Love Is Beautiful

I remember the first time someone called the fleck on my cheek a blemish. I was in high school and had visited a Clinique counter at the mall. I remember the clear message she gave me as she attempted to cover it up, “You’re not beautiful.” That store isn’t in our college town anymore, but 25 years later, I can still picture exactly where that counter was located. The feelings still hang in my chest when I think back to that time.

I’m the mother of three girls. My oldest will be 13 this month. I wondered today, as I accomplished only 1 of 3 steps in my skin care kit before running out the door, why that message was so strong so long ago. I wonder how I can lessen the blow to my own child from the world that has an unacceptable, unrealistic and superficial standard of beauty.

I love my mother. I often say that she is an amazing version of her story. A story that is hers to tell, but its effect on me is my own. My daughters are consistently telling me how beautiful I look. Somedays it causes me to literally laugh out loud, but I never correct them because I vividly remember thinking the same thing about my own mom growing up. This iconic figure in my life had the most disenchanting habit of looking in the mirror and calling herself fat. She would pull at the skin around her eyes and comment on how old or how awful she looked. I didn’t understand. We both saw something strikingly different.

So, I resolved early on in parenthood to not say those things out loud, even when I feel them. I  respond to the compliments with hugs and thanks yous. And yet, I stand on the precipice of teenager-land and feel completely ill-equipped for the task of basic beauty assurance. I’m not talking lipstick and eyebrow pens here. It’s actually two things, taking good care of yourself and having a heart that supersedes any features God or life has granted you.

Daily habits would seem to be the easier of the two, but only to those who had the routine set for them. For example, my mom had false teeth by the time I came into this world. So, nobody ever taught me how to simply have the habit of brushing my teeth twice a day. Her teeth went in a jar at night and cleaned themselves while she slept! I literally had to learn this on my own. Washing your face morning and night was an idea I had never heard of because by the time I was 13, my parents had divorced and I was living in a house of males. So, self-care is a hamster wheel that I always feel behind on.

The heart is an area I’m way more comfortable with. Partly because I believe only God can change it; so I’m sort of off the hook. Mostly because my own heart has been transformed so many times that I have the confidence in God to do that work. I’m still the mother and a lot of days, the preferred instrument in the hand of the Almighty here. So, what makes up a beautiful heart? My answer may seem simple, but I believe it with all of my own heart; love. The results are compassion, grace, concern, gratitude, faithfulness, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, and the like.

It’s with a sigh of relief that I acknowledge my own lack in the area of beauty. I am my story and that may not have equipped me well for this area of teenage-land, but I aspire to teach my girls healthy habits and will always encourage them to live a life characterized by love.

 

 

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The Unseen Motive

A recent HONY post quoted a lady describing how under her life, all is sorrow. That she is no longer trying to fix that. Rather, she is learning to live within it’s presence. I’ve long recognized my own torrent river of sorrow. When life fades from joyous and connected; it’s where I return to. I’ve spent decades lost on it’s banks.

I’ve never settled to live there.

I’ve spent this year called and devoted to understanding my story. I’m finally beginning to embrace it. So long have I wished it different, but I am learning that to erase any of it would change me. Maybe that’s my point, I want to be changed because how does healing emerge from pain? How can the bad produce good? This is the work of God alone.

Romans 8 gives us foundational truths to the way God interacts with His people here on planet Earth. To start, we aren’t promised that bad things won’t happen. Christianity isn’t some happy-dust infested religion; bad things will happen. However, God will take the workings of evil and conquer them in our personal lives. He doesn’t only win in the end, He wins now.  Still, there are better things coming. This doesn’t diminish our pain and suffering. It does offer hope.

Hope is something I will always take.

I’m in a season where He is somewhat quiet. My prayers are there, but they are speeches given in an empty auditorium. I know their ringings reach Him; I know He hears. I even know He is there, somewhere.

What do we do when we can’t find Him?

Esther is a perfect page to turn. While God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, how often are we called in the Bible to remember? Esther is a real time story. You can’t remember what’s happening right now. It’s not until time passes or an end has come that you can turn around and remember. Then, you find Him everywhere.

Esther’s story unfolds in a land that is not her own. Even though her freedom has been granted, she stays. I relate. I too, have been declared free, but remain in a captive land. This land where evil appears to prosper and win. It’s a place that eliminates choice and changes your course. Life falls out of your perceived control.

Throughout the twists and turns found in the story of Esther you are always left with the vague “Why?”. In scripture and life one must be careful to assign motive to behavior.   There are no clear motives given throughout this book. I think it’s beautiful. A window of opportunity for all of us to “insert yourself here”. To apply motive makes Esther personal to the reader. The end is the same, God does win. But how that unfolds is magnificent in light of personal motive.

