It’s Thanksgiving week, and although COVID-19 has messed with a fair share of travel plans, I would guess that many of us will still be sharing the holiday with loved ones. While this is something that can result in joyful feelings of anticipation, it also leaves some of us worried about how people are going to get along around the table.
If only we all agreed on religion and politics.
If only awkward and hurtful things wouldn’t ever be said.
If only we knew how to encourage one another in a way that really hit the mark. Wouldn’t that make things easier?
I think we often conclude that the only way to get through holidays with sticky relationships is to keep things on a very superficial level and not talk about anything that really matters. But when we settle for this, our relationships aren’t very satisfying. How can we take things to a deeper level without things getting fractious?
I believe that asking certain questions and truly listening to the responses can be a game changer. Here’s a link to some conversation starters that we’ve created with diverse groups of people in mind. Most of us have different views represented around the Thanksgiving table. These questions help us to get to know one another on the heart level without focusing on our differences.
Perhaps there is someone on your heart who you know is not open to God and spiritual growth. If the opportunity presented itself and the groundwork has been laid first with good listening, you might want to ask him or her, “What if there’s more?” Allow that question to sink in. Respect the question enough to allow time for silence and processing. Don’t hesitate to leave your loved one with the question hanging. It’s a good one to wrestle with.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? Creating a lovely Thanksgiving table is a quiet way of ministering to the heart. Beauty breaks down barriers. Another way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us.
Bishop Barron has said, “Agnostics are often deeply interested in beauty, goodness and truth. Find out which one they are interested in—that’s your hook. That’s your string that you need to follow. Keep going in that search for ultimate meaning. The passion for justice is an echo of the voice of God in you. It’s summoning you. The conscience—what is it—what is calling you to something better, something good, something just? Could that be God?”
Perhaps there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is spiritually searching, but he or she is searching in the wrong direction. You are probably really tempted to point out what is wrong about their search. I would encourage you to resist that temptation. Instead, you might want to consider pointing out the things he or she is doing well. Is he seeking truth? Desiring a life of purpose? Let her know you are proud of her. This is something we never stop needing to hear.
I pray that you start having more conversations with your loved ones about the topics of meaning in life, purpose, what we want out of life, how we can be truly fulfilled, and how we can be happy. I pray you’d be able to enter into these conversations and listen. To resist the urge to give the answer. To allow your children to talk.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, you might want to pray the following for the loved ones who will be around your table and those far away.
I ask that you would give my loved ones a heart to know you, that you are the Lord, so that they will be your people and you will be their God. May they return to you with their whole hearts. (Jeremiah 24:7)
I pray that you would give my loved ones a new heart and a new spirit…that you would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
May you open my loved ones’ eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in you. (Acts 26:18)
I pray that you would grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)
God, we know that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. May you draw our loved ones to you. (John 6:44)
May you overwhelm our loved ones with the reality of your love, so that he or she can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
For I declare that “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)
I declare that you “will contend with those who contend with us, and you will save our children.” (Isaiah 49:25)
I declare that “not one word has failed of all your good promises.” (1 Kings 8:56)
I declare that the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers. (1 Peter 3:12)
I declare that all my children shall be taught by the Lord; and great shall be my children’s peace. (Isaiah 54:13)
I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved ones' lives, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!
Grace and peace,
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Ephesians 5:1
Before I leave the house, my husband always asks if I have my wallet. I forget it all the time, and he says it’s good to have your ID with you so you can identify yourself. He’s right—when I don’t have my wallet, I’m lost, in a sense. If someone asked, I couldn’t take proof out of my pocket and point to who I am.
The definition of beloved is “to be dearly loved” or “pleased with.” From the moment we were merely a thought in the mind of God, each of us were marked “beloved” as the very core of our identity. It’s not simply something about us—it’s our identity. There’s nothing we’ve done to earn it. There’s nothing we’ve done or that’s been done to us that can take it away. Beloved is who we are. And yet, how many of us live our lives out of that truth?
