Why we can’t ever stop loving

Sydney

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken……..” C.S. Lewis

“We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

It’s been a hard week, friends. First there was the call from my Dad. I could hear the panic in his voice: “There’s something wrong with your Mom,” he said, “I’m not sure what to do……” Then the texts and reports came back from my brother and my concern grew. I heard the word, “Sepsis” and alarm bells rang inside my head. Elaine’s Mom was in the hospital 14 days due to that condition. That pretty much ended the “should I stay or go” battle.

It was the spur of the moment and the weekend……..flights were few. Elaine said, “I’ll drive you, let’s just get in the car and go. We’ll drive as far as we can and stop and sleep, then keep going.” So we did. We called our faithful friends who have watched the cats for years and they said of course they would. Sydney had not quite been himself but he was still eating and drinking. He was in good hands.

When we got there 16 hours later Mom was just out of the hospital. (One day and one night too long in her words) She was shaky and disoriented and not looking good. After a week’s worth of antibiotics at home due to some pneumonia setting in, she was on the mend and I felt I could leave.

Elaine had turned around and left the same day we got there after having dinner with her brother in a nearby town. She was scheduled to train on Monday at work and she was also worried about Sydney. (She may not have a cape but she’s the closest thing to “Wonder Woman” I know)

She had asked me before we left, “If something happens to Sydney, if he gets really sick, do you want me to tell you or wait until you get back?” I told her to wait until I got back.

When she got back he was still eating and drinking but hiding under the bed which wasn’t at all like him. And all that week, while I was in California nursing Mom, she was nursing my cat. (she loved him every bit as much as I did) Two days before I got back he had some kind of a seizure and it scared her to death. She brought him back from the brink but after that he wasn’t the same.

We had decided after the last vet visit two years prior, no more vet visits for him. It was just too traumatic.

And she never let on how bad he was, how scared she was, because she had made that promise, you see. That’s what best friends do, they keep their promises even if it hurts.

When she picked me up at the airport I still had no clue. I breezily suggested we go to dinner. She didn’t answer right away and then she told me between tears and sobbing……”It’s Sydney……” Then panic ensued and all I could think of was getting home.

Sydney has been my baby right from the start, you see. He chose me fifteen years ago, back when I desperately needed something of my own. I had lost the cat who had brought joy back into my life after great sorrow, and my arms felt empty.

Of all the kittens in those two rooms, Sydney (Sammy then) kept coming up to me. He was God’s gift, an answer to my prayer, I know it. Later, when my niece was born, I remember lamenting that she was so far away in California. Sydney helped me with that by insisting that I hold him. I had never ever had a cat that turned on his back and insisted I hold him like an infant, but he did.

And now he needed me. With shaky hands I filled out the online form to have the vet come to the house the next day.

All that evening I stroked him where he lay under the bed, and held his paws. He was quiet, and he was never ever quiet. I was so grateful I made it back in time. Elaine had been holding such secret sorrow and so afraid he would die before I got back. Unbeknownst to me, she had made all the calls and had already checked out the websites for vets that would come to the house.

That night I made a bed on the floor so he could feel me near; he always slept right by my side or preferably on my pillow, he loved stealing my pillow. And he actually loved to cuddle, remarkable for a cat.

Sydney was my faithful and loyal friend. For 15 years of his life, each time I left for California he would look towards the door and cry and mourn for days. It was so bad that Elaine would have to leave to get some peace. After a few days he would settle down and allow her to be surrogate Mom.

The vet responded the next morning and said she would be in the area the next day, but there was no way I could let him suffer another day so I pleaded our case for haste and she came through. She said she would be here within the hour.

I waited and prayed for strength at my bedroom window and when her van pulled up I jumped.

We had already gotten Briggs out of the room. And she was so kind, so compassionate. I knew we had made the right call. She got everything ready beforehand and we comforted him as she gave the sedative. I held him close for what seemed like forever. Time stopped and I was strong for him as I knew I had to be. I owed him that.

She suggested wisely that Briggs be brought in to say goodbye, for they had never been apart. Elaine brought him in and they touched noses for the last time. “If you don’t,” she said, “he will always be looking for him.” I guess animals need closure too.

I was okay until I put his little body in the box with the shell blanket. I didn’t want to let him go and the dam burst as I pressed my face to his fur, the softest I had ever felt.

I recovered enough to go hug the vet. Soon I will go pick up his ashes so that where we go, he can go. I happen to believe he is pestering Jesus right now with his loud Siamese meow and insistence on lap time. My Mom said she thought that too.

So again, I feel how hard and unnatural it all is. We were never meant for this kind of sorrow. And though Jesus has removed the lethal stinger that reaches beyond death to redemption, we still feel the raw pain of it.

