Tag Archives: God’s love

Love One Another. Even Just the One.

“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us.”
1 John 3:23 (ESV)

love one another. even just the one.Photo credit: Alene Snodgrass

For the past several months, I’ve been intentionally asking the Lord to give me opportunities to love people more and to love people well.

He’s answering that prayer, though differently than I anticipated, I think.

It seems He’s answering in the simplest way imaginable (though it’s really not simple at all). By bringing just one individual to me at a time to love more and to love well.

He’s leading me to discipleship with just the one (or two), to praying for just the one who needs to read each blog post, to being fully present in each moment so that I can invest in just the one in front of me, to making a difference to just the one instead of one thousand.

It takes intentionality. It takes vulnerability.

It requires me to be all in.

It may not be building much of platform or making much of a name for myself.

But it’s showing Jesus to that one. It’s kingdom work. And it’s beautiful.

It may not change the world. But it may change that one.

And I kinda love that.

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
1 John 4:11-12 (ESV)

His Presence, His Arms, His Love

Some things really rock your world. Losing my little brother as a teenager was one of those things.

I always knew he had a heart problem. And I knew open heart surgery was a big deal. But I was young and never fully understood (or cared enough to recognize) the seriousness of his condition, so his death seemingly came out of nowhere.

Life as I knew it was interrupted and in many ways ceased to exist altogether. Normal was no longer a word with any meaning. Family was a term that needed redefining.

Everything needed redefining.

But eventually, I settled into a new rhythm. It took a long time to label it anything closely resembling normal, but the acuteness of the initial grief faded. Things that became different overnight eventually became less different. The deep ache that made it hard to move let up every once in a while, and then more often. And then quietly intertwining and invading without any fanfare, a new normal began to seep into the everyday.

It’s now been years since I’ve lived under the weight of just-get-through-one-moment-at-a-time fresh grief.

But some days…

His presence, His arms, His love

I didn’t expect simple things of no consequence to trigger such deep emotions. Grief can be so unexpected and beyond all rational explanation.

Ten years later, it can still break in with a vengeance and then fade just as soon as it swells.

Often completely unprepared for it, all I know to do is ride the wave of overwhelming emotions so deeply felt that I’m sometimes left knocked down and gasping for air. So I ride. I let it happen. I sit with the grief and allow myself to just be in that moment. To let the wave hit and break and crash and drift away. To experience the torrents of emotions as they come and then ease.

Yet even though it’s uncomfortable, even though it’s painful, there are few moments such as these where I sense a more immediate need and know a more intense desire to just sit with my Heavenly Father … in His presence, in His arms, in His love … allowing Him to speak truth over me and listening with a ready ear as my mind goes back there. To that night, to that hospital, to that hallway, to that room.

But at the end of the hallway, there’s the embrace I’ll never forget. The arms of strength that still give me permission to fearlessly collapse and release. The words that still echo in my heart. Not of empty promises or meaningless platitudes, but quiet whispers of love and grace and a sure promise of His presence.

Arms that weren’t letting go. Love that wasn’t going anywhere.

And in the arms of this Abba Father who so intricately orchestrates every detail of this life for His glory, who loves this child unconditionally, who sees the worthiness and righteousness of His perfect and blameless Son when He looks at this face, there is peace. there is calm. there is freedom.

Because even in the midst of the tears and ever confusing grief that ebbs and flows, His presence is strong, His arms are solid, His love is fierce, His embrace is secure.

Because in these moments He’s as close to tangible as I sometimes suspect He’ll ever be in this life.

Because I know this ever present Holy One knows, sees, and understands the deepest parts of my grief.

As I sit with Him, as He draws me near, as He holds me close, He grieves with me. We cry together. He is faithful to His promise. He is the God of all comfort and He is close to the brokenhearted.

And though it doesn’t make it easy, though the grief still runs deep and the loss will not simply be written off, there is hope in the midst. This world is not the end, this life is not all there is, and this earth is not my home. Because in the arms of this Father, through the sacrifice of His Son, there is the assurance of eternity in His presence without the earthly pain and grief. An eternal reality that far surpasses this momentary one.

I still find rest in His sovereignty and His goodness.

Grief doesn’t change that.

Yes, grief is hard and makes my humanity painfully obvious. But the Father’s promise to be close, to bear the load with me and for me is unchanging.

And in the sitting with Him through it, as He draws me near and holds me close, in the wake and the aftermath of the moments of poignant grief, the release and collapse into His presence, His arms, His love is strangely sweet.

“…and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)

“With Me”

with me

I don’t know when it happened. Or how it happened.

It certainly wasn’t intentional. I barely noticed it.

But somewhere along the way, as the future became less clear, as everyday life became a battle to survive, as my own selfishness became too prominent, I began holding the Lord at arm’s length – at a perceived safe distance. There, but not present. Close, but not intimate.

And in the moment when I realized it, as my heart sank and the tears flowed, all I could think was, “I know better.”

