He First Loved Us

I hated Valentine’s Day when I was single. Seriously hated it. I still don’t like it that much. I think the world puts expectations on it, and I prefer to celebrate birthdays and annniversaries which are all pretty close to Valentine’s Day.

This morning when I woke up, I had a verse in my mind.

“We love because he first loved us. ” I John 4:19 ESV

If you follow Jesus, you don’t love because he/she sends you flowers and a card. You don’t wait to love until you see what they got for you. You love because HE loves. His love came first and always will. And if you don’t expect a Valentine today or wish you had someone with whom to celebrate, you can still choose to love others out of the overflow of His love for you. Focus on the one who loves you more than any human ever has or ever could or ever will. Receive His love and you will always have love to give others no matter what day it is on the calendar.

Bought and Paid For

A few weeks ago, our pastor preached a great message in a series on generosity. He read from a passage in Exodus, and I spent some time pondering its meaning.

“When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the Lord all the first that opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.” {Exodus 13:11-13 ESV}

He continued by explaining that the donkey was unclean, and it must be redeemed by a lamb, which was considered clean. The unclean was redeemed by the clean. I was somewhat dumbfounded as this thought rolled around in my head. Why would you take something clean, unblemished, in good condition and kill it to redeem the thing that is unclean, dirty, worthless? This is backwards. It doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t make sense to our human thought process. But the unclean thing is not worthy to pay the price that is owed. The price must be paid by an unblemished, worthy sacrifice. It is no sacrifice to kill the unworthy animal. It is a true sacrifice to take the one who has value and worth and sacrifice it to God.

So it is with our Savior. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His perfect, sinless, beautiful life was sacrificed to redeem our sinful, unworthy souls. We certainly don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. We will never be able to repay it. He knew all those things, yet He willingly gave His life away.

I don’t think about this enough, the unbelievable price He paid to buy eternal life for my wretched soul. It is a staggeringly beautiful reminder that I owe Him everything.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” {Romans 5:6-8 ESV}

Beauty in All Seasons

Beauty. We fight desperately to keep it. We seek it out. I stared up at this tree in front of our house a couple weeks ago. I swear it gets prettier every year. The leaves were so red, and the sky was so blue.

Even as I took in its beauty, I realized that it would last for mere days and then be bare and colorless. Beauty fades all too quickly. My mom’s favorite flower is the lilac. She had huge bushes of them in our backyard growing up. Lilacs are in bloom for about two weeks, and I always wish it lasted so much longer.

I wonder if God made seasons in nature to parallel the seasons in our lives. Nature isn’t always bright and stunning, sometimes it is cold and brown. What would happen if no winter existed? Could crops grow all year long? When would the land rest? The dormant seasons are not pretty from the outside, but the work God does in our hearts when things are cold and bleak is essential. It shapes and forms our character, who we are when no one is looking. And when the beauty returns, it stuns us in a way we could not see before. The deep gratitude and appreciation for the beauty would not be there without the dark, cold days where the deep work is done.

I have never been good at appreciating the dark night of the soul when it is present, but as I get older, I have seen the amazing work that God does when no one is looking. There is nothing flashy or beautiful about it, but it is necessary to bring about the beauty that is to come. I am not thrilled about the seemingly early arrival of winter this year. But I trust God that He can bring me through the winter no matter how long it lasts. He will see you through as well.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:18‬ ‭

Black Raspberry Vanilla and Maggie May

I love this black raspberry vanilla shower gel. It reminds me of fall 2004 when my friend Maggie moved to Waverly to intern at our church. We packed so much into the few months that she lived here. We were two single girls in ministry, having the best time together for that season.

For Pastor Appreciation month, a wonderful family from our church gave me a free night at their amazing bed and breakfast. I took Maggie with me, and we watched movies and did puzzles all night. We road tripped to a conference, we watched election results while doing puzzles and eating Rolos. We did Weight Watchers together, riding on the bike trail to earn points for our dinner. She sang “Breath of Heaven” and I did a human video for it. I’ll never forget that or her incredible voice.

Every time I see this shower gel that Maggie and I both loved that reminds me of her amazing life. I have written about her in the past. Maggie was one of those people who was so joyful, so full of life, and everyone loved her. After she left Waverly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer a year or two later, and she went to be with Jesus in 2012.

The fact that God decided to take her home but left me here baffles me sometimes. I don’t expect to understand God’s ways. I do know that remembering my friend is a regular reminder that I only have one shot at this life, one chance to live a life that will make a difference in eternity. Maggie did that so beautifully. I am so inspired by her joy no matter what circumstances she faced.

I can’t wait to laugh with her in heaven and see her beautiful smile. Until then, the changing leaves and Black Raspberry Vanilla shower gel and so many more things will remind me of my incredible friend and how short our time is on this earth, but how amazingly beautiful it can be.

Firm Foundation

I haven’t cried all my eye makeup off in months, so I guess I was due. It still took me by surprise. A good cry can be really healing, and other times it is accompanied by pain and despair that linger on long after the tears have dried from my face.

I tend to dive into a soothing worship song when I need God’s presence, and my favorite line from today’s song is, “Jesus, Your presence is the comfort of my soul.”