But there’s something else that reaches beyond it. Softly and insistently it flutters its way into our heart. It says with promise. This is not the end. There’s Hope.

So my question is, “Why do we keep opening ourselves up to love?” Over and over again.

The answer is simple, we keep loving because it’s in our DNA because it’s in God’s DNA and we are His children. He loves us and has loved us from the beginning with an everlasting love, even when it hurts.

We love because He first loved us. And despite the pain, we keep giving. He keeps giving. Because without love, life has no real meaning. With every loss, no matter how painful, we are better people for having risked and loved.

And God has a happy ending for us, folks.

It’s all arranged.

Love is always the right answer

Weighing in on the side of Love

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.” 1 John 4:7 The MSG

4:00 AM Prayer:

What a mess I am, God. I don’t love nearly enough or nearly the right way. I let petty things get in the way far too often. I miss way too many opportunities. I’m too critical of people and I am tired of it, I just want to love. I want to build people up instead of tearing them down because tearing down can become a habit. But so can building up. Can it be that simple? Help me to have peace and let me get a glimpse of You in this still hour while everyone else is asleep. Help me to fall asleep for just a while. Stop these thoughts, quiet my mind. Jesus……Jesus……Jesus.

Right after I prayed that prayer I allowed my mind to fill with a vision of what life would be like if we all truly lived by the Spirit and allowed Him to control our words, our deeds, our plans. And while I was still pondering that I fell asleep. About an hour later I awoke with an indescribable feeling of what could only be described as a “golden peace.” It was as if my heart was lit from the inside out, and I felt the peace that I recognized as the one only God can give.

I write this as if it happened just this morning but it didn’t. It happened as I lay awake on my brother’s couch last week the 17th of May. And I am still trying to piece together just what I dreamed because I can’t remember a thing, only that wonderful peace when I awoke. We get those gifts sometimes and when we do we are always amazed. I am anyway.

I never got a WWJD bracelet when they came out, but in any given situation should we not ask ourselves that question? More importantly maybe we should ask: “How would Jesus love in this situation?” This culture we are in, it’s not a culture of love. All we have to do is look at the headlines. Really, has any culture ever been about love?

Peter sliced a guy’s ear off when they came to arrest Jesus. But somewhere between that time and when he died (tradition says by crucifixion upside down) he learned how to love like Jesus did. I can’t even get my mind wrapped around that kind of love. I have a very long way to go.

But that peace I experienced that morning, and the joy and wonder and grace I experience so often tell me that Jesus still loves me this I know.

We’re all broken and in need of healing. If only we would let down our walls long enough to turn towards each other and help each other mend. That’s the Spirit of reconciliation God wants and desires for each one of us. Especially in the church.

Too much of what we take part in here in our modern world is unnatural–that’s why we don’t have peace. We don’t even know how to get it. In reading the Psalms, praying in the quiet hours and spending time outdoors we can begin to relearn what we have forgotten.

Teach me to love, God. Teach me to love. And thank you for loving me.

The Sweetest Gift

Prayer Closet project

It was tempting for me to show the “after” first because the “before” though functional, is not the prettiest to look at. It stood in Elaine’s Mom’s room to hold adult diapers and miscellaneous stuff while she was in the care-home. Her name, which you can still see the shadow of, had to be kept on it because she forgot that it was hers to from time to time. When Joyce passed two weeks before Christmas this year, Elaine just couldn’t part with it. Then a vision began to take shape.

These are her own words on the Facebook post she made when she posted the pictures of the finished product, my incredible Christmas gift:

Lori has used my little shop for her prayer closet for years. When I go to do a project I have to clear Bible’s candles, pens, reading glasses, little pieces of paper with names on them. I never say a word. Well maybe once, for I am sure she has prayed and shed many a tear there for me. When my Mom passed I had her little chest of drawers to take home. Lori said just donate it. I said no!. I have a plan for that… And here it is. Took me many hours in the little shop.

I had an inkling of what she was doing, because she had mentioned seeing “Prayer Cabinets” online and on Pinterest. I was ordered to stay out of the shop until it was done.
Finally, the day before Christmas Eve it was complete. That night, a sheet covered dolly was wheeled in from outside by Elaine, looking much like one of Santa’s mischievous elves. She could hardly contain her excitement, she said……”You are gonna cry.”
Cry, I did……and you can see why:
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It was beyond my expectations. Standing before me was a labor of love born out of the deepest kind of sorrow. That was why it meant so much. She could have chosen any old chest to refurbish but she wanted this one. Now when I go out to pray, I see a vision of someone who looked inside her heart and refused to cave in to despair, but instead made an unspeakable thing of beauty for someone else…….and I got to be the recipient. I will cherish it the rest of my days, because I know what it took to make it.
I had stood in her Mom’s room and seen those drawers slide in and out, her looking for socks that her Mom had stashed in her purse, and marking the backs of “Depends” with permanent markers. I love that those drawer liners weren’t wasted. And the crosses……those crosses were made out of driftwood we collected from Moss Landing, one of our favorite places to go in California. It’s personal through and through.
I see it, and I think of how so many times in life God brings hope and beauty after our deepest times of despair. I think of that Psalm that talks about joy in the morning.
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And God looks at us “castoffs” by the side of the road and sees what He will make us into, because He sees what we can’t. And He’s determined to make a thing of incredible beauty out of us, even when we can no longer believe in ourselves.
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And He says:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 6,7
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And someday, when we are on the other side……..He will nod approvingly and say, “I do good work.” Come inside now and see what I have prepared for you…….