Five years ago, I was introduced to a book called Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen that changed my life. The book revolves around the idea that every day we’re surrounded by voices. The voices of society, negativity, lies we’ve believed, our peers, etc. What would it look like if we could silence the noise and listen to the voice, that at the center of our being, calls us “beloved”? While reading the book, I realized that instead of owning and living out of my belovedness, I was only owning my mistakes. My journey is far from over, but I work every day to own the truth of who I am.
The problem is, we can be our own worst enemy. Negative self-talk has plagued humanity since the beginning. Too often, all we see in our reflection are the things we’re not, rather than embracing all that we are. Anything can set it off. A bad hair day, how you reacted to a situation at work or school, accidentally snapping at your spouse or child, an interaction with a friend. We own our negative qualities far too quickly, and we allow those thoughts to control our actions and our beliefs about ourselves. Before we know it, we’re beating ourselves up without putting up a fight. If a friend said some of the things to us that we say to ourselves, she would no longer be our friend. And yet we allow our internal chatterbox to persist, often without even realizing it.
Our identity isn’t based on our accomplishments or failings, what people think about us, or how we view ourselves in the mirror. Our identity is that we are the beloved children of a relentless Father who loves us unconditionally.
I’m reminded of a stained-glass window in a chapel in which I used to spend a lot of time. The image was of Jesus holding a sheep close to his chest. This is the goal of a Christian. To be so close to the heart of the Shepherd that you hear His heartbeat and can conform your life to that rhythm. When you do this, you’ll go into each day knowing you are loved, not looking for ways to earn it. This is freedom.
I wrote the song “Belovedness” first and foremost because I needed to sing it. I needed to remind myself of these truths. When you sing truth over yourself, it releases something internally. My prayer for you when you listen to it, and what I hope you’ll pray for me, is that we see ourselves and others the way the Lord sees us. Beloved isn’t a badge to earn, a club to join, or a gift to withhold from others. It’s our identity, it’s our name, and it’s the strength we need for the journey.
You are beloved. Period. Full stop. There is nothing you’ve done, nothing that’s been done to you, nothing that’s been said to you, no lie you’ve believed, no mistake you’ve made, no sin you’ve committed, no past or future thing that can take away your identity as a beloved child of God. It’s time to silence the chatterbox and allow the truth to grow. It’s time to own our belovedness.
You've owned your fear and all your self-loathing
You've owned the voices inside of your head
You've owned the shame and reproach of your failure
It's time to own your belovedness
You've owned your past and how it's defined you
You've owned everything everybody else says
It's time to hear what your father has spoken
It's time to own your belovedness
He says, "You're mine, I smiled when I made you
I find you beautiful in every way
My love for you is fierce and unending
I'll come to find you, whatever it takes
“Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth,”(3 John 1:4). John the Apostle wrote these words to people he loved and led, and closed the letter by saying, “I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face” (3 John 1:13). This is how I feel as I write to you. How I wish we were together and dialoguing in person. The best communication is face-to-face. Much can be misunderstood in the written word—there’s no chance to read body language, to clarify a point made, or to listen. In the current atmosphere of division, attempting to communicate with one another via social media feels like a war of words. A blog isn’t an ideal way to talk with you, either. I’m longing for greater closeness.
I know that so many of you have experienced your life being upended in the past few months. Many of us have lost a loved one. Most of us are worried and unsettled about the future. Much that we have counted on, things that used to be in our control, narratives that used to make sense seem to be shaky and uncertain. Where do we turn when life feels out of control? How can we experience the peace that passes understanding when what is underneath us feels like shifting sand?
I’ve been asking myself these questions, and I have sensed the Lord asking me what foundation I am standing on. This led me to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-27:
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.
Saying we have built our house on the rock and actually building our house on the rock are two different things. It has to do with where we find our source of security and safety. Where do we turn? Who do we believe has the answers to what is broken in our world? Building our house on the rock starts with an acknowledgement that without Jesus, we are without hope. But with Him, we can stand firm despite what swirls around us. With Jesus as our firm foundation, we can then move forward into our day, walking in the truth.
