Given Everything

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Romans 8:32
“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

I just returned from a two week trip to visit my parents and help them move. While I was there, Dad asked me to participate in a phone call with his investment advisor and estate consultant. He and my mom extracted seventeen years worth of memories and not-so-memorable things that my sisters and I had collected in their basement, and then abandoned when we married and moved away. I helped them haul literally hundreds of pounds of “stuff” to the donation center. It was an all-inclusive attempt to take inventory of what they had, who wanted it “someday” and what isn’t worth anything anymore.

In the basement, I sat cross-legged with my mother emptying trunks of baby clothes, hand-made blankets and old Yahtzee games. Carefully, I selected the one dress I remember her sewing for me when I was about two. I chose two baby blankets and a stack of old letters that had been sent to me when I was sick for an extended period of time. Across the room, one of my sisters struggled to contain her tears; her sentimentality offended at the loss of anything sacred—even if that be an old church bulletin with doodles done during a boring sermon.

My parents are almost 60, and a move like this necessarily conjures the conversation of who will inherit what when they pass away. I know I want my mother’s ring with all her children’s birthstones. They have two paintings that I’d like to have. Other things my sisters want for their homes.

Romans 8 explains the full beauty of our relationship to God as Father, and our position as His heirs by virtue of our adoption through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

Though our point of reference as an heir is our familial relationships, there is an important difference between what we experience on earth and the kind of inheritance we receive from our Heavenly Father.

My sisters and I are making choices, planning to divide my parents’ estate. We will have to take somethings and relinquish others. But the Bible says that in Christ, God gives us all things, and that every good and perfect gift is from above. And in the the Old Testament we are told that “no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” [emphasis added]

As if it were not enough to receive salvation and forgiveness of our sins, God has adopted us—made us His children—and given each one of us full share in His inheritance.

Jesus, I pray that you will open the eyes of our hearts, enlighten us in order that we may know the hope to which you have called us and the riches of our glorious inheritance through Christ.

 First posted on http://www.servantsisters.org.
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2 Things I Would Never Tell Your Child

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I’m sorry, today is supposed to be your day “off” from my ramblings, but my dear husband heard this on the radio and actually took the time to call me about it on his way to work. He knows that this is the kind of thing that raises my ire, and that I would want to talk to you about it. 

Just last week I read about the Facebook snafu, the “Hot Mom” who posted a “selfie” (I hate that word) and threw down the gauntlet to all women to reclaim (or establish) their “ideal” physique nearly instantly after pregnancy. 

(Even as I write this, I notice that I’m using an inordinate number of quotation marks, which indicates to me the irony of this conversation.) 

Here’s the second article about , “Mom Under Fire” for the haughty flaunt of her “perfect” post-baby body. Again, practically a challenge to all women, “I bet you can’t do this!”

It reminds me of the playground, “My body is better than your body!” “Anything you can do I can do better!”.

Just last night, I picked up a very interesting book called, The Religion of Thinness. The author makes a solid case for defining our commitment to, obsession with and sacrifices for thinness, as a religion. These articles back up her thesis. 

We’ve all heard new parents says something like, “Now that we have kids we’re going to start going to church and praying over meals. I want our kids to grow up in a religious home.”

In essence, these recent articles are saying, “Now that we have kids, I want the first thing they think about, the highest value of their lives to be creating and maintaining the perfect body.”

Do we really want to send that message to our kids?

Because He Lives, Generational Blessings

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In the late 1960s, Gloria and Bill Gaither wondered if it was irresponsible to bring new life into the world. Newspaper headlines dripped with despair. The Vietnam War raged and by the end of 1968, over 22,000 American soldiers had died. John F. Kennedy was assassinated that same year, the cost of living rose. Rock and roll music was gaining popularity, eclipsing the wholesome songs of their youth. “Love” and “peace” were being paraded through the streets on rainbow-colored banners and in hazy smoke circles, irrespective of their true source. Peace was expected to follow, “whatever makes you happy”.

A little over a decade later, my own mother fretted about the wisdom of starting a family as morality seemed to decline and the world seemed headed to hell in a hand basket. Did God really mean to bear with His creation much longer? It seemed as though the days of Noah, when “all the thoughts of mens’ hearts was always evil continually”, were replaying on an erie global screen.

In March 1980, the month of my birth year, stories of riots, murders and natural disasters landed in the driveway with every thump of the daily paper. American politics grew steadily more liberal beneath the Carter administration. God was systematically evicted from public education.

Fast forward a little more than 30 years…

On a sunny, delicious day in Dallas, TX, three generations of my family crowded around a circular table in my sister’s kitchen. Rays of warmth poured through open windows and drew geometric patterns across the crumbs of our bagel breakfast; a light breeze stirred the ribbons of steam rising from mix-matched coffee cups.

