Five Minute Friday: Beloved

flowers 002

Go

I struggle to believe it. I strain against it. These words that Jesus keeps whispering to me, “Beloved. I love you.”

I question, how? Do you not see all that I leave undone? Do you not see the mistakes I have made? Do you not see that I am too comfortable, too safe? Don’t you see that I am not passionate enough? That I am not doing enough? Do you not see that maybe I don’t love you enough to be loved by you?

The whisper continues and I feel myself being wooed. “Beloved. I love you.”

I feel it in the hundreds of verses that I copy from my concordance search of “love.” Words of steadfast love written through the ages. I feel it in the tender care of my husband who patiently, calmly, quietly puts love into action. I feel it in the little boy arms wrapped around me with their enthusiasm and simple acceptance of love and life. I feel it in friends calling and praying. I feel it in the sun shining warm on my face and the daffodils lifting their bright faces. I feel it in the strength and grace I am given to enjoy the simple moments of another day.

The whisper continues and I allow myself to be still and be wooed. “Beloved. I love you.”

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. -1 John 4:9

Stop

Lent

hiking 008

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day on the church calendar that begins the Lenten season. The quiet, somber mood of the season seems appropriate to me right now. I feel heavy in my spirit. Like the psalmist I feel “my sin is ever before you.” I am aware of the depth and sorrow of my sin in ways I never knew before. My heart feels tender and tears come easily.

This morning I cleared out my blog reader of all but a few blogs that always encourage me. I didn’t do this for some kind of Lenten fast, I just need space. I need quiet. I need to not feel guilty about what I am not doing because the guilt I heap upon myself is enough. I need to just be. I need the emotional and physical space to allow myself to walk through these feelings of grief and guilt and mourning. I need to stop numbing myself with media and distractions.

This morning I read:

Ancient, likewise, is the season of Lent, when the Christian is encouraged to think of her death and the sin that caused it – to examine herself, to know herself so deeply and well that knowledge becomes confession. But ancient, too, is the consolation such an exercise provides, ancient precisely because it is eternal. It is this: that when we genuinely remember the death we deserve to die, we will be moved to remember the death the Lord in fact did die – because his took the place of ours. Ah, children, we will yearn to hear the Gospel story again and again, ever seeing therein our death in his, and rejoicing that we will therefore know a rising like his as well.  – Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin, Jr. pg 22

There is the beautiful promise of grace!  The promise that I cling to even on the days when I can’t possibly believe it is true. The words that God whispers over and over again, “I love you!”

Zacchaeus didn’t have to do anything to make Jesus love him. And neither do you. Because, you see, God’s love is a free gift. You can’t earn it. You don’t deserve it. You can’t pay for it. You  need only open your hands to receive it.            – Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Jago

I don’t walk through Lent as an exercise in self-despair or self-condemnation or self-deprivation. No, this is a process of examining myself and knowing myself and through that examination being pointed again to God’s love for me. It is a process of clinging to the promise that something new will rise.

When Satan tempts me to despair

And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me                                                                                                                                                                         (words by Chris Rice)

a bit discouraging

After a week of feeling much better and more like myself I was hit again with my “mystery illness” on Thursday night. And this time it was really discouraging. It is discouraging to feel exhausted all the time, to not have any interest in anything, to feel nauseous constantly, to wonder if tomorrow will bring any change, to wonder if this is physical or psychological or maybe a bit of both.

It is looking less likely that I will have a quick solution or explanation for this illness. So how do I have love and grace even when I feel so discouraged and unlike myself?

– I pace myself and let go of the bulk of my “to-do” list.

– I give myself time and margin to take things slow and get rest when I need it.

– I control my tongue, even when I want to spew in frustration.

– I apologize when I don’t control my tongue.

– I find ways to continue to engage and enjoy my kids even with my lack of energy – stories on the couch, games, movies together, plenty of extra snuggle time.

– I praise my kids for the extra independence they are showing and the ways they help.

– I follow up with my doctor.

– I schedule an appointment with a counselor.

– I thank my husband for all the ways he is picking up my slack and serving all of us so faithfully and unselfishly.

– I call a friend and let myself cry when I am feeling discouraged.

– I give myself grace to just let things be and enjoy each moment as it comes.

the 7 Experiment: Why

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

 

I mentioned in my last post how I was initially not sure about participating in the 7 Experiment with a group of ladies from my church. I tend to have an all or nothing type of personality and I would have jumped into something drastic like this with enthusiasm and maybe not much thought. My motive would have been to show myself  and God (and others, probably) how spiritual I could be. I would have wanted to prove something about my spirituality.