What does it mean to walk in the truth? It means we enter each day with our minds renewed, having spent time reading Scripture and praying so that our thoughts are the ones that God wants us to dwell on. The source of truth is God Himself, so we need to start with Him. God wants us to be transformed so that we think and live and love like He does. This means that on a daily basis, we’ll need the Holy Spirit to fill us with His presence so that we step out into the world with supernatural power and perspective.
It is only as we saturate our minds with God’s truth that we will have the strength to look at our own truth and that of others whose experience is different than ours. Walking in the truth requires drawing from all three of those perspectives. No one’s is more important than God’s, that’s why we begin with Him. Then we turn to our own truth. How are we doing? Where do we need strength? Are we feeling unsettled? Where are we tempted to cling to “being right” because we want to feel secure? An honest look at the state of our own hearts should be a daily priority. This allows us to invite God into the mess of our hearts to bring healing. Only then will we be equipped to wisely respond to what life throws our way instead of reacting with raw emotion.
So we look at God’s truth, then the truth about our own hearts, and finally the truth of others whose experience is different from our own. How do we take this third step? We begin by asking God to give us the virtue of empathy. In this time of social distancing, there is an acute need for our hearts to draw near to one another, offering a love that is robust and powerful. This kind of love allows the virtue of empathy to flow into our aching world. Empathy is a movement of the heart that looks at life from another’s perspective and enters into their pain. It’s endeavoring to understand what is true of another person’s experience, even if it is not true of our own. It’s a shift in focus from what I feel and how things are affecting me, to how it feels to walk in another’s shoes. It doesn’t come easily, especially when we are feeling insecure. But it’s critical that we do so in order to bridge the ever-widening divide of our country.
Author and speaker Shauna Niequist shared the importance of empathy in a recent Instagram post:
Empathy is why we wear masks, because our concern is not only for our own health, but the health of every person we pass at the grocery store or on the sidewalk.
Empathy is when white people listen to the stories and experiences of their Black friends—without defensiveness, without trying to distance or absolve themselves from white supremacy or systemic racism.
Empathy is choosing to see what connects us all: our common humanity. Our common resolve as well as our common fragility, our common grief and terror and exhaustion as well as our common hope and joy and delight.
Living empathetically goes against the grain. When the world feels scary and insecure, our desire to self-protect and circle the wagons increases. This means it is absolutely critical that we start our day in the presence of God—asking Him to change us from within, and giving Him permission to do in and through us what does not come naturally.
In order to walk in the truth, we need God’s truth, the truth of Scripture of what is going on in our hearts, and the truth as experienced by others. We need all three, but only God can be a firm foundation in the midst of uncertainty. We are promised in Hebrews 13:8 that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He is unchanging. Start your day listening to the One who has seen every moment of history, who can see into the depths of our hearts, and who holds the future in His capable hands.
Is Jesus the one you are turning to first? Are His words in Scripture saturating your mind each and every day? Many of the ways in which you have drawn close to God have been limited or removed the past few months. But your Bible is always available. Something you might notice as you read: God’s Word is honest about history and the human heart. If the Bible was a PR tool, there are quite a few parts that one might recommend be removed. But God is all about the whole, unvarnished truth. May we walk in it and have the courage to be lifelong, humble learners. May what we learn motivate us to display sacrificial love in our fractured, hurting world. May this be love in action, not just thought and good intentions.
She was up, dressed and out the door by 6am. “Bye!!” she joyfully shouted from the bottom of the staircase. My husband couldn’t believe that our 18 year old daughter, who is never out of bed before noon, was not only awake and dressed but happy about it. What got her up? Love.
My daughter was offered a job as an assistant make-up artist on a bridal photoshoot, and she was over the moon excited. Art is her gift and passion. It is where she thrives, becomes animated, and feels her most comfortable self. Art is her love, and no question about it, love is what got this girl out of bed.
I thought about this as I blow-dried my hair, mentally preparing myself for the day ahead. I wondered, what gets me out of bed in the morning?
