The Majesty of Love

I recently stumbled across something I wrote about six years ago. I’d been lovesick and despondent for more reasons than one, and I’d found myself trying to make sense of my pain. Things have changed for me since then, but as I reflected carefully upon the words, I realized that they still hold true. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I know that there are many who still yearn, seemingly in vain, to be loved by the object of their affection. If you are one of them, I’d like to dedicate this entry to you, in the hope that it might give meaning to your pain. This is what I wrote:

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about love recently, and although I feel the need to add a disclaimer to say that my thoughts on the matter are of no greater importance than anyone else’s, I wanted to share them with you because in them, I’ve rediscovered a fundamental truth that could help us understand.

Sometimes, I wonder why it’s necessary for us to feel with such intensity when the love that we have goes so often unreturned. It would probably be next to impossible to count the number of poems and songs that we, as a unified whole, have offered up to our beloved in an hour of passionate longing. Dare we even try?

Love is, indeed, the most powerful force unseen by human eyes, and it makes me so sad to think of the innumerable tragedies that befall us when our love is rejected. I don’t think there’s really any need to discuss these in detail—I’m sure we’ve all heard mention of them if we haven’t experienced them in some measure ourselves.

To be denied by the one we love will bring a pain so indescribably real that we fear we may be crushed to death beneath our own weight. In our anguish, we turn our gaze to the clouds and wonder, why?

I have to confess that I have been guilty of this questioning myself, from time to time. But when I really stop to think about it, I find that I’ve known the answer all along: We have to know this pain so that we can understand.

At the risk of losing some of you with this next part…what if there’s a deeper meaning behind everything that we experience in this world? What if the pain that we feel for the want of those we love is not meant as a mark of cruel indifference, or even as a punishment? What if it’s actually bestowed as a gift?

I believe, wholeheartedly, that God exists. I also believe that He loves us more than we will ever have the capacity to know. He gives us so many things as a testament to His love—the way the flowers smell, the way the fireflies illuminate the summer with their tiny and twinkling lights, the way the warmth of the sun can soothe us gently to sleep—but more than all of these things, His greatest sign of affection is His willingness to suffer for the want of us. He loves us so much that He embraced anguish and death even at our hands. Many of us have heard the story, but is that truly enough to let us know?

Maybe God has another idea in mind. Maybe He knows that we could have no hope of understanding unless we experienced a piece of this anguish for ourselves. He so desperately longs for us to know the depth of His love, so He allows us to love each other in a way that emulates it. He allows us to know the pain of unrequited love not because He wants to hurt us, or because He doesn’t care, but rather because He wants us, in those moments of sadness, to turn our hearts to Him and remember.

Love is the single greatest gift that we have been given in this life—in our ability to give as well as to receive it. To receive it is such an indescribably wonderful joy, but only in giving it do we start to bear likeness to our Creator. Only in giving it are we clothed in majesty.

So the next time you love someone, be ever thankful for that precious gift…even if the one you love cannot love you back. Just take a deep breath, lift your eyes to the heavens, and remember…

I suppose that some might find my musings a little theatrical, and even I must admit that, most of the time, I find it quite entertaining to re-read the expressions of my younger self. But this one—well—in light of all that my God has spoken into me throughout the years, I can’t help but stand by it. And I know that every moment of my life I’ve chosen to pine for someone else, God has spent pining for me—waiting for me to finally turn my heart to Him and give Him the passion that belonged to Him from the beginning. He loves us all this way, and He deserves our love in return. So, when you find yourself heartbroken for another person, may you also find comfort in knowing that His heart breaks for you. And in that knowledge, may you run to Him—His lover overwhelmed to be His beloved.

 

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God with Us

The story continues to amaze me. No matter how many times I’ve heard it before, I don’t think anything could take away its newness. People sometimes point out that, despite the pageantry of Christmas, it’s Easter that holds the deepest significance for Christians around the world. And, in a way, that’s true. Were it not for the miracle of that bright, Sunday morning, Christmas would hold no significance at all. Yet, in my heart, the miracle of Christmas still touches me, ever so slightly more than Easter ever could. Maybe it does have something to do with the pageantry of it all—the music and the tree, and the soft beams of light set against the crystal snow. Even for those among us who aren’t particularly spiritual, there’s something about Christmas that’s so completely enchanting. It makes us want to be different—better, somehow.

