Archives for posts with tag: love

I got married today! 13 years ago, today, that is.

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Among a crowd of friends, church members, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and siblings, I declared that I would marry this man and stick with him forever. “Before God and all these witnesses…” Little did I know how much I would need God and all those witnesses to stay married.

There is a reason that most love stories end at the wedding, or at the “they finally got together” point. I waited and looked for a long time (well not really, I was only 24 when I married) — but it felt like a long time waiting and looking for my perfect match, who inspired me do bold and silly things and trust much sooner than it seems I ought to have trusted, and who still makes me laugh even though his jokes are so ridiculous! Who always knows how to encourage me and is a perfect counterbalance to my deficiencies and hesitations. I still think he is so very handsome and I had no idea how much I would love seeing him as a father. I didn’t know I would still look at him and be amazed by who he is, and his gifts, all these years later. I am so very grateful that God brought him to me, and me to him, and that we are still together these 13 years later.

But there is a reason that many love stories end at the wedding. Because the happily ever after is hard won. Why do we marry in the midst of our community? I think it’s not just because we want to throw a big party (though that part is really fun too), but I think it is because it takes a good community to support a marriage.

Sure, the first year or two were easy. We were “in love” and had good jobs and a teeny tiny apartment to cuddle in, but it was so charming to have a place of our own and be able to have friends over and just be together. But somewhere along the way you buy a house, and there is a financial crisis, and a lost job, and kids, and friends move away, and a short sale on the house, and you move across the country, and at some point you wonder “Who am I really? Who is this person I married? Why do we hurt each other so much? Why doesn’t he do things the way I do? Why doesn’t she agree with me on that? Why won’t he tell the truth? Why doesn’t she consider my feelings more before speaking? I can’t really talk about what is bothering me the most…” Somewhere along the way, in the midst of the closest personal relationship, with the one you love more than anything, the one with whom you are “one flesh” there is heartbreak and isolation and argument and brokenness. This is the way all relationships go. Because we are all broken and imperfect people, and we can’t expect our relationships to be perfect.

Thank God we have God and each other. Not just me and my husband, but me and God and my husband, and all those witnesses – those church members and friends and cousins and parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles – because it takes a good community to support a good marriage.

So right now, I want to say “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY” to my dear, fabulous, wonderful husband, whom I love more than I could ever say or show. I never ever ever ever ever ever want to be without you. Thank you for being YOU, and letting me be ME, and for loving me despite all my faults and failures.

I want to say “Happy Anniversary” to God — to my dear fabulous God, who was my husband before my husband was. Thank you for showing me what love is, and helping me to choose love and unity over self and fear and pride. We wouldn’t have made it this far without you, God!

I want to say “Happy Anniversary” to all our friends from college and our church in California where we were married, all those who came to the wedding and danced with us and decorated the car and made the day so memorable. Thanks for cheering us on and being there at the “starting line” to support us and share joy with us and give us great words of encouragement and gifts to get us started in our married life. You are forever a part of “us” and I thank you!

I want to say “Happy Anniversary” to all the friends and church community who have joined us along the way. Thanks to all the other parents out there who have encouraged us and helped us along as we’ve learned to be parents. Who joined us in both the “this is really hard” and the “this is really beautiful and magical” moments of parenthood. Thanks to our Circle in Eugene… truly, you guys are amazing and thanks for sharing life in such a real way. Thanks to all my single friends who’ve journeyed with me. I talked to a single friend in another state recently, about how hard it is to make friends when most people our age are married with kids, because you don’t always get invited to the parties with the other families. So I just want to say, thanks to all my single ladies who’ve hung out with me even though I’m a boring old mom and I can’t carry on a phone conversation without being interrupted by the kids, and even though the only place I can hang out is at the zoo and the children’s museum (with kids in tow), and though I probably don’t call you and invite you enough, I love you, and you are an important part of my community, too. Thanks for being my friends and cheering me on. To my divorced friends, I love you so much too! I know how hard it is, and I am sorry it didn’t work out as you dreamed. I wish you didn’t have to feel that heartbreak. But I am proud of you for carrying on, for living bravely whatever you face. I admire you, too. I can only imagine how hard it is to be a single parent, and I hope I can be part of your supportive community when you need it, even if I can’t fully anticipate or grasp what you need to feel supported.

