Because I Love You

I was backing out of my driveway last Monday, headed to work, when the DJ on the Christian radio said, “Maybe God did some work in your life over the weekend, and if so, give us a call and share with us.”

“You have no idea, Radio Guy, ” I thought. “You. Have. No. Idea.”

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I’m not one to call into a radio show, but even if I was, I’m not sure what I would say about what happened at Refine Retreat. I wondered, “What on earth?!?” as I was headed to the retreat, and now, one week after returning home, I’m still kind of asking the question, “What on earth?!?”

I did figure out why I won a ticket to the retreat. Mainly because there’s no way I would have gone otherwise. I knew it was going to be a small retreat, but it was even smaller than I was expecting, just a couple dozen women. It was so not “my thing.” Turns out I wasn’t alone. The common theme in early conversations were the same. Everyone seemed to be saying, “I’m not sure why I’m here.”

And now, after the retreat, the feelings are the same also. No one is quite sure how to explain what happened at the retreat. I can think of many things to say, but they all sound like cheesy, Christian cliches, and there was nothing cheesy or cliche about the weekend.

“I can hardly describe what happened,” I told my husband, “yet my heart just feels so filled.”

I left for the retreat early on Friday morning. I quickly remembered how much I enjoy driving, which was a good thing since I had to cover 684 miles.

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Despite a drizzly rain most of the route, I had a great trip. We all ate a meal and then had our first session. Kris shared the story of how the retreat came to be, and how God orchestrated so many things. She also said she didn’t really have a “message” for the night. Only that God had given her the the words to “expect the unexpected.”

Well, that’s good,” I thought, “since I have no idea what to expect.”

She then shared the verse Malachi 3:10

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

The context of that passage is the Israelites were not presenting their best offerings to the Lord. They were bringing blemished sacrifices to the altar and not the best as God had commanded. God wants the first fruits. Kris asked something like, “What do you need to sacrifice?”

At the close of the session Kris prayed. I don’t claim to regularly hear God speak to me, but He did during that prayer.

“Why am I here?” I begged.

“Because I love you,” He responded.

“What? That’s it? I mean, you brought me 684 miles just to say you loved me?” I argued. “Wait, why am I arguing with you? I should be saying, ‘Wow! You brought me all this way, just to say you love me! How amazing!'”

“So,” I continued, “What do I need to sacrifice? What needs to go on the altar?”

He responded, “Nothing.”

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And that was it. Five words. Five words I will never forget.

God took me to Ohio to tell me, “I love you!” That’s it. There was nothing more on His agenda for the weekend. The great romancer put together an epic love story better than any viral wedding proposal video. He’s been doing it since the beginning, and He doesn’t stop. Ever.

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It’s Not a Performance

A flier came home from school last winter announcing a theater performance opportunity for kids, and I immediately thought of our daughter, Morgan.

Many people don’t know this side of our middle daughter, but she has been turning things into stages for her whole life. The couch, the built-in bench in our dining room and an overturned Rubbermaid tote have all been used for performances over the years.

When I asked her if she would like to try out for the Missoula Children’s Theater performance of The Secret Garden, she said, “YES!!!”

I stayed for the first few minutes of the audition. There were more than 80 children and only about 50 parts. During the first tryout exercise, the quiet Morgan most people know showed up. As I left the auditorium, I was already mentally preparing my “mom speech.” You know, the one telling her how proud I was of her for trying something new and stepping out of her comfort zone. How I was excited she has a passion for theater and she can learn from the experience and try again another time.

After the audition, Morgan came running toward me, and it was immediately apparent I wasn’t going to need my speech. She had gotten a part as a flower in the garden with other first grade students, and she was very excited!

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There were several rehearsals that same week and two performances the following Saturday. All of the kids did great, but I was particularly proud of Morgan, of course. I was very proud of her for doing something she loves, for stepping out of her comfort zone to try something new, and for doing a great job.

As I stood in the theater after the performance, I realized I mostly was just proud because she’s mine. I love her not for what she does or for how hard she tries or for how well she performs. I love her because she’s my girl!

