Tag: God’s love

For When You’re Feeling Less-than

 

Muddy water rolls onto the rocky shore like waves of hope, and I count my blessings with the rhythm of the surf: this perfect day with cerulean skies and just the right placement of high cirrus clouds, sailboats on the horizon, these rolling green hills that speak of life and abundance, a date with a six-year-old, and the fact that she begged me to bring her to this place with a Bible. It’s almost too much to really believe this is my child and my life.

I watch her as she watches the waves beside me. She’s past the age of hurling rocks and sticks for entertainment.  Today she simply wants to watch the boats and the clouds drift by.

I pray for words that might capture this moment and speak truth into the deepest recesses of her being. I want to make the most of the moment, make it teachable, and be intentional.

Her delicate hair dances in the wind, and she looks right through me with penetrating eyes. She wants to know what I’m thinking about.  I tell her I was watching her watch the waves, and I think she’s beautiful.  I tell her I’m so grateful for this time together.

That’s when I remember.  I remember Ann’s words from this morning:

“The world will say they will love you if you’re beautiful —but the truth is you’re beautiful because you are loved.  “God Loves YOU. He who is Love loves you unconditionally. Living as one truly loved and cherished by God is the cross- beam that supports an abundant life in Christ. Belovedness is the center of being, the only real identity, God’s only name for you, the only identity He gives you. And you won’t ever feel like you belong anywhere until you choose to listen to your heart beating out that you do—unconditionally, irrevocably.” ~Ann Voskamp

My daughter is beautiful because she is loved. She’ll face bullies in the days to come.  She’ll face boys who will promise to love her if she’s beautiful, but how can I teach her that it’s not the love of boys or the admiration that comes from other women that makes a woman beautiful.  A woman is beautiful because she’s loved by God.

I want her to know who she is without hesitation. She’s not simply pretty or smart or funny.  She’s not defined by her social status, her hobbies, or her aspirations.  Before all of these things, she is first beloved.  Belovedness is the center of her being, her only real identity, and God’s name for her.  How can I teach her this?

I open the Bible on my lap to Romans, and I tell her: “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is how we know for sure that we are beautiful: God showed us that we are beautiful and beloved when he sent his Son to die for us.  This is the ultimate act of love.  You are beautiful because of this.”

I think of the labels with which I’ve defined myself: athlete, teacher, backpacker, wife, mother. I remember when the injury happened, and I could no longer call myself an athlete.  I remember walking away from my career to pursue full-time parenting, and I could no longer call myself a teacher.  I remember the day I realized it had been six years since I’d worn the old Kelty backpack into the mountains, and I could no longer call myself a backpacker.  What then?

What do we do with all the labels that are eventually stripped away? Who am I if it’s all stripped away?

Ann’s words ring true: The only identity that never changes is the identity that says I am beloved.

Blaise Pascal said it this way: “Not only do we know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ.”

I tell my girl that the only part of her that can never be stripped away is the love of Christ that is sealed over her life. No matter where she goes, no matter what she faces, she is still beloved.  There’s no need to prove herself to the world or make much of her life for the sake of a simple label.  She is free to live and love as one who is fully defined by the love of Christ.

She crawls onto my lap and listens intently. “Does this make sense?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says, “God loves me, just because I’m his.”

