Only Child

It’s been a good week to be Rachel.

With her older and younger sisters both happily away at camp, a rare, perhaps unprecedented thing occurred:

The “Middle” Child became the “Only” Child.

She’s had our exclusive attention.  Been treated to lunch, coffee and shopping.  Watched whatever she’s wanted on TV.  Hasn’t had to share.  Not one little bit.

It all ends tomorrow.  (Sorry, Rach.)

But she’s certainly enjoyed it while it’s lasted.

As a mom of three daughters, I try hard not to play favorites.  I love them all equally.  I love them each uniquely.

But I do not love them perfectly.  Despite my best intentions, there are those inevitable times when someone feels slighted or neglected.  Even the highest human love has its limitations.

Not so with God and His children.  For He is the Perfect Father.

His love is Unfailing.  His time is Unlimited.  His attention is Undivided.

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love.”
(St. Augustine) 

Since He’s infinite and omnipresent, He can pull this off.  All of the time.

He is GOD.

As His children, we have been given privileged, unrivaled access to His presence.

Yes, we are members of a wide and wonderful family.  We are brothers and sisters who need each other and (try to) love each other.  (Well, most of the time.)

But we also crave and need focused, one-on-one time with our Father.  Isn’t it reassuring to know that He is able and willing to relate to each of us individually?

It’s almost as if we were His only child.  Every single day.  We are never overlooked or forgotten.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. (Ephesians 5:1, NIV)
 

We are all extremely dear to Him.

The word ‘dear’ in the Greek is agapetos. Agapetos means beloved, esteemed, worthy of love—God’s favorite.” (Jill Savage)
 

God never plays favorites.

Because we are EACH His favorite.

It’s always a good week to be us!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1a, NIV)
 
I love my girls!  And my little guy too.

I love each of my girls! And my little guy too.

 

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Mother’s Day Confession

It’s time for a little confession.

My husband got me Godiva chocolates for Mother’s Day.

And I complained.

I know, I know.  It wasn’t pretty.  I told you this was a confession.  I admit the error of my ways.

But you see, I’m a Ghirardelli girl.  My husband knows this.  So when I pull a shiny package of foil-wrapped truffles beginning with the wrong letter ‘G’ out of the gift bag you can understand my confusion, right?

What was wrong was my reaction.

By focusing on the brand of chocolate in that bag I missed out on a beautiful truth:

I have a husband who brings me chocolate.

Better yet:

I have a husband.

Better still:

I have children.

Best of all:

I am loved.

At the end of Mother’s Day, or any day, aren’t those gifts more than enough?  The type of chocolate, the color of the flowers or the sentiment on the card doesn’t really matter.  It’s all too easy to miss the richness of our reality, the miracle of the moment, longing for what we think we lack.

I may not have it all.  What I have may not be perfect.

But I’ve heard it said that:

Happiness is wanting what you have.”

The truth is, I already have so much more than I could ever want.

Thank You, Lord.

Even the finest chocolates pale in comparison.

Godiva

…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 5:20, ESV)

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God, Thou Art Love

Can I share one of my favorites with you?  It’s a poem by Robert Browning.  I return to it often, because I think it is profound and timeless.

Read it slowly, prayerfully.  Let your soul bask in God’s strong love and rest in His sovereign care.

He’s got you, friend.

Woman in sunlight

God, Thou Art Love

If I forget,
Yet God remembers!
If these hands of mine
Cease from their clinging, yet the hands divine
Hold me so firmly that I cannot fall;
And if sometimes I am too tired to call
For Him to help me, then He reads the prayer
Unspoken in my heart, and lifts my care.

I dare not fear, since certainly I know
That I am in God’s keeping, shielded so
From all that else would harm, and in the hour
Of stern temptation strengthened by His power;
I tread no path in life to Him unknown;
I lift no burden, bear no pain, alone:
My soul a calm, sure hiding-place has found:
The everlasting arms my life surround.

God, Thou art love!
I build my faith on that.
I know Thee who has kept my path, and made
Light for me in the darkness, tempering sorrow
So that it reached me like a solemn joy;
It were too strange that I should doubt Thy love.

