unfailing love

Psalm 107 begins with: “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story” (Psalm 107:2). In this Psalm, stories of the redeemed are told: Vignettes of people in the struggles of life, brought on by circumstances, other people, or themselves. First a wandering, homeless people, by no fault of their own, later a people bound in darkness, chained by their own rebellion and the choosing of their own plans over God’s plans. And at the end of each situation, there is a cry, a response, and a reminder. The cry repeated over and over again: “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble.” The response repeated over and over: “… and he saved them from their distress.” The reminder over and over: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

It doesn’t always appear that He is doing “wonderful deeds” for us and sometimes I can’t see His “unfailing love.” And I struggle with both. I’ve doubted God’s existence as well as His love and goodness. Other times, with razor-sharp vision I see His love flying at me from all directions and it’s overwhelming and fills me with joy and gratitude. It’s as if I can’t figure out why I couldn’t see the love before. Could it be that part of Christianity, this thing we call following Jesus Christ, is the healing of a blindness? In the severance of the relationship with God that we were created for, we lost our vision, our concept of love and our capacity for it. We don’t need to be good or  successful to earn love – we need our blindness to be healed, we need Jesus to make us alive. We don’t know how to recognize, much less accept, real love when we see it. Could it be that Christianity is the recovering of a sight that allows us to see an entirely different reality, a previously incomprehensible relationship? The more my eyes are healed and my vision restored, the more I see and feel Jesus’ unfailing love, and for that I (along with Psalm 107) give thanks!

I have plenty of my own stories of God’s unfailing love – I see His love in deeply personal acts that are specific to me and my life circumstances. Recently I feel as though I see them with a vision that is clearer than ever before. I detect love in the gifts of things given as well as things taken away. I see His love as He bends into my sphere of existence and whispers in ways that my unique heart understands: “I am taking care of your soul.” I don’t just know that he cares, I feel the care, because God is personal. And this is in addition to the definitive moment in history when God came as Jesus to earth to create a way for us to be healed and made whole by grace, apart from any works or merit of our own. This unfailing love is changing me. God is just giving it to me because He delights in me, and that is changing me.

Psalm 107 began by telling us to tell our stories of redemption, our stories of recovered sight and of healed souls that are brought back into relationship with their Maker. The Psalm ends with an encouragement: “Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.” So let us tell the stories of struggle and crying out, of the God who saves through his unfailing love. Tell those stories to each other and to yourself, then ponder them. When dark days come and we cannot feel His care and love, do not let your heart forget. Behold how He loves you. Be wise and think about – wrap your heart around – the great and steadfast love of God. Ask him for healed eyes to see it.

“Now I am hidden
In the safety of your love
I trust your heart and your intentions

You are my vision
My reason for living
Your kindness leads me to repentance
I can’t explain it
This sweet assurance
But I’ve never known this kind of friend

I want to seek you first
I want to love you more
I want to give you the honor you deserve
So I bow before you
I am overcome by the beauty of this perfect love.”

-United Pursuit

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Wanderlust versus relationship 

It still baffles me that sometimes we don’t know what we think or what we really feel until our mouths open. What comes out of us in pressure or hardship is worth paying attention to. The unrehearsed words that we speak are equally as telling. Recently someone was asking about my life in Spain and asked if I would move around a lot within Spain. My immediate response was “No, I’m not really doing this for adventure.” I’d never spoken that sentence before, never thought through that idea, but there it was and it is true. 

In many ways living in Spain is exciting, but what draws me there is not wanderlust or a thirst for adventure. I am grateful I have this opportunity in this season, feel it is where I’m meant to be right now, and I enjoy my life there. But “moving all around Spain” is not my goal. I desire depth with people always, wherever I am and wherever I end up, and wanderlust and adventure-living don’t really pave the way for depth of relationship. 