There was a long stretch of time, which felt like forever and could possibly kill me, when I dreaded opening my eyes to see another day. My focus was on my circumstances, which were not very good, so I greeted each sunrise with fear and anxiety, worry and despair. I started sleeping in later just to avoid waking up, and going back to bed was the thing I looked forward to the most. It was a dark season of suffering that came with a cross I was unwilling to accept. Wanting the pain to just go away, I refused to love my cross.
And I know. You read that and think, who loves their cross? That’s crazy talk! You are right. It is crazy talk. But here is the thing: God is love, right? And this God who is love did some crazy things out of love for us, like taking on the whole world’s sins and willingly getting nailed to a cross. And after dying and being buried, three days later, He rose. Turns out, death could not hold Him. Why? Because love got Him up.
It’s just what love does. When my husband and I started dating, I came back from a business trip one winter night to find him standing outside of my upper east side apartment in below zero weather, holding a giant Christmas tree. He was freezing and tired, the tree was heavy, and the street was dark, but he didn’t care because he was in love. Love got him up.
When my child needed help that required the logistics and strength of a superhero, I didn’t think twice. I got in my car, and I drove in the dark, pouring rain for six hours. I never stopped once, and I prayed the entire time. Yes, I was scared, but that didn’t matter because I love my child. Love got me up.
And it’s funny, because in my head I struggle with love. I grasp onto the thought that God’s love for me is based on something I did to deserve it. I dwell on all of my past sins, convinced that it was something I did or did not do that has caused present sorrow. And so I pray those rosaries and recite those novenas and coordinate that program, all the while wondering, “Is this enough to be worthy of His love?” In his book Unbound, author Neal Lozano writes, “In our pride and self delusion we often believe that God loves us and forgives us because of something we did, that we somehow deserve the mercy of God. This deception leaves us in a very vulnerable place. We have been set up for the fall. The results? Every time we fail, we face the whisper of the accuser: “Does God love me?” (1)
Recently, in the midst of confessing my sins, the priest asked me, “When your children were born, what did they need to do for you to love them?” I laughed because the answer is obviously nothing. He pushed deeper and asked, “But why?” As grace poured down, my laughter turned into tears as I whispered, “Because they are mine.”
It was when that dark season led me to surrender that I was able to understand the depth of my sin and the meaning of God’s sacrifice. How can one love their cross? Because it was the suffering that led me to the reality of God’s love. And so I wake up early again. 5:00 AM. No matter the present trial, no matter the long suffering, no matter how tired or afraid. I get up. Not to pray all those rosaries, recite those novenas, and get to work on ministry. But simply to be with my Love. To sit with coffee in the presence of the One who loves me so much that while still a sinner, He died for me. To abide in the One who calls me His own.
What gets me up? Love.
It’s the answer to everything, really.
(1) Neal Lozano, Unbound: A Practical Guide To Deliverance (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2003), p. 74.
I’ve just celebrated a milestone birthday—my 50th. As I survey the landscape, it’s looking like pretty fertile ground for gratitude. There are some hard-won interior victories that have allowed me to see progress in areas of my life where old patterns remained for far too long. I lost years of joy by allowing other people’s opinions of me to dictate my sense of self-worth. My mood and self-esteem would fluctuate according to how this or that person saw me and treated me. It was a seesaw life emotionally. But after some deep soul work, I have been tasting freedom in this area. I’ve been better able to live for an audience of One, getting a little closer to being able to say along with St. Thomas More, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”
Some of my favorite things about starting this new decade:
A friend of mine read my list, and asked me to help her brainstorm a list for her. She, too, was celebrating a milestone birthday, but said that, while she wished she could just take my list and run with it, her story was unique. There are challenges she is facing that are different than mine. I suggested the following, with hopes that she’d use the list as a springboard to personalize it, tweak it, and come up with her own ideas:
Getting older brings all sorts of things we don’t want (failing eyesight, colonoscopies, and overall sagging, to name a few), but there are a number of things that are undeniably better if we have been good students of life. Suffering can make us more mature or more bitter; it’s up to us which we become. Gratitude factors in here in a big way. The perspective we choose is critical. If we are continuously on the lookout for disappointments, failed dreams, inadequacies, and times that people and life have let us down, we’ll find ample examples. Focusing on them will feed the heaviness. But if we will do the work of finding the good in our current set of circumstances, if we thank God continually for those things, we’ll start to notice all sorts of other small and surprising blessings.