Those “little Gethsemane” moments

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“Now my soul is in turmoil, and what should I say—’Father, save me from this hour’? No! It was for this very reason that I came to this hour.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

No doubt about it, Jesus had the real Gethsemane moment. None of us will ever come close to going through what He did that awful night in the garden. And even though He knew that all that suffering would be over in 3 days time, even though He knew that Heaven was just on the other side of it:

He still wrestled…….He still struggled…..He still resisted. But ultimately He trusted in His Father to see Him though.

What about you? You know you are headed for Glory eventually. You know where your real home is, but does that minimize the Gethsemane moments while you are going through them? I admit, knowing that the end of the story is victorious takes the sting out, but when you’re in the dark groping around, the pain is real. It feels like your own personal mini Gethsemane.

Wednesday was a day like that for me. It felt like God was hiding behind a cloud all day. I knew He was there alright, but I couldn’t feel Him. The night before I had slept fitfully. Taunted by the worry demons, they danced around my mind like shadows. I tried to recite the 23rd Psalm but I could hear Satan whisper…..”There are no green pastures or still waters for you….” He’s such a liar.

Right now it seems ridiculous. Yesterday and today I felt like my old self again, but Wednesday was a battle. I went out to my car during break to get some alone time with God. I had visions of playing some quiet music as the breeze wafted through the car windows, but when I got there someone was sitting in the car right next to me with their window open. So much for that.

I even moved my car to the next shady spot, but lo and behold, there was another person in the car next to me again with their windows rolled down. I know God’s sense of humor well enough by now to know that He was playing a little private joke on me.

Guess He didn’t think I needed any alone time.

Sometimes, God likes to play a little hide and seek with us. He hides Himself for just a little while, and it’s good for us. Those times stretch our faith like nothing else can.

Awhile back I was talking to my Dad, who was going through his own mini-Gethsemane moment at the time. He has a lot of those lately. He is 87 and dealing with all the changes that go along with that. He needed some bolstering up. Thinking to be helpful, I started to tell him about someone else who I felt was in a much worse situation. He told me something that I will never forget. He said, “Hearing about someone worse off doesn’t help me because my situation is what matters to me.

It’s my pain that’s real.

He’s right. There are times when it does help to talk or hear about someone worse off than you, but there are other times when you desperately need a loving ear with an open and sympathetic heart. And here’s the thing:

Anytime you hold out your heart to someone you are taking a risk. You hold it out with trembling hands with the hope that someone will treasure it and take it from you gently and treat it with care, instead of dismissing it or ignoring it altogether.

That was an important lesson that I needed to learn and I thank Him for trusting me enough to speak the truth and speak it kindly. I truly believe the best lessons we can learn are the ones we can learn from each other. We’re all still learning.

None of us is perfect and very few are actually out to get us. The best thing we can do is to ask the Holy Spirit to make us humble and able to receive the lessons He wants to teach us through the classroom of each other.

Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.

A person isn’t who they are the last conversation you’ve had with them, they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship. 

Rainier Marie Rilke

No Wiggle Room in the Beatitudes

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Yesterday I wrote a post. It was after I had read something that fired me up a little. But after I posted it, it didn’t feel quite right. I felt a bit unsettled the rest of the day. And a friend’s comment made me think, (Thank you Mark). Sometimes we get off track a little because we just want to say what we want to say. And sometimes all it takes is a thoughtful nudge to get us going in the right direction again.

I have since taken the post down, but the gist of it was that I didn’t think we had an obligation to pray for our leaders when they are corrupt. Rethinking that position, I think that maybe we need to pray for them even more. The reason why is because when we do that? We get fresh healing ourselves.

So today, I go back to those crowds and that dusty road where Jesus walked in the middle of the throng, and I imagine myself as the woman pressing against Him reaching for the hem of His garment. You see, she had no illusions. She knew she needed healing. Sometimes I forget I still need it to.

