Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. – Psalm 36:5-7
I love Valentine’s Day. Maybe, more than anything, it is a bright red, shiny day that punctures the many gray ones of winter. Being married now for many years, the season of longing for love should be long forgotten. It is not. I remember.
The funny thing about the years of singleness – the many Valentine’s Days spent more with great girlfriends than with a guy – was the weathered joy in them. The loneliness and seeming “not belonging to someone” brought keen awareness of the contrasting actual truth that I was NOT alone. Indeed, I was loved more deeply than ever possible by another human as needy as me.
On this Worship Wednesday, on Valentine’s Day, I’m drawn back to an old hymn. One actually that only became familiar to me during our years in Egypt, worshiping with British expats. They brought their beloved hymns into our collective worship experience.
Englishman Samuel Trevor Francis penned, in King James English, a beautiful hymn extolling the love of Christ. The lyrics are so powerful and life-giving. You can just hear the great church organ of the past pounding out the beat and breadth of the melody…and the message of love we find in Jesus.
Please worship with me. The Christian band Selah has prepared an updated version for us, retaining the feel of the old hymn. The lyrics and music to accompany are found here.
1 O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
rolling as a mighty ocean
in its fullness over me. Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love;
leading onward, leading homeward
to my glorious rest above.
2 O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
spread His praise from shore to shore! How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watcheth o’er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own;
how for them He intercedeth,
watcheth o’er them from the throne.
3 O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of ev’ry love the best;
’tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’tis heav’n of heav’ns to me;
and it lifts me up to glory,
for it lifts me up to Thee.*
The trappings of Valentine’s Day will leave you a little empty… unsatisfied, no matter your situation. Find the great love of God the refuge and shelter He means to be for each of us.
He will cover you with His feathers; you will take refuge under His wings. His faithfulness will be a protective shield. – Psalm 91:4
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! – Psalm 107:1
A heart for Thanksgiving this year took me all the way until the day before. Not that I am not grateful. There’s thanks in every breath. As the Psalmist proclaims, we have a multitude of reasons to be thankful to God. He is good to us. In fact, his love (mercy) endures forever. If you have a few minutes, read the whole of Psalm 107 to reckon the richness of how God’s mercies endure…through whatever we are going through.
This Thanksgiving, I have struggled to prepare my heart for a day of feasting. Until this morning, I had little stomach for it. Oh, I am looking forward to have all our children and grands around the table later today. Then on Thanksgiving itself, we’ve gathered a few neighbors and friends who, like us, won’t be with their families. It will be a sweet time.
Until this morning though, my thoughts struggled with the losses of late. Not my own, but that of some friends and extended family. The world’s a mess, isn’t it? Yet, within that mess, a good and merciful God is moving.
This morning, we said goodbye to dear dear friends who had passed through our home for a quick visit. They reminded us of other Thanksgivings spent together across the ocean. They stood in for family we would be missing, as we did for them.
Their making the time to visit lifted my heart. When I dropped them at the holiday-crowded train station and returned home, the list of preparations for this special day demanded attention.
Then in a moment…standing in this sun-drenched kitchen…
Thanksgiving came. As I began mixing the ingredients for cornbread dressing, my mom came to mind. I watched her for years doing this same action. Standing in the kitchen, mixing, adding love and sage to taste, no recipe. Years of comfort in that sweet memory.
My mom-in-law also came to mind…always preparing a loaded table of goodness for us to enjoy at Thanksgiving. Her table and company we will miss this time…as we wait until Christmas to travel home. Still, I know her. Even with a son and daughter-in-law cooking most of the meal, she will still scurry…still make her specialties…still lay a table fit for the family she loves.
Now as turkey and dressing bake in my oven, the fragrance calls to mind so many times of family together…food and football…hugs and laughter. Having adult children nearby, we are making a new set of memories with help in the kitchen…between this chef of a son of mine and two girls cooking in their homes as I am here.
There is a bond in that. In fact, there is a bond in this cooking for those we love…all over the world. What a blessing to think of being a part of that wonder today and forever.
Thanksgiving has come. God, in his enduring love and mercy, will get us through the dark times. He has done it before, and He will do it again. As for these shimmering bright moments of family coming and a table circled with love…I will be ever grateful.