Esther was an orphan. The depth of her helplessness and loneliness reached back and spoke to her before she herself could speak. She was raised in a land her family had been exiled to. The uncle, now raising her, had no intention of leaving this comfortable place. So, she was held captive by the choice of another and found herself deeply obedient.

When you don’t control much in life, right and wrong become important.

If I read Esther through the motivational lens of helplessness, loneliness and abandonment; what I find is a God who proves Himself faithful, timely and personally involved.  I see her lonely for 30 days since she felt chosen. I see His provisions and protection going before her. I see that Esther’s story is my story. I begin to understand that regardless of who’s story it is; God is always telling His story.

That’s the God I need in life right now.

A profound truth held me close when I saw God’s protection amongst my own personal tragedy. Sin’s coming towards and going out reach far into my story. His protection reaches further still. It has extended an invitation to be a part of God’s rendition of my story. To step into the redemption process with Him.

Like Esther, I have to rise above all the ways this could go wrong and feel the timely truth that all has been made ready for such a time as this. That the Sustainer of all creation has risen His baton and is orchestrating everything around me to declare His victory over this evil of old. That, once again, I don’t need a new story; I just need Him in my story.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Hebrews 1:3

While it’s the Greater story connecting my story to Esther’s story, it’s the remembering that gives me the courage on this journey to never forget that He is here now. There are no miracles in Esther. Life is not a quick fix. It’s hope tucked in the gaps, in the silence. It’s patience while His plan unfolds in the ordinary.

When the unseen motive is found in the presence of a loving God, that is when strength forms around feeble knees and we rise up. The “why” and the “how” decrease enough to allow faith time to remember. That’s how we enter into the work of Christ in our stories. It’s always faith. It’s always trust. And for me, it’s always the hope of freedom from a captive undercurrent of sorrow that makes me leap into the Story of the One who is with me always.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 

 

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Fight to Surrender

“I don’t understand Your ways” is how the song starts and my heart falls into the words. It’s this place where I almost feel that God is after me and He is. It’s not, however, the romantic pursuit of His bride. There are no warm fuzzies here. Just the relentless pursuit of anything that stands between Him and I. Instead of being flattered; I’m flattened.

I’ve come up against the god that people hate. The one who sits on his throne with a lightning bolt in hand just waiting to strike the fallen. He just keeps taking and I obey. Yet, I know deep in my heart that this isn’t true. That what is really happening is the Loving hand is cutting at my marrow, a work so deep and so intricate. It’s not punishment, rather guidance and leading into a relationship and life that I’ve never been able to step into. The trouble is, it’s all faith. I know of it, but I can’t fathom it.

So, I grab with all my strength onto idols I can hold in my hand and will myself to shrink so I can become small and they can become large, enough. It’s no use. I am ruined by the knowledge of my own remembering. He’s always been faithful to me, the unfaithful one.

When I was 11 or 12, I was in a moped accident that threw me off the back  and onto the road. I had this big blister forming on my lower back. By the time the doctor neighbor arrived at the house, the blister was huge. My dad had an old-new in the package-scalpel from his Navy days. With no anesthesia I laid on top of a sleeping bag and the doctor just touched my skin with the tip of that blade. I bled a lot.

This bleeding now is painful and I want something to dull the pain. I know He knows and knows better, better than me. So, I suffer and wrestle as another idol falls to the ground and shatters at my footstool.

Jacob wrestled with God. Genesis 32:24 records, “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” As the sun comes up “The Man” touches Jacob’s hip and puts it out of joint. Jacob still holds on until he is blessed.

I’m out of joint ,but I’m not holding on like that in demand of a blessing. I’m reaching like the desperate bleeding woman that I am. I just want to feel the hem of His garment. I want to be healed. Which really means, I want it to stop. 38 years of bleeding cry out “Enough!” and I see that it’s still a pursuit of what He can do for me and He won’t because He doesn’t want me to be satisfied with He miracles. He wants more for me and Him.

The songs lyrics end with “It’s gonna be worth it all.” The tension between belief and unbelief in me is great. I seem to shift from one thought to another. The only way I know to find solid ground is by remembering. To fight thoughts of a false god and recount all the sands of the sea where He has shown me that He is love, He is good, He is for me.

So, I will remember until I surrender and all drops from my hands and shatters. I’ll take those empty hands and cling to the God who loves me and I’ll refuse to let go until He blesses me with Him alone.