This morning as I leafed through the pages of my big old marked up red Bible, the one I reach for when I need to remember when it was all so exciting and new; and I heard Jesus voice ringing through the hillsides when He preached that famous sermon on the mount known as the Beattidudes.  And surprise, surprise……I found no wiggle room there when it comes to love and forgiveness. No wonder those words seemed so radical back then. They still do.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew5:43-45

Even Isis, Lord? Even those who might seek to do me or my family harm? Even those who misunderstand what I am trying to say, who misinterpret and twist my words? Even someone who might even kill someone I love? Even them?

The answer is always the same. Yes. We are called to love and forgive. Anything and everything. Because He did.

He forgave me everything, and He intercedes for me even up to this very day, and pours fresh grace into my life, even when I make bad choices. He has filled me with His Holy Spirit who enables me to do the impossible. I think of the laundry list of things I have neglected to do for Him, times I have turned the other way when someone who glanced my direction may have really needed a kind word.

All the things I said I would do tomorrow.

I am humbled afresh today. I think it’s possible to stand down for peace even while holding up your convictions. The Beatitudes have taught me again how far I have to go in that direction.

Holding onto His hem today……….all I need is one touch.

Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.”……Matthew 9:19-21

Why traditional marriage doesn’t need defending

wedding arbor

I was going to stay silent. I thought maybe my two cents really didn’t matter. But then, I kept getting these thoughts and they weren’t going away. Usually the ones that don’t go away turn into blog posts because I feel it’s the Holy Spirit nudging me to speak. I will start with these thoughts:

Marriage is a perfect institution, made up of imperfect people.

Marriage will never go away on this earth because it was instituted by God in the garden of Eden.

Marriage is Holy.

Marriage is a physical depiction of a deeper spiritual illustration of Christ (the Groom) and the Church (the Bride)

These aren’t my ideas, they come from the Bible. That’s why marriage (and when I say that, I mean the traditional kind) can stand on its on. God started it and God will end it as well.

Jesus answered this question when He was on earth.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you,  ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

So, marriage was started by God and it will be ended by God in eternity. End of story.

Marriage has really taken a beating in our modern society. I have heard it mocked, seen it twisted into all sorts of shapes and sizes and kinds. I have heard cynics blast holes in it, and I have seen people ignore it completely. I have heard the argument that it ruins a good relationship. I have seen people scoff at it and roll their eyes over it. I have seen people marry over and over again until it’s just about stripped of any meaning.  

But none of that taints the perfection or the Holiness of the institution itself.

The thing that concerns me the most about this whole debate is what it means for the future of our nation. For I still believe that a nation that supports a healthy view of the traditional family will remain strong, while a nation that loses its moral fiber will perish. (Think of Rome, for instance)

Those of us who don’t recognize the validity or right of two people of the same-sex to marry will be called all sorts of ugly things. I have already seen it. We will be labeled as hateful, bigoted, homophobic, unkind, and intolerant. Not to mention ignorant.

While those who do support it will be painted as loving, tolerant, compassionate, kind and wise.

Both sides will forget to love.

Both sides will forget that we are all in this together.

And with all this talk of love and rainbows floating across the news feeds of America and the world right now, there is really only One great love worth celebrating.

His name is Jesus, and He came to this world to defeat sin and save sinners (of whom I am chief, right along with the Apostle Paul) He was and is love personified. Love with a capital “L.”

He came down here to defeat sin and death forever, and He had to die a terrible and tortuous death meant for you and me in order to do that.

He even went to hell so we would never have to go there because He doesn’t want us to be separated from Him ever again.

That is the Love I am celebrating today and everyday. And everyday, I am grateful and in awe of His great Grace that continues to cover my great sin.

 That’s a Love worth celebrating.

Lent Day #16: “Thou shalt nots” in an age of Grace

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By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you my friends…………

to agree in what you say

 so that there will be no divisions among you.

Be completely united,

with only one thought

and one purpose.

1 Corinthians 1:10 

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 If one part of the body suffers,

all the other parts suffer with it;

if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness.

All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it. 

Is it really possible for the Church to be totally unified?  I believe so, because God doesn’t ask us to do things that aren’t possible.  When Jesus prayed, He prayed for this one thing more than any other, that the church would be unified and united in love. I believe He still is. But as important as love is,  love alone is not enough. According to the Beatles, it’s all we need. According to the Bible, love means obedience too. Jesus says: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

Just the love without the obedience or Holiness and you just have a big commune.

Everyone does whatever they think is right in their own eyes and lives happily ever after.

There were lots of those in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They didn’t last.

My words are few today and I struggled with them. In this age of Grace we have been immersed in for over 2000 years, we don’t always like “Thou shalt nots.” But I do believe they are necessary. Just like the “Shalts” are.

I think the best thing the Church can do, expecially during this season of Lent, is pray for one another. And one day, we can be sure……God will bring about this promise if not here, then in Heaven.

Let’s get a head start.