How about you? Can you make a list of your favorite things (lessons learned, victories achieved) as you head into this new decade? May gratitude serve as a catalyst for happiness in 2020 and beyond for each one of us.
Last month I managed to do something right. On most days in December, I was able to balance the business of Christmas shopping, decorating, cooking and celebrating with a peaceful mindset focused on His coming. I’ll admit I sometimes didn’t balance the two evenly, and there were days when party prep and presents kept my eyes off the real prize. But I did give more of my attention to Him than I had during past Christmas seasons. I am a work in progress!
So here we are at the start of a new year, and once again I feel compelled to make a New Year’s resolution. Doing so might be a waste of time since I’ve never stuck to any resolutions I’ve made in the past, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Putting God first every day of the year (not just during Advent-Christmas) would make for a great resolution, right? But, I am a full-time employee of Walking with Purpose, and the act of working for a ministry of Jesus Christ keeps Him front-and-center daily. More than that, He and I are in cahoots here in my home office. I pray each day for the Holy Spirit to guide me in my work, and He certainly responds.
I already know He’s Priority Number One.
Which brings me to Priority Number Two, and my resolution for 2020. I got the idea from Matthew 22:37-40:
[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 greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Christ says the second most important thing is to put others next, in the #2 spot to God. Not ourselves. Thinking about this, I realize that there are people in my life who really should be elevated to that #2 spot. People who, sadly, I sometimes ignore. My aging parents and my husband come to mind.
But then, the self-centered part of me that worries about my sanity takes over my thought process. Really? It says. You’re going to give more of yourself to your parents, even though it is always you who visits them and not the other way around? They are the retired ones, after all. How in the world are you going to fit more two-hour-long road trips into your packed schedule?
That selfish voice also has a problem giving my husband second-to-God status. You both work full-time yet it is always you doing the laundry and cooking meals. When’s the last time he made you dinner? Why do you eat Doritos while he and the kids enjoy the steak dinner you prepared for them?
(Side note: I’m a vegetarian, and the rest of the household are big-time carnivores. However, the time it takes to make two dinners each day is time I just don’t have.)
The WWP Bible study Keeping in Balance has a lesson all about putting people “next.” In it, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer reveals the key to actually making it happen. She writes:
“The principle of ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ works only if you treat yourself well. Do you habitually neglect yourself, forsaking prayer, rest, good nutrition, exercise, and healthy emotional boundaries?...Do you agree that this is a necessary first step in order to love others well?” 
You can’t effectively love others if you don’t love and care for yourself first. Which I think means I need to stop eating Doritos for dinner.
It looks like I might have two resolutions for the new year: Providing more TLC to my “neighbors,” and to myself. I’m going to try like heck to stick to this because of something else Lisa writes in Keeping in Balance:
“At the end of our lives, God isn’t going to ask about all that we have accomplished. He will look at how we’ve loved. This is the true measure of significance.” 
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 32.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 33.
Are you worried about how everyone is going to get along this Christmas? Is there a pit in your stomach because you are dreading the interpersonal dynamics that are about to engulf your family? Does it seem like your family members revert back to childhood roles and behaviors when they get together? Is the cloistered life sounding pretty good to you right now? If this is how you are feeling, you are not alone.
Your family is a mess? Jesus’ family was dysfunctional, too. Just take a look at His family tree. Matthew 1:1-16 lays out His genealogy, and in it we find a liar, a cheat, a woman who slept with her father-in-law, a prostitute, a refugee, an adulterer, and a murderer. I’m not making this up. It’s all in there. These are some messed up people, my friends. God’s Word is meant for flawed families with real baggage and problems.