And finally, I want to say “Happy Anniversary” to our families. Thanks for being there for us, in the bright and beautiful moments and in the difficult and tear-filled ones. Truly, I am so grateful to both our sets of parents. My and my husbands parents have been married about 85 years collectively. Wow! I am so very grateful that family gatherings on both sides of our families are joyful occasions, and not ones we dread. I know not everyone has that, and I am so very thankful that we do. Thank you, family, for helping us get this far. You’re amazing!

Thanks, everyone, who has been part of my life — you have supported me and my marriage — whether you meant to or not. Would I be here without you? I don’t know. But I am glad that I am. Lucky 13 years married. Happy Anniversary to us!

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A few months ago I had the opportunity to speak at my church on Sunday morning, and I felt God leading me to 1 John. Personally, I love John’s writing, but I think sometimes he is hard to follow. Where Paul and Peter and some of the other Bible writers are a bit more direct, John’s writing is more indirect. He wants you to come to your own conclusions.

So that can make his book a little hard to follow. Sometimes I want to tell him, just come to the point already! But if you take the time to listen to 1 John, you see that he had a very important but kind of difficult message to convey, and so as not to hurt our feelings, he says it indirectly and in a lot of ways, but his message is really clear. As I was working my way through 1 John, I started drawing this little picture to help me sort out all the main themes.

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Basically, John talks about what we KNOW, what we LOVE, where we ABIDE, and who we are: CHILDREN OF GOD.

Picture YOU in the middle there, safely held in God’s arms. This is a lovely picture isn’t it? Doesn’t it make you feel safe and loved to picture yourself in God’s arms? You can just know in God’s arms that you are going to be okay, right?

Well guess what I realized. This picture is actually false. If this is where your security is, then it is a false sense of security. Because if this is how you know God, then you don’t really know God at all.

God says when we do not love each other, then we do not actually know and love Him. You can find the particular verses yourself when you read the book (and you should, which is why I am not writing them out for you!), but John tells us that we know that we KNOW God, because we keep his commandments, and his commandment from the beginning has been LOVE. Therefore, we know we KNOW God when we LOVE each other in real and tangible ways! The picture he wants us to see, and the life he wants us to experience, looks more like this:IMG_2040

If we began to live in this reality, it would change everything! It would change our outlook on life, our families, our communities, our workplaces, our whole world. The problem isn’t that the head knowledge about God isn’t available to the world, it’s that the EXPERIENTIAL knowledge about God, which is learned through LOVE, is not available enough to the world, because we who “know” God are not living it.

John spends a lot of time talking about how we are God’s children. The key to living like God’s children is in this word ABIDE, which shows up all over 1 John. To abide means to have a close relationship with God, like this picture of being held in God’s arms. Close enough to feel His heartbeat, move when He moves, gain His strength, and feel his instant soothing to our anxieties, just like a baby would receive when held securely in a parent’s loving arms.

When you ABIDE in God, God’s love permeates your life, and we also get to experience His power in our lives. God enables us, through our connection to Him, to live the kind of lives that we were designed to live, or unity with God and others, and love, and security, and freedom from sin. When we abide in God, we are not ABLE (not empowered) to sin, because we are instead EMPOWERED TO BE LIKE GOD! When this happens, then we will really begin to be able to live towards others with the love that lives in the heart of God.

1 John 3:1 says “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God,” even when by all our behaviors, we really sometimes don’t look like it. But regardless, that is what we are: Children of God. 1 John’s requirements for being a child of God are that we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and is Lord, and that we keep God’s commands by loving each other.

This is how we ABIDE in God: by loving each other. By laying down our lives for each other, as Jesus so willingly laid down his life for us. One thing about the second picture: when I move aside, and allow other people into my life, and love God and another person, that is when I see God’s heart. When it is just about me and God, I can only see my own heart, which isn’t always healthy. When I let someone else in, and share the love of God, then I really can see God’s heart, and God’s heart can connect to my heart and to someone else’s heart as well. That is love! That is how we were designed to live.

