When I say that this has been a hard week, that might be putting it mildly. I probably need to use adjectives with a stronger "sauce" as it were. At least from a first world kind of perspective. Words like "awful," "draining," "brutal" seem a bit more accurate actually. I don't know if you've ever had a week like this, but since there is "nothing new under the sun", I am sure you have. Those times when all of the external seems to be turning against you in this disturbing cacophony, blindsided by cruel words, bogged down by an uncertain earthly future, heart shredded like cheese through a grater.
It was in this state of feeling misunderstood, anxious and downright weary that I found myself at a loss about even where to begin with Him in our usual conversations. My pen and paper, which are usually reliable processing tools, failed to produce their organized fruit and I was left with coming to Him with deep sighing. Every now and then, I attempted to be faithful in praying for housing provision, but mostly it was inarticulate sentiments related to grief, hurt, purposelessness, fear, anger and yes, even dread.
Now, I could say that I did all the right things. I showed up to our Time together, I reached out to others for prayer, and I didn't hide what was really going on. And honestly, that is so much more than I used to do, when Pride ran my life.
But You know what my God did? My tender God made sure I knew that He was with me. That I could come to Him just as I am and He would hug me in those strong and gentle arms, squeezing out every drop of sadness so there was room again for joy. He spoke softly as I hid myself in Him in words of comfort like this:
"Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls to me I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him by salvation." Psalm 91:14-16
"Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord." Psalm 32: 10
And on one of the worst days, He dropped this bomb of a passage:
"I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also." Psalm 31:7-9
He just kept right on reiterating that His nearness helps me see Him more clearly. From a self-created distance, I cannot make out truth or believe the reality of His love, much less rejoice in the God of my salvation. My screwy circumstances and powerful emotions are unable to crush the Rock I stand on, or in this case, collapse on. It is only good to be near God if I have made Him my refuge (Ps. 73:28). Appreciating the shield of His love necessitates nearness (Jude 21).
What I find myself wanting to stress in all of this is that nothing has changed in my external. I still have no answers, I still have to make the conscious choice to forgive, but His loving embrace has shrunk these problems. He is redeeming this terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week in the same way that He faithfully redeemed me from the pit of hell, for His own Name's sake, for His own glory, as proof of His steadfast love and faithfulness.
She gave me my first sewing machine and many practical unmentionables. She also gave me metabolism vitamins and many a Christian dating book. There was never a celebratory occasion that she wasn't rife with gifts for me or whomever happened to be the honoree. She often told me that she was praying for me, and I believe she was faithful to do so. When we lived in Florida, I remember she would always look forward to having neighbor kids over to her house to tell them about Jesus. I even remember her gathering craft supplies from bins in a closet so they could take home a specially hand-crafted memento. Every card she sent or gave me was not full of her own words of encouragement, but a simple signature (and maybe a "praying for you") because the words of the card itself said what she wanted to convey. The woman packed 900+ boxes for Operation Christmas Child over the last decade or so! Every child for whom she gave was exposed to the Gospel--all NINE HUNDRED. Practical. Thoughtful. Generous. That's the Grandma I will strive to remember.
But as with any human, that's not the whole story. The truth is that I felt like a lot of times I wasn't living up to her standards. I wasn't the perfect granddaughter who went out of her way to spend time with her, and honestly, I felt like she didn't really understand me. I didn't get married young and give her great-grandkids to enjoy. I didn't become a missionary to a foreign land like she was. I didn't stick around the family or come visit as often as she probably would have liked. Now that's a lot of assumptions right there. A lot of transference of my own expectations and certainly a lot of pride.
I am ashamed to admit that I was actually okay with this arrangement: me avoiding her as a way to have some semblance of power in the relationship. Fear was the driving force for my evasion. Those walls of supposed protection to keep her out were not completely without justification from where I sat. Good intentions on her end often spewed forth in negativity on my hyper-sensitive heart, which resulted in my efforts to fortify the barriers around it.