Dale Partridge says that “the desire to be gone as a way of living, is often no more than a dangerous addiction to “new”. To the beginning. To the start. In other words, the easy part. You see, real relational fruit requires the presence of the farmer. It requires more than planting seeds. It requires frequent watering, fertilizing, and pruning. People who live in a lifestyle of leaving, can’t build deep roots with many. They can’t disciple or mentor or walk in deep waters with others. Presence and availability are the currency of a vibrant life. Go on vacation. Explore the world. But don’t be gone when your crop needs watering.” 

No matter where I am, may commitment, steadfastness, depth with people, and listening to the call of Jesus characterize my days.

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I can’t wrap my mind around what’s happening in my own country. The hatred and the rage and confusion puts cracks in my heart. It hurts to see your country nursing collective wounds. I don’t understand the terror in Barcelona, Spain. Someone intended for that blood to be on the streets. It’s frightening to listen to the video messages that promise more attacks on Spanish soil. There’s pain all around us. I feel the hardships of those I love and work through my own issues and hurts – the brokenness I see inside myself. My brokenness that breaks other people. And the broken people around me who break other people. It all hurts me and angers me.

“That hurt and anger you feel in a fallen world? It’s not because something is wrong with you. It’s because something is right with you.” – Timothy Keller

Feel the hurt over brokenness and the anger at injustice. If we add the weight of the brokenness and hurt in our own hearts to the pain we see everywhere we turn? My friend was right when she told me “That’s a lot for a heart to carry.” We all have a lot to carry in our hearts. There’s a physical weight in our chest. What can I do with it? Run it out, sweat it out, pray it out, cry it out. Then let love and a clear head drive my actions. I just want to sit in brokenhearted prayer before I do anything else. “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection” (Psalm 91:4).

Because of Psalm 92, I’ve been trying to get into two habits: every morning meditating on and reminding myself of the Lord’s love, and every night meditating on and recounting to myself his faithfulness.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
    and your faithfulness by night,
Psalm 92:1-2

A morning reminder of his steadfast love is my armor for the day – it reminds me of my identity and sends me out as a beloved daughter, sure of where my identity, peace, and joy come from. There is no need to armor myself with hardness toward the world or a “you can’t touch me” attitude just to make it through the day. If I belong to Christ, I am among “those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12). The surety of his love can carry me through the day and can be my constant throughout the unexpected ups and downs.

A nighttime recounting of his faithfulness is my peace and stability for the night – after the day is done, my mind may be full of thoughts and anxiety and my shoulders might carry the stress of the day. By reminding myself of God’s previous faithfulness in my life, in the lives of those around me, and as recorded in the Bible, I can rest and entrust myself and every concern I have to his proven character. After good days, I remember his faithfulness and thank him for the gifts. After bad days, I remember his faithfulness and trust him with what’s to come. He is faithful and he does not change.

 

 

Let go of control

Let go of cool and control; laugh more and risk more (Brene Brown). Let go of control? Some people laugh and mention in conversation, “I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life, but it’s fine!..” but behind the jest is often the fear of loss of control. Do we ever obtain control? Do we ever “get our lives together”? As we become stable in life, we obtain the sense, the feeling, the delusion that we are in control and have gotten things together. We live with purpose and prepare well and make smart choices, and we should do those things. But complete control of our lives was never ours for the taking. Trying to be cool and accepted is trying to control someone’s opinion of us – and it is an emotional straight-jacket. Seeking control paralyzes us. I want to feel the freedom of risk and lack of control. I’ve never been in control of this life and never will be – and once I realize that reality, I become unparalyzed, free to risk and live the highs and lows, free of anxiety because I already know I am out of control and it’s good and I can expect the unexpected. I don’t know what is going to happen and this is a beautiful risk. I want to live prepared, to live purposefully, to live out of a loving heart toward myself and others, all the while knowing I am not in control of this crazy, beautiful, risky life. Stop trying to be cool, let go of control, laugh more often, and risk more boldly.

