Love never fails…

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In a world where we are filled with stories of utter chaos, lives trampled, promises broken, hearts wounded and lives traumatized permanently, it seems a bitterly insensitive cliche to even utter those words, “love never fails”.

Yet, if we cannot say them in the depths of our sadness, or remember them amongst the turbulence we have suffered, what good are they? If they offer no comfort or light in the overwhelming darkness of our greatest fears realized, did we ever really believe them in the first place? John 13:35 says: “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another”. There’s a great song for this verse I learned way back when and,if you’re not already singing it, I encourage you to find the song online and see how fast it gets stuck in your head!

How shallow does love sit within us? Is it merely a surface word to be tossed about lightly and solely for approval from the majority, to whom we have no personal connection? Or is it alive and nestled deep within our soul, secure in the depths of our being, reinforced by the constant feeding and nourishing of people we choose to both give love to and receive love from?

Can love heal all wounds? Is there a mental list of unforgivable acts others could enact which we would then consider ourselves justifiable in withholding love from an individual or group of people? In the midst of our messiness, can we seek to abide by a higher standard and live to forgive?

Where does betrayal fall in all of this? Is it the messiest of all? Perhaps it is the easiest sin against us in which to judge and pronounce punishment in the form of holding back what should be given freely to all, regardless of their actions? Is it one place behind the line, does it cross the line of mercy and patience?

Love is patient, love is kind. Oftentimes, people are not. Passions run high and love seeps out. Records of wrong are kept and seethed over time and time again. Disappointment rules the day and apathy begins to overtake the soft, soothing waves of love. All is not lost.

We can hold ourselves to a higher standard. We were given a command to love! Love can be bold! Agape love is unconditional! Brotherly love can be lost, romantic love can be fleeting but His love? It is all consuming and all encompassing. We were not advised it would be simple for us to love, or told it would come easy. We were not suggested to love out of obligation or just when it feels right. Usually a command isn’t needed for that which comes naturally.

The Ancient of Days knew we would find challenge in love, both for ourselves and for others. The Creator knew in our broken humanity, we would find it much less painful to hate than forgive. He knew covering a wound with apathy would feel better to us than allowing an exposed wound to heal over time. There is a whole chapter in His word we refer to as “the love chapter” to remind us of the qualities of love because we will in our flesh, forget these things yet choose to remember the hurt!

When I was a child, another one of my absolute favorite songs at church both for the words and the rhythmic beat, (it was the only song I learned in church that used a tambourine and drums!) was, and please feel free to sing along, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”. It really says it all so much better than I have done here. These are the lyrics as I learned them:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

All praise to the Father, from whom all good things come,

And all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son.

And all praise to the Spirit, Who makes us one.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

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Didn’t your mom teach you to share? You are not alone!

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Most of us were taught some form of communal awareness at a young age, a hug for comfort or an appreciation of someone else’s efforts, and if by chance we missed it, upon reaching maturity, it becomes obvious there are a lot of advantages and a purpose to sharing with others, whether it be food or chores or anything else you can remember Mom telling you to share with siblings or friends.  Yet, in today’s world, we turn our back on such a basic principle and think we are an island of our own self made opportunity, unwilling to share our deepest pain and still expecting others to bond with us and not understanding why it isn’t happening.

I had the great privilege to speak to a wonderful group of women from a local church today and they were so very gracious to me, before and after I spoke, both are equally important!  It is interesting to get up in front  of a group of people you do not know (well, I knew two out of the 22 people), and speak for half an hour without being able to gauge your audience.  While I am usually a good read of people, this was held at a restaurant and there was eating going on, and shifting of plates, all of which makes for a more relaxed atmosphere and yet, it is harder to tell the measure of your impact.  I wanted to inspire these ladies to be brave and bold and speak out to others about their life experiences by sharing some of my personal pain and suffering for the exact reason of showing them what it’s like to share and give them that A-Ha! moment.  I want them to feel strong enough to open up and reach out and build relationships, meaningful, deep binding relationships to support each other and build community.  The only way to do this is to become unguarded, not just open the mouth and let loose about stories that are not yours alone to tell but, after guarding your heart in the Word of God and, being sure of the One who made you, stepping out of yourself and reaching out to someone else who might just be in the very same boat as you and has been dying to have a warm body to talk to but, thought they were all alone.  The overwhelming response of the women who came up to me afterwards was humbling and amazing!  So many different ages and backgrounds were represented and yet, each of the ladies who approached me related to something they heard, it resonated with them, they could identify closely with something I shared and there was a spark of purpose in some eyes, compassion in others as well as genuine appreciation.  How exciting is that?!