As a small child, I loved my mama with all my heart. She was the source of all the goodness in our lives. She was my hero.
Through the many deep and painful hardships in Mom’s life, she had lost her way spiritually and we were unchurched in the early years of our childhood. When kind and persevering neighbors finally won Mom’s trust, we accepted their invitation to church. It was in that small congregation with hearts full of love that we found God.
It was no time before I was ready to receive, as my own, this beautiful, persistently loving, perfectly holy Savior. I was ready because of my own failed attempts to be good for my mama – to take some of the burden off her shoulders through my own small efforts. The knowledge from Scripture that we could never do enough on our own, that we needed a sinless Savior, was the best news I’d ever heard!
In recent weeks, we have been studying 1 Thessalonians (the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church) through our church’s sermon series and in our home groups. The two short versions below were like a shock of glorious truth for me:
May the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone else, just as our love for you overflows, so that He may establish your hearts in blamelessness and holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. Amen. – 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
Anything good in our lives comes through the hands of God. In fact, as Pastor Cliff said Sunday, “No matter how far away we feel right now (from being blamelessly holy), what God Almighty has declared so He will make so.”
Pursuing holiness is a theme much talked about in Christian circles – almost to the point of it being an idol. God orders the pursuit of holiness secondarily to increasing in love. What if we went after loving first? Not in lieu of holiness, God forbid, but…on the path to it.
We know from the passage in 1 Thessalonians, and many passages in Scripture, that God means for us to be all about knowing and loving Him and, out of that, loving others. Not just others we like or those we want to like us…but ALL others. The “so that” in verse 13 gives us the context.
As we strive to love others, in obedience to the Lord, He empowers us in that love. Then as our hearts are filled with deeper and broader love, then we have less room, inclination, or desire for or toward sinful habits.
Until the day we go to be with God when He completes His work in us and we are then blamelessly holy because of what Christ’s holiness accomplished in us.
The stuff of cold chills and face to the ground in awe of Him.
“If holiness is a matter of being increasingly conformed to God’s law, and if as Paul says in Romans 13, love is the fulfillment of the law, then it makes sense that as we grow in love, we come more in line with God’s law, and thus become more holy. This dynamic also makes sense to us experientially, as we face our sin. For example, if you grow in love for your neighbor, you are less likely to covet your neighbor’s possessions. The more you grow in depth of love for your spouse, the less attractive becomes the prospect of adultery. The more you love your fellow man, the harder it is to harbor any malice towards them. If we perfectly loved everyone, there would be no sin! Chrysostom, the great 4th century preacher, put it this way, “Love to our neighbor does not suffer any entrance of transgression; there is not any sin, which the power of love cannot consume.” Love is the soil in which holiness grows toward perfection. Love is the means by which a person’s heart gets established blameless in holiness.” – David Scott
My husband Dave often talks about the ways God shows up in our lives and the role we have in those divine appointments (Psalm 127:1, as an example). “Our part is necessary but not sufficient”.
We can’t love well enough on our own…but as we give ourselves over to how God loves through us, we can know what it means to actually love unselfishly and unreservedly. That’s the kind of love I wanted to lavish on my mom as a child. She was so worthy of it…but I didn’t understand how. Until God’s truth penetrated my heart. Through the rest of Mom’s years of life and mine with her, I loved her imperfectly…but more perfectly than I could have without God at work in me.
The same for loving all others. It’s easy to build a wall around ourselves and only allow in those easy for us to love. No wonder our hearts bend so easily to sin and selfishness if that is our default. What a world God opens to us when we surrender ourselves to His redemptive purposes.
You might say, my mom fit in the category of “easy to love”. You are right. Still, as I grew in loving God, yielding to Him and His help in seeing others as He sees them, then loving comes easier. Even those as hard to love as I can be sometimes. Loving broadly is becoming a whole daily renewing and consuming adventure. Out of that, I know from His Word, He lavishes our hearts with His holiness.
The more we love, the more God shapes our hearts toward holiness. Wow!