But that was just it.

The “know better” part of me gets caught up in thinking I can somehow do this on my own. That I can get close to God, do all the right things, build this relationship, and somehow win His favor, His grace, and His love.

And yes, my heart’s desire is to please Him, and that’s a really good thing, but when it’s born out of trying harder and doing better and achieving more, it’s all wrong.

I can’t do any of this on my own apart from Him. I am nothing and have nothing apart from Him.

And I don’t have to do anything to win His favor. I already have it.

The grace and love that I too often try so hard to earn is already mine to rest in and enjoy.

Yet I still somehow had been approaching God as if He was like me, as if because I had been holding Him at a safe distance, He had been holding me there, too.

But for the record, He is nothing like me.

He is not made in my image. He is not made at all.

He holds all things together, this Sovereign Creator, and He doesn’t put me in a corner when I mess up or stray or fail.

Yes, He disciplines like a loving Father to teach me, to prune me, to sanctify me, but He doesn’t leave me in the process.

Even when I leave Him.

So this holding Him at a safe distance?

It’s wrong. It’s self-centered and self-serving. It’s lacking in trust and honesty and brokenness and humility. It’s hiding. It’s prideful.

None of which works with Him at all.

God never intended for me to view Him in my image. He never intended for me to project onto His character the human elements of my own.

He is not bound by my rules. He does not regard me the way I far too often regard Him.

He IS better, higher, greater.

He is God.

He IS.

But in the words of Chris Tomlin, “The God of angel armies is always by my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine…”

And yes, that’s said with a healthy dose of reverence, fear, and adoration. It’s said with the recognition of His righteousness, His holiness, His sovereignty, and His greatness.

But He’s so close – He’s here – before me, beside me, behind me.

He’s not a God who will allow me to keep Him at a distance.

And in that very moment of recognition when I stripped it all down bare – when I removed all of the complicated layers, the circular logic, the selfish needs and desires – and prayed, the purest question on my heart was simply:

“God, where do you want me?”

His answer wasn’t a particular job or a physical location or a ministry direction. It was just this:

 “With Me.”

And with that, all I wanted was to collapse into His everlasting arms, completely exhausted from all of the trying, to rest in His presence with the renewed realization that this life is so much less about what I do for Him and so much more about simply knowing Him and trusting Him through all of the unknown details, to allow Him to spill over into every area of my being.

He’s not lost on this journey and He hasn’t lost me. He sees the whole, while I only see a small part. And He’s already written the ending.

And no, complacency is not okay, but maybe contentment is somehow settling into the details that He’s already written and just walking with Him along the way.

Yes, He’s the great God of angel armies, but He’s also the ever present, never leaving or forsaking, God with me.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Deuteronomy 31:8 (ESV)

I Fall So Short

He loves me so well … in big ways and small ways … and I fall so short.

He loves me through a handwritten note with precious Scripture shared.

He loves me through a generous South Bend police officer who offers a ride instead of directions.

He loves me through raising up a volunteer in response to a last minute plea in my absence.

He loves me through the unexpected wave and grin of a sweet 18 month old.

He loves me through His Son and His perfect sacrifice.

And in exchange for His unconditional, relentless love, I neglect Him, I fail Him, I fall short.

He loves me so well … the God of the Universe, the Creator of all things, the very Foundation of this world and all that is in it … and I neglect to spend time with Him. I neglect to fully invest myself in really knowing Him. I neglect to trust His purpose and plan. I fail to love Him well in return.

He loves me so well, and I fail to love His people in accordance with not only His example, but His command. I put far too many conditions on the love I extend to others. I fail to love the unlovable because it’s inconvenient, because it’s hard, because it requires much of me. I fail to even love those closest to me well. I don’t invest the time or energy that I know I should, that I know I’m called to, that I know reflects Him.

I fall SO short.

And after realizing my own shortcomings, after labeling myself a failure, after feeling crushed under that weight, in a futile effort to regain some sense of order and control, I place unreasonable and unrealistic expectations on myself to measure up. To do better. Only to fall short again.

grace for the good girl by emily p. freemanI first mentioned Emily P. Freeman’s book “Grace for the Good Girl” at the end of September (my first and only giveaway thus far).

It was convicting, but refreshing. Exposing, but freeing. But lately…

I find myself giving into my own good girl tendencies once again, putting them on like an old pair of jeans that just gets better with time. But as what was first comfortable and familiar wears thin, the oldness, the insecurities, the too-high expectations, the attempt at perfection, the inadequacies, the failure, the inevitable guilt all shows through.

I find myself caught up in my own self-sufficiency … because surely there’s nothing wrong with being independent, responsible, and dependable … but even in that there’s failure. What if someone realizes that it took me months to return that $160 dress that didn’t fit quite right? Will my self-sufficient, responsible image be shattered? And yet, even that is the product of an arbitrary expectation placed on myself.

