Monday, February 14, 2011

The Great Valentine...

I was awakened this morning by sunlight streaming across my pillow. I wanted to pull the blanket back over my face, to stay snuggled in the warmth of my mattress and just be a tad bit lazy, but I looked over at my husband and realized that I had purposed to get up and prepare his breakfast and pack his lunch box before he headed off to work. Out of duty? Maybe. Out of love? Absolutely!
That may sound a little strange to some of you who have always done such things to bless your spouse. Early in our marriage his work schedule had awful hours -- he left for work at 4:30 and I was not that -- ahem -- ambitious enough to wake and see to his needs. I was too busy being selfish in part. Maybe a little sleepy. Maybe confused as to how the mechanics of our relationship should work, being newly wed and thus new to surrendering my will to another as one. Over the last few years I have finally learned that his understanding of love - his picture of true love - was demonstration through acts of service, and I have tried more often than not, barring sick days, to be just that type of wife. The wife he needs and desires. I hope I am succeeding.

Anyway, I had wanted so much to be a blessing to Les on this Valentine’s Day, and so I shrugged off the warmth of the covers and my slippers plodded softly down the stairs into the kitchen to begin my day by being a blessing to my husband, and where I was immediately grateful that love for my husband had prompted me awake.

Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day anyway? The holiday started centuries ago, originating from pagan rituals of fertility until it was Christianized in about the third century. These days we don’t really relate the holiday with anything religious, but we do ascribe sentiments of love, usually giving choice gifts to our sweetheart. That was what amazed me about this morning…

You see - He sent me a gift this morning -- a beautiful Valentine's Day sunrise – as if I were His sweetheart. It was extravagant, punctuating the space between the horizon and the far reaches of the heavens. I have been awake enough times to see the sun rise in my life, but this one was exceptional in the way that He painted the clear morning sky with swirling shades of pink fading into the heights of the azure sky closest to the stars. It was such an awesome sight, this gift of a sunrise, and it made me stop in a moment of thanks and feel the blessing wash over me as gratitude for something so pure and lovely that is often unnoticed or taken for granted. Just like His love…

It’s true – there are so many days when I pray and I think He loves me and know He loves me and it is just a deep truth that I say when I thank Him for His grace and provision and mercy. But how often do I reflect on what that really means, that love? I would venture to guess that when I was first introduced to that knowledge of His saving grace, when I first understood what it really meant to know Him in a way that I’d never known before, like that intimate connection that is prevalent in the closest and most cherished of relationships, I probably thought about it often and dwelled on it and turned it over in my mind. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). How often do we hear it? How precisely can we quote it. But there is so much in that small verse…Such a powerful statement…He loved me. ME!

Sometimes it’s still such an astonishing thought when I think of the sinner that I am, selfish and always striving to be selfless, thankless and always striving to be thankful, never coming quite close enough to what I think I should be…impure and imperfect with little blotches of sin and stain that, though washed white by the Blood of the Lamb, still are visible to me every time I fail…I cannot always comprehend such love -- such unconditional and sacrificial and perfect and pure love. A love so great that it has no end.

I am reminded of Romans 8, where it says in verse two: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death…” Free. Love that produces freedom. I do not have to dwell on my failures. I am free. I am free. It takes a moment for it to sink in, for the simple truth of it to dawn on me once again, like a new revelation, only not new but merely rediscovered. Amazing. Grace. Oh! And after a moment, I realize it…Amazing grace. Set in to motion by His love…

And then in verses 14 and 15 we read: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Children. We are His children. Undeserved and selfish, but adopted as sons and daughters. Grafted in. Held in His Holy Hands. Adopted. What does that mean?? I think of my own adopted children – three daughters, two sons. How much I love them. How they are my own children. How I love them as much as I love my only biological son. Les and I have accepted them, knit them into the loving circle that is our family. Love….Again, that word. And I am adopted! Into His family. I am His child!!! I am loved by Our Father.

Verse 31 says: “…If God be for us, who can be against us?” What first comes to mind is His presence, always, that brings peace through His protection. His shelter and His banner, covering me with His love. Safety. Security. Peace in the midst of storms. I am reminded of the low points in my life when I was needed someone to protect me. How I often didn’t know where to turn in my imperfection for fear of being rejected. How there were times when I was scared and I didn’t know how things were going to play out in the drama of my life…How I needed a hero to rescue me from all that was tumbling around me. How I finally found all of that in Him! He became all for me because of His great and abiding love. I didn’t need to fear anything. He was there, carrying me through my troubles, bearing my burdens. Holding out His precious Hands for me to collapse into, weary with emotion and drained by life, and rest my very soul. He refreshed me. He gave me His shelter…protection. I was able to finally rest in His peace because He came to my rescue. Rescue...