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Some proud mom tears were filling my eyes when it seemed like God interrupted my thoughts, right there in the theater. He reminded me that His love is kind of like the love I have for my children, only it’s so much better — beyond what I can even fathom!

He loves you not for what you do or how hard you try or how well you perform. God loves you because you are His. (1 John 3:1.) You are His child!

My pastor has been teaching from Galatians, and he has used the phrase, “The Gospel is a promise, not a performance.” You probably know that, but if you are like me, you forget from time to time. It’s easy to start operating in performance mode, checking things off a religious to-do list.

Yes, we show our love for God through obedience to His commands (1 John 5:3), but His love for us is not dependent on how well we obey. In fact, the Bible tells us in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Romans 8:38-39 which tells us nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing. Let us remember that. God has lavished His love on us! We do not — cannot even — perform to receive His love.

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Linking up over with Jennifer Dukes Lee, who lives in the opposite corner of Iowa as I do, and her #TellHisStory weekly link up.

Dear Me

Last year, I read Emily Freeman’s Grace for the Good Girl and found it to be written just for me. She has a new book out called Graceful, and it’s the same message as her previous book directed at teenage girls. I’m pretty sure I could have used that book as a teen! In honor of the new book, Emily invited people to write a letter to their teenage self and link it up to her blog. It was a fun little assignment, you might want to do it yourself. Mine is below.

Dear 17-year-old me,

I’ve lived twice as long as you now, can you believe it? You played house for so many years and dreamed of being a grown up, and now you are one. It’s been a good life, and I’ve learned a few things that you might find helpful. So, as you venture into your senior year of high school, here are some things you should know:

Stop being so scared to try new foods. Specifically, can you figure out how to like lettuce and other green leafy things? It might be OK as a teenager to eat only two croutons and the cherry tomato half on every salad automatically given to you at a banquet or reception, but ordering everything sans lettuce as a 35-year-old is a little embarrassing. Yes, your husband (Really! You DO get one! More on him later.) also dislikes lettuce, making you true soul mates, but you are both trying to eat healthier these days, and tolerating lettuce would really be a bonus in that department.

You were never really good at getting your hair “big” like the other girls. It’s a fad that’s already going out of style, but don’t fret. It just means many less embarrassing photos later in life. You’re really not much into fads anyway. I mean, you rolled your jeans and wore multiple pairs of brightly colored socks with your white canvas shoes, but you were never the trend setter. Trendy isn’t your thing, and that’s OK, too. Everyone has their own style, even if it’s not evident in high school.

That’s me, second from the left.

For someone who isn’t very good with numbers, you are pretty set on one number: your GPA. Can I tell you a little secret? When you are 35 you will not remember what your GPA was. Gasp! I know. I know. It’s a statistic that gives you worth, proves you are good. You enjoy school and you love to learn, those are wonderful things. But stop letting perfect grades stress you out! That B in choir your freshman year was a gift, I tell you, a gift! Can you imagine your stress level if you had the chance for that perfect 4.0? You are so much more than a number. Just last week your oldest child brought home his/her first school paper with a grade on top. (Sorry for the gender confusion, but you and the hubs are a rare breed who don’t find out the gender of your children before they are born. I don’t want to spoil the surprise!) The child is in third grade, the first year with real letter grades. And that first school paper with a grade on top did a number on your heart. The grade was a good one, there was no disappointment. In fact, this child does very well in school, just like you did. But the truth is, you see beyond the grade, the numbers, the statistics. You see your precious child whom you value for so much more than his/her ability to get good grades. Keep doing well in school and enjoy learning, but stop letting your GPA determine your self worth.

You girls know how to party with your sparkling grape juice and big, baggy shirts!