We usually have a song together on Worship Wednesday’s. I’ve put a couple in the links. Today seems more for glorying in God’s provision and praying to be available to Him to love generously and flesh out blameless holiness to a world that needs to see Jesus in us.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. – Ephesians 2:8
For the first twenty years of my professional life, I was privileged to have close encounters with five life-changing realities. It was a season of caring for cancer patients and their families – when their diseases were raging and in the final days of life. These experiences galvanized my faith in God and how his image is embedded in us – his creation. These realities are:
Courage in exceedingly hard places
Deep enduring love across a harsh illness and when time is fleeting
Hope mingled with humor
Death isn’t final…our spirits go somewhere (for sure, they leave the body)
Faith to believe
Caring for patients receiving chemotherapy and other treatments for life-threatening complications can prompt an intimate caring relationship. To watch patients (and families) deal with such hard and to be in a position to help them through it gave me a window to extend love and honor to dear ones in crisis.
Was there always courage? Was love always expressed between us all? Was humor or hope or faith a constant?
No…but remarkably, more often than not, this was what I observed… especially in those sustained by a relationship with God.
In the last couple of years, I personally have experienced a cancer diagnosis and a couple of respiratory emergencies that brought those same realities into my life. In such times, much in life gets clarity…a sharper focus, a deeper understanding.
Breathe has been a theme in my life for over a year now…put that together with the title of a film starring Andrew Garfield…and it caused me to NOT “skip the ad” on YouTube.Photo Credit: Breathe, YouTube
I was unaware of Robin Cavendish until I saw the trailer for the film Breathe. Cavendish was a Brit who developed polio at the young age of 28. He was paralyzed from the neck down and required a ventilator to breathe. In those days (1958), he would have been confined in a hospital for the remainder of his days. However, he nor his wife, Diana, would hear of it. After a year in hospital, he went home and adjusted to this very different life, as only Robin would. They had a child and he would be able to see him grow up (in fact, son Jonathan Cavendish produced this film). Robin was a pioneer in advocating for the disabled, especially those like him needing more extreme measures to live a more normal life. He died at 64.
[Since my years in graduate studies in rehab and cancer nursing…the courage I saw in so many patients and families…courage in struggle…never ceased to inspire me.]
I am always intrigued about “based on a true story” films. Reading up on Robin Cavendish’s story, my heart soared and then sank…fullstop at the short statement below:
I have never understood atheism. Even during spiritually flat and confusing times in my life, the existence of God has never been at question.
Especially watching beloved patients at the moment of death…their faces relaxing and their bodies emptying of who they really were. We don’t just stop existing…life here stops and starts at exactly the same moment…There.
Now that I know Robin Cavendish, he has my admiration and respect at how he took back his life and helped others do the same. I wonder if, before his life was done…if he had the faith to believe. One line in his obituary reads:
It is a strange irony that, though professing to be an unbeliever himself, he had a capacity for making other people feel closer to God.*
Give me the faith to believe You
When I’m stuck here in my fear
Give me the strength to trust You
When my vision’s blurred by tears
Give me a hope for tomorrow
Because today has gone so wrong
I’m on my knees
Give me the strength to believe
Even when I cannot see You You’re still shining, You’re still shining Even when I cannot hear You You’re still calling out my name Even when I cannot see You Your arms are open Always holding on to me Give me the faith to believe
You say You’ll never leave me Your love will conquer fear You say Your day is coming When You’ll wipe away my tears Give me a hope for tomorrow Because today has gone so wrong I’m on my knees Give me the faith to believe
Give me the faith to see the invisible Give me the faith to believe the impossible Give me the faith to receive the incredible Oh give me the faith to believe it**
There is no other so sure and steady, my hope is held in your hand When castles crumble and breath is fleeting, upon this rock I will stand Upon this rock I will stand
Glory, glory, we have no other king But Jesus Lord of all Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring We crown Him Lord of all
Your kindly rule has shattered and broken the curse of sin’s tyranny My life is hidden ‘neath Heaven’s shadow, Your crimson flood covers me Your crimson flood covers me
Glory, glory, we have no other king But Jesus Lord of all Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring We crown Him Lord of all
In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Our souls declaring, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Our song eternal, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Glory, glory, we have no other king But Jesus Lord of all
Glory, glory, we have no other king But Jesus Lord of all Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring We crown Him Lord of all
Glory, glory, we have no other king But Jesus Lord of all Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring We crown Him Lord of all***
Photo Credit: Flickr
Maybe this is the first step for atheists, too (it was for me)…so thankful for the faith to believe…to see the truth and beauty of Scripture. The Word of God walks us right up the staircase to be with Him – now and forever.