Maybe Christmas touches my heart more than Easter does because my secular culture tells me it should, but I don’t think that’s the reason. For me, I think it’s simply that within the Christmas story, there lies such a revolutionary thought. The word God, along with all words synonymous to it, is typically associated with unbridled power. When we hear it, we’re likely to imagine a force so strong that it could effortlessly crush us, if it wanted to. We think of a person for whom nothing is impossible, a person who could bend anything to his will—even death. The story of Easter certainly falls in line with that idea. But the story of Christmas? Who, in their wildest dreams, could’ve ever seen that coming? God. Almighty Creator of the world and all life within it, ensconced in the fragile form of a tiny baby? It’s just so unthinkable. To imagine for a moment that we could hold Him in our arms and rock Him to sleep with our songs. Have you ever wondered what it must’ve been like to be His mother? To feel Him growing inside of you—to look down and watch Him as He drinks from your breast? I mean, wow. What kind of God is this? What kind of God is this who would willingly submit Himself to this kind of vulnerability—at our hands? The careless hands of His created ones, whom He’d made for His pleasure, but who had spurned His affection again, and again? It’s incredible! And after all this time, the thought of it can still draw tears from my eyes.

Easter is the story of our triumphant Savior, coming on the heels of terrible violence and pain. But Christmas holds such a gentle beauty. What greater expression is there of the love of God for mankind than for God to make Himself vulnerable to us? I’m so grateful to have a God who loves me this way, and it was precisely this kind of impossible love that won my heart to begin with—this love which only our God is capable of rendering to us. So now, as the chaos of the season comes to a close once again, I pray that we’ll all find a moment to rest in the quiet. To gaze lovingly upon the lights of our beautifully adorned Christmas trees, or into the tiny flames of the candles still lighting our frosted windows. To hear the songs of His love and to feel its overwhelming warmth. Tonight. Tomorrow. All the days of our lives—on earth and in heaven.

Walk with Me

This will probably be one of my shorter posts. I have something to share, but for those who will receive it, I’ll spare the personal details and focus on the simple truth. I have often heard the testimonies of other people who speak profusely of the joy they feel in knowing that God guides their steps. God has given me joy throughout my life, but only in these recent days have I finally begun to understand this particular joy. I’ve come to recognize the difference between walking in my own will and walking in His. And this difference might seem pretty basic in a logical sense, but it’s not just about what we can perceive intellectually—it’s about what we can experience.

Regrettably, I’ve chosen to walk within my own will throughout the vast majority of the precious time I’ve been given on this earth. In consequence of that choice, I’ve experienced a lot of strife. I’ve been victimized by fear, I’ve stumbled in frustration and resentment, and I’ve grieved in terrible heartache. I’ve spent so much energy trying to break down the wrong doors and wondering why they won’t just open, when, all the while, He has been waiting for me to take His hand—wanting so much to lead me down the path He cleared for me long ago.

At a certain point, I hope we all become broken enough of our own stubbornness to finally take His hand, because when we do, we will all know what it is to experience miracles. We will see our fear give way to trust, our frustration yield to peace, and our heartache transform into the most wonderful joy—a joy born of love experienced both from and for our beautiful Creator.

We have a God who cares for us, I think, far more than we have the capacity to understand. The desire of His heart is to make us whole—to provide for us and keep us safe so that we’ll never have to know the pain of being without Him. “Look at the lilies and how they grow,” Jesus said. “They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are (Matthew 6:28-29, NLT).”

I have felt the hand of my God as He lovingly adorns me with all that I need for my warmth. In spite of every false security the world has ever seduced me with, that Hand is what I’m thankful for.

Fisher of Men

Have you ever considered the obstacles that Peter must’ve faced in fulfilling Jesus’ desire to make him a “fisher of men?” I don’t know nearly enough about 1st Century culture to be able to comment on the specific challenges of doing so. I don’t know very much about fishing, either, but I do know that catching a fish seems to require some kind of bait. The fish has to be presented with something to which it is attracted in order to ultimately become ensnared. Having been an expert fisherman prior to knowing Jesus, maybe Peter drew upon this knowledge in his attempt to become the fisherman he was truly meant to be—but how can we apply it today?