Further I read, hungry and eager, the words filling my soul with truths that cannot be denied. I search. I seek. Ah…Verse 32 begins the beauty of it all – the miracle. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Gave up His Son…for us all. All. That means for me, too! I am not excluded. I am not forgotten. I am not left out of this great and perfect love. I am His child, saved by His grace, through the death of His Son. Grafted in and afforded His protection, His shelter, His mercy. Oh unspeakable and amazing joy!!! I think of my own children. How would it be to give up a child for love’s sake? Could I do it? Could I so selflessly let go of the little ones that I’ve raised, without hesitation? Could I bear to see their suffering, even while recalling all the precious moments I have savored and treasured in my heart? How could He do it? I look again at the words. He freely gave. For us all. Because of His great love for us. Oh, to really see that love, that perfect gift from the Father. To remember Him in that special moment and feel the truth of all these things sink into my soul…He has loved me with an everlasting love and I KNOW IT! My soul rejoices with this truth, this treasure that I hold to my heart and lock in there. I am loved! LOVED!!!!

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Need for Grace...

I open my Bible day after day and wonder. I read an article about His grace and mercy -- how it saved a man from addiction and sin, how it brought hope to a man condemned for murder, how it brought healing and forgiveness to a marriage scarred by adultry -- and suddenly I am so thirsty for it, hunger for it...I know I need it desperately. I turn page after page of the Book, seeking for the only words that can comfort me and give me hope.

I share with a friend that I am desperate for that grace, that forgiveness and blessed relief that can cleanse my soul and make me new again. I hear "How can you possibly need grace? What have you done that's been that bad? You're just busy." I guess on the outside, I look normal. I'm a wife. A mother. A member of the community. I go to church. The me that most people know seems okay. Everyone knows I am not perfect. I'm a little quiet at times, mistaken for shy in some situations. I have ideas that bubble forth that seem interesting. But internally I wrestle with myself. Almost daily. There is sin there. I know there is. Being a generally "good" person cannot hide it.

Not when I consider that there is no "sin scale" next to God. He does not measure a little white lie as a mere nothing and then measure taking His Name in vain as something far worse. No. The Ten Commandments are equal in value. God is perfect. He cannot live with sin. Not even what most people would consider something trifling. Sin is sin. It blackens the soul, spots that can only be removed through His Son, who gave His life to wash those specks and blotches and thick dark stains with the beauty of His blood.

It started in the Garden, when the serpent appealed to Eve and she and her spouse neglected to be obedient to the One who made them -- who blessed them with all kinds of beauty and treasure in that Garden. One tree was forbidden. Was it a test of their love for Him? Or merely a test of their obedience? Or was it a combination of those things? We should look to obey BECAUSE we love Him...Not because we have to. Because He did give us the freedom to choose...But Adam and Eve chose poorly, tricked and tempted by all the lusts of the flesh that we all struggle with daily. They were blinded to His Creation when they gave in to discontent, focusing on what they could not have rather than all of the things they could have.

It's easy to grow discontent when your main "job" is one that does not always produce immediate results. Being a stay-at-home wife and mother is harder than any corporate job could ever be. There are so many roles to embrace, not all of them "fun" or "interesting". I'm more a creature of creation than a creature of habit. I prefer to create beauty -- crafts, words, baking, anything -- than succumb to the drudgery of cleaning. It's mundane. Even when it gets nice results. But it's not my gifting, not my strong point at all. And we have a large family -- eight people in one house. That's a lot of meals, laundry. Cleaning. Hours of homework help. Juggling schedules to try to spend time with everyone.

I know it's been done on larger scales and smaller scales, but this is our scale. We had talked dreamily years ago of the large family we would have. And God knit together a wonderful family for us! Five adopted children first. Beautiful, healthy children. With emotional issues and some learning issues. Then one biological child. A happy child. Ironically the one who is sick most often. And two babies after that who did not have the chance to be born, but who we lost through miscarriage. It's been rough. I question and cry, even as I try to accept. And I lose my temper. Sometimes quite easily. It's hard to see immediate results in parenting. Most things you do for your children won't be recognized until they are older. It's a lot of work. Some people say it's a thankless job. I wouldn't agree with that, but it's definitely not one that always produces immediate results or immediate gratification. And I struggle with that. I like to feel appreciated and I even enjoy being thanked for what I accomplish. But...I don't do everything I should do in a day. And I stumble in my efforts to feel like I belong overall. I feel awkward when I talk to other women. Some of them seem to juggle their careers and their families quite nicely. Some of them do one or the other, but not both. I just never know what to say when someone asks how I am, because I think most of the time I go out of my way to step out from what I think I ought to do. But what I ought to do and what I actually do are not always the same.