So when Emily announced on her blog that she would be hosting an informal summer book club to read through and discuss this book together, I knew it was time to face the truth of its message once again.

And as I read this week, only 3 chapters in and a long way to go, once again facing these good girl tendencies head on, I was reminded that I don’t have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I don’t have to hide behind the mask of responsibility and self-sufficiency.

Perfect isn’t real, but Jesus is.

Yes, He loves me so well, and I fall so short.

But that’s what this Grace is all about. And this Grace-Giver doesn’t command me to be perfect. He doesn’t burden me with unrealistic expectations. He doesn’t tell me to fix my flaws on my own. He invites me to come. He says to abide. He promises strength in weakness.

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God…” 2 Corinthians 3:5 (NASB)

_____

Does this struggle with perfection, this struggle to meet the expectations of yourself or others resonate with you? Would you consider joining me in this summer reading?

If so, go check out Emily’s introductory post here and then go read her first official post on chapters 1-3 here from yesterday.

Then would you come back and let me know that you’re reading, so maybe we can encourage each other throughout the summer?

I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t be posting here each week about the book, but I will be joining the discussion in Emily’s comments and in the Facebook group (see her posts for more details). And of course, feel free to contact me via email or twitter anytime (see contact information in the sidebar or on the about the author page).

Discouragement, Zombies, & Truth

It’s been a hard few days. Not exactly bad, but hard.

I ended last week completely, mind-numbingly, feel-like-a-zombie exhausted. Then on Sunday afternoon, as I was finalizing preparations to teach a Bible Study lesson on marriage last night (which as a single, is not exactly my area of expertise), I was battling some intense and inexplicable frustration. Then yesterday, as the pace of incoming work was so insane that I could barely keep up and my mind could barely process the cases that needed attention, I was left feeling overwhelmed. And bonus, my fridge died (gross!) and this morning I had an oh-so-fun orthodontist appointment that ended with my orthodontist saying to his assistant, “Stop. This isn’t going to work and we don’t want to hurt her or pop the bracket off or make her teeth any more sore. We’ll just finish it next time…”

In short, I have been dealing with some fierce and pervasive discouragement.

But y’all, in the moments when the zombie-like exhaustion and crippling discouragement have threatened to take over, God has repeatedly shown up (as if He ever left…)!

Not in dramatic or everything-immediately-becomes-so-much-better-and-easier ways, but in ways soft and subtle and full of truth

Through the prayers and assistance of a sweet new friend at just the right time,

Through the constant reminders to pray when I have felt most out of control (just to be clear, that is NOT my typical first reaction, and the conviction in this regard has been poignant),

Through an encouraging Valentine’s Day card from the preschool ministry at church,

Through a thought-provoking and meaningful night of Bible Study despite the prior frustration and feelings of inadequacy, which ultimately led me to wholehearted dependence on Christ (which, ironically, was a huge emphasis in the study in regards to striving for a Biblical marriage),

Through a “Happy Valentine’s Day” text from a dear friend,

And even through a Skinny Mocha from Starbucks.

Yes, the past several days may have been hard and I may have been battling discouragement, but God is faithful and loving and SO good, and by His grace, I am not in this battle alone!

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.”

2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

Just Keep Reading…

It’s been one of those weeks where everything has just seemed sort of off. So as I approached my Tuesday/Wednesday deadline of a weekly devotion based on the 20+ chapters of Scripture I’ve read in the previous days without a message that seemed appropriate for this space, all I could tell myself was, “Just keep reading…”

So I did.

Yet still unsure regarding a message from a specific passage, and with my mind still freshly aware of The Story, I stepped back from the details and specifics to observe the big picture of all that I’ve been soaking in over the past few weeks.

And that’s when I saw it.

God’s love woven through each story and each person on the pages of Scriptures.

God’s love throughout the creation account.

God’s love to Noah, who was preserved through the flood because he found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

God’s love to the Israelites as they rebuilt the temple and restored their relationship and identity post exile.

God’s love to the prophet Nehemiah through answered prayer.

God’s love to the church as it spread and multiplied by the power of the Holy Spirit, even as it faced persecution.

God’s love to Paul through his powerful conversion and ministry.

God’s love to the apostles, the chosen twelve, as Christ walked with them, lived with them, and ministered to them.

God’s love to so many people who witnessed and experienced Christ’s wonders and miracles because of their faith.

God’s love in this as spoken in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch by Paul:

“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”

– Acts 13:38-39 (NIV)

It all comes back to this, doesn’t it? To Jesus Christ. To his sacrifice on the cross. Out of His perfect love. For us.

“Amazing love, how can it be? That you, my King, would die for me.

Amazing love, I know it’s true. It’s my joy to honor you.

In all I do, let me honor you.”

Sometimes, it’s all we can do to just keep reading, to soak in His love, His faithfulness, His goodness, and to remember all that He’s done.

Just keep reading…