A Valentine For the Lonely

No one will ever love you like Jesus does.

You were made to be cherished, and you are.  From the moment your parent’s cells fused together to become you, it was love at first sight.  God cradled you, hushed in the warmth of your mother’s womb, and crafted you with infinite care.  For months, it was His eyes only that softened at the very sight of you, weaving your DNA into a symmetrical double helix formation and imprinting bold and beautiful dreams into your newly beating heart.

And then the time came for you to be delivered, and whether you were welcomed or unwanted by your parents, all of heaven hushed as God kissed breath into your infant lungs.  Your tiny fists clenched as you wailed dissatisfaction, and you’ve never escaped that lingering taste of discontent.  You want more than this wild, beautiful, messy, dark, sin-splashed planet has to offer, because you were born for another world.

The gaping hole in your heart was made to turn you heavenward, and all the loneliness was meant to remind you that Christ was abandoned by His Father for a dark afternoon so that you need never be forsaken.  Tell me this: has anyone in your whole life completely, totally, and thoroughly known every crevice of you, and then unflinchingly died for you?  How about someone you’ve betrayed, ignored, and disrespected…what about then?  Jesus did.

Now I know, you want arms to hold you close, and someone to whisper sweet nothings in your ear, and there is nothing wrong with wanting any of thatWhen loneliness pushes hard and wounds grow scar tissue, feeling unlovable is easy.  The honest truth is that when we are stripped to our very core, we are unlovable, prickly, nasty, self centered people with a few nice streaks tossed in to pretty things up a little.  The good news of the Gospel is not that God loves the lovely, but that God loves sinners.

You and I may be unlovable, but we are not unloved.

If you trust only in the saving work of Jesus on the cross, then you are His forever.  No prettying up needed.  God loves you at your worst, and He is prepared to help you grow into the breathtaking image of His only Son.

There is good news for anyone feeling just a little bit lonely this Valentine’s Day.  Tender-loving is not some painful memory from the past, or some not-yet-realized dream for the future.  It’s your birth right as God’s beloved child.  The Almighty, brushing close to fill the hollow places, can be your love affair.  Jesus shouted it from a blood soaked hill, whispers it from every tissue-thin page of every Bible across the world, and sings it unblushingly loud from the stars in deepest space to the very molecules that comprise your every cell.  The earth still quivers with the power of that love.

You want an epic romance?

Brace yourself, because your Hero is perfect, strong, loving, understanding, and romantic.  And not only will He love you forever, He died to keep you for all time and eternity.  You are His cherished friend, His delight, His treasure.  You are His bride.  When He looks at you, it’s through the eyes of love, unstained by sin.

Don’t miss the message in all of this mess: Jesus will never, ever, not even for a second stop loving you.  He sees every last sinful, shredded piece of you, and He wants you anyway.

You’re not His last choice – you’re His first.

Real intimacy is about so much more than stripping clothes; it’s about stripping the pretense away and letting yourself touch and be touched in the deep places of your heart.  It’s about baring your soul and your skin and bearing his faults with gentleness.

Seven years married, and I’m still a baby to this true love stuff.

I can tell you that it’s worth it.  Loving him and being loved by him is hard work, but it’s worth it.  Sometimes it looks like fun and flirting, and sometimes it looks a whole lot like raw flesh touching a splintered cross and two sinners kneeling below.  Real love is his hand holding tight while you clench through the contractions, and yours holding him when life kicks him in the gut.  It’s laughing till you cry, and keeping promises because marriage isn’t just about you and him.

Marriage is a picture of the love that Christ has for the church.

This Valentine’s Day, don’t forget that Someone thought you were worth dying for.  Hold out for a man that loves you like Jesus does.

This first appeared on iBelieve.com on February 7, 2017

 

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When You’re Heavy Laden At Christmas

Hello, friends.

I feel a bit like old Zechariah, tongue loosed after months of silence.

The truth is, I’ve felt hushed these last months.  More aware than ever of the staggering magnitude of God and His abilities, and more deeply aware than ever of my lack.  Lack of faith, lack of sufficiency, lack of time, lack of energy…just not enough in so many areas.  And learning that it’s okay (like really, truly okay) to lean on Jesus in my insufficiency instead of trying to only half lean on Him.  I’m a desperately untrusting, stubborn independent  (?) kind of a gal.

