Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Will Find a Way

Growing up, love was a four-letter word.  It lived down the road, or around the corner…anywhere but in my house.  After an innocent need to say, “Excuse me,” I commonly heard, “There’s no excuse for you.”  After I won the national DECA championship as a senior in high school (a marketing organization keen on training and raising up the next generation of business professionals and entrepreneurs) my mother retorted with, "I always knew you could bull-@#*! your way out of a paper bag."  My “brother”, a 20-pound ball of fur with fangs, chased me up the stairs nightly, egged on by both parents and pounding fists on the two-story walls.  Parental entertainment at my expense occurred regularly.  But the words “I love you”?  As I already told you: a four-letter word.  My young, injured heart took cover like a child playing hide-n-seek in the curtains. 

Now that I’m a parent myself I realize my parents did the best they could…really.  Without the Lord in their hearts, their best was as tainted and skewed as the sin-ridden world surrounding them.  No human love is perfect, even if you do love the Lord, or your children more than chocolate.  And while I vowed “not to do what they did,” this conviction alone ensured nothing.  Not doing the wrong thing does not equal the right thing.  I was still human; no human love is perfect.  There had to be a more perfect union between the human and the heavenly.  There had to be a better way to love the children under my own roof.Enter in Love Day.  

Jeff and I used to poo-poo Valentine's Day.  We called it a commercialized opportunity to fill the coffers of American enterprise in the name of looooove (insert long, southern drawl here).  I knew Jeff loved me. And my hips really did not want a box of chocolates to prove it (really, they didn’t). But it seemed unnatural to overlook the children on Valentine's Day.  The least I could do was make a big deal out of the one day when they most expected to be loved, right?

 Love Day started on the all-expected February 14th when Sam, in all the wisdom of Solomon, lamented, "I wish we had Valentine’s Day every month!"  Now I'm sure his wish had everything to do with scoring extra sugar on a monthly basis, but he had a point.  Why not love regular into these precious little hearts?  Why not establish a tradition of long-expected affection?  Isn’t that just what our heavenly Father does?  Love passionately; love patiently.  Love with a deep, deep love that, like the song testifies, is vast, unmeasured, boundless, and free?  Sam was onto something.  Every month’s 14th day was hereafter proclaimed, “Love Day.”

In preparation I bought out the local Dollar Store: left-over candy, heart-shaped everything (from plates to place mats to balloons), anything red and sparkly.  (And on February 15th it was all on sale!!) When Love Day came around March 14th, I would be ready.

But while my human aspirations soared, my human actions fell flat.  I forgot.  March 14th, April 14th, May 14th all came and went.  By June, Love Day was long-lost memory, but not long-forgotten. 

“Lord, what am I missing?  I so desperately want to love these children as you love me, and yet I forget, or more honestly blow-off my chance to love on these children.  How can I make this a more perfect love?

"Tell them how much I love them" He replied.Ahhhh.  The crickets from last week danced a little tango while the Truth of this settled in.  Tell them of the love of Christ.  Tell each one how much they are treasured and lifted up and purposed for God’s Kingdom.  I am only human, and human love is never perfect.  But God will never fail them.  God loves them with an everlasting love.  God loves them perfectly: vast, unmeasured, boundless, free.

So I set to work writing individual love letters to each child, straight from Scripture.  Nothing more, and definitely nothing less. 

Dearest Sarah,

See how very much your heavenly Father loves you, for He allows you to be called His child, and you really are!
- God (1 John 3:1, NIRV)

Dear Emilie,
I have loved you with an everlasting love.- God (Jeremiah 31:3, NASV)

You belong to me, my dear Samuel.  The Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.  - God (1 John 4:4, NLT) 

I may not have experienced perfect love at home, but Jesus understood my experience perfectly. And He already had a rescue plan for the child behind the curtains.

“No hiding place has ever kept her save,” He says.  “So she hides inside herself.  Now to reach her heart the only way, is to hide in there as well.  I will hide in there as well.” (I Will Find a Way, Jason Gray on the album Christmas Stories)

And that's the point.  Love Day is perfect because it pulls back the curtains on a child’s heart.  Jesus captured my heart by hiding inside with the fearful little girl.  He wants to do the same for these four precious souls.  I can either fill their hearts once a year with tokens of an imperfect love.  Or I can fill it regularly with treasures of perfection – God’s very Word. 

"I like that one," Sam, my doubting Thomas, says after the second Love-letter delivery.  And I watch as True Love’s words set something free inside his heart.  Jesus just took residence in a corner previously kept hidden.

Might I Pray for You?

Dearest Jesus,
We know you love us.  Without flowers or chocolates or cards, your love lives deep inside our hearts.  Forgive us for expecting human tokens of imperfect love to have the same impact as Your Word - heavenly treasures of perfection.  Show us how to love with the love of Christ; how to live with the love of Christ; how to forgive with the love of Christ.  Thank you for loving us day in and day out; for seeking us in our hiding places; for wanting to do the same for our precious little ones.  Help us to trust You to find a way to hide in there as well. Amen.

Notes of Encouragement

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Arms Full of Grace and Truth

The crisp 40 degree wind nipped at my nose and frightened my bare fingers.  Ahhh…fresh air, time alone (!) and a winding wooded path ahead.  My natural response?  An old song that that comes effortlessly: "Oh God, you are my God.  And I will ever praise you..."  Oh don't go imagining that any of that was in tune or in the right key, or even out loud.  It wasn't.  But in my mind it was perfect.

Anyway, I'm out walking, singing silently when I remember the first time I crooned this tune…

Back in college I visited my boyfriend's childhood home over an extended break. His mother....oh Mom Beers, how I love you...his mother loved on me in ways I didn't think humanly possible. She didn't lavish me with gifts, or a Martha Stewart reception, but she loved me with her whole heart, a heart wholly in love with Jesus.