You also need to know that having a boyfriend does not give you value either. I’m pretty sure you know this one, but it’s still hard to feel like the only one who never had a boyfriend. You aren’t the only one. You have an amazing group of girlfriends (Hey, we’re still friends, can you believe it?) and those friendships are a huge blessing! Enjoy the time you spend together. You have had many experiences in high school, and will have more opportunities in college, that you might have missed out on if there was a guy to distract you. Instead, you have missed out on heartache and who knows what kind of trouble. You will spend most of your college years without a boyfriend either. So, just learn to enjoy meeting new people and stop wondering if every event you attend might be the event where you meet “the one.” All that brain power could be used for more noble causes. Towards the end of your senior year of college you will see a cute guy at your church. And then you will see him several places around campus, wondering why you never saw him before. You will not get the opportunity to meet him at church, and you will sing like Alanis Morrisette that it’s ironic, but do not despair! You know that job giving tours of the dorms to new students where you’ll only make $50?  Totally worth it! You’ll get to work with — yep, you guessed it — cute church boy! And it turns out to be the perfect opportunity for two kinda quiet people to meet and fall in love. So worth the wait!

This letter is getting long, but there is one more thing that you must know: It is OK to make mistakes. You are so desperate to do what’s right and what pleases God. This is a good thing, yet you take it to an extreme. You are constantly wondering if you are doing things good enough, if what you are doing is really God’s will, if there is something you are missing that would make your life more aligned with God. (And you’re developing a rather prideful and judgmental heart, which is definitely not God’s will for your life.) That voice telling you you are not good enough is not God’s voice. I wish I could say that at 35 you’ve stopped listening to that voice, but much like your lettuce preferences, some battles take longer to win. The good news is you start to listen more to the voice of God’s grace. It’s been there all along, you just tune it out in favor of items to put on your “I’m good enough check list.” So, throw that list away, even though it’s not on paper and only in your imagination. Cause that’s just it, it’s an imaginary list. Much like you see your children for being worth more than their grades, God sees you for more than what you do. He appreciates your heart so desperate to follow Him, but He really just wants you to get to know Him and to enjoy His presence in your life. If you start there, the “doing what’s right” will naturally follow.

There is so much more I could tell you — and I know you think you want to know every detail — but the stuff I already told you is a good start. Enjoy the journey!

Love,

Me 🙂

P.S. As a 35-year-old, you’ll wish 70-year-old you would send along a letter. But, then you’ll realize she already has in the form of the women in their 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s and even 30s that say, “Enjoy your kids! They grow up so fast …”

Hard Love

I’m participating in my first “5 Minute Friday.” Here’s what it’s all about: The Gypsy Mama gives a writing prompt and others join in, writing about that topic for 5 minutes with no editing or tweaking. “Let’s just write and not worry if it’s just right or not,” she says.

The Hard Love …

I noticed a touch of pink in my backyard this morning. The first blooms of our bleeding heart plant. (I thought about getting a picture, but it rained most of the day, so the photo above is from last year.)

It seems fitting to see a bleeding heart today, Good Friday. The day that hard love was born. The day that love did what it didn’t have to do, all for the sake of relationship.

I can learn a lot from hard love. I need to “do” hard love more often. I need to give when I don’t feel like giving. I need to bite my tongue when I’m about to say something that doesn’t need to be said. I need to lay down my rights in an effort to put someone else first.

It seems so un-American, but it is exactly what God did. Christ gave up His life for the sake of relationship. For the sake of you. For the sake of me.

Love & War

I remember a conversation with my brother about a friend of his who was from a culture that practices arranged marriages. I remember talking about how we can hardly fathom the idea and how bizarre it seems to us.

Then my brother said, “But the divorce rate there is almost zero.”

My immediate thought was, “Ah, but are they happy?”

And then, I immediately was disappointed in myself for thinking that, because I “know” that marriage is more than “being happy.”

So, what is marriage all about anyway? Why did God design marriage in the first place? I think the book Love & War: Finding the Marriage You’ve Dreamed Of, by John and Stasi Eldredge, can answer those questions.

This is not your typical “Seven Steps to a Happy Marriage” book written by an author who shares about the people he/she has counseled to a better marriage. Yes, there are some stories about other couples, but mainly the authors tell their own story  — the lows and highs, the bad and good, the ugly and beautiful — of a real marriage. I mean really sharing about their marriage. [Can you imagine writing a book about your marriage for all the world to read? Yeah, me neither.]