—Robert Browning

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Hope Deferred

Sad-Little-Girl-Broncos-300x220Yesterday should have been a banner day.  A promotion ceremony was scheduled for my husband at 2pm. We hoped to follow that up with an exciting Broncos Super Bowl victory.

We got neither.  The ceremony was delayed due to a paperwork glitch.  And, well, you know what happened to the Broncos.

Our banner day became a bummer day.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick… (Proverbs 13:12a, NLT)

True, that.

It’s been 15 years since the Broncos’ last trip to the Super Bowl.  Chris has been working towards this promotion for the better part of two years.  The stars had finally aligned.  We were thrilled.  It was “our” turn.

Whoosh.  (That was the sound of the rug being pulled out from under foot.)

…but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.  (Proverbs 13:12b, NLT)

Sure, a Super Bowl win would have been nice.  (There’s always next year, right?  Hope springs eternal.)  The promotion will still happen, Lord willing.  And we’ll celebrate.

But I’m realizing that even when dreams do come true and we’re off to Disneyworld, as exciting as that may be, the happiness will eventually fade.  Before we know it, another season will begin, with new challenges, obstacles and unfulfilled longings.  The cycle repeats.

To have true and lasting joy in life, my hope must be tied to something sturdier than just securing a desired victory or receiving a long-awaited answer to prayer.  God has graciously given us wonderful promises to hold onto in His Word.  But our ultimate hope comes not from clinging to a prayer, or even to a promise, but to a person.  HIM!

And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:5, NLT)

At the end of the day, regardless of what has or has not happened, I can be confident that He still loves me.  Putting my hope and trust in His unfailing love will not leave me disappointed.  He is solid.  I am secure.

I love the Broncos and will remain a loyal fan.  And of course I love my husband and am proud of him, regardless of his title or salary.  But I also love the Lord and will choose to place my HOPE in HIM.  HE is the real Champion, the One who always loves and never disappoints.

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Talking to Myself

Belittling.  Criticizing.  Name calling.

Things I would never allow my kids to say to each other.

Why is it okay for me to talk to myself like that?

When it comes to self-talk, unfortunately I don’t always practice what I preach.  I come down on myself, focusing on my failures and scolding myself for my shortcomings.  None of this makes me want to rise up and be a better person.  In fact, it has quite the opposite effect.

Lately I’ve been challenged to pay more attention to the messages I send to myself.  I’m trying to listen more carefully to the way the LORD speaks to me.

What if I patterned my internal speech after His?

Perhaps I’d talk to myself more like this…

1)  Kindly

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her.”  (Hosea 2:14, NAS)

When God speaks, He is always and unbelievably kind.  We should be as kind to ourselves as He is, and as we usually desire to be to others.  For “I myself am in need of the alms of my own kindness.”  (Carl Jung)

“If you can’t think of something nice to say…think of something!”

Our former pastor, Rick Mann, coined this phrase to encourage his three boys to practice a discipline of kindness.  If I applied this to my self-talk, I could start by refraining from berating myself.  Then I might take it a step further.  For example, instead of dwelling on the fact that I’ve gained a few pounds, perhaps I could applaud my sedentary self for actually starting and keeping up with an exercise program the past few months!  (Yay me!)

2)  Gently

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Matthew 11:29, NIV)

Of all the attributes Jesus could have used to describe Himself, He chose gentleness and humility.  He is so gentle with us in our weakness and woundedness.  He is never harsh.

“We learn to be gentle with ourselves by experiencing the intimate, heartfelt compassion of Jesus.” (Brennan Manning)

Rather than beating myself up when I fail, why don’t I try instead to be careful, tactful, and gentle with my heart?  It really is a much more Christ-like response.

3)  Truthfully

“I tell you the truth…”  Over and over again in the Gospels, Jesus uses this expression.  We can always count on Him to tell us the truth about ourselves.  As Adrian Rogers once said,

“The truest thing about me is what God says about me.”

But He doesn’t just tell us the truth.  I find it intriguing that whenever ‘truth’ is mentioned in the Bible, it is often paired with something else, like kindness (Proverbs 3:3), grace (John 1:14) or love (Ephesians 4:15).  The Lord is both truth-telling and grace-giving.