I’ve been focused in on baring my soul to God and hushing my own expectations – and maybe even the expectations of others, too.  And with all that, I’ve been learning so much more about loving my husband and kiddos well.

I just haven’t had words for anything else.

Maybe I should also mention…we’re in the middle of a miracle.  You know how the doctor said we were done having kids?  Well, that’s what we thought, but God has graciously blessed us with another little blessing.  This miracle-child is kicking me as I sit here, a minute-by-minute reminder that God can do anything He pleases.

There are other changes – difficult relationships that keep us up at night, difficult decisions to be made – that are anything but easy.  Maybe you’re feeling some heaviness this Christmas, too? 

I don’t have any great wisdom to offer you.  Just this: take it to Jesus.  Fall on your knees, seek Him with honesty, and I promise you:

Whatever you’re facing, He’ll face it with you.

Grace, peace, and Merry Christmas!

With love,

 

 

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When You’re Just Living An Ordinary Life

 

I spend my life picking up socks.

That’s not strictly true, of course.  There’s dirty silverware and cups, desiccated vegetables and hardened play dough. There’s Duplo blocks and train sets and dinosaurs and dolls.  There’s throw blankets and throw pillows (which get…don’t you know…thrown.)  Did I mention socks?

It’s pretty mundane, this life of ours.  Swim lessons, play dates, and laundry.  Grocery shopping and the play ground and library, and lots of books and puzzles and singing things on television.  And if you know me at all, you might know that I’m kind of a move-on-to-the-next-thing kind of a gal.

I want to know the point of it all, because honestly?  It all starts to feel a bit pointless after a while.

The mess, the toys, the socks just keep coming.  Do you know what I mean?  My people need food, and the dishes need washing, and the toilet needs scrubbing again…and again…and again.

It’s an endless cycle of doing what’s needed, but it’s not exactly earth shaking.  I find my confidence shaken, my certainty that I’m really contributing anything of value in this life…well, shaken.  There are nuclear physicists and trauma surgeons and even my own Superman climbs mountains and carries people off of them.  I can find their place in the strata of usefulness, but when it comes to quantifying the usefulness of a sock-picker-upper?

I’m not so impressed.

It’s only when I look in the Gospels and see Jesus affirming the ordinary that my pulse begins to settle.  He meets people in the sweat and grime of their hustling lives, pinpoints their exact area of need, and then?  Then, when they repent and want to go change the world, He sends them home.  Live the difference.  Tell your people what God did for you.

Yes, occasionally, God takes someone from the dust and orbits them into national ministry.  But for every one of those glittering stars that the whole world knows, there are tens of thousands of faithful, ordinary, sock-picker-uppers.  Simple people who just tell it to their kids, live it out in the PTA meetings, in the break room, in the grocery store checkout line.  (Seriously, is that NOT a test of your Christian character?)

If you and I are loving our people the best that we can, even if it’s by picking up socks, that’s sanctified work.  Really.

Maybe we don’t need more epic and best-ever.

Maybe the truly rare stuff in life is just mundane, everyday faithfulness, made starkly beautiful with great love.

And when you really want to change the world, God is faithful to open up opportunities right in the middle of your ordinary.

I have a friend who’s homeschooling her 3 girls, runs the local 4-H program, mentors single moms, just completed her foster parent certification…and is gathering supplies for relief efforts of refugees in Syria.

Another friend read a good book on parenting and asked some moms at church if they wanted to read it through and send a quick note of encouragement to another mom each week for 4 weeks.  Sounds simple, right?  Friends, by the time she was done, she had 40 people signed up. 

Even simpler, one of the most life-changing people I’ve ever known is my BFF’s mom.  She had plenty on her plate, but she always made the effort to encourage her daughter’s and my friendship.  I loved going over to their house.  She always had a smile, a hug, and time to let 2 girls take over her kitchen to make a tea party.  She let us stay up as late as we wanted, sleep in till noon, and let the chores slide so that we’d have more time together.  It doesn’t really get any simpler than that, does it?  Her example shines bright in my life decades later.  I want that kind of a home.