Not okay 

Crying in an airport has happened to me on a couple of occasions. I don’t recommend it. No one really wants to be that person sobbing through the terminal, but if it happens to you, you just have to embrace it. A couple of years ago I was crying big tears in the airport and they wouldn’t stop coming. The guy taking my plane ticket said, “It’s okay to not be okay.” I started crying harder when he said that, because in that moment I wasn’t okay and I didn’t have energy to put on a smile and say, “I’m fine.” I sniffled, nodded a smile, and mumbled some thanks. No need to clean myself up to walk onto that plane. It’s okay to sob through that terminal. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s freeing for someone to give you permission to not be okay. This week someone apologized to me for being an Eeyore and not a Tigger that day – she said she was just really down about some things that had happened. I said, “Don’t apologize. It’s okay to not be okay,” and she looked up at me quickly. She reiterated, as if she’d never been sure about the idea: “It IS okay to not be okay, isn’t it?” Then she asked if she could quote me on her next piece of art. I might become famous. Or maybe I should give credit to that airline ticket agent, who didn’t even know me, but didn’t shrink at my not-okayness. Wherever you are today, remind yourself that it’s okay to not be okay, then give someone in your life permission to not be okay around you. Share the joys of life with each other, and also the burdens. 

If function precedes essence..

Several months ago I wrote down one question I heard on a podcast: What does it mean if function precedes essence? I haven’t been able to get the thought out of my head since then. Does the way something is (essence) determine what it’s used for (function/purpose)? Or does what it’s intended to be used for (function/purpose) determine how it is (essence)?

If function precedes essence, it changes a lot.

If function precedes essence, what is my function? If function precedes essence, HOW am I and WHO I am and WHAT I am are all meant for a specific purpose. The way I love, what I like, what I’m good at, what I’m not good at, the way I look, the family I come from, and what interests me are all meant for a specific purpose – my essence was created specially, after my function and purpose were determined.

Why are you the way you are? If function precedes essence… you are the way you are on purpose and for a specific reason. You are not a mistake.

hearts show cards, part 1

Think twice if you think our own hearts can be unequivocally trusted. Our hearts often do their own things and then show their cards to us. We hardly even know our own hearts. They are living, beating, feeling entities that surprise us when we find out what’s inside. But when what I see in my heart surprises or shocks me, I won’t shame it or squelch it, but care for it, talk to it, guide it, and lead it. At any given time I follow or lead my heart, but there’s no neutral ground. You’d think that we are creatures capable of knowing ourselves, but here we find ourselves with hearts that selectively choose when to show us what they’re really feeling and thinking, and they surprise us.

I got a glimpse inside my heart the other day while I was waiting on the bus. And what I saw was ugly. My heart showed me some ugly cards. I stood behind a girl while in line for this bus. I didn’t know her but had crossed paths with her several times before and she is lovely, well-dressed, and put-together. And knowing nothing else about her, I felt insecure and threatened and in that space of two seconds, I compared her body to mine and made a judgment about her body. What an ugly thing, bringing down another woman just to feel better about myself. But bringing her down didn’t make me feel better about myself. My ugly heart showed its cards and I cringed. Belittling another human being is despicable, no matter how that belittling manifests.

Dale Partridge recently posted this on Facebook: “A lesson I’ll teach my girls: Just because she’s pretty, doesn’t mean you’re not. When you compare your body, your possessions, or your life to others you reject the intrinsic value God has for you. You are perfect. A masterpiece. Irreplaceable. And loved. Instead, let gratitude turn what you already have into more than enough. Let contentment fill your heart and vow to celebrate the wins of others girls even if you feel like you’re losing. A good life is controlled by good choices. And while you won’t always get to choose what happens to you, you do get to choose what happens in you.”

Little girls aren’t the only ones that need to be taught those lessons. So I talked to my own heart about the value and identity I have simply because I am created by and loved by God. I reminded my heart that that girl on the bus has the same value. She is a masterpiece and I am a masterpiece and both deserve to be celebrated in our uniqueness. Instead of judging her, how could I celebrate her? I talked to my heart about joy and gratitude and contentment. Our hearts are powerful, with much potential, and they need our help. Lead. Take your heart gently by the hand and tell it where you’re both going. I’m trying to lead mine toward contentment in Jesus Christ, joy, and selflessness.