I kiss her damp hair. “Yes, just because you’re his.”

~~~

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For Anyone Who’s Been the Last One Chosen

 

I open the refrigerator in search of milk, but the sticker on the outside of the door catches my eye. It reads: “Star Student Award.”  It’s the size of a small nametag – white paper creased and worn and dirtied and so very well loved.

She wore it for two days. The first day, she bounced off the school bus in the blazing heat of a mid-May afternoon with a fleece jacket over her shirt.  She said she wanted to surprise me.  She ripped the coat wide open to unveil the prize she’d been longing for all year: the principal’s star student award.  She was spotted helping a friend, and someone noticed.  It feels so good when someone notices.

I convinced her not to slap it onto her pajamas that night, but she wore it to school the next day, gently pulling it from her turquoise T-shirt and placing it on her purple dress. She’d been chosen, and she just couldn’t wait to show the world.

After the second day on display, the sticker found its final resting place on an index card, and we taped it to the fridge for good measure. A treasure.  A reminder to be kind.

Staring at it in the early glow of morning’s rising light, I find myself thinking of what it means to be chosen. I think of a dozen times when I so desperately longed to be chosen . . . but wasn’t.  There was that day on the playground in second grade with all the boys.  I wanted to join their football game.  When the members of teams were drawn – one by one – I wasn’t last, but I was near the end.  I made sure to run faster and play harder than the rest of the boys, and from that day on, I was never near the end again.  The adult friends and family who have walked with me since childhood can attest to this.

I remember that boy in eighth grade. I desperately wanted him to dance with me, but he never walked across the wide span of gymnasium.  He asked the girl with the blonde hair and poufy bangs instead.  Two feet apart, they swayed to Boyz II Men for the full three minutes that could have been mine.

I turn from the sticker on the fridge and make my way to the couch to open the Word that will speak life into my day. I read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Chosen. I chew on the words.  I am chosen by the One who created the stars and the clouds and the mountains and the seas.  Before the foundation of all these things, he chose me.  I wasn’t always chosen for the team, chosen for the dance, or chosen for the promotion, but I am chosen by the Lord over all the earth to be his.  More than this, I am chosen to be blameless.

Me, with all my failures, all my besetting sins, my quick temper with the kids, my stained past, and my addictive personality – chosen to be blameless. Only the cross could have accomplished this.  Only the cross, with the shedding of innocent blood where the Lamb of God was slain for my failures.  Only the cross makes me blameless.

I swallow down the truth, and Bekah comes down the stairs with her hair matted from the pillow.  I hear her brother talking on the monitor – playing with the toys in his bed and singing with the little pink computer that sings the alphabet song.

She walks to the fridge and runs her little fingers – nails painted cobalt blue – across the sticker that reminds her she was chosen. I run my fingers across the pages that remind me of the same thing.

When she folds onto my lap, we talk about the sticker on the fridge, and I read words of life to her, praying they’ll sink straight into her thrumming heart. She smiles wide, truth sinking deeper.

 

How God’s Love Can Change Any Life

 

 

Bekah was born on a Tuesday, and nothing about the day really went as expected. I didn’t expect my water to break at 4 a.m., five days before my due date. I didn’t expect my body not to go into labor on its own, warranting an induction. I didn’t expect them to wheel me to the operating room after fourteen hours of labor. And when they pulled her from me, wrapped her in her striped hospital blanket, and brought her to me, I didn’t expect the violent flow of love to pour from me like it did. I didn’t know I was capable of that kind of love or that such love even existed.

I cried often throughout our first few weeks together, and while I hear it’s common to cry at every commercial and break down at every sentimental thought, I mostly cried because I couldn’t believe the love we shared. My desires to protect, nurture, and care for her were stronger than anything I’d experienced.

It was during those early weeks of Bekah’s life that the power of the cross captivated me in a new way. There was absolutely no way I’d send my daughter to die in anyone’s place. Ever.

The willingness of God to send his child to die for me completely transformed my perception of his love.

Throughout my life, I’ve battled with the feeling of not being good enough, lies that tell me rejection from other people means I’m less-than, and the ongoing feeling that I simply don’t measure up. Most of us face these thoughts at some time in our lives. Whether it’s the child who made fun of me on the playground in second grade, or the coworker who criticized my fashion sense in my fourth decade of life, the words of other people hold the power to inflict deep wounds.

