to do what is best for another person regardless of the cost to yourself. To be honest, I really don't fully understand the total meaning of this kind of love. All I know is that it is something I feel God wants me to learn more about and wants to see lived out in my life this year. I'm sure that by the time the end of 2019 comes, I will understand this kind of love in a much richer, deeper way, but for now, here are things I am hoping to focus on, motivated by this focus of agape love and what I understand it to be as of now.

Agape Love is Sacrificial

"Agape love centers on the needs and welfare of the one loved and will pay whatever personal price is necessary to meet those needs and foster that welfare." (MacArthur, J: Romans 1-8. Chicago: Moody Press; MacArthur, J: Romans 9-16. Chicago: Moody Press)

"Agape is the love that gives. There’s no taking involved. It is completely unselfish. It seeks the highest good for another no matter what the cost, demonstrated supremely by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf." (MacArthur, J. Saved Without A Doubt. Wheaton, Ill.: May, 2006. Victor Books)

To truly love others means we sacrifice for them. We think first and foremost of their needs, wants, and desires and seek to do what we can to meet them, even if that requires us to give up what we want. That means I stay home with my sick daughter and miss out on my weekly break time with friends, even if I have a babysitter willing to stay, because I know that my daughter really wants her mommy. It means I don't demand my husband spend his free time with me when I know what he would really enjoy is time to play a video game with his buddies. It means I don't get bitter when a family member cancels plans with me because another person needed that time instead. There are dozens of opportunities every day for us to express sacrificial love in big and small ways to others. This can be a big struggle for me, because like most people, my automatic reactions to things are selfish. I have to fight my inner desire to get what I want, to not be offended when my needs aren't met, and to not worry about if I will ever have what I need if I don't "look out for myself". There is a balance here, of course, and I am still trying to find it. Of course there are times when we need to be "filled up" in order to pour out again, and we need wisdom to know when it is healthy to seek what we need/want and when we should instead give that up for someone else. I think the overarching goal here, though, is to have an attitude of service, to desire to bless and help others more than we seek to just do what we want, and to trust that God will lead us in the right ways and times to do that. When we love in this way, we reflect the sacrificial love God has for us and help to point others to Him.
F B Meyer said this very well: "Wherever there is true love, there must be giving, and giving to the point of sacrifice. Love is not satisfied with giving trinkets; it must give at the cost of sacrifice: it must give blood, life, all. And it was so with the love of God. "He so loved the world, that He gave his only-begotten Son." [John 3:16] "Christ also loved and gave Himself up, an offering and a sacrifice to God." (Ep 5:2-note) "..every time we thus sacrifice ourselves to another for the sake of the love of God, we enter into some of the meaning of the sacrifice of Calvary, and there is wafted up to God the odour of a sweet smell."
Agape Love is a Based on a Choice of the Will, Not Emotion

"Barclay has labeled agape as unconquerable benevolence for nothing the other person can do will make us seek anything but their highest good and to never feel bitterness or desire for revenge. Though the one loved even injure us and insult us, agape will never feel anything but kindness towards him. Agape gives & gives & gives. Agape takes slaps in the face and still gives even as Jesus did saying Father forgive them. Agape is not withheld. That clearly means that this Christian love is not an emotional or sentimental thing. It is the ability to retain unconquerable goodwill to the unlovely and the unlovable, towards those who do not love us, and even towards those whom we do not like. Agape is the badge of discipleship and the landmark of heaven for "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love (agape) one for another." (Jn 13:35)." ~Precept Austin Website

“Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.” ~Paul Tripp


The biggest difference between agape love and the other forms of love is that agape love is a choice, a resolute determination to seek the best for the other person regardless of how we may feel about them in the moment. Agape love calls us to love not only family, friends, and those we enjoy; it tells us to love those who irritate us, misuse us, are unkind to us...hate us. Of course love looks different in each of those situations; I don't think loving an enemy means we pursue relationship with them, or put a lot of thought and effort into somehow winning them over. I think it does mean we wish for the best for them, pray for them, and treat them with kindness and grace regardless of how they treat us. This also means that we continue to love others even if they won't reciprocate our love, or never even recognize it in any way. This is the kind of love God shows all of us every day. There are millions of people that will never return the love God has poured out on them, and don't even have eyes to see the love He shares with them. Does that mean God stops loving them? Nope. He continues to show them love, pursue them, and want the best for them all the way to their dying day. There are ultimate consequences, of course, for rejecting His love. However, God never, ever stops loving, and He calls us to that love, too.