It is their realness and honesty that makes this book so good. I read it and felt normal, because as I read about their story I felt like I was reading my own. And while I related to the frustrations, misunderstandings and just general hardness of marriage, I also had the overwhelming feeling of hope. It’s as if the book says, “Hey, it’s Okay! You are normal! But there is something more. Marriage can be so much more … you can do it!”

But, not just that I can do it alone. And not even that Ben and I can do it in our marriage. But that God can do it when we invite Him into our marriage and into our lives. And isn’t that the message of Jesus? He accepts us as we are and invites us to something better.

Like I said, the book isn’t as much a how-to with a list of suggestions, but a story of how John and Stasi have invited God into their marriage. How they have learned to listen to God. How they’ve learned to love. And how they’ve learned that the “war” is not against each other, but against Satan, the enemy who wants to destroy everything God has called good. And most importantly that God offers us something better when we invite Him into our lives. It can seem like a risk — and it is! — but it is worth it.

And so begins the book: ”

It can be done. And it is worth it. Of all the things a man or woman needs to hear about marriage, this is perhaps the most important of all. It can be done. And it is worth it.” (Introduction, page 7)

The book is worth it, too. I find no coincidence in the fact that I finished reading the book in the week Ben and I celebrated our 10th anniversary! Thank you, God, for the gift of marriage! And thank you for the hope you give us!

Kids These Days

My  husband and I have worked with a Wednesday night youth program at our church for several years now. We help with kids in 3rd to 5th grade. We’ve been the “red team” for a while now, and each year we get a new batch of kids. It’s a fun time (usually 🙂 ) and we enjoy it.

There are four teams, and when it’s game time, it’s helpful to have an equal number of kids on a team. About a year and a half ago, there was a night where we were short on leaders and kids and we moved to the yellow team for the night. It was a chance to get to know a few new kids, including a girl I’ll call Andrea.

And if you judge a book by its cover, Andrea’s blond hair was in need of a wash, she carries a few extra pounds on her 10-year-old frame, and her initial response to “hello!” is to cross her hands over her chest and give a look that says, “Don’t mess with me.”

The following week, Andrea was moved to the red team for the night, and it seemed as though we had broken through some barriers the week before, because she was fairly friendly and talkative.

Her stories and questions spoke volumes.

“My mom just had a baby two weeks ago,” she said. “His name is John.”

“Oh yeah?” I said.

“John is the dad’s name, too.”

The dad.

Not my dad, or even my mom’s boyfriend. Just the dad.

A few minutes later she looked across the table at my husband and asked, “Is he your boyfriend?”

I had to chuckle. I mean, it’s been a while since he was my boyfriend. It was actually kind of fun to think of him in that way again.

“No,” I said in reply, “he’s my husband.”

Andrea gave me a blank stare. My smile quickly faded.

I couldn’t help but wonder if she even knew what the word “husband” means.

We carried on with our night, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Andrea. Here’s a little girl with no idea what a dad is supposed to be. Possibly no idea what the word husband even means.

Through no choice of her own and no fault of her own, Andrea does not know what it means to have a father.

As I wrestled with sleep that night, I kept thinking about Andrea. Little did she know that our conversation was keeping me awake. It was a conversation that changed me and changed my view of volunteering for our little Wednesday night program.

God brought this verse to my mind:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me … ” Mark 10:14

I can’t give Andrea a father. I can’t fix her family. But, for 90 minutes on Wednesday nights, I can give her Jesus.

The truth is, I wish I had been a bit more bold in developing a relationship with Andrea.  I met her towards the end of the year, just before the program took a break for the summer. She returned the following year, but was on another team and only came for a couple weeks. I don’t know her last name or how to get a hold of her. I ran into her once at school, when I was volunteering in my son’s classroom. She has been on my mind lately, and I am praying that we cross paths sometime again.

Even if I don’t see her again, I will always remember her. I hope I continue to remember that many kids have tough lives, and their rough edges and tough exteriors are really defensive walls protecting their hurting hearts. I hope I can remember that those kids need Jesus, even the ones that dress weird, have strange hair cuts and bad language. I hope I can remember that every one needs to see Jesus, and I might be the only one who shows Him to them.