 

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Last Day To Be Five

Ella turns 6 tomorrow. Tonight when I put her to bed I asked her what song she would like for her last night as a 5 year old. She chose “You are my sunshine”! We sing the first verse:

You are my sunshine. My only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

Sweet enough, but Jason and I made up a 2nd verse when the girls were babies. We never sing it without the 2nd verse:

The other night dear when you were sleeping. Your curly blond hair, it stole my heart. Your blue eyes shine like the stars in heaven. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

I teared up.

I have loved, loved, loved Ella being 5. She stopped throwing fits, found a fantastic sense of humor and her legs just keep getting longer! 🙂

We’ve decorated, wrapped presents and I even made cupcakes. Her birthday is on Easter this year. So, we’ve got dueling themes. 

I love that little one with all my heart.

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Why Saturday is My Favorite Day of Holy Week

Saturday. There are no services to attend. No remembering. Yet, this is what we all know well. Saturday is where we go when we forget to remember. Friday is “Good” and we kill Jesus. As much as I hope that I would be among the women who loved Him and stayed near, it’s most likely that I would demand His life. In fact, I am both every day.

He is buried and mockers sleep satisfied, soundly. Mourners confused cry themselves to sleep. With the dawn both awake to see that death still has it’s grip. They are caught between the now and the not yet and I relate. The implications of tomorrow’s Rising will be eternal, but that mystery digs in it’s heels like the ruthless ticking of the clock on Saturday.

This is what we know best. The waiting. The hope that wears so thin in seasons that it can’t warm you. The foundation of faith that you lie upon naked when all else has crumbled. When Hope has been crucified. The rejection, the betrayal, the injustice and the loneliness that He bore just yesterday find us.

Saturday is the human condition. It’s the lost in the process of being found. Those who were found finding themselves lost in the swells of love that grieves. Nobody walks on water today. The beloved are scattered and will scatter again because somehow we find ourselves stuck on Saturday. It is here that we ask the big questions, but no one can find an answer to why we are here, there is no purpose, there is no one coming to rescue us because today is victory in death. The agnostic addictions reach out to comfort us in the tragedy. Religion spreads it’s prideful knowledge of a dead king. Those who know the Story recite the mantra that “Sunday is coming.” But do we live that?

On Sunday He will Rise, indeed. Then, Monday will come and what will we remember? Will we linger on memories of Friday and how our own sin put Him there? A life of condemnation and shame that paralyzes love and ushers in fear?  Will we rejoice over memories of Sunday and how we saw Him and see Him. Will we role play with Thomas and admit our own need for evidence?

Can we even bear the memory of Saturday, our every day. When we come face to face with the lack there of and our faith is demanded in our desire for flesh to touch. When we buy our time and just make it a day at a time because anything more would feel like a burden to bear. And bear it we must, the splintered cross upon our backs. The one with the blood stains of a Savior who is waiting to return.

Our hearts bleed the words, “Come Lord Jesus, Come” for we are stuck in a perpetual Saturday.

He could have died and risen. One day in the grave. Out by morning. But there was a plan for Saturday. If we press our Beloved heads upon His chest, there is beauty in the waiting. There is love in the longing for Him. There is amazement and wonder and it’s not all pretty. It’s a painful paradox. But press in, squint and you’ll see the winding path. The trailhead is marked Redemption and it’s not only the way, but the plan.

Saturday tells a story, my story, your story. If we remember the waiting between death and life and life and death; then we can be assured that in our seasons of sorrow, pain and suffering; that there is a plan. The waiting has never been for nothing. While a rescue mission is in place, Saturday we won’t be rescued. It will be our faith that walks us to the foot of that cross and offers gratitude. Our love for the real person Jesus can only follow His love for us.

So Saturday I find myself there. I’m waiting for that Rescue and I walk the path of Redemption. In faith I offer up thanks for the Cross. For while I’m still a sinner Christ Jesus died for me and for the now and not yet, that Love calls me to love Him. And I do, even on Saturday.

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Saturday closes in 2014.

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The T’s of our 2013 Advent

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I love Christmas.  I always have. These past few years, I’ve fallen in love with Advent and Christmas has become more meaningful than ever. I love to give and I love to give gifts, so my family reaps the sowing of that love on Christmas morning. However, I didn’t want Christmas to be about presents. And I didn’t want Advent to be MORE presents for them the entire month leading up to Christmas morn. However, I had never celebrated Advent. After the leading from my godmother, Dorothea, and receiving Advent calendars from her, I decided we needed to join in this amazing holiday. It was a starting point.

Our family motto is, “Love God and Whoever He Puts in Front of You.”