Thank You, God, for the faith to believe. With my whole being, I’m sure you daily, moment by moment, extend grace to all of humanity to know You, through one witness of Yourself or another. Help us to receive this grace. God, give us all this faith to believe.
Another Friday…they come so fast. Today, I am not in my usual spot but didn’t want to miss sharing this week’s favorite finds. Enjoy…
1) Adoption – I don’t hear the phrase much anymore, but in my child-bearing years, when asked what a couple wanted (boy or girl), the response was often, “I don’t care…just as long as it’s healthy.” A wise older friend told me one time that God gives life and every child is perfect in His eyes. One population we see less of in our country these days is people with Down Syndrome. Photo Credit: Flickr
Of of the genetic tests done during pregnancy, one is to rule out Down Syndrome in the fetus. If the parents have objections to keeping a baby with Down Syndrome, abortion is an option to some…as is adoption. Raising a child with health or developmental issues is challenging. We adopted such a child and thrill to see how he continues to meet his challenges…and to bless all around. We did not adopt a child with Down’s but we have friends who did. The videos below are a beautiful sampling of this population of perfect children and adults.
2) The Last of the Mohicans – To be honest, I have never been able to watch this painful and beautiful film all the way through. Its theme (originally composed by Dougie Maclean and arranged for this film by Trevor Jones) is exquisite. Listen here on YouTube with a composite of scenes from the movie. When Nathan arranged this grand orchestral piece (“Promentory”) for classical guitar, I knew it would have to be extraordinary. See what you think. Listen here:
3) On Being Single – The whole dating scene in my 20s was something I pulled out of long before marrying. It wasn’t pretty. By the time I entered my 30s, life was filled with great friends, strong family relationships, challenging work, and serving in church and community. Loneliness crept in at times, but it still does even after marrying later in life. These days I am privileged to enjoy the friendship of several women (and a few men) who are single. Do some of them want to married? Yes, but not all. When I saw the video below, it resonated – how society can mis-communicate the great value of these women and men…I never want to do the same.
4) Craveability – A few years back, I took myself off of sugar. For over a year, I just refused to eat it (desserts, snacks, etc.). It was a healthy choice for me at the time. I lost a lot of weight and stopped craving sugar. Gradually, as with many lifestyle changes, I went back mostly to my old ways (still not eating chocolate or doughnuts – two trigger foods). I watched an interesting YouTube video this week on crave ability – Michael Pollan on Cooking. In it, Pollan compared the nutritive value of food cooked by corporations vs. that cooked by humans. Now, corporations (restaurants, food processing companies, etc) don’t really “cook”. His premise though was compelling. When we cook, we control how much sugar, salt, and fats we add to food. When we buy food already prepared commercially, the craveability factor is at work. Foods we return to buy again and again have been developed to tap into our cravings.
My husband was on a work trip to California this past week. A much-loved fast-food restaurant was on the list of eateries. In-N-Out Burger. He and his colleague even ate there twice one day. Now, the food must be pretty special, but it speaks to Pollan’s observation about how we eat when driven by cravings. If we were eating at home, we have French fries rarely. Yet, eating out (for lunch each day, for instance), we might have fries more often.Photo Credit: Marco Fischer, Pexels
We in the US have a fair amount of food weirdness in our striving to eat healthy or, on the flip-side, in our indulging of cravings. Considering what is behind our food preferences, even our addictions, might help us make wiser choices in what we eat – especially related to sugar, salt, and fats.
5) Honoring – Respect and honor are two very different actions and experiences. I’ve heard people say, “I just don’t respect him/her.” or “He/she doesn’t deserve my respect.”Therecan be such derision or contempt in those statements, they also seem to communicate “can’t” and “never will”.Honor is defined as “valuing or esteeming highly.”We live in a culture that defaults to valuing self over anyone else…we have to fight against this strong pull to elevate ourselves over even those we say we love the most. In one of the Apostle Paul’s letters, he writes: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10) Whether someone deserves honoring or not is of no consequence. We choose to honor others.Photo Credit: Pinterest
Do we choose to honor others in our every word and deed? Think about the trash talk we can so easily fall into in relationships. It seems harmless enough but it sets us up to follow suit with dishonoring actions and attitudes. My hope is to be a person you can trust to keep your name safe on my lips.