I've discovered something. Finally. I wish I'd known it earlier in life. The world says that I can have it all. I know that I cannot. The world says that I can and should expect -- even demand -- "me" time...But that's not necessarily true. If I really want to embrace the role that I've been blessed to have - and often take for granted - I need to be selfless. To rise when I might otherwise sleep a while longer. To stay in and get things done around the house when I might otherwise go out and shop or sit at the bookstore or a cafe somewhere wasting time. To save money when I might otherwise squander it on something for myself. To forego the cozy chair and good book so I can help with homeschooling or homework or just participate in a family night activity. To run children to practices, games, friends' houses or even school, if the three who attend public school miss the bus, instead of staying in my nice, warm house. To forego a nice steak dinner for two out at a fancy restaurant in order to feed the whole family on our limited budget. To choose to bend to others' desires in myriad ways when I might otherwise choose to put myself first...

When I choose me above others, I am not putting Him first. I am neglecting the Greatest Commandment -- to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." (Luke 10:27). To live this out -- to put this into practice daily -- means being able to be self-less, even if the rest of the world is encouraging me to be self-ish.

And this is where I fall short so many times! The need for His grace, so that I can pick myself up and walk rightly with Him, is so evident, so crystal clear. And for that I am ever so thankful! Because it wasn't always clear. There were days when I didn't consider that I was walking outside of His commands, even while I was neglecting the one thing He was calling me to do -- to give up myself willingly, lovingly even, and pour all I had into serving others. And not just my own immediate family...There is a whole world of hurting, lonely, bruised and battered people who need His love brought to them through tangible means, and I had not realized for so very long -- for too very long! -- that I could be the one to carry that blessing, to lift up my brethren, to offer the message of hope and redemption, to show compassion and point toward the Cross as the ONLY WAY to find life...

No, I was too busy being judge and jury toward others who I felt did not merit my time and attention. I was too busy rushing to please myself through whatever means -- a shopping spree, "me" time...other things that consumed my thoughts and then my actions. The adversary tailored his trap just for me...He knew I had been pampered and spoiled and therefore expected certain things to go my way or I'd cry foul and get easily frustrated and give up my walk...I hate that he was so right...

Which is why His grace is something I crave. I cannot get enough. And the amazing thing about grace is that the more you experience it, the more you want to share it with others. You finally start to become the selfless person you were intended to be...Instead of hoarding that last piece of chocolate cake so you get your fill and fair share, you want others to taste of it, to experience the richness of it...To crave it for themselves and therefore seek it too. You find yourself open to His prompting to smile at family, friends, strangers...To give more generously of your time and talents and even possessions. To let go of the clenched fists so that your hands are open to the blessing. To want to turn your life into a gift for others because of His gift to you. To live the way He intended -- loving the Lord God and your neighbor. With your whole heart, no longer reserving any of it for yourself but offering it as a sacrifice of praise to Him, the Creator who gives grace. Abundant grace. Amazing grace. Merciful grace. Loving grace. Grace!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


We all have them...or so we think. We line up "must do this" and "have to do that" til we have no other time to do, well, anything...We are busy from sun-up to sun-down. Our moments are filled with the busy-ness of life. We rush in this hectic and fast-paced space we've carved out for ourselves and our family until, at the end of the day, we tumble into bed exhausted. And just before drifting off to sleep we hear that still, small voice that has been pleading for time with us...His voice. Calling. Beckoning. And we...

Well, we forgot. We simply didn't have a second to remember -- not with all of the appointments and errands and work, the raising of children and the cementing of marriage and the fostering of community taking up oh-so-much of our day -- that He wanted to spend time with us. That He, the Creator of the Universe, who knit us together and breathed His life and love into our very souls, wanted time. With us.

But it's too late, the day is gone, another day left behind in the dust where we may have accomplished much or may have accomplished little, but the one thing -- the most amazing and most important thing we could have done -- was left undone and lacking. We neglected Him. We failed to set aside a holy time to commune with Him. We abandoned Him to our own set of skewed priorities and "must do" lists and went on our spinning selfish way barreling along through the day and now, finally at the end of the day, we realize that we neglected the one thing, the very thing, that could have refreshed and renewed us!

Are your "priorities" robbing you of your time with the Heavenly Father? Or is He your priority?

I pray that you will set aside a special time to spend with the One who made you, who loves and desires you, who is jealous for you.