I know God is starting something big in their midst and I will be praying they keep being sensitive to where He is leading them, and keep growing in each other by sharing and building those relationships we were designed to have with others.  I look forward to hearing about what is being accomplished!

Rescue, rehab, release…

I took my children to the summer discount movies.  They were playing “The Dolphin Tale”. I’m not a big crier at movies and yet this one gets me teary eyed each time I’ve seen it mainly because of the raw emotions in the relationships between people as well as the animals.  It touches my children on a very deep level as well.  At the beginning of the movie, a truck is sent out to assist an injured dolphin and emblazoned on the side are the words: “Rescue, rehab, release.”  It struck me today after watching this movie at least half a dozen times.  What a motto!  Could there be any better metaphor for ministry?  I met with a woman today who I am so proud to be in ministry with and I think she would agree, it is exactly what we attempt to do with the people we meet both in our groups, and just in general the people we meet anywhere.

Our first desire is to RESCUE them from themselves or their circumstance, sometimes it’s as simple as letting them know their normal isn’t normal.  Sometimes it varies from late night texts to private messaging to meeting up for lunch, maybe a ride to a meeting, just to let them know they are not forgotten or unloved or anything less than beautiful!  How powerful it is to speak life into someone just struggling to take the next breath without having a panic attack!  How amazing to see a smile on a tortured soul’s face!  Just to get through the wall of guarded pain and uneasy discomfort to talk openly about what’s going on in their lives right now and how they are or are not coping with it is huge!

The next desire is to REHAB their worldview into how God sees them.  Trying to convince the eyes who have witnessed only pain and rejection about Someone who cares deeply for them and sees their potential, let alone their exquisite beauty through the scars inflicted by themselves and others inside and out is so very hard!  We are working against an entire culture of individual entitlement and very little accountability.  People are treated as though they are disposable and it makes my heart so very sad to see what happens when any human being believes the negative speech against them and convinces themself they are indeed replaceable and insignificant!  Rehab is about giving them back their self worth, improving their self image and not to one of brazen entitlement but, of recognition they are indeed precious and unique.  To place that light of Christ inside them and let it burn brightly, teach them how to tend that fire, give them resources to keep it burning for eternity. 

The next step is the hardest.  The release.  I would love to say the first two steps cure all and everyone becomes an incredible witness for Christ’s love and power to end hate and bring equality into every relationship!  It just isn’t so, it just isn’t so, it just isn’t so.  I can offer a lifeline and do everything I can to be available and it still might not be enough.  I tell the people I am in contact with, the relationship will never cease on my end.  If they stop communicating with me, it will be a conscious decision on their part.  I will continue praying and occasionally check in just because I care.  Unfortunately, some will stay lost.  Because comfort is a huge temptation.  It’s scary to change, it’s scary to stand up instead of lie down, it’s scary to trust when what you know is distrust.  But, maybe, just maybe, God used me and planted a seed!  Maybe, just maybe, they’ll think twice next time they are tempted to self harm because it offers them control over an out of control life.  Someone will water the seed and someone will be there to reap the harvest, of that I am assured in Scripture.  If I can delay any more pain, I will gladly let God use me for that purpose!

What’s your normal?  Have you been rescued or know someone who needs rescue? Prayer is powerful, never think it’s not working.  You have impact, you matter, you count, you are beautiful, you are made in His image!  Believe it, accept it, embrace it!  You are deeply loved!