I woke up the first morning in her home, in a place where Jesus truly had made a home, and my natural response?  A song.  I sang that same song, not quietly to myself, but out loud.  I sang with all the heart I had and somehow even wished Mom Beers would hear me and come in, for I just knew she would sit down and sing with me (although I really didn't even know her yet).  "Oh God, you are my God.  And I will ever praise You.  I will seek you in the morning and I will learn to walk in your ways, and step by step you'll lead me, and I will follow you all of my days."  (Please, just imagine a good ‘ol 80’s style Rich Mullens tune).

Now here I am, twenty years later, singing the same old gig, seeking the same good God, asking for the same thing. "Lord, teach me to walk in your ways.  Lead me step by step.  Yet again, I promise to follow you all of my days."

Until I tore my ACL last May, walking was my time alone with God.  Even when I was walking with one child in a stroller, another biking with training wheels, and two more defying death ahead of me on the sidewalk, I was alone with my thoughts and my God.  Because of the surgery, my lifestyle shifted suddenly and so did my habits.  Fresh-air time waned.  My God conversations dwindled.  My life, like my lungs longing for the crisp whip of the wind, felt stagnant. I need to take a walk…

"Where have you been?" I asked the Lord.

"Right here" He said.  I knew that.  I wanted to know why I felt so alone.

"Then why haven't I heard you?" I asked.

"You haven't been listening, My child."

"Lord, I'm tired.  I'm confused.  I can hardly get around properly and there is so much to do.  The children ask so much of me and right now I feel like an empty of cup of coffee at 6AM.  I don’t want to care for any more needs.  I just want a friend.”  I let it all hang out.  He listened. 

“Like tonight.  I just wanted to enjoy the Christmas Candlelight Service, but what did they need?  A jacket on the floor (not to wear mind you, just to have out of her sister's hands), a bulletin to draw on, a lap to sleep on, a shoulder to lean on (three of them - at the same time!), an ear to hear their complaints about it being too dark, and too cold, and this taking too long.  And I haven’t even mentioned the head-butt right into my nose as I leaned over to counsel the sulking 10-yr old.  I'm tired of giving.  I have nothing left to give.  I want to enjoy this precious family and instead I resent what little I have left at the end of the day."

Crickets.  (Remember - I was there listening for His voice, right?)

"Lord?"  Had I walked too far off the path?

"Are you ready? You're not going to like my answer." He replied.

I wasn't ready, but I couldn't stand the thought of walking away from His voice.  "Bring it on.  I just need to hear from You."

"Tracey, are you tired of responding to children who act just like you?"

The crickets were now having a family reunion.

"You come to me only when you need something.  You only come to get something – get peace of mind, get time alone, get wisdom for life.  You, like your children, come to meet your needs.  When was the last time you came just to meet Me?  Just to receive My love? Just to be my beloved?  You don't know Me yet, Tracey.  You only know the law."

It's been a one-way street, this following Jesus all of my days. I think I've been giving Him my early mornings, my (sporadic) prayers, my time in His Word, but in reality, it's Jesus who has been giving me all I ask for; giving me all I come to take; giving me all I think I "need".  I come to receive counsel and He counsels.  I come seeking comfort and He soothes.  I come to gain protection and He defends.  He offers more than I can ask or imagine, and the only thing I offer is another unfulfilled need.  No wonder I don't really know Him yet.

"But I want to know you Jesus!  I want to know what people mean when they sing, 'What a friend I have in Jesus.' But in all honesty I don't really have a clue!  You are God.  You are my Savior and Redeemer...but are you really my Friend?"

This following Jesus is not like following a law.  The law requires that I do all sorts of things "right" for Jesus.  In fact, that’s what I do best.  I do my devotionals.  I do school with the children.  I do the dishes, the laundry, and sometimes even diner.  I can do all sorts of things, but I can’t do a relationship with Jesus.

Following Jesus is more like yearning after a dear friend.  Jesus may have come to earth to fulfill the law, but He also came with arms full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  Like a subject under the law, I considered Him the King whom I earn the right to stand before.  But with arms full of Grace, He is more like the loving Father who, after nearly losing His beloved child to certain death, celebrates her very presence and delights in her company.  The Law requires doing what needs to be done so I can receive what I think I deserve.  Grace offers what I don't deserve at all - a Savior, a Redeemer, and yes, even a Friend.  If I abide by the law, my needs are met.  If I abide by Grace, I meet Jesus in my needs.

What a difference it would make if I acted like the Christian I claim to be - a little Christ.  Instead of doing so much and drowning in all my children's needs, I may just be for my children what Christ is for me – a counselor, a defender, a protector, a friend.

Might I Pray for Us?

Dearest Jesus,

I want to learn to replace the law with Grace.  I want to learn to follow You.  Not follow another set of requirements that wear me out, but follow after You as one seeking the companionship of a dear friend.  And yet, I shy away from relationship and seek You merely to fulfill another need.  Help me to stop do-ing what I think will earn my right to stand in your presence, and help me be in relationship with You.  Help me to see my relationships here on earth as a reflection of Your relationship with me – not a set of laws to follow in order to earn their affection, but rather an opportunity to be in relationship with my children.  Be their counselor.  Be their comforter.  Be their defender.  Be their friend.

I love you, Jesus. Forgive me for treating you like a tyrant king and grant me Grace to be-friend You in my weaknesses.  Amen.

Words of Affirmation:

“We have almost forgotten that God is a Person…The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion."

-A.W. Tozer: The Pursuit of God

Notes of Encouragement:

This song from Third Day caught me off guard while washing the dishes.  I love singing along with his deep, deep voice.  Click here to sing along with me.
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