I remember the first time I realized that I have her cheek bones. That thought was quickly followed by one about cosmetic surgery to change them to distance myself from her even more. What a despicable thing to have considered! Especially because she was a physically lovely woman. And then there was the moment it dawned on me that I like to give gifts too. I love for them to fit the occasion and be "just the right thing." It was starting to become a scary thing, our similarities. The real kicker was when I realized that she too had a heart for sharing the love of Jesus in a creative way. Bins of craft supplies can be found in my closets too. How was I supposed to cope with what was staring me in the face? I am a lot like her.
My Grandma was a hard person for me to love. At the funeral, I heard a woman describe my Grandma as her best friend. It was as if the Lord was reminding me that the same person can elicit a completely different response from one person to another. Maybe I failed to love her because I was incapacitated by my fear that she would be passively biting with her words or disapproving in her response to me. Maybe when I was around her, I lost sight of the shield that the Love of God provides for me. Regardless of how I felt she was toward me, I did not as Jude says: "keep [myself] in the love of God" (v. 21). And instead of being able to feel safe and secure in His arms, I only felt vulnerably exposed and took everything as an attack. That is not the way I want to live or love.
So, what did I learn about love from my Grandma? Small things add up, kindness counts, and the smallest act of thoughtfulness has profound reverberations; and therefore, none of it is wasted. Sometimes giving what is needed is better than giving what is wanted. And GIVE. From whatever resources you have, you reflect the abundant love of Christ when you are generous with your time, money, energy and talents. And you know what else? Persevere. Keep yourself in the love of God so that you can best share it with others.
Grandma, I know you are thoroughly enjoying heaven right now. I just wanted to say thank you for teaching me so many things directly and indirectly about love. Jesus, thank you for using your daughter Fayette to impact your younger daughter, and I ask that you that you would help me apply these truths for your glory.
For better or for worse, I have one of those faces that is incapable of hiding its true emotions. I used to resent that; now I accept it as a gift from the Lord, thanking Him for ensuring that I would ever be vulnerable yet remaining safe in Him. That's a pretty great place to be.
It's actually part of what I am learning about love. I know what insecurity, fear and anger, and anxiety look like on my face, but when those emotions are redeemed by the Love of God, then peace, rest and confidence are compelled to make the right kind of lines all over it.
Yes, this last month, I barely recognized myself. Where was this joy coming from? Why did I just want to talk to Him about everything? Is this the fruit the Word talks about that comes from abiding in Him? I should be freaking out about being homeless again soon; why isn't fretting the ticker tape of my everyday? Something is going on, and I think it has a lot to do with the CERTAINTY of His Love for me. I read this verse in 2 John the other day right at the beginning where John says that he was writing to a church "whom [he] love[d] in truth." Something about that struck me. There must be a way to love in falsehood if there is a way to love in truth.
I feel like this is not necessarily new information. It lines up with the exposure the Ephesians undergo as seen in Revelation 2:4 "You have abandoned your first love." John was rightfully identifying (and by extension encouraging them to correct) their misguided placement of their affection.
In some ways, who can blame them? Isn't there fierce competition for our affection these days? We divest our energy and attention nearly every moment until we are spread thin in every regard (emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally) and given Him our leftovers rather than our firstfruits. I have been guilty of this kind of second-rate, dare I say, chintzy kind of love. But the kind of love that John had for the church was utterly SINCERE. Totally genuine not only in words, but in practice. It was real. (That he had to clarify its sincerity only proves how much times have not changed.)