As I read the Introduction I began to see what was at the heart of this experiment:

7 will be an exercise in simplicity with one goal: to create space for God’s kingdom to break through. I approach this project in the spirit of a fast: and intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God’s movement in my life. (page 4)

This goal fits perfectly with what is going on in my heart recently. As I am learning to let go of fear and performance I am making room for God’s love to break through. My relationship with God is becoming more and more about who He is and how much He loves me and not so much about who I am and how much I can accomplish for Him. My mind and my heart have been cluttered with spiritual junk and it has taken a complete removal of that junk for me to begin experiencing God in a new way. So it can also be with the physical clutter and excess in my life. The more I have the more distracted I am and the more energy I have to put into maintaining that excess.

I tend to be a simple person by nature. Some of the upcoming fasts are exciting to me. Like only wearing 7 items of clothing for one month, I am all about that! Some of the fasts will be more difficult. I am already dreading the media fast month. I want to continually remind myself that my goal for this experiment is not simply to have a healthier body, de-cluttered spaces, and extra money by the end of this. No, I want to create space for God’s kingdom to break through.

When I wrote my first post about this experiment I was all ready to jump right in the month of February with only 7 foods. I had my list and was excited about the challenge. Then I got sick and basically didn’t eat much of anything for 2 weeks. It was obvious as February 1st neared that it wouldn’t be healthy for me to start the month as described in the book. So I let it go. I didn’t beat myself up or try to convince myself that if I was truly holy enough I would start the 7 foods fast no matter what was going on with my body. I extended grace to myself.

I have started the February fast with some guidelines. No sweets. No snacks. No extras (2nd helpings, condiments, etc.). Next week I will give an update on how that is going.

In the mean time my prayer continues to be: Jesus, may there be less of me and my junk and more of You and Your kingdom. (page 5)

grace-filled discipline

One of my sons was having a rough day. All of the typical sins that he struggles with were bubbling at the surface. He lost privileges. He spent time in time-out. By the end of the afternoon a particular indecent got him sent to his room. I was at my wits end. I was grieved not only at the behavior but at the state of his heart that was being revealed.

After giving us both some time to cool off I knocked quietly on his door and asked to talk to him. I sat on the chair next to his bed and quietly explained why his behavior was wrong. I said, “You were acting like a bully toward your brother.” Tears began to fall down his face as his chin quivered. I saw his heart go from hard to soft in the blink of an eye. I opened my arms and he somehow managed to curl his growing body on to my lap. His whole body shook as he cried.

“Can you tell me what you are feeling?” I questioned gently.

“It hurt my feelings when you called me a bully!” was the answer.

“Were or were you not being a bully?”

“I was.” brought on more tears.

“I know that you don’t want to be a bully. I am thankful to see that being shown your sin causes you to be sad. Our sin should make us sad because it is rebellion against God. It is wrong and it hurts others. But let me ask you something else, why did Jesus come and die on the cross?”

“To forgive us of our sins.” This son of mine knows the answer in his head.

“That’s right. God’s love, grace, and forgiveness are so great that He will forgive you when you act like a bully. Isn’t that great news?! He knows that you will sin and act like a bully some times, that is why He sent Jesus to rescue you. Our sin makes us sad but we don’t have to stay sad. We can ask God for forgiveness, feel His love, and then be joyful because we know that nothing we can ever do will cause Him to stop loving us!”

We prayed together confessing sin and thanking God for His forgiveness and love with the afternoon light streaming in like a benediction.

Five Minute Friday: Afraid

In the past few weeks I have come to a realization. I have spent most of my adult, spiritual life afraid of God. Afraid of losing his love. Afraid of not performing well enough. Afraid of not being radical enough, not giving enough. Afraid that I am selfish, seeking comfort, luke-warm. Afraid that I am not doing enough “big things” to serve him. Afraid that I don’t have enough faith. Afraid that when I stand before him I will be turned away as one of the goats who thought she was a sheep.

The thing about fear is that it steals joy. So I have also spent most of my adult, spiritual life desperately trying to find joy. I tried to pry the fruit of the Spirit from my frightened soul and despaired when that didn’t work.

When we decided not to pursue adoption right now all of my fears came bubbling to the surface. Everything that I thought about God and my faith was laid bare because in my mind I had failed. And the fear threatened to paralyze me.

Then the most amazing thing began to happen. I  began to see love. Everywhere. There was love in the people around me, and in the Bible, and in the world outside my door, and in blog posts like this, and in the still small voice that kept whispering to my heart in the darkness of the night, “I love you!” I was astonished at the love that I knew I didn’t earn or deserve but was receiving anyway.

As I allow the pure, unconditional, unadulterated love to pour in the fear is fleeing and the joy is coming.