Following His example means I can be honest with myself.  I can own my sin and acknowledge my mistakes.  But I can do it in an atmosphere of acceptance, in a safe place called grace.

4)  Lovingly

“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will.  Expect love, love, and more love!’ “  (Jeremiah 31:3, The Message)

Just the other day I was assuring my twelve-year-old daughter that she can trust us and our decisions as her parents.  Because, the bottom line is–and always will be–that we LOVE her.  I too am a daughter who needs to be reminded that she is unconditionally and deeply loved by her heavenly Father.

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth.  Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.”  (John Eagan)

He chose me, loves me, and values me!  This changes everything, including how I treat and talk to myself.

I am a daughter of the King!  Remembering who I am should affect my self-talk.  (I can just hear Him saying, “Don’t talk to my daughter that way!”)  He is kind, gentle, truthful and loving towards me.  Shouldn’t I respond to myself in the same way?

I am “one beloved by God.”  And so are you!

Let’s address ourselves accordingly.

 

 

Take a few moments if you can and let the words of the Kari Jobe song, “My Beloved,” speak to your heart!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeP_hMttXDs

 

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What Kind of Love

They deserted Him when He needed them the most.  One betrayed Him…with a kiss.  Another denied three times that he even knew Him. 

(And these were His friends.) 

But He “…loved them to the end.”  (John 13:1b) 

What kind of love is this?

They arrested Him on trumped up charges.  Mocked and mistreated Him.  Sentenced Him to an excruciating death. 

He prayed for them.

(And these were His enemies.) 

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) 

What kind of love is this?

I’m not that different from either one.  I fail Him when I bow my head in slumber instead of prayer.  I deny Him when I let fear of what others might think silence my voice.  I mock Him when I pay mere lip service to His commands.  I crucify Him all over again when I yield to the flesh instead of the Spirit.

(And I claim to be His follower.)

Yet He assures me that  “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (Romans 5:20)

What kind of love is this?

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Amazing love! 

How can it be…that thou, My God, should die…for me?

 

 

(Lyrics are from “And Can It Be” by Charles Wesley.  All Scripture references are from The New American Standard Version.)

 

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

I was scrolling down my facebook news feed, unaware of what was lurking nearby.  Without warning it leapt out from where it had been hiding behind a friend’s innocent facebook post.  And in the blink of an eye, it had me firmly in its grip.

It was the “Green-Eyed Monster.”  A.k.a. Envy.  And green with it I was.

My friend was merely inquiring if anyone knew where she might find a Shih Tzu puppy for sale.  I was startled by the intensity and suddenness of my response, not unlike the way our skittish Siamese cat’s tail “poofs” at the slightest provocation.  (More on the cat in a minute.)   

You see, our family once loved a Shih Tzu.  (Only we prefer to pronounce it with a long ‘e’ vowel sound.  It’s less offensive that way.)  For nearly 8 1/2 years, our little “Sandy dog” graced our lives with her sweet personality and gentle ways.  She went to doggie heaven just over two years ago.  Her death left a gaping hole in our home, one we weren’t sure could ever be filled.  So we were in no rush to run out and replace her.

Lately, however, we’ve been missing having a little fluffball (or “rat-dog,” as my husband prefers to call this breed) underfoot.  But two major obstacles stand in the way:  1) an unfenced yard, and 2) the aforementioned cat.  The yard would be an easy enough (albeit expensive) problem to fix.  The cat is another story.  She doesn’t play well with others.  And she has claws.  It’s all fun and games until an unsuspecting puppy gets an eye poked out.

So here we sit.  Dog-less.  Which brings me back to my green-tinged reaction.  And helps me understand it.

Envy always exposes something we desperately want or deeply desire.  There is nothing wrong with the desire in and of itself.  It crosses over into sin, however, when we let the fact that others possess the object of our desire cause us to covet.  Merriam-Webster defines “covet” as  “to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another.”  (Emphasis mine.)