"[Agape Love is] unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill...If we regard a person with agape, it means that no matter what that person does to us, no matter how he treats us, no matter if he insults us or injures us or grieves us, we will never allow any bitterness against him to invade our hearts, but will regard him with that unconquerable benevolence and goodwill which will seek nothing but his highest good."...In the case of our nearest and our dearest we cannot help loving them; we speak of falling in love; it is something which comes to us quite unsought; it is something which is born of the emotions of the heart. But in the case of our enemies, (agape) love is not only something of the heart; it is also something of the will. It is not something which we cannot help; it is something which we have to will ourselves into doing. It is in fact a victory over that which comes instinctively to the natural man. Agape does not mean a feeling of the heart, which we cannot help, and which comes unbidden and unsought; it means a determination of the mind, whereby we achieve this unconquerable goodwill even to those who hurt and injure us. Agape, someone has said, is the power to love those whom we do not like and who may not like us. In point of fact we can only have agape when Jesus Christ enables us to conquer our natural tendency to anger and to bitterness, and to achieve this invincible goodwill to all men." ~William Barclay

Agape Love Is Impossible...For Us

So does all this sound tough? Yeah...try impossible. This kind of love isn't something we can will ourselves to do, practice until we get better at it, or accomplish at all in our own power. Agape love can only be manifested by God's Spirit dwelling within us. We need Him to empower us to do these things, because our sinful nature completely balks at it. This is the kind of love that Paul speaks of in Galatians when he mentions the Fruit of the Spirit: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23) The only way we can carry out this kind of love is to pray for the Holy Spirit to fill us up and produce the fruit of love in our lives. 
Pastor John MacArthur states, "We can only have such love when Christ is free to work His own love through us. We cannot fulfill any of Christ’s commands without Christ Himself, least of all His command to love. We can only love as Christ loves when He has free reign in our hearts...When the Spirit empowers our lives and Christ is obeyed as the Lord of our hearts, our sins and weaknesses are dealt with and we find ourselves wanting to serve others, wanting to sacrifice for them and serve them—because Christ’s loving nature has truly become our own. Loving is the supernatural attitude of the Christian, because love is the nature of Christ."

The website Precept Austin has an entire word study on agape love that is full of amazing (though slightly overwhelming!) information on what it is and how we carry it out. One section that explains this point well is the following...

"(It) is impossible for unconverted to manifest this divine love & in fact it is impossible even for a believer to demonstrate it in his own strength. It can only be exhibited by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. A believer has this love (divine nature) within (Col 1:27) and it is progressively manifest more and more as fruit by the Holy Spirit (Ga 5:22) as we obey God's truth. Agape love willingly engages in self-sacrificing action to procure the loved one's highest good."

To be honest, I have wanted to give up on this whole agape-love mission a hundred times since I first felt God calling me to it...and it's only been two months. This kind of love is completely foreign to my sinful nature. It scares me, it confuses me, and I really have no idea how to carry it out; but God has reminded me over and over again through His Word, wise friends, and worship songs, that this mission isn't really about me at all. It's really a continuation of what I learned last year: letting go of control-- knowing "the plan", being able to do things "right", and having success--and just resting in God, allowing His Spirit to fill me up and take over. That is absolutely the only way to do this, is for God Himself to love through me. And when I remember that, it takes a lot of pressure off and enables me to just be still and wait to see what God does. So, I'm giving this a go: praying for God to fill me with His Spirit and seeking to love Him and all the people He brings into my life well. I can't wait to see how He loves through me.