Obviously, it takes something a little different than a worm on a hook to capture a man—especially in the way that Jesus has in mind. Far more than just a physical capture, Jesus aims for a spiritual capture—a capture of the heart and mind that transcends the physical world in its entirety. Such a capture often requires the presentation not of a physical thing, but rather the presentation of an idea to which someone may be attracted. The cultural acceptance of an idea has a tendency to be very fleeting. An idea that was widely accepted two-thousand years ago—or even less than a hundred years ago—might be considered today to be old-fashioned, backwards, or offensive. So, the obstacles to capturing someone’s heart are constantly changing. Thankfully, though, Jesus Himself, remains as He’s always been.

The sad fact is that there are all kinds of fishermen out there, competing with God for our hearts. Some even claim to be in league with God, although the messages they propagate stand in complete opposition to what Jesus taught. They tell us what we want to hear instead of what we need to hear—granting us the “freedom” to live on our terms rather than presenting the true life our Creator longs to give us. We live in a culture today where self-love appears to be more highly esteemed than sacrificial love. We’re told that we have the right to be happy, even if we have to hurt someone else in the process of becoming so. And in the bounds of our fallen nature, this is a very liberating idea—far more attractive to us than Jesus’ assertion that one must lay down his life in order to express love in its highest form.

I don’t know about you, but this assertion on Jesus’ part has always put me to shame. It has put me to shame, in part, because I know it’s true, and also because I know that apart from intense intimacy with God, I will never be capable of such love. So, how is a “fisher of men” supposed to lure people to God with such a bitter bait, especially in a culture with so many competing fishermen who are presenting a bait much easier for us to swallow? It might be very challenging to convince someone that denying himself would prove more gratifying than indulging himself, but it might not be so difficult to convince him of the satisfaction that comes from intense intimacy with his Creator. Maybe that’s the key.

We all try so hard to fill this mysterious void in our lives. We think that if we had more money, or nicer things, or more attractive physical features, or more value in the eyes of other people that this void would finally be filled, and the competing fishermen in this world will reinforce such erroneous ideas when the truth is that God is the only Person with the power to fill this void—because He made us with the need to be one with Him. When we finally understand the extent of His power over us in conjunction with the depth of His love for us, we will ultimately come to understand not only that we have no rights outside of His will, but that we never want to do anything displeasing to Him ever again—because we love Him, too. In loving Him, we will want to submit to His commands, even when it’s hard. We will want to surrender our lives to His purpose no matter how far away from Him the tide of public opinion will seek to carry us. We will know that our union with Him is the only thing that matters, because He—the God of love and Love itself—has captured us.

 

The Suffering Servant

My husband and I attend a large congregation that is quite active in community outreach. They facilitate a certain program every year in which the objective is to get 900 participants involved in various community service projects throughout the county for 90 minutes each. So, a few weeks ago, we were sitting in church and listening to an announcement about the vast array of service projects we had to choose from, when one in particular caught my eye. An out-of-state farmer had generously offered up some of his produce to be given to our local food bank, and we were supposed to go and harvest it. I’ve had very minimal exposure to projects of this nature, and my natural inclination has always been to shy away from things I’m not experienced at, for fear of getting in the way. For some reason, though, it sounded like fun, so we signed up for last Saturday morning from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

As it is August, temperatures have been pretty high lately, so when I received the email advising us to wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, hats, and gloves, I was a little worried. I have a condition that prevents me from perspiring in heat as well as the average person can, so my body will kind of trap the heat—forcing my skin to turn a vibrant shade of lobster-red. Sort of funny, in a way, but I’ve always had to take extra precautions against hyperthermia. But as much as I considered how miserable it would be to wear warm clothes in the sweltering heat while picking corn for an hour and a half, I was also kind of grateful for the challenge. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I can’t stand challenge. I am perfectly content to admit that I would much rather have a stress-free life than a stress-filled life—and that I don’t feel much of a need these days to prove myself to other people. Still, I felt grateful.