God is pretty clear on this:

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey (or dog–I added this), or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17, NLT)

But He never issues a command without also providing the means to obey it.  I wonder if the way to escape the clutches of the green-eyed monster might be found in this verse:

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NIV)

Now I happen to really love this particular facebook (and real-life) friend.  What if she were to get a cute little Shih (don’t forget, long ‘e’) Tzu pup?  Would I begrudge her the joy this four-legged, furry family member would bring?  Not if I truly loved her.  For “…love does not envy others the happiness which they enjoy…” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

When I focus on love instead of on what I lack, I find myself wanting what’s best for her.  And I can trust that The God Who Is Love will also provide what is best for me.  (Shih Tzus for everyone!)  Love loosens envy’s grasp and frees us from its control.

Au Revoir, Envy.  Hello, Love.

(Green was never a good color on me anyway.)

 

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You Are Being Watched

“Restaurant Stakeout” and “Mystery Diners” are two of our new favorite shows.  In case you’re not familiar with this Food Network fare, both programs feature restaurant owners who suspect problems with their employees.  Hidden cameras are installed in the kitchen and dining areas, enabling the boss to secretly observe what goes on when he or she is absent.

And while the cat’s away, the mice do play.

The best part of the show comes when the staff are assembled and the restaurant owner reveals that he’s been watching them.  The looks on their faces as they react to this announcement are priceless.  You can almost see them rewinding and replaying the tapes in their own minds, trying to determine whether this is good news…or bad news.

Now imagine yourself in their shoes for a moment.  An emergency meeting has been called, and you’re curious, wondering why you’ve been summoned.  Then you hear the words:

I’ve been watching you.

Only this time it’s the voice of God.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13, NIV)

Rewind.  Replay.  Gulp.

That bad attitude you unsuccessfully tried to hide behind a fake smile?  Those little compromises you justified because you thought no one would ever find out?  The poor work ethic you displayed when you assumed the cat was away?  It’s all there, in plain view, up on the monitors.

Oh and by the way, there’s plenty more footage where that came from.  Cringe.

Before you crawl under the table in fear and shame, may I suggest something?  That whether the knowledge that you are being watched is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ news might depend less on your performance and more on your relationship with the owner?  Please read that again.  Then allow me to illustrate.

Typically on these shows, once the offending employees are identified they lose their jobs.  Good riddance, right?  Justice served.  Problem solved.

But in one of the restaurant stings, a trusted employee was caught red-handed, brazenly stealing from his employer, a close family friend.  When confronted, the thief begged for a second chance, promising to change and make restitution.  Instead of being fired, he was forgiven.  Why?

Because he was more than just an employee, a hired hand.  He was “family.”  He was shown mercy, because he was a beloved friend.

Certainly the fact that we are being watched should give us pause.  We should try to live in such a way that we bring honor to Our Maker and Master, seeking to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23, NIV) more than we desire our own convenience and comfort.

But if you have a personal relationship with the Owner, the revelation that He is watching you should not strike terror in your heart.  For the eyes that are upon you are peering through the lens of love.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.  If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:18, NLT) 

You are so much more than a mere servant.  You are a dearly loved friend.  You are Family.

“I no longer call you servants…I have called you friends…” said Jesus to His disciples in John 15:15 (NIV).

Listen to how one Bible commentator describes the watchful gaze of the Lord:

“He observes them with approval and tender consideration; they are so dear to him that he cannot take his eyes off them; he watches each one of them as carefully and intently as if there were only that one creature in the universe.” (From The Treasury of David)

Let that sink in.

He loves you.  He approves of you.  He values you.

He’s not waiting just to catch you in the act so He can kick you to the curb.  He’s watching because He cares about you.  He may discipline you and correct your behavior, but it is always out of a heart of love and a commitment to nurturing an ongoing relationship with you.

Isn’t that good news?

Doesn’t that make you want to please Him?

“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”  (2 Chronicles 16:19, NAS)

The Helix Nebula, also called the “Eye of God”

 

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Old Silver

News of a young couple’s engagement or wedding usually puts me in a melancholy mood.  It’s not that I don’t share their excitement.  I do.  It’s just that the newness of their relationship makes mine feel so…old.  I look back longingly at those early days when all we could see were the stars in each other’s eyes and a future stretching as far as those shining eyes could see.