I am alive! I write this with great enthusiasm, because for a few days that barely felt true. My daughter stayed home from school on Wednesday with a fever and sore throat. Her illness never progressed far beyond that, and some general tiredness and aches, but by Thursday night I was feeling congested and went to bed early, and barely stood more than ten minutes together from then until Sunday late afternoon. The next 48 hours all I did between naps was laundry and cleaning as much as possible to try to kill the germs, since we all six were afflicted to varying degrees. After 47 loads of laundry and seventeen boxes of tissues, we haven’t quite kicked the bug, but we are well on our way.

Finally, I had a moment to read my Bible today. Not that I’ve caught up with cleaning. No, even as I write I am remembering that I still have the contents of my under-the-kitchen-sink cabinet strewn across the floor, since when I was looking for a new pack of cleaning wipes, I found and attacked a thousand ants. No, I don’t imagine I’ll actually be able to say my house is clean until I am moving and there is nothing in the house. I don’t read my Bible because I have nothing else to do. I run to my Bible to connect with God, because nothing else is as valuable as that.

I know not everyone is a reader, but for me, reading is a gateway to my soul. So thank you, God, for being with me in this messy house and loving me without any thought to the unfinished tasks. You don’t care! Having a clean home, in order to be hospitable and create a stress-free environment, can be part of how I love God and others, but sometimes, it really does not matter. And I am so glad I don’t need to worry about passing on any germs to God, or to you, through the world wide web.

After that ridiculously rambling introduction, in which I have probably wasted a lot of words, I bring my reflections from reading today, one of which is how interesting it is that God doesn’t seem to waste anything, or do anything haphazardly. I love that about God. God is always calm. Nothing catches Him by surprise. God responds thoughtfully, He does not react emotionally, as we are so often prone to do. God doesn’t make mistakes. This is a beautiful thing.

I love reading Genesis 1. I have read it dozens of times. But it is still interesting to me. No one was there when God created the first five and a half days, pre-human creation. So how do we know this is how it happened? Because that is how God chose to reveal it to someone. Did you ever think about that? Why is it written that way? Why poetically? Why in a week format? Whole books have been written about this chapter; endless debates have arisen. A literal week or a figurative week? Is the earth actually six thousand years old, or is it billions of years old? Were the dinosaurs included among the animals of sea, sky and land? Or were they somewhere between the “creation” of verse 1 and the “formless emptiness” of verse 2?

I don’t know. Instead of debating details about what the Bible doesn’t tell us, let’s look at the beauty of what it actually does tell us. For starters, it tells us that God created. God created intentionally. God created carefully. God paid attention to detail. God thought through what we would need, in the forms of land, water and air; night and day; food and companionship. What God created was good. And when God had set the stage, and prepared everything, we arrived.

God created us, finite, limited little versions of Himself. Yes, I am actually saying that. God created us to be like Him. I am saying that, because God said that. “Let Us make humankind in Our own image, and in Our own likeness, male and female,” said the Triune God. Then He  blessed us, and gave us a task to represent Himself on earth (Genesis 1:27-28). Nothing else was made like that, to be like God Himself. And it seems, everything else that was made was put here for us – either for our pleasure, our provision, or as a reflection of God’s glory, character, and power, so that even through observing His creation, we might come to know God better (Romans 1:20). David’s response to this contemplation of creation is written in Psalm 8.

“God! You are amazing! When I look at all You’ve made, in comparison I wonder— what are we? And yet you have made us like Yourself. You shared Your glory with us, and Your authority. I don’t understand.” (Psalm 8, My paraphrase!)

What should I do with that? What does it mean to live in the image and likeness of God? The ultimate answer is —JESUS! He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). He is the true representation to our dim reflection:

“Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but [in the end] we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, jut as God knows me now.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT).

I take comfort in this verse, that someday, God and humanity and creation will all make sense, and my questions will be answered. But for now, God certainly hasn’t left us in the dark, regarding how to live to be a truer likeness of Himself.

In Deuteronomy 6 He calls us closely to Himself – He invites us into constant connection with Himself through what we say and do. He reminds us that though there may be plenty of counterfeit gods out there, there is only ONE true God, and though it is not always the easiest path to follow Him, it is the best path.