I want to share that kind of lifegiving love with as many people as I can.  That, to me, is Jesus.

You don’t have to go brave the jungles of South America to shine the light of the Gospel (unless that’s where God calls you!)  Shine bright right here at home.

Love the ones you’re given – your own family, your coworkers, your neighbors, your church, your kid’s friend.  It’s love that makes all the difference, isn’t it, friends?

You really can’t minimize the impact of a faithful woman who loves Jesus and people with all of her heart.

Even if all she ever does is pick up socks.

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When God Does What You’d Never Expect

Imagine you’re a good Jewish girl, just going about your day.

It’s another hot one, the Palestinian sun searing through your roughly woven tunic and trickling sweat down your itching back.  Just another day, like any other in the 400 years of silence since YWH last spoke to His people.

It’s the silence that breeds doubts like bacteria, infecting every thought, every ritual, every waking moment.  If He is silent, then He must…surely…be angry.  And if you grow up under the spiked caliga of Roman oppression, surely, SURELY, God is not only angry…but disgusted.  Why wouldn’t He be?  You are the lowest of the low, the scorn of all the known world.  Even other Jews view you with a lip curled in disgust.

The water you haul from the communal well every day weighs your shoulders like the impossible burden of commands, rituals, and observances you follow because that’s what good Jewish people do.

You do what’s expected.  Period.

No, it’s never enough, but maybe…even though you live in a redneck town in the backwater of nowhere…maybe, you can keep YWH from consuming you.  Or hope that He really has forgotten you.

And then, in the suffocating heat, silence shatters with an angel’s voice, and everything you thought you knew about God shatters too.

He sees past the dirt and the flies, and the ignorance, all the way to your aching heart, and He knows.  He knows how you’ll never be enough, do enough, say it right.  How you’re just a filthy, despised, oppressed WOMAN who doesn’t count…and He sends an angel to say the last thing you’d expect:

“Greetings, highly favored one!  The Lord is with you!”

A sob catches in your throat as you look around the barren hut, rank with the smell of animals and sweat.  God, here?  Me, favored?  Because, you’re not Moses, or David, or even Queen Hadassah.  The weight of hell slips off your shoulders as heaven presses close, and for the first time in your backbreaking life, you don’t have to do it all, be it all, or get it all right.  Because God…comes to you.

He chooses…YOU.

Not the richest, or the prettiest, or the smartest.  Just an ordinary girl in a stinking mud hut in the middle of nowhere, forever caught up in the great story of redemption.

God does what you don’t expect.

He comes to our weakness, our vulnerability, and as we fracture into a million pieces, wracked by the million ways we don’t measure up, He says what we’d never once expect:

Blessed are you who mourn, for you will be comforted.  (Matthew 5:3)

It really never was about getting it right, doing it all, or saying it perfect.

It was coming to the bald truth that we can’t, and God loves us still.  He covers over our inadequacies, because that’s what love does.

Redemption, bold-faced grace…it’s here, and yes, YOU can be caught up in the redemption story…even (especially) if you’re just kind of ordinary.  Even if you’re the one who can’t get it right for the life of you.  Even if you’re disgusting and humiliated, even then…He sees with a jaw-dropping kind of tenderness.

Jesus, the Messiah, came not only to make a way for us to God…but to show us the face, the nature, the very heart of God.  He chooses ordinary ones, deeply cracked with flaws.

It’s our nature to exalt the pretty, the popular, the rich.  It’s His nature to lift the poor, the needy, the ugly and forgotten ones, and set them with kings.

We discount the quiet, the small, the mundane…and yet, that is the very DNA of the Kingdom of God.

God comes to mud huts and forgotten people.  He comes to hospital rooms and dark alleyways, cramped apartments in the ghetto, and desolate canyons in the middle of nowhere.  He comes on the sweaty days, the achingly cold ones, the dreary rain-soaked afternoons, and the sun-splashed mornings.  He comes when we’re on top of the world, and even more noticeably, when we’re anything but.