A flower quickly fading…

Casting Crowns is a band with really thought provoking songs, I really enjoy meditating on their lyrics.  They have a song especially poignant to me right now.  It’s called “Who am I?”  And it goes a little something, or exactly like, this:

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me

Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am
I am Yours

Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am
I am Yours

I am Yours
Whom shall I fear
Whom shall I fear
‘Cause I am Yours
I am Yours

Today I visited my friend in the hospital who is the flower in this song. She is truly fading, all too quickly. She is beautiful and as frail and fragile as the softest petals of the delicate iris and yet, as strong as the sunflowers which sustain the rain and keep reaching their heads to the sun. She knows she is God’s child and yet she feels completely alone. She has been surrounded by friends who honestly love her and care for her, and who have shown her love both physically with acts of random kindness, meals and cleaning and financial aid and spiritually with prayer and fellowship. And she remains detached. Thankful for the help but, always distant. Gracious to a fault but, always self deprecating. There have been many other ways she has been reached out to and because of her own challenges, she remains locked in a prison of her own making, unable to escape. She has experienced moments of clarity and reprieve from her dungeon of despair and deep disappointment, but never escape. There is a storm of merciless pain raging inside her and try as I might, I can’t break through to truly dissipate it. It’s been almost ten years of showing her how much she is truly loved and I have been through many emotions myself. Why won’t she accept the help? How can it possibly be better to stay with her known state of constant anxiety than to settle in the arms of peace and solitude? Why can’t she see the end result of this journey she is on and understand how much bigger it is than just her? What about her kids? Is she aware to any degree of being selfish by being so self absorbed by her own pain, she can’t see what’s happening to her children? She’s so overwhelmed but she doesn’t have to be, she can rise above all of this! She can, she will, she has to! And, as it turns out, she cannot see, she cannot rise, she cannot muster the will to see beyond the present day, perhaps even beyond the present hour. All I can do is pray.

I don’t mean that haphazardly or to dismiss the power of prayer. I know I am joining in with dozens of other voices in constant appeal, winding their way together, weaving a beautiful protective shroud of peace and God’s will in her life to be made clear. What do I pray for, what is left to hope for? “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That is from Hebrews, chapter 11. How do you comfort a tortured soul? How do you reassure a soul she is loved when she stopped believing it a long time ago? How do you prove to someone they are a treasure when they can’t see past the trash heaped in their own life? How do you prove to someone they are worthy of love when long ago they chose to listen to the negative talk others subjected them to and adopted it as their own self image? I know when I pray, it has the power to synthesize all of these thoughts and lift them to a caring God who loves her more than I ever could! I don’t know why this is happening but, I know it will be used to God’s glory. I don’t say that lightly either. I am deeply saddened by my friend’s condition and I wept silent tears as I walked into her room and saw her small form drowned in the sanitary white bedsheets of her hospital bed. I was worried as I gently clasped her sweet cold hand and felt the slightest twitch, as she had neither the strength nor control to squeeze back. Pain squeezed my heart in a vice as I waited a minute or longer between asking her questions or making a comment because it took that long for her to form fragments of words, sentences were impossible. As I left, I saw the tears on her face after I leaned over to give her a kiss on her forehead, it was as if I was saying goodbye for longer than just today.

I was there 10 minutes and she was physically and mentally exhausted just in that short time, because it took such an effort to perform tasks we take for granted, like speaking. I left wondering if it would not be kinder for her to slip into a peaceful eternal sleep where she would feel no more pain and her children could mourn a much beloved mother rather than struggle to hold on to a life she sees so point in living? And I immediately felt remorse and a strange pang of guilt for wanting anything less than life for my dear, sweeter than anything fragile friend. She told the nurse I was her best friend ever. She said I looked like an angel hovering over her bed. Will those be the last words I hear from her? I don’t feel like a best friend, I feel like I’ve failed her. I have spent years racking my brain, wondering why I could never find a way to break through, knowing there must be some way I have missed that would have worked.

There is a saying which states if we knew how powerful our thoughts were, we would never think a negative thought again. It is so very true! Yet, our very nature leads us to second guess ourselves, to believe the worst people (who do not know us as well as we know ourselves) say about us and to us! Even worse, heaven help those who pay us a compliment! Too many of us automatically question the motive behind the compliment. Was there sarcasm, did they smirk or smile? Are they setting me up? They couldn’t possibly be sincere. What happened to simply saying: “Thank you.” and smiling graciously? If you relate to this post on either side, I hope you have a friend to talk to who prays for you and listens to you and loves you unconditionally. I have very few people I get to deeply share my life with, and that’s enough for me, hence the introvert part of this blog. If you don’t have someone, I encourage you to find someone you can trust, and if it’s more comfortable to vent to a stranger, feel free to share with me.