In our current political climate and knee-jerk one-upmanship in social and work circles…what if? What if we tried to “outdo one another in showing honor”? How would that change our homes, workplaces, world? How do we teach that sort of valuing to our children? How do we re-awaken our hearts to it as adults? I would love to hear your thoughts (in Comments below).
Well, those were my favorite finds this week. How about yours? Please share any of those in the Comments. Have a safe and refreshing weekend.
Quote about Prayer:
“The greatest thing we can do for one another is to pray. Prayer is striking the winning blow at the concealed enemy; our service is gathering up the results.” Corrie ten Boom, Not Good If Detached
I had trouble getting my enthusiasm up for work today. This is highly unusual, because I LOVE Mondays. Even went to bed early last night; only to have bad dreams and restless sleep.
OK…so it happens sometimes. Shake it off and embrace the day, right?
I want to write about what happens when we love our job. Remember when that was? …if it isn’t that way for you today, don’t let this season bring you down, and your work down.
A friend shared with me recently that he has come to figure his worklife into decades. He makes strategic decisions based on where he is today in his job and what he hopes to be doing in the next decade. We all know the years go by quickly…so he got me thinking.
If I don’t love my job today, I really either need to do something to correct course, or, before jumping ship, think where I hope to be over the next several years.
This little video showed a number of employees doing their jobs well and with speed and finesse. It had a poignant touch for me because I have personally watched servers in North Africa make crepes, cut up fruit, and pour tea like the workers in the video. I miss that.
If you search online for loving what you do, you find lots of helps on how that works and how to make it happen (again).
Jeff Haden posted a helpful piece entitled 15 Revealing Signs You Genuinely Love What You Do. It’s a quick read and it will either encourage you that you really DO love your job, or, if not, maybe there are some simple steps you can make to change it up. Some of the signs are : You enjoy attending meetings. You think about what to say, not how. You help without thinking.Definitely something to consider…as are the other signs.
If you love your job, that is worth celebrating and worth protecting as the job or company changes. If you don’t love your job so much, then you have to ask yourself the question, is it time to look elsewhere or do you have capacity to do what it takes to restore joy to your job, as it is?
Benjamin P. Hardy writes about this in One Behavior Separates the Successful From the Average. What is that behavior? Initiative! We determine for ourselves how we shake out our day. Sure, there are going to be obstacles and difficult people and various struggles over the years. It’s always worth it for our own sake, to take back control of how we love our jobs. Exercising initiative, as Hardy suggests, is the way out…either out of the joyless season you’re in and stay in your job, or out of the job. Just don’t take the joylessness with you.
“…Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39
Who wouldn’t love a surgeon who calls to check on you himself after you go home from surgery? That was my experience this afternoon. He had just removed 6 lesions (creepy word) from my face. Too much sun exposure in my reckless 20’s. I will know next week whether each is cancer or not (hopefully the non-scary type).
Some doctors are almost too professional – aloof, reserved, choosing words carefully, but this one is excellent at his work and also very human and approachable. Before we went into surgery, he sat down with Dave and me to review my medical history. In a few minutes, he would be doing multiple cuts and wound closures on this old face of mine, leaving me a bit Frankensteinish in appearance. Temporarily.
In that talk, he puzzled out loud at how I got lung cancer not ever having been a smoker. “Just bad luck…” he surmised.
All afternoon, I have thought about that odd observation. He didn’t know the whole of that medical workup which delivered a lung cancer diagnosis and surgery (Stage 1, by the way…sigh of relief). He would have considered it “good luck” then. Another health issue had driven that workup, which turned out to be nothing. The testing, however, had fortuitously revealed the lung nodule. Luck…if you believed in that. I knew it was something much more.
What this latest favorite surgeon of mine casually observed as bad luck, I see as a good God. A good and loving God. Even when the diagnosis isn’t Stage 1…even when our calendars are filled with way too many doctors’ appointments and our hearts full of fear…the character of God shines through all that…if we look for Him.
Whether life is good or not so good, God’s care for us is unaltered.
These last several months have settled that in my heart over and over again. When we go through difficulties, God uses them in our lives in at least three ways.