He comes how you’d never expect, saying what you’d never think He’d say.  He comes in an unexplained pregnancy, in the disorienting fog of sleep deprivation, in the pain of an illness or a searing loss.  He comes when you’re living under the soles of oppression, when you’re just trying to make it through another day full of ordinary chores.  He comes hushed when your soul’s so achingly crushed that you can’t even find the words.  And somehow, He gives the words, and He gives Himself, and you make it through because even when you’re not enough, He is.  (Psalm 94:17-19).

And yes, He comes in rainbows and smiles and flowers, but He can’t be limited to just the pretty and fun stuff, because that isn’t life.  He comes to our mundane, tangled up, ordinary lives, and He shows us that even in this, we’re the favored ones.  And yes, even in this, He is here.

It feels a bit like rejoicing, because the King…He chose YOU.  To live with you, to love you, to pick you.

And all that you thought you knew begins to shatter.

Grace, peace, and only-HE-is-enough,

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The Most Important Work

Mark Chapter 2 opens with something that bothers me just a little bit.

There’s this paralyzed man who can’t get to Jesus, so his friends make a hole in the roof and lower him down to be healed. And Jesus takes one look at him – his withered legs, his scared and hopeful eyes, the pieces of plaster and thatch in his hair and clothes from his undignified entrance – and He says the most un-obvious thing.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Hold the phone!!! What???

What I forget – and maybe we all do? – is that our most urgent need is forgiveness, our deepest problem is never our circumstances, but rather our sinfulness.

I get lost in the whirlwind of heartbreak that clogs my newsfeed on social media, and the needs that flood my inbox. I find my list more urgent than my children, the (sometimes overwhelming) work of running a household easier by far than delving into emotional accessibility.

And I think – maybe I’m just not cut out for “holy” work.  I can do far better than disciple.  Contrastingly, there are those who can dream the day away, delve deeply into everyone’s emotions, write poetry that would make angels weep…but don’t lift a finger to handle the overflowing laundry hamper, the work deadlines, the empty refrigerator.  But isn’t Jesus-living something of both?  After His startling statement of forgiveness, Jesus heals the man’s legs, too. The former paraplegic walks out of that house with strong legs and a clean soul.

Healing a broken body is undoubtedly sanctified work, but healing a soul is even more precious. You can fix a finite body for a few decades, but the real work is eternal. Jesus never lost sight of that.  So often, I forget to blend the two – practical help with eternal significance.  We see it here in Mark 2: It’s possible to work holy and worship practically – to live a life that encompasses the temporal and the spiritual.  To take a messy interruption like the roof falling in and broken lives landing in the middle of a beautiful sermon…and turn it into opportunity.

The most important work is not necessarily curing world hunger or creating the next vaccine (although, if God gifts you to fight those battles, YES! Go do it!).  The most important work is the stuff in front of us, but not just the obvious needs.  It’s doing the glaringly obvious things, but first…peeling back the layers to the hidden needs, the soul wounds, and bringing the healing of Christ in every way we can.

Sin is always the most painful part of anyone’s narrative.

We tend to forget this.  Because we get snagged on the obvious – the crippling paralysis of ugly factors leads us to think that if we could just fix this ONE thing…that life would be bearable again.  Mark 2 is a clear reminder that temporal problems are always secondary.  Always?  Yes, always.

You can see this principle echoed throughout Scripture as we are reminded that because of Jesus, we can always rejoice.  Yes, our current situation might be utterly bleak, but the blackest of our problems is taken care of forever.  Circumstances can blind us to the reality that God’s deepest act of love is His rescue mission to each of us – and that we should never take lightly the truth of justification by grace.  When you’re staring heartbreak in the face, no matter the cause…don’t forget that all your sins, every one is forgiven by God.

This is helpful to remember, not just about our own lives, but also about others’.  When we see people within the Biblical frame of reference – eternal souls housed in a temporal body – it places into perspective the ways that they have already been helped by God, and emphasizes the importance of our call to help them on both levels.

There is a world of hurt, and broken, and messy people.  And there’s plenty we can do to help, both physically and spiritually.  The most Christ-like work is always a blend of the two: tending to souls and meeting temporal needs.

Don’t ever minimize the work you’ve been called to do. More than just speaking truth over a hurting world, or just meeting a temporary need, God calls us to do BOTH.

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