For nearly a decade, I listened to messages from well meaning Christian leaders who spoke of finding our identities in Christ. They said things like, “You are a beloved child of the Most High God. You are precious and dearly loved.” All these words were nice, but while women around me cried and rejoiced at their newfound identities, it just wasn’t getting to my heart. And I knew it.

Things changed when I held my own child. I experienced love like I’d never known, and I came to the striking realization that God loves Jesus far more perfectly and deeply than I can love my precious child. He feels for Jesus the way I feel for my children — and more – and yet he sent him to suffer and die so I wouldn’t have to receive his punishment for my long list of mistakes.

The heart of my identity is this: God loves me so much that he sent Jesus to die for me (Romans 5:8). We all long for a deep encounter with the love of God, but let’s not get so caught up in seeking an experience that we fail to contemplate the truest thing about God. When I long for an encounter with his love, I simply need to step back and consider the cross. He loves me so deeply that he sent his Son to a place of agony for me. Encountering this truth is the quintessential encounter.

I don’t love anyone enough to send my child to suffer and die on a cross for them. How deep this love truly is. Understanding the depth of his love transformed my identity. When I begin to feel less than, left out, or not enough, I think of how much I love my children. Then I ponder God’s love for me, to send his child to die in my place. I know this is real love.

I know I don’t need to please others, measure up, or be someone others admire, because I am loved crazily by my Father.

Three Things to Remember in the Valley

 

I slip to the woods on a Saturday evening after groceries and prescriptions and new socks for littlest one. The ground is soft and muddied with footprints of dog walkers and bird watchers. I immediately see why they came. The sinking sun blinds me to the west, but to the east, the ponds reflect perfect paintings of cobalt skies and grey hills – hills on the brink of bursting into glory, hills that are waiting for redemption.

I walk long through the mud and embrace the patches of soft grass that clean my shoes and offer traction. Geese linger in a pond to the south, and I follow the winding valley to its deepest place –where the sun hides behind the hills, and the darkness of night has already descended.

I’ve always been captivated by the shadows cast by mountains. Summers spent in Wyoming’s granite canyons bore witness to sun scorched peaks that stared down at the dark valley for hours. I lived in the valley, and I longed for the warmth of the morning sun each day. I missed the sunsets over Plain Grove’s hayfields and grew accustomed to watching the sun fade behind mountains early in the evenings to the west.

The geese are speaking words of warning about my presence as I tread farther along the path – less worn this far from the parking area. I pull my hood over my ears and hide my hands in my sleeves. It’s cool in the shade of the valley. Sitting on a rock at my turn-around point, I stare at the still water, look up at the illuminated hilltops, and consider the valleys of my life. I consider the hardest stretches, the darkest times, and the most painful trials. A few truths come to mind – truths for the valleys:

You are not alone

Some valleys exist solely on the precept of feeling alone. We believe we are alone, and the isolation of the season creates the valley. Feeling misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned, or without support leads us to feel alone, and there seems to be little hope for escaping the valley. Not that anyone cares.

The truth for this valley is this: “God will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). I generally wish God’s presence felt more tangible. I need to remind myself that just because I don’t see him or tangibly feel him, this doesn’t mean he’s not present. He walks with me through every valley, and he will never leave me.

This will be used for good

God holds the power to use all situations for good in the lives of those who love him. Some of my hardest valleys have taught me to be grateful for seasons of health and “normal” living. Some of the darkest valleys have helped me make better decisions in the future. Some of my most painful valleys have made the sunshine on mountaintops far more glorious than they would have been without a climb from the deepest place.

Our valleys are used to comfort others

Most of our valleys hold the power to comfort others who go through the same struggles. The hard breakups of my teen years later enabled me to mentor teens walking through the same trials. The difficult days of my pregnancies enabled me to comfort friends going through the same struggles. The challenges at my job gave me empathy to encourage others who are in difficult situations in the workplace. God uses our valleys to comfort others in their valleys.

If life has led you to a valley today, be encouraged. You are not alone. Keep clinging to the One who won’t let you go.

*On an entirely unrelated note, I’m writing at one of my favorite parenting sites this week: Your Budding Biologist Should Hatch Frog Eggs This Spring.  And right on time, our deck is now home to one large tank of hopeful bullfrog eggs.