By the time we’d arrived on Saturday morning, the temperature was already pushing 90 degrees. After leading us in a brief prayer, our group leader released us into the field—clad in our wintery apparel. It began easily enough. I felt energized, and it really didn’t require too much strength to pull the corn from its stalk. The hardest part for me was bending the stalks backward after I’d finished. I also had a little bit of trouble discerning the good ears/husks from the ones that should be left alone, so I kept asking my husband to judge for me when I couldn’t figure it out. He was nice about it for the most part, but eventually, he started getting irritable (he’s sensitive to heat, too!). It didn’t take long before I noticed that I was running out of breath. My steps were becoming more weighted down, and it was difficult to move. I put my hand on my chest, and my heart was just pounding. My body seemed to be begging me to stop and take a break, but all the while, there was this strange struggle happening in my mind. There was a part of me that wanted to acquiesce to my body’s signals—but then, there was this other part of me. It was telling me to feel the discomfort. Feel it, but keep going anyway. Feel it, and learn to perceive it as good. Feel it, and think of Me. Because if you can’t learn to endure in something so small, how will you ever endure in a circumstance that is truly harsh? How will you ever be one with Me?

The thought encouraged me onward for a little while longer. I came to a wall of thorns that separated me from the rest of the stalks, and I was so frustrated with the whiny pangs of my body compared to the resolute desire taking hold of my mind that I started pushing right into them. Every time I felt one of them prick my skin, I just pushed harder, trying to make it through to the other side. I didn’t even bother trying to avoid them. I didn’t want to avoid them.

About forty minutes in, we finally stopped to get some water before going back for a second time. I’m sure my voice must’ve sounded incredibly lethargic and annoying as I kept pestering my husband, asking about the quality of the produce I was gathering. I’m sure I snapped unbecomingly at him a time or two in response to his friendly reminders that I needed to keep bending the stalks backward when I was finished with them, and before we knew it, it was time to go home. I was, indeed, quite happy to find myself back in the air-conditioned car as I immediately started removing my layers. But I was also disappointed in knowing that I could’ve stayed longer—that I could’ve pushed myself further if I hadn’t given in so much to my longing for comfort.

Hopefully, there will be other opportunities. Hopefully, I’ll recognize them, and hopefully, I’ll take them—because although I’ve had ease and comfort lavished upon me throughout most of my life, what I really want most is to emulate my Suffering Servant. I want to be willing to suffer, if only to be like Him. Maybe I can even learn to find comfort in pain—knowing that pain is sometimes an expression of love. I hope He’ll show me how.

 

A Godly Impression

Throughout the past two weeks, I’ve been watching and listening for what God would have me write about today, and I’ve had a few experiences that all point me toward the same thought. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it has to do with our willingness to see through God’s eyes—our willingness to let Him make His imprint on us so that we, in turn, can carry that same imprint to each other.

Since the last time I wrote, I’ve been privileged to receive word from an old friend—someone I cared for quite deeply and never expected to hear from again. It had been five years since the last time we’d spoken to each other, and no more than two short weeks ago, I was online checking some messages when I found one from him. He said he’d been cleaning out his closet when he’d come across a letter I’d written to him once. He went on to explain that after reading the letter again, he’d felt an urge to reach out and to let me know how much he’d appreciated me. His words brought peace to my heart, because though we sometimes pour ourselves into the relationships we’re given, we have a tendency to wonder whether or not any of it can make a lasting difference. I remember writing that letter. I remember wanting so much to convey the tenderness that had gripped my heart. I wrote effusively and romantically of unconditional love, and I hoped my words would please their reader. Of course, it’s difficult for us to bestow such love upon everyone we meet—or even upon one person throughout the course of an entire lifetime. We’re human. But in that moment—that fragile moment during which I penned those words to my friend—I knew they were the words of God flowing through me. Why else would he have kept them all this time, only to rediscover them again—perhaps at a moment in his own life when he most needed to hear them? Oh, my friend, wherever you are, may His love be with you always!