So, why not incorporate our motto with Advent. The decision was made and for years we now spend the 24 days leading to Christmas giving to others before we ourselves receive. It is all of our favorite time of year now! December 25th is a great ending to December 1st, our most anticipated day of the year!

One of my favorite words is Tradition. My ears perk up to hear yours and my heart sings to think of mine. As my family grows and ages, our traditions grow and age alongside. Advent is among the top, if not the top, of our family’s favorite traditions.

This year, we are taking that tradition to incorporate 3 T’s: Time, Talent and Treasure.

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We have this sweet magnetic board with 25 tins that open.  Inside will be the Advent plan for the day! Some of our advent favorites will still make their appearances, but we are going to work on sharing ourselves in a way that encourages others to share as well.

I’ll be working hard to daily post to share on our new blog.  It will be dedicated to serving those God puts in front of us!

So, join in with us this Advent season to bless those around you! I promise, you will not only spread good cheer, but you will be deeply blessed yourself.

Merry Christmas!

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Worst Christmas Ever…

When I was in high school my parents had already divorced. I finally had a job, a drivers license and was less bound to the rule of others over my life.  As broken as my family was, I still cradled the whisper that I was loved, cared for, known.

To know me is to flip through the holiday paintings of Norman Rockwell or turn the pages of Alcott’s Little Women.  It goes beyond the slogans of, “I love the holidays.” It’s as if the rest of the world around me catches up with this love of others that is woven into the marrow of my bones, the very crystals of my breath, my every single day.

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This particular Christmas, with license in hand, I set out to gather goodies for the two loved ones left at home. On Christmas Eve, I tip-toed into the living room.  There stood the tree I had erected. The sight of it reminding me of all the years my baby brother and I would sleep underneath it the first night it was up.  I wondered if he’d join me if I woke him up that night?  With felt-like fingers I lowered the 2 stockings.  Filling Dad’s with his favorite candy bars and fun little things to make him smile.  Not-so-baby brother got his Reese cups and hard candy.   My carefully wrapped presents glistened under the twinkling of lights.  I stood back and looked at the bulging stockings with a smile of satisfaction. Then, moused my way down the hall to bed.

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With the blink of an eye the sun peered through the front condo window and I sprang to announce Christmas! Last to bed, first to arise. I see now, it’s to be a lifelong habit. The little girl within always faithful to reappear on Christmas morning ran into the rooms of the slumbering slackers! “Get up! Get up! It’s Christmas!”

Meeting my reluctant comrades in the living room I beamed to present their sleepy eyes with the bounty of thoughtfulness and intention. Two sock shaped vessels bearing the weight of my careful consideration hung so carefully next to one very empty and forgotten stocking bearing my lonely name.

It was the worst Christmas ever.

It was also the first of many of these same encounters.

There are lots of ways to slice it. “You don’t give to get.” But it’s never been about getting. My version reads, “You love and are loved.” And that version rules out the option of “Stop giving.”  I’m sure there is a lesson here. I’m just not sure I want to learn it.

Call it a love language, manipulation, materialism. They repeat themselves on the lips of many observers. As years roll by, I’m finding that thoughtfulness is rare. My kind of loving is consistently misunderstood. Which works hard on the intentional one with a giving heart. For the opposite of being known is being misunderstood.

Even today, today, the sting leaves me wondering. I scrutinize my actions that find me pain stricken.  Comb my motives looking for the flea that sucks the blood from my loving heart. There it is. A tiny grain of rice from a carnival stand. I turn the charm to magnify the word. Appreciation.

I believe it all comes down to feeling known, but my flesh desires this level of appreciation that is, well, sinful. Let me give you the ugly. I bought totes for every tutor and co-leader in my homeschool group. It was if I was hanging up stockings all over again. Heartfelt notes and thought out gifts were lovingly placed on the table. I even bought myself a bag as a back up consolation prize in case nobody thought of me. Turns out, it’s still painful to carry out a light consolation prize.

But back to the sin. I want to serve without reserve. I want to lay it all down with the intention of picking nothing up. But I don’t. I’m like every other broken one who wants to be loved in the world.

But I have been loved. With an Everlasting LOVE. A Love that proves itself to me over and over again regardless of how many times I’m willing to trade it in for token words on a page or a thoughtful sock. So quick to regard the fleeting and forsake the eternal.

My only defense is that I’m a sinner who today, even today, needs to preach the gospel to myself. And that Loving God who is ever faithful reminds me of this Truth:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

What humble gratitude I shall fill the stocking of my Savior with tonight. For even a loving sinner can still be a disciple. One that can still hear the whisper that I am loved, cared for, known.

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