This led me to my next realization: Love can only be real when it comes from the Author of it. There is no other actual source of love. All others pale. I need to know how He loves me if I am ever to love Him back and show it through the viaduct of the people He puts in my path. Isn't it crazy how Scripture somehow seems to gain truth strength as you mature in Christ? Like, how simple is this: "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). What was once merely a cause and effect has now become this ever-expanding phenomenon as I recognize the contrast between Source and Object. I am so thankful that He was willing to show me the authenticity of His love for me at the cross, to show me all of the literal and sacrificial nuances, spreading His arms wide open to be able to embrace me. I would be remiss if didn't mention the verse I have been chewing on in Ephesians:
"Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (5:2)
The aroma of His love that pleased His Father was not a mystery. He made it VERY CLEAR that we were the ones for whom He was willing to die. While we were dead, he died so that through His life we too could have life (See Romans 5:8, 6:4). Love really is a matter of FACT.
That's TRUE love. That's MY Love.
Pacific Ocean. Nile River. Mount Everest. Mariana trench.
Even the widest, longest, highest and deepest things I can think of have limits. Their Creator determined their boundaries in His perfect wisdom, and when we, in our finite humanity, approach these large demonstrations of His power, our own size not only becomes apparent, but we find a sense of awe we may have forgotten was wired in us.
So, imagine my delight when the Spirit brought me this beautiful reminder in Ephesians 3:
"that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (v.17b-19)
Readers, the love of our God has breadth, length, height and depth...or does it? I know Paul was just using a metaphor trying to encapsulate the infinite into something comprehensible for us, but let me just share what the size of His love means to me.
The fact that His love has breadth means that He has loved me widely. It is so vast that it covers all of my sin (Seriously, stop reading this and check out Micah 7:18-19). His love is able to be present in all circumstances and situations in which I find myself. No, it is not narrow and limited in what it can extend to. When I stand on the shores of the Pacific, I can only see so far, but I know from seeing other images that have a higher perspective, it goes far beyond that. HOW. MUCH. MORE. does the love of my God have breadth? Just imagine how vast it must be! As the Lord was expanding my understanding, something about the word "broad" triggered a file on the hard drive of my heart. Ah yes, Psalm 18, one I had hidden and saved several years ago held a treasure:
"He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me" (v. 19).
The spacious location he took me to was HIS LOVE. Let that sink in. That big open field you just pictured, that place full of freedom and unrestrained joy is HIS LOVE. Vast and boundless indeed.
It would be enough that His love for me has breadth, but it also has length. I love the comparison to the Nile River, that it "happens" to be the longest in the world, the one that once was filled with blood proving God's power as superior over creation then; even as we saw how long His love for us when He shed His blood at the cross. His love was around before I knew Him, is longer than I can perceive even in this moment, and will endure far beyond Time.
"Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13: 13
It is described as steadfast 191 times in the Bible which is rather significant. We can't forget His Word is a hammer, used in its original context to "break the rocks [false prophets] in pieces," (Jeremiah 23:29) but maybe also to make sure we get truths like this one in our heart's heads. His love is STEADFAST. His love is STEADFAST. His love is STEADFAST. Maybe if I repeated that 191 times a day I would remember how long it is.
His love has every right to have height. It has the greatest of dignity due to its superiority over all other loves. It is elevated above all the false ones because it was willing to go to the lowest of places, the earth. He was so kind to look down from his holy height and see us. (Psalm 102:19) Love was willing to show how high He really is by this:
"Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. THEREFORE God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name." Philippians 2:6-9, emphasis mine
There it was again. That internal bell dinging that I have seen height associated somewhere with His love. Do you know it?
"nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:39
No matter how high I try to climb, I cannot ascend beyond His love for me!
That verse segues us beautifully into the last measurement: depth. We already know from Romans 11:33 that His riches and wisdom and knowledge are deep, but we learn from our Ephesians verse that His love is too. We also know that the Spirit is the One who searches the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10) AND that He produces fruit in us that tastes like love. How sweet that we can be strengthened to understand His love to even greater depths, far deeper than that of the Mariana Trench and not be crushed under the weight of His love!