Could it be that God chose this particular family line for Jesus in order to teach us how He can redeem even the most broken families? What was amazing about the Holy Family is that they allowed God to write a new narrative with their lives, despite what had happened before. Instead of continuing in the same old patterns, they chose to sacrificially love in the hard places. They didn’t shrink back when love became costly. They leaned in. As a result, the pain and wounds weren’t transmitted—they were redeemed.
It’s been said that friends are the family you choose. In the words of Beth Moore:
We form most friendships out of personal preferences, but we’re not automatically the better for it…Many of us have distanced ourselves from extended family because we’ve replaced them with people we prefer. Though some elements of the transition are justified and godly, others are selfish. Let’s face it. Family is more trouble than friendship, and the fear that we might share similarities with some of our members also carries an indictment too strong to face on a regular basis. For one thing, we can drop friends more easily when the relationship becomes inconvenient. Here’s the rub and maybe the help: God chose our family even if we didn’t. Even the challenges they pose can be effective motivation to seek His throne, His help, and His healing (AKA deal with our stuff). 
Jesus has factored the dysfunction of your family into His plan for your good. All the garbage, the aggravating habits, the opposing political views, the childhood hurts, the unkind words, the unspoken judgments, the laziness of one and the workaholic nature of the other, the mental illness (yes, even that)… God can use all of it to benefit you and yours. It’s through the rub of our closest relationships that God chisels our hearts to better resemble His.
While friendships we can choose and discard at will may be easier, easy does not always equal good. Very often, good = hard. Nowhere is this truer than with families.
What might change if in addition to issuing gifts to our family this Christmas, we issued a challenge? What if we challenged one another to press in when we want to disengage from each other? What if we challenged each other to stay and love in the hard places, to have honest conversations, to face our demons, and to hold each other during the process? What if we committed to each other that home would be a safe place to let it all unravel… to follow the thread of tears and hurts… inviting the Lord to heal and redeem us each step of the way?
I know this isn’t easy and that most of us would rather numb out or distance ourselves from the dysfunction. But perhaps a better choice would be to encourage each other to go to counseling—calling out any shame under the surface and firmly rejecting it. Maybe things would change if instead of shutting down or being distracted, we said, “Tell me more.” What watershed moment might come if we had the courage to ask for or offer forgiveness?
There is no perfect family here on earth. We all have flaws galore, no matter how well we can pull it together when the neighbors come by. Jesus doesn’t ask us to come to Him when we’re cleaned up. He asks us to invite Him into the mess. Isn’t this the message of the manger? That’s where He first showed up, to the manure, animals, smells, and discomfort. Invite Him into your home and family this Christmas. I promise you—He will come.
Praying for you and yours,
 Beth Moore, Stepping Up: a Journey Through the Psalms of Ascent (Nashville, TN: Lifeway Publishing, 2007), 155.
Have you ever had one of those days?
I was two seconds from purposely rear-ending the maddeningly-slow car in front of me. I had so much pent-up irritation, and I could just taste the satisfaction I would feel when our cars would hit and all the anger would exit my body. It would be like that Fried Green Tomatoes moment when Kathy Bates rear-ended the car of the girls who whipped into her parking spot, saying, “Face it lady, we're younger and faster,” and she responded by repeatedly hitting their parked car, saying, “Face it girls, I'm older and I have more insurance.” In my little world, we were saved from an accident because the car mercifully indicated an upcoming left turn when I needed to turn right. Glory hallelujah.
The day had turned south a little while before. Too many hours had been spent on a soccer field in the heat with a constantly-crying baby while we watched our team lose. We whipped home (easier said than done because my rear view mirror is now missing after my permit driver sideswiped a car yesterday) for a quick turn around for soccer fun round #2 with another child's practice. I managed to get dinner on the table in 5 minutes, and might have earned BIG POINTS for serving a Barefoot Contessa recipe in record time, but that possibility went down the toilet when I completely lost my patience over the spilled McDonald's milkshake on the backseat carpet of the car. (Note to self: good mothers do not buy their children McDonald's milkshakes. They cut up fresh fruit and bring it along to the game, and their children DELIGHT in the healthy refreshment. This is the stuff the mean voice in my head says to me when I am ready to lose it.)