God gave us ten commands to follow in Exodus 20: the first three are about how we love God, the final six about how we “love our neighbor as ourself” (Mark 12:29-31). In between, the fourth commandment is about the Sabbath, which links loving God with loving others and finding balance in our own lives. Again we see God’s amazing care for us, attention to detail, and intentionality in all He does, even in the way he revealed the creation story to us. Once again, it is about design: we are to pattern our lives upon the pattern God revealed in the creation narrative, of six days to work and the seventh to rest. Maybe God didn’t really need to rest. Maybe he just wanted to take a break to enjoy creation. Maybe it’s worthwhile for us to take a break and enjoy God and creation and each other, even if we don’t feel we “need” to rest.

Above all, God says, LOVE. God is love. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. God may be invisible, but LIGHT makes all things visible. God may not be visible, but true LOVE is shown and lived in visible and tangible ways, and when we love, we see God (1 John 1-2).

So, what am I really saying? Perhaps I ought not attempt to post on here while still recovering from a fever and deep head cold. Or perhaps this is as good a time as any to remind myself that I am loved. I am made with a purpose, and on purpose. Even when my home is a mess and my head is clouded, and even though I make mistakes and don’t always love perfectly, I am always loved perfectly. I am loved because I, in my limited state, am still a reflection of my limitless, amazing God, and nothing can take that away. And to live in a true likeness is to love, and to follow eagerly and only in the path God lays out.

God, As I soldier out into my home and tend to my still-recovering family, help me extend Your love. When I am tired in body and weary in soul, help me to still love. When I have to repeat myself for the zillionth time in trying to shape my kids into polite little humans, help me have patience, and keep loving. When I get annoyed by the work and chaos and unpredictability of life, help me still love. Because all those other people in my home, and in my world, are also made in Your image, and they are loved. I am only privileged to honestly bear your likeness when I love too.

Part 1 of Honoring God by Action – Ephesians 6

(Reading List Theme 2.7)

My last post was about Honoring God by Purity – which is about my heart, and how my heart impacts my attitude and my words. This one is more about honoring God by how we act – especially how we act towards our leaders, and how we face evil in this world.

The Bible was not written in English, so there are several different English translations. My current go-to versions of scripture are the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New Living Translation (NLT), and most of the Bible quotes in my blog are from one of those. The ESV is more literal, while the NLT tries to put it in modern, easy-to-read language. So the ESV is a little better for study, and the NLT is a little better for preaching. But every once in awhile I like to check out The Message. Eugene Peterson was a pastor for many years, and he started The Message as a way to really drive home the meaning of the Bible to his church members. It is much more of an interpretation than a literal translation, and sometimes I think it is really great at capturing the heart.

In Ephesians 6, the author, Paul, puts out a brief theology of work for the church he writes to in Ephesus. The Message says it this way:

“Respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face (enthusiasm, NLT), always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free.” (6:5-8)

This theology of work is one I learned early in life, and really took to heart. Obey my parents as unto the Lord. Do my schoolwork as unto the Lord (which means no cheating, work hard, and pray God would help me study the right things, and remember it well). Do my job as unto the Lord… no grumbling, respectful, no cutting corners or trying to cheat the company. And now that I am at home with my kids much of the time, without really having to think about it, I realized that work ethic has transferred… clean the toilet, wipe up spills, bathe the kids, and vacuum the floor as if doing it for God… or at least as if he was there in the room with me. Because he IS always there in the room with me.

I certainly am not a perfect housekeeper, and I don’t always have a great attitude, but I also realize that this is okay. God doesn’t mind if my house is a little messy, as long as I am loving my family and taking care of their true needs. God understands that I am a work in progress, and my attitude will improve when I grow in spiritual maturity and health.

When I have guests, that is when I am most motivated to set the house in order (and stash the clutter out of sight), but I realize that God cares more about me talking to him than keeping up appearances for him. The same is true of guests… they come for genuine conversation more than to sit in a perfect place. When people come over, I am usually still finishing the food when they arrive and there are usually a few dishes in the sink. My home is kid-friendly and not fancy. But when people come over we have very often received comments on what a welcoming and nice place we have, even if there are toys left out and maybe we forgot to clean the bathroom mirror, and despite the bit of mess or clutter that remains. Part of how I can show love is by cleaning and putting away the junk so I can focus on my guests without distraction, and so they can be comfortable in my home – but that’s not what hospitality is really about. It’s about the love, not the outward perfection.