The second, and rather prolific, experience I had came last week as I was riding down the road with my father. I visit him often, though the setting in which he lives has been a source of discomfort for me in recent years. Wedged between Baltimore and Washington D.C., it’s a place very different from the quiet, rural areas I’ve called home for a significant portion of my life—a far cry from the setting I’ve come to love. You can’t really call it a town, but it’s not a metropolis, either. It’s just a crowded place off a highway exit ramp, as most places between Baltimore and D.C. are. Even the “back roads” are basically highways, and, for many reasons, it’s just not the kind of place where I would want to live at this point in my life. Be that as it may, I spend much of my time there—and I must admit that I normally make no secret of my personal dislike for the area. It’s necessary for me to disclose that because of what happened last week. My dad had asked me to accompany him to the grocery store, and as we were driving down the road, I was suddenly—and inexplicably—struck by the beauty of the sunset. I saw children playing basketball at the park near the end of the street, and couples walking their dogs. Without warning, I found myself incredibly pleased at the sight. I knew it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, but it was as if I had new eyes. I found loveliness in a place that I had never regarded as lovely. It was so strange, but as I let it in—as I let Him in—I could feel this amazing serenity wash over me. I could live here, I thought. By the time we’d reached our destination, I was so full of this beautiful force that had penetrated my spirit that I felt compelled to just beam at every person who crossed my path. And they smiled right back at me. Beautiful smiles. I’m thankful for that moment, yet it also makes me sad. It makes me sad in the knowledge of all the ones I’ve missed—those precious moments when I could have seen through God’s eyes, but chose, instead, to use my own.

Life is made of moments such as these. And with every breath we take—everything we do, every word we say, every emotion that seeks to conquer us—we have a choice. We can choose to move on our own, or we can choose to be moved by the One who owns us. The former might feel more comfortable initially, but it won’t get us very far in the end. Only in submission to the Potter does the clay become that piece of exquisite beauty it is meant to become. Even in something as subtle as a passing conversation with a friend, or a tender smile bequeathed to a stranger, we can sense God in ourselves and God in each other—an impression that lasts.

You are Mine.

Last week, I wrote about God’s unchanging nature in comparison to the ever-changing world around us. Today, I want to write about a very specific change that I’ve seen in the world of late. It’s one that weighs heavily and constantly upon my heart and mind, and I haven’t written about it until now because I believe that doing so requires a great deal of care—and tenderness on my part.

I can’t remember the last time I ventured outside my house and didn’t see an American flag waving at half mast. Not so long ago, to see such a thing would have been rare. I know that it would have, because I’m old enough to remember when it was. Yet, each new day seems to take us further away from that time, and sometimes I fear that the generation to come will have no memory of it at all. Children will come to see the image of our nation in mourning as a normal part of their daily lives—just as I am beginning to do now.

I have to feel that. I have to stand in the midst of this new reality and understand what it makes me feel—what it does to me. But I also have to stand outside of it in order to stay within the will of God. Deep in my heart of hearts, I know that to be true. I keep thinking lately about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, on the night before he was killed. I have this image in my mind of him going to that place—that beautiful garden on that moonlit night—just trying to find a sense of relief. A soothing balm to hush his pain in knowing the agony to come. I see his body trembling as he falls to his knees, desperate for the softness of the grass as he soaks it in his sweat and his tears. But he finds no comfort there. The tranquility surrounding him mocks the terror within him, and in his anguish, he cries out: Please, don’t. Don’t make me do this. Don’t let them hurt me. I’m frightened!

Oh, that someone would have held him in that moment—that I had been allowed to calm his trembling. But I digress. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like. I’ve been afraid for my life before, but I’ve never been God. I’ve never been God in human flesh, waiting for a violent death at the hands of my beloved. And it’s so amazing to me that, as a man, and in spite of the torture he was under, he was ultimately able to say the words: Yet not what I want, but what You want. In the love he had for his Father, he was willing to submit to this suffering—even if it meant he had to die. And I know that I can do no less. If I claim to love God with all my heart, then how can I defy His will? How can I defy His command to love my enemies—to see them through His eyes—and to know that He died for them, just as He died for me. How can I ignore His words to Israel, when He told them, “Do not fear; for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Surely, I will help you… (Isaiah 41:10, NASB).” …”Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine (Isaiah 43:1, NLT).”

These things are much easier said than done. God knows that. Jesus, himself, knew what it felt like to be afraid. But he put his fear behind his love—behind his devotion and trust in the will of his Father. So, as I go to look upon the cheerless image of my lowered flag, I pray that I will also bow. That I will fall to my knees in humility before my God, saying: Not what I want, but what You want—for I am Yours. We are yours.