To show us His love and faithfulness as we cling to Him through the scary unknowns.
To deepen our grasp of and wonder at His purposes for our lives.
To embolden us to extend His love to those around us, as He’s purposed us to do. To be His hands and feet to others, as He’s multiplied grace to us in our own hard places.
Luck doesn’t stir our hearts to take the lives God has given us (and health restored to us) and pour them out in service to Him and for the sake of others. Love does that.
Love unfailing Overtaking my heart You take me in Finding peace again Fear is lost In all you are
And I would give the world to tell Your story
Cause I know that You’ve called me
I know that You’ve called me
I’ve lost myself for good within Your promise
I won’t hide it
I won’t hide it
Jesus, I believe in You
And I would go to the ends of the earth
To the ends of the earth
For You alone are the Son of God
And all the world will see
That You are God
You are God*
I go for followup next week to this dear plastic surgeon who took such good care of me. While he takes out all these stitches, I hope to share, even briefly (and not weirdly), the whole “not luck, but love” story of my life. Hopefully all the biopsy results will be nothing or not scary. Whatever happens, God’s love turns my heart to Him…and to those He’s placed in my life – who also walk through hard places but don’t have to walk through them without Him.
We are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Corinthians 5:20-21
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3Photo Credit: Kuyamac
Valentine’s Day, as a holiday, is ripe with all sorts of possibilities… and potential frustrations. It’s a day that picks at our contentment and whispers in our ears, “Is this enough? this love I have? these loves I have?” I say we take this holiday, turn it on its head, and totally own it.
What do you love about Valentine’s Day? Most probably, you are women reading this blog, because men seriously don’t want any more information on how to celebrate this day. We women have this totally lovely day thrust upon us once a year to do with it how we want. ..so let’s get after it.
Here’s what I love about this day:
1) I can be as effusive and gushy as I want on this one day of the year. It’s allowed…tolerated…appreciated even. Cards, phone calls, and social media shouting out to those we love…there’s a lot of relational muscle pumped on this day…wouldn’t hurt to keep this going through the rest of the year. Words. Are. Powerful.
2) It’s a golden opportunity to hang with our best buddies. Not just husbands or boyfriends, but moms, grandmoms, the widow neighbor down the street. Those glorious women in our lives… Valentine’s Day is a fine excuse to have lunch together, cake together, movie night together. Whatever. How thankful I am for the great women in my life…from lots of places in the world.
3) This day lends itself to a total indulgence (guilt deferred) of sugary delights. Valentine’s Day blesses all excesses. I don’t eat chocolate these days, but Hershey’s Kisses still speak. Whether I eat those foil-wrapped happy little candies or not, they still generate lovely thoughts for me on this day…as do the other treats that come out especially on this day of the year.
4) I love how cheery people are toward each other related to Valentine’s Day (kind of back to the gushy/effusive side of this day). Whether it’s decorating a colleague’s cubicle wall or lavishing gifts on your child’s teacher…it can make for a sweet day. Whether there’s a dear man in our lives or not, we can use this day to bless others…just for the fun of it (for them AND for us).Photo Credit: Cublical Decorating – Heather Teater
5) Last thing I love about Valentine’s Day is its celebration of love itself. The history of Valentine’s Day is far from the romance and roses we expect today. Yet, if there is something worthy of setting aside a day, it is love – real, deep, sacrificial and satisfying love. Maybe it’s a stretch to consider that sort of love on a day that’s been riddled with commercialism, but that’s where I would like to end. Today, more than anything I celebrate the God of love who teaches us best how to love. First loving Him and then, because of Him, loving each other as we love ourselves.
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Mother-in-law jokes are lost on me. They’re just not funny and are so rude, really, given they are perpetrated against the mother of the person we chose to spend our lives with… Makes no sense to me.
My mom-in-law may be extraordinary, but she would never think so. Her name is Julia and she grew up in a farm family. She married young and had two sons (after miscarrying a first child). I married her oldest. Her life has always been centered on her family…loving them, serving them…and always pointing them to God.
My own mom gave me wonderful counsel when I married – about how to treat my mom-in-law. She told me to love her like I loved my own mom. Now, you have to know my mom has been my best friend from childhood. She was wise, funny, loving…and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. To even try to love someone like I loved her seemed impossible…but I knew she was right to point me in that direction.