“Why do I deserve to be here?” the thought was half prayer and joined my heart’s whispers of thankfulness to heaven. Why, in the midst of a crumbling economy, school shootings, talk of death panels, government shut downs, broken homes, starving countries, racism and deception, am I allowed to bask here in the love of family, the promise of life, the comfort of fellowship and full bellies?

Across the table, I saw my dad’s eyes shimmer. They always do that when he’s thrilled to bursting with the blessings of our High King. Next to him, my mother cradled her newest grandchild, gulping air into tiny lungs less than a month exposed to oxygen outside his mother’s womb. Each of my three sisters pushed back from the table, one teetering on the back legs of her chair just as we were warned not to do as little girls. “Baby Hay”, so nicknamed by the squirming toddler in my lap rested quietly on the floor nearby. And I leaned forward to press my cheek to the soft pigtails of my niece. At her behest, I sang, Jesus Loves Me, to her, “again”, hushed so as not to interrupt the ebb and flow of conversation, like a peaceful tide unchecked by second thoughts.

Daddy pulled an envelope from his lap under the table and reached across, placing it in my hands. Mom produced a large shoebox at the same time.

“These are for you,” she said.

I must have looked surprised. None of their new or expected grandchildren were mine, so there was no occasion to shower me with gifts. Christmas was fast approaching, but none of us were ready to admit that, let alone begin shopping for gifts. My birthday had come and gone this year.

“You’ll understand when you open it,” Dad said.

I peeled the paper from the box and lifted the lid. Folded back and forth upon itself lay a blue and white, latch hook banner. Immediately, I remembered it. Now my own eyes shimmered, and I pulled it out, stretching it to the full length.

“Because He Lives”.

About a year ago, I began signing most of my letters and emails with that closing phrase. I did it mostly because “Sincerely”, “In Him”, “Love”, “Yours Truly” and “Blessings”, seemed over done. But I had no idea why this particular line came to me, or why it filled me with pure pleasure to place my name beneath the assurance. “Because He Lives”. It just seemed so…me.

As my parents’ first born, the latch hook banner once hung in my nursery. I claimed it as my own, even though it hung in each subsequent nursery as my sisters arrived. But as an adult, I accepted the fact that it would most likely hang in one of my sisters’ nurseries. Without children of my own, I hardly expected to be given the handmade treasure.

“Open the envelope.” My mom gestured.

Still wordless, I placed the banner in my lap and began to read.

“The lyrics to this song have held true, are true and will continue to hold true. As you have heard many times before, God placed this song on my heart when I was fearful of ever having a family. He showed himself faithful time and time again in raising our family. He took two broken people who love Him and brought four beautiful girls into the world. And now through His faithfulness He has started four more wonderful families. Families that He will continue to do His work in, “because He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it…”.

Suddenly, I knew why God had given me this precious phrase, “Because He Lives”. Every generation has grown up in the darkness of their own age, in the particular ills that beset those years. Personally, I was accosted by the worldly demands to have a perfect body, be self-sufficient, brutally self-disciplined and in control. I fell beneath the blows of an eating disorder and many nights I wondered if God would simply relieve my pain through death. He refused.

After each wave of fierce battle, as I lay panting and still stubbornly broken by sin, Father God breathed hope into my spirit. My journal is replete with the question, “What makes life worth living for those who do not know Jesus?”

For 15 years, God held my frail spirit in His hands; He must have exhaled the breath of life into my lungs over and over again. In time, I drank that breath deep. Because He lives, I saw purpose lingering in front of me like light filtering through a dust storm. Slowly, I regained my health. The only reason I have for finding life worth living is “Because He Lives”.

We live in a fallen world. Christians are full aware of the of spirit of anti-Christ in their own age. (1 John 4:3) Even the apostle John identified it in the fledgling years of the early church. But, we also live in a redeemed world. For those who believe in Christ’s substitutionary payment on the cross, there is reason to bring new life into the world. Indeed, it is God’s great glory to push new generations through human oneness into the world of His creation – The world, so loved by God that He sent His one and only Son that everyone who believes may have eternal life through Jesus Christ. (John 3:16)

I remember a small plaque that perched on the shelves of my parents’ headboard when I was young. It read:

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on. ~ Anonymous”

Bill and Gloria Gaither grasped that truth and memorialized it in song. The sweet melody etched itself into my mother’s heart one morning in church as she agonized fearfully about the future of her children. And then, that same truth preserved my life when I too wondered at the purpose for living in a hurtful, difficult world. The truth remains, “Because He Lives”.

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;

He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Chorus
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives!

Chorus

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict’ry,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives!

Chorus

Love Isn’t What You Thought it Was

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Love is NOT an action. Love is NOT a verb.

Maybe I’m taking it too far. After all, it is the well-meaning marriage counselor staring across her office at the young couple engaged in an only slightly contained version of offensive PDA, who says it. She wants to warn them that the honeymoon phase won’t last forever.

Or, it’s the aged and experienced pastor, reminding his flock that love endures all things, it doesn’t give up as soon as the circumstances no longer feel good.