I love things that are black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. I love the clarity, I want answers and facts when I come up against a problem. Unfortunately, I have learned repeatedly in the past ten years that many problems are cloudy and unclear. When my oldest was a toddler, I picked up book after book searching for help, looking for answers to figure her out and find out what I could do to be the mom she needed. She didn’t (and doesn’t) fit easily into a box. And I struggle with that more than I wish I did.

One thing has become clear in the past decade of my life, though. God stripped away many, many things in my life that had given me a false sense of security. I have come to realize that He wasn’t trying to hurt me. He wanted to help me see that I was building on an insecure foundation. When the storm rages, that foundation crumbles and everything falls apart. But if I rebuild on Jesus, the only sure foundation, I will have all I need for the next storm.

And for some reason, they keep coming. Life doesn’t let up in some seasons. Maybe it’s months, it could be years. God has shown in His Word that time is not a consideration when He is molding and shaping His people to do His work.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭73:25‬-26 ESV

I might not “feel” much better after a good cry, but I know the One on whom I stand is holding me through it all. Here are some of the beautiful lyrics from the song in my heart and mind right now.

Beneath the surface
Of my anxious imagination
Beckons a calmness
That is found in You alone
It washes over
Every doubt, every imperfection
Jesus, Your presence
Is the comfort of my soul
There’s nowhere I’d rather be
When You’re singing over me
I just wanna be here with You
I’m lost in Your mystery
I’m found in Your love for me
I just wanna be here with You

We Don’t See Clearly

I told Isabella (9) a few weeks ago that I would be taking her on a weekend trip with my mom and my sister and niece. She was really excited to see Natalie Grant and hopefully get her books autographed. Jack (6) started asking me all kinds of questions about the trip, so I got a calendar and wrote out the information for September so he could see when it was coming.

A few days later, Jack come out of his room a while after bedtime. He began to cry and said, “I don’t want you to be gone for three nights!” This happened a few days in a row. I could not convince him that three days would go by quickly, that daddy really is as nice as mommy, and that he could do something special with Dad and Evie, too. None of my brilliant mom thoughts seemed to soothe him at all. We did have a little date before I left, playing some games at Chuck E. Cheese and eating dinner together. He finally went a few nights without crying about the trip.

As the day arrived that I was leaving with Isabella, I picked up the kids from school. I was finishing packing the suitcase, and Jack said, “Mom, when you go, should I stand there and cry and wave until I can’t see you anymore? Or should I ask dad if we can go to McDonald’s and play there and try to forget that you’re gone?” I told him I vote for McDonald’s. He said, “Maybe I’ll do both.”

I left. He didn’t cry. He didn’t even call or FaceTime me all weekend. My little buddy did fine.

One night after I tried to convince Jack not to worry so much about this “huge thing” that I knew would not be as bad as he thought, I realized that I do the same thing with God. I complain, I cry about the circumstances that I don’t understand. I worry that I won’t be able to handle what is coming my way. Jack is 6, and his perspective is so limited compared to that of his 41 year old mom. He can’t see what I can see, he doesn’t yet know what I know.

Yet I try to make sense of what God is doing when I don’t have His view. Me and my 41 years…He and His eternal, beyond time perspective. There is no comparison. I look at a tiny, individual circumstance and wonder why God allowed this to happen to me. Meanwhile He sits outside of time with a view of eternity, and everything looks completely different from such a view. I can’t see it. I won’t see it while I am here on this earth.

So when tears of disappointment run down my face because an opportunity I wanted passed me by…

because I feel stuck in a lonely or exhausting season of life…

because I had a great plan worked out for my future, and the reality looks nothing like what I hoped…

I can choose to sit in my pain and be miserable, or I can be honest with God and then rest in knowing that He is greater, His ways are greater than mine, and He is working all things for my good and His glory. It doesn’t mean pain won’t come, it means that He works through the pain to draw me closer to Him. Sometimes the pain we never expected becomes the way to deeper understanding, greater grace, peace that transcends our finite grasp on the things of this world.

Ingredients

I hate choosing favorites. I am so indecisive, and I have the hardest time just choosing one “favorite” of anything. So I won’t say this is my favorite message of all time, but I have never listened to a message more than this one.

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX, preached an amazing series on the book of Ecclesiastes. In 2009, I spent a few weeks working for the 2010 United States Census. I spent hours canvassing around Iowa to map residences and update their maps from the previous census. I listened to the entire Ecclesiastes series during that time, and I still can picture walking down streets in Waverly and Denver when I hear these messages.

The fourth message, Ingredients, was just what I needed at the time. Ten years have passed, and I have listened to this over and over and over as life keeps happening and I regularly turn to this beautiful reminder of how God orchestrates all the ingredients of our lives so perfectly. I have shared it with a lot of friends, and I decided to share it here today.

My heart is a bit heavy as some people who are close to my heart are facing tough cancer diagnoses, challenging courses of treatment, and questions about what their future will hold. Many of life’s circumstances can cause us to wonder if God is paying attention or if He cares. Oh, friend, please listen to this beautiful word and be reminded of His deep love for you.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:37-39‬