Wow. That's a lot of love. A whole lot to process and digest, at least it has been for me. The more I fathom that this Love is for me, the more unworthy I feel even while embracing the fullness that comes with this knowledge. Reader, His love is oh-so-much bigger than you can possible measure, and He aims it at you. You are not strong enough to hold it back, and it WILL crush your fears if you let it. THANK JESUS.
The word "lovely" has been dripping from my lips a lot lately. Maybe it is all the residing I have been doing in Ephesians a place where abundance and lavishness echo around every corner, resounding in the halls of my heart and mind. I find myself searching for more accurate words to describe the kind of Love I am coming to know more intimately.
And do you know what He is showing me? His Love is far more...sparkly than I really knew. It catches the Light of the Son and twinkles like the dancing reflection of a campfire in a pair of smiling eyes. Yes, something about the beauty of His Love can cause these ol' blues of mine to well up with tears of affection, knowing that He set His on me. He makes me feel special and chosen in a way that no one else can. Maybe because His affection was not just one of His heart, but of His mind and even the human body He took on.
I am finding that when the brilliant confetti of His Love pops open in these new ways, a smile spreads across not only my face, but my heart too. The supernatural comprehension of His big love radiates right back to the One who alone receives the glory.
To be exquisite Love, there must be a seeking after with care, which is what He very definitely did at the cross. It is also what Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 6:33 and 1 Chronicles 16:11 are talking about. This kind of superior and distinct Love describes that of my God and that He would let me know it is truly a fact and reality I cherish.
And it is from this position that I have realized that I am His channel. He created me with all of these tools (i.e. skills, talents, gifts, what have you) at the onset which He has been developing to use in His own ways to accomplish His purposes. So, when He has a demonstration of His love that must be showcased, He takes the tools He needs off the shelf of my (prayerfully) willing heart and GETS. THINGS. DONE. So, it becomes a rich blessing to get to watch Him work in and through me for His good pleasure. And there is this bonus of joy that bubbles up and over as a result of being the one He is using.
His Love for you is exquisite too, reader. And I bet you didn't know this, but I have prayed for you, that even today, He might remind you of this truth. His love for you is perfect, not a single flaw in the way it sparkles even if His love feels distant right now. He knows exactly what He is doing as He shows you His Love. Stop being consumed with solving and striving after the short-lived; rather seek after Love that has tenderly sought after you.
Here we go. Another year, another word. It has been somewhere in the ballpark of 7ish years since I started doing WOTYs (Word Of The Year) and admittedly some are more successful than others. Some merit blogging, others have crushed me beyond the ability to formulate proper sentence structure and syntax.
That I have requirements, filters and standards for what I write is probably pretty standard. I don't read or follow a lot of other blogs, but I can make the assumption, based on human existence and experience, that all who dare to organize and share their thoughts have some version of expectation for themselves, however different from my own those may be.
Having these stipulations for myself is not limited only to blogging, but to nearly all of my WOTYs in the past. I wanted the word to be cool and unique somehow, even prompting conversation such as my "Eureka" year. So, when the Lord led me to select "Love," I frowned back at him with prideful disapproval. Clearly, I need this word more than I know.
During one of my pre-WOTY days, I remember working my way through 1 Corinthians 13, focusing on a different aspect of love each month, and He did work some significant changes in my heart and life as a result. So, I was hesitant to repeat that word.
But you fellow faith-walkers get it when I say that He was persistent in His pressing. In His kindness, He revealed that this was not so much about showing love to others, though that will be a supernaturally inevitable by-product of His Spirit's work in me, as it was about "[having] strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and [knowing] the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [I] may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:18-19). He exposed insecurity and approval-seeking tendencies, revealing that I do have a desire to fully known, and fully satisfied in Him, all the while reiterating that His love is steadfast and unchanging. No wonder He says that comprehending His love requires strength. His love is BIG. So much to unpack and explore this year even as I learn to celebrate that He Himself is Love.
I look forward to stepping out onto this vast Ocean and to being further rooted and grounded in that Soil.