How does this relate to what Paul is saying about working unto the Lord? I have never really thought about it this way before, but if God values love more than strictly following orders, then doesn’t this apply to the work place as well? If a boss does not honor the Lord, he or she may be a difficult person to work for. It may not be easy to be motivated to work hard for them to help their company succeed. But if that is the job God has provided for you, then I think your assignment there is not just to fulfill your job description, but also to find a way to show his love. Working for God really is about showing love; the way we obey God best is by loving people (James 2:8). So if in our jobs we should have “an eye to obeying the real master, Christ” then we are there not just to work, but to show God’s love.

So, as you care for your family this week, as you go to work, as you do schoolwork, or interact with your landlord or homeowners association or police – whoever you answer to, or whoever is your “master” in this life, remember that we will honor them best not just by doing our duty, but by finding ways to love. How can you love your master this week?

(Reading List Theme 2.4)

FAITH = BELIEF IN ACTION

“…What is the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions?” 2:14

When I was younger, like teenage or less, at youth group or school or as part of a team-building exercise, I did something called a trust-fall. You probably know what it is – one person stands on something several feet above the ground, then her team stands below with their arms extended to catch. She closes her eyes and falls straight backward, trusting the team to catch her. I think one time I even did a blind folded hike with a group, and partners took turns guiding each other or being led. We had to trust that the partner or team would keep us safe. We had to have faith.
The church I used to attend in California has been doing a sermon series called “Christian Atheist” about when we say we believe in Jesus, but live like he doesn’t exist, or at least doesn’t make any difference in our lives. If our behavior doesn’t change after we begin to believe in Jesus, it is not real faith, just like if I peeked out of my blindfold or refused to fall backwards would show that I didn’t really trust my partner or my team. Professing Christian, practical atheist.
It is not that good deeds SAVE us – salvation comes only by faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the in the power of his resurrection to defeat sin and death. Good actions don’t save us. But actions that reveal a lack of love or trust just might reveal that we don’t really have faith.

HOW WE REALLY LOVE

“How can you claim that you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people more than others?” 2:1

For several years now I’ve understood the concept of Biblical faith being not just mental assent, but active belief. But when I came to James 2:1 the other day, I wondered, How is it lack of faith to show partiality to one person over another? Yes, I know it is rude. I know it is selfish. I know it is not loving in that way Christ loved… But how is it lack of faith? James answers in the following verses… because when we are nice to those we think we can give us something, and rude to those we don’t think have anything to give, then we are putting our trust in people, and not in Jesus. Real love is active when we have nothing to receive in return. It is real love when we love just because we understand that Jesus loves someone because he made them… not because they smell good or act rightly.

NEVER GOOD ENOUGH

“And the person who breaks all of the laws of God except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God’s laws” 2:10

There are lots of good people on this earth. People who take care of others and love their families and volunteer in their communities and give money to charity. Some people do good things with good intentions, some do good things with selfish motives or fear of consequences. But no one is perfectly good. Only God is perfect. I can never be good enough to be like him. Or to enter his perfect eternity.
So there is no room in me to judge other people, because I can never really know anyone else’s motives, or what kind of baggage or stress may cause them to act as they do. And my good actions are great – good actions are at least a faint reflection of the goodness of God. But it can never be enough. If God has been so merciful as to cover my sin by looking at me through the lens of the life of Jesus, I have no room to refuse mercy to anyone who wrongs me. I like how James says it in 2:12-13 “So whenever you speak, or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law of love, the law that set you free. For there will be no mercy for you if you have not been merciful to others. But if you have been merciful, then God’s mercy toward you will win out over his judgment against you.”

Lord, help me to show mercy to others each day, remembering that I, too, have been forgiven. Help me to have real faith in you, trusting only for what you will give me, rather than hoping for what I might receive from someone else. And help me to live in peace and joy, because even when the circumstances of my life seem unsettled, I know I am safe in your care.