This other young mom of the man I loved started out a stranger to me…but that didn’t last long. She welcomed me into her circle from the beginning, and I’ve been inside that circle for over 30 years now.
Julia has always treated me as something special…she somehow does that with each one of us – her husband, sons, daughters-in-law and now grandchildren and great-grands. It’s not a “something special” that puffs us up…like we’re the best out there…She marvels in a sweet humility…again, reveling in the goodness of God in bringing us all together. I totally feel that way about her as well. Grateful.
On this birthday, Julia becomes the youngest 80-year-old I know. She is as sharp and engaged in life as ever. Always a beauty, she is still lovely…smaller as the years have passed, but even cuter in her petiteness. Yet, she doesn’t draw attention to herself…ever. It’s just not her nature. She serves us…we are her joy…and visits home are always an occasion. A bountiful table. Beautiful touches all around the house celebrating the season. Special treats not just for the littles, but for all of us. She seriously thinks of everything. It used to tire me out, but through the years, I have relaxed in that I am not her, and that’s very o.k. Only one Mom-Mom is all we need.
A few highlights:
We are both picture-takers…so we’re not always in the picture. Still we are partners in this, as annoying as it is for the men (especially) in the family. We get those pictures…together.
With each child born/adopted into our family, Julia made the trip to spend a week with us – to help, love on us, celebrate the new babies and the big sister/brother. She cooked and cleaned, with zero fanfare – absolutely no drama – just lots of love.
She made birthdays and Christmas so special for our kids. There came a time that we finally insisted, “One package each, Mom”. That Christmas, when she and Dad John pulled into the driveway, that “one package each” was enormous…with lots of goodies tucked inside. Who could get mad at that? Such a heart she has!
When our lives took us in a direction that we would move overseas for a job, I was so afraid that heart of hers would break. It was painful at first, as she and John absorbed the shock of the news. Yes, we would be taking their only grandchildren to Africa… So hard… By the next day, she had steeled her heart. Not in an unfeeling way but in a hopeful trusting way. Distance would change nothing about her love for us…except to grow stronger.
She and John would visit us in three countries. Complete with two 70-pound bags full of treasures for those grandchildren of hers. She had no ambition to visit the Pyramids of Giza, or Matmata, Tunisia (where Star Wars – a New Hope was filmed), or Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca. Still…we did all that, and so much more. She marveled…at the beauty of the places we love and even more so at the people we called friends and neighbors.
Part of her winsomeness to me was seeing the gentleness in how her husband and sons loved her. Once on a family trip to the Egyptian desert, we climbed Mt. Sinai. We took a slow, meandering route up to the top. It was amazing. However, on our return to the bottom, we chose a quicker (but unfortunately more brutal) route back down. 3,750 “steps of penitence”. At some point, over half-way down, Julia was feeling the burn of all that pounding down those stone steps. When Dave, my husband/her son, saw her struggle, he pulled back and helped support her the rest of the way down. Gently, quietly. That love and care for his mom spoke volumes to me…about him, and especially about her.Photo Credit: See the Holy Land
Julia doesn’t quit on people or things that matter. She is quick to forgive and always ready to reconcile. She is also brave, willing to do the hard thing, even when she wished it wouldn’t have to be hers to do. She and John have been a part of the same church for many, many years. As the membership aged, the church suffered a lack of vision…and, in fact, began to die. Julia was one of a handful that continued to serve and believe God that He wasn’t finished with their church. She persevered…and when a revitalization program took off, with young pastors and many new members, she stayed the course with them. Oh I’m sure she may not always be easy on these young leaders…but they are wise to keep counsel with her. Her commitment to God, to the church, and to the nations is as passionate as ever…at 80. Think what a force to reckon with she might be at 90!
Finally, I want to speak of her servant heart. When she married John over 60 years ago, she took her vows very seriously…and continues to do so. In recent years, John has had to deal with Parkinson’s Disease…but not alone. She is right beside him… helping when he needs help, encouraging when he can do himself. She is there…”in sickness, and in health”…and she will be…there.