So when I came across the following quote, it really spoke to me.  I share it not to in any way diminish the glory of young love.  But this is for those who have logged some marriage miles.  Those whose wedding pictures are yellowing with age.  Those whose kids laugh at their bridal fashions and hairstyles that are suspended in time.  If this describes you, then perhaps we could both use a reminder that what we posses has a timeless value and a beauty that is actually enhanced with age.

New love compared to old love is somewhat akin to the comparison of new silver with old silver. Certainly the former possesses a dazzling brilliance. But the latter’s tarnish defines the elegance and artistry of its design. The marks of old silver’s age speak to the history of its service, its significance and its value. Old silver embodies a rich storehouse of memories that gives it a luster which an immature piece of new silver, for all its inherent value and shiny surface, has not yet attained.” (Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse)

Today Chris and I celebrate 22 years of marriage.  Like a fork and a knife, I am thankful for our history of service together.  Over two decades of use may have left us a bit tarnished, but that has only deepened and more clearly defined the intricate details of God’s design.  Our storehouse of memories is filling, with room left for the ones still to be made.  And so I say…

Grow old along with me!  The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.  Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God:  See all, nor be afraid!'” (Robert Browning)

Happy Anniversary to my old love!

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Place of Rest

My cell phone vibrated on the table next to me, and the screen lit up with the name of a dear friend and fellow believer.  I opened the phone (yes, I am still stuck in the Technological Dark Ages) to quickly scan her text:

I have a favor to ask.  Would you state the 1st thoughts that come to mind for each of the following?  *Definition of rest.  *List some reasons why resting may be difficult.

She was working on a Bible study and was w-rest-ling with the topic of “Rest.”  So she decided to employ one of her “lifelines” and phone a friend. Unfortunately I was in the middle of something when the text came through.  I made a mental note to get back to her as soon as I had a free moment, then snapped my phone shut.  (Good thing a million dollars wasn’t at stake or I might be minus one friend.)

Several days (this may be a conservative estimate) later, I remembered The Text.  The one I had neglected to answer.  The one I had also inadvertently deleted.  (I may be minus one friend after all.)

Perhaps I could still respond.  If I could only recall the question.  It was something about “rest.”  Oh yes.  How would I define rest and why is it difficult to rest?

Here is the first thought that came to mind:

Rest is knowing you are loved.

One way I have learned to distinguish the voice of God from my own thoughts is that His voice usually startles me with its clarity and conciseness.  It’s typically something that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.  Like that definition of “rest,” for example.  I also know that He will never contradict what He has already communicated in Scripture, so I went there next.

“May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” (Ruth 1:9)

This was Naomi’s prayer for her two recently widowed daughters-in-law.  She equated rest with the safety and security found in the marriage relationship.  Because life without a husband in that culture and time would have been anything BUT restful.

One of the sweetest things Chris said to me early in our dating relationship was that he just wanted me to feel “secure.”  I loved the way I could relax in his presence.  I didn’t have to perform to impress him.  I felt completely accepted and unconditionally loved.  In his love, and in the marriage commitment that followed, I could (insert big sigh of relief here) REST.

The good news is that regardless of whether we are currently married, never married, or newly single, we have a God who desires to be that loving husband to us.  He spells out His intentions clearly in Isaiah 54:5:

“For your Maker is your husband–the LORD Almighty is his name–the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.”

I just want you to feel secure.

Like a groom on his wedding day, He vows His love and commitment to His bride a few verses later:

” ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

I love you with an unfailing, unshakable love.

When we know we are perfectly and unconditionally loved we can “cease striving, and know that (He) is God.”  (Psalm 46:10)  We don’t have to perform to earn His love and favor.  We can relax in His presence.  It’s like sinking into the comfort of a warm bubble bath.  Ahhhhhh.

Rest is knowing you are loved.

I feel compelled to ask in closing:  Have you found this place of rest?  Have you entered into a covenant relationship with the One who pursues you with an unstoppable love?  Jesus proved that love by offering His life in exchange for yours.  All you have to do is respond with a heartfelt “I do.”  (And would you please let me know if “you did”?)

No one will ever love you like He does.  You can rest in that fact.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a text message to send.

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