That’s what we mean, right? We’re trying to say that love doesn’t always evoke warm fuzzies. It isn’t always carrying a long-stemmed rose. Love doesn’t necessarily pal around with happiness. Love has guts. Love digs in, hangs on, fights through and comes out on the other side. 

So I agree, love is not a feeling. But I stand by the truth that love is not an action either.

First Corinthians 13 is the “Love Chapter”, known by Christians and unbelievers alike as the quintessential description of the highest, most unattainable, unhuman-like love. It’s what we strive for and then console ourselves when we fail saying, “we’re only human”.

When I read that long definition of LOVE, I’m am struck more by what Love is not and what it does not do than what it is or does.

“…love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing…Love never ends.”

To me, this says that for those of us who are learning Love from the Savior who IS Love,  we will need to exercise more restraint from what comes naturally, than effort to perform a list of lovely actions.

The Bible doesn’t say Love is an activist. It doesn’t say Love sets out to change the world. In fact, some things in this list suggest that such actions are often attempted without love. Frequently, our intent to change the world looks like we’re fighting for our own way, behaving rudely or being resentful.

Love doesn’t constantly offer advice. (This includes counseling, nagging and reprimanding our husbands, kids or friends.)

People with Down Syndrome are known for their ability to love far beyond what we deem normal, even without the full capacity to do many things. We admire the limitless love of our pets, referring to their unconditional love, even as they cannot verbalize their emotions.

How well do we feel loved by a bed-ridden grandma who really can’t do anything for us anymore? Or do we experience love through the prayers of a church body we’ve never seen? Or do we admire the love and joy emanating from an impoverished African child, who has little ability to do much for anyone?

Love isn’t an action.
Love isn’t a feeling.
Love is a person, and those who know Him best ought to be those who radiate it most brightly. Just as those standing closest to a candle will be most illuminated. Love is a Being, not a doing. A Being who always IS with us and doesn’t run from our unloveliness.

Progressive God

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What if we didn’t serve a progressive God?

No, I don’t intend to imply that He changes with the times, or improves or adapts to our whims. But He doesn’t just fix one little thing about me and let the others slide or degrade me continually. God doesn’t just pluck my marriage from the pits, set it on the brink of survival and walk away. No.

I [God] leads [her] with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from [her] neck and bent down to feed [her].”

Hosea 11:4

This weekend, my husband and I enjoyed time together that in years past never would have even taken place. This weekend, I emailed back and forth with a former counselor for my eating disorder and I was able to share joy with her and good news and hope. This weekend, I talked to my in-laws and was able to say, “No” to a wonderful by poorly timed invitation even though I feared letting them down. This weekend, I found myself on the verge of self-deprication and suddenly I realized that it didn’t feel sincere – the words that started to echo in my mind were hollow and insignificant. I didn’t feel worthless and quickly I silenced Satan’s lies and rested in the progressive, eternal redemption and love of my heavenly Father.

Praise the Lord!

I am thankful.

I’ll See You At Home

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For two weeks now, my husband and I have been visiting family in Oklahoma and Kansas. Before that, I was lucky to fly to TX in November to see my newborn niece, Kylie. So right now, I am on a high – thrilled with the passionate hugs of family, the pleasant smiles of friends, late nights by the fireplace and afternoons reminiscing over a cup of coffee. How I love being HOME!

There is something inexplicable about being home. Have you ever noticed that you, (or your spouse) have a tendency to revert to child-like behaviors when you go home? For me, suddenly I hear myself getting loud and giddy with my sisters or quickly irritated by my dad. My husband can sometimes act like the sullen, quiet teenager he once was when we’ve been with his parents for too long. There’s a hankering for the special meal your mom used to make, and she’s thrilled to serve it for you one more time. Patrick and I enjoy returning to the college bar that holds iconic stature in Stillwater – Eskimo Joe’s.

Is that what Heaven will be like? Enns accurately reminds us that Heaven is our real home.

“One of the rich, colorful words describing heaven is the word patrida…The word is related to pater, meaning ‘father.’ Hence, patrida has a family meaning. This is where one’s family lives. It reflects the family’s culture, language, habits. It is home.”

Is it reasonable then to believe that we will be more “ourselves,” more authentic in heaven? I think so. We will see just how we really were created in the image of our Abba.

Living in VA, far away from my family, I often feel lonely and a little left out. I wasn’t there for the special family dinner celebrating my youngest sister’s engagement. I wasn’t able to fly home fast enough to be with Granddad in his final hours. I didn’t spend Christmas around my mom’s Christmas tree. But someday, when I am really HOME, I will never miss anything.

There’s a good chance that I may never meet you here. I will probably miss all your birthdays, your anniversaries, your tearful moments, your joyous occasions. But someday this long journey will be over. I do hope to meet you at home. Do you know your Father?

P.S. Here’s another review of Enns’ book. I hope you enjoy it!