I can’t begin to say how much she has taught me about loving my husband and serving my family. When my precious mother died too many years ago, Julia drew even closer to love me through that… She has continued to teach me, on the foundation my mom laid, to put others first and to pray my heart out for those God has placed in my life. What stewardship I have learned from this sweet mom.
Mother-in-law jokes?! Please! What a grace God has given me in her. Is she extraordinary? She would definitely balk at that. Maybe she is just a picture of what God can do in an ordinary life surrendered to Him. She models for me a wife, mom, and mom-in-law I want to be.
Many things I leave unsaid. Some of the tears, and some of the laughter are ours to cherish privately… She did teach me her pie crust secret for which I’m forever thankful…on this side of life. As for the other side of life…and the other side of this 80th birthday…I am so grateful for our times together, for the witness of her life, for all she has taught me, and for the memories…all the sweet memories.
Happy birthday, Mom/Julia! Many more memories to make ahead!
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” – Proverbs 31:28-31
Well, Friends…we made it through another week. Given the world we live in these days, that’s something to celebrate. As I sit in my favorite work space besides my desk at home, listening to a friend’s Pandora picks, I’m so grateful for one more week and all the good in our lives.
Hope your week was remarkable and your discoveries sweet. Here are five of mine. Please share your favorite finds in the Comments below. I have learned so much in the last couple of weeks about how others think about the events of these days…growing my understanding is such a good thing. Thank you.
1) Thanksgiving Day Infographic – Natalie Brown of Buzzfeed posted an incredibly helpful infographic for those of us who are cooking that Thanksgiving dinner – 19 Charts on all things yummy for the holiday table. This is my favorite such find this week. Two other articles listed out multiple such infographics. Ysolt Usigan posted nine Thanksgiving infographics for all you who may love infographics like I do. Morgan Hauck listed another 6. Everyone’s family has their own particular traditions. Along with all the favorite dishes filling the table, my mom-in-law will have Bible verses, on giving thanks, by our plates. Taking turns saying around the table what we’re thankful for is part of our Thanksgiving custom as well…sort of a given. I also found this list of questions/conversation starters…not that we need any further help with Pinterest and all. Still…I love anything that stirs conversation on a day when family gathers for food and football.Photo Credit: She Knows
2) Emotional Intelligence – OK…so there are smart people and then there are emotionally intelligent people. If you don’t have a sense of the difference in these two, Paul Sohn posted an infographic (yay!) that gives an excellent description of emotional intelligence. There are a lot of smart people out there but what a joy when your boss, as smart as he may be, is also a great communicator wit and appreciator of people. Photo Credit: UCreative
3) Christmas Commercials – Even when true-life hard things leave me dry-eyed from the starkness of the situation, a Hallmark commercial during the Christmas holidays regularly cause me to tear up. In recent years, the UK John Lewis Department Store Christmas TV adverts have also touched my heart. My favorite Christmas commercial so far this year comes to us from Heathrow Airport in London. Two oldish Teddy Bears…but so much more.Photo Credit: NewsOdy
I won’t give it away (watch it here), but it probably affects me so much in thinking how we are not always able to be with all our family at Christmas…and what a joy it is when we are.
4) Friends – Ben Keslen wrote a piece earlier this year on the benefit of good friends. He cites research on how close friendships help us live longer, fight depression and stress, and generally adds to our happiness and well-being. Not exactly rocket science, but fueling the fire to go out to make friends if either our lifestyle or season of life has drawn us into a more solitary existence. Photo Credit: ; John Lund; Inspower
Keslen did give an exception, pointing to a different study that demonstrated that really intelligent people have a less significant need for friends. Odd but interesting. I’m very thankful for good friendships that have endured through great change and separation.
5) Dancing – I don’t listen to pop music much these days. Nathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar arranges music themes from video games, movies, and TV shows. I listen to that pop music often. Occasionally, thanks to Facebook and other social media, a few songs grab my attention. Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling is one of those happy songs that makes you want to move with it…even me. Dancing is something of a jubilation…a response to words and music that I never want to get too old to enjoy! See if you can listen without moving.
Have a restful and restorative weekend, Folks. Amidst these days of change and stretching news cycle we’re experiencing in the States, post-election, I hope you found something here to lift your heart a bit. Then…we get back out there and do all we can to “bring good news to the poor; …bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” [whatever binds us]. (Isaiah 61:1)