So I got back in the car, and cranked the Christian radio station as loud as I could because the noise made me feel better. And I probably traumatized my child in the process and she'll probably never like Christian music and will always associate it with the psycho side of her mama.
A few minutes after I decided it wouldn't be a very wise thing to purposely cause an accident, a song came on that was talking about the grace we get that we don't deserve. Maybe because the music was so darn loud, or maybe because God is so good and worked on me even though I was really crabby, my heart softened a little. I grudgingly acknowledged to God that it was pretty nice of Him to constantly offer me mercy and second chances.
Then a song by For King and Country came on called “The Proof of Your Love.”
Listen to these words…
“If I sing but don't have love
I waste my breath with every song
I bring an empty voice, a hollow noise
If I speak with a silver tongue
Convince a crowd but don't have love
I leave a bitter taste with every word I say
(a little bit convicting…)”
And here's the deal. That song really hit me hard and had the effect that God desired it to. But would I have responded like that if the song about grace hadn't come on first? I doubt it. If “The Proof of Your Love” had come on right when I got in the car, I probably would have turned it off. It likely would have just made me madder.
God gets how I'm wired. He knows that love and mercy melt and soften my heart, and until that happens, I'm not very receptive to constructive criticism. I think most of us react to correction with defensiveness. Could this be because we haven't felt unconditional love first?
So how does God treat us? Does He say that the hurtful things we're doing don't matter? No, He loves us too much to leave us as we are. He can see how incredible we can be, and He recognizes what's holding us back. But instead of screaming at us about our sins, He's patient. He waits and when we turn ever so slightly to him, He runs to us. He's the father who runs to the prodigal son- ready to offer mercy the minute he sees his son return. This crazy, unwarranted mercy is what Jesus gave us. He took the fall for the very people who were at that moment spitting on, mocking and beating Him. He offers mercy FIRST. He leads with grace. With love.
And that really takes my breath away. Love is all about second chances. I'm so thankful that God lets us hit a “do over” button. That we can say I'm sorry, and come back home again for a fresh start.
I really believe that if more of us believed that God leads with grace, that He wants nothing more than to forgive, that there's nothing we can do that is further than the reach of His love, the lines at the confessional would be a whole lot longer. What holds us back? Why don't we rush into His arms of love? Maybe we need a new way of looking at God. Maybe we need to let go of our old ways of defining Him, and let His actions speak for themselves.
“The LORD's acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning- great is your faithfulness!” Lamentations 3:22-23
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in November 2013.
Now that July is here I've decided to remove the Christmas cards we received last December from the wall in the den where they are currently adhered with yellowing, curling tape.
Do not be alarmed: I'm not a scattered, hot mess of a homeowner who still has Halloween candy in the pantry; only last year's holiday cards are still kicking around. The Thanksgiving placemats, Christmas lights and nutcracker soldiers are all safely packed away in boxes in the basement.
The reason there are dozens of greeting cards still taped to the wall seven months post-Christmas is simply because, after a certain amount of time, we stop noticing things around us. Even though I'm in that room daily, I stopped seeing the cards.
I remember my first visit to my in-laws' house before my husband and I were married. I walked around their compact stone colonial and noticed crucifixes on the plastered walls of most rooms. I wasn't raised Catholic so seeing this was new to me, and I remember telling a friend, “His mom hung crosses in pretty much every room of the house!”
Are those crucifixes still there? I suppose they are, but I can't say for sure because I stopped noticing them. And I've been in my in-laws' house countless times over the past twenty years.
Six months ago I spiffed up my home office by hanging some framed prints of the beautiful Walking with Purpose free scripture printables. I don't notice them very often anymore.
It goes without saying that the way to keep a strong relationship with God is through daily prayer and Mass -- not by hanging things on the walls. Yet, while a day can begin perfectly with prayer, as it progresses, we often travel away from that perfect place and find we are no longer immersed in His presence.
I am happy to report that there is something I encounter throughout the day now that immediately brings Christ to mind. It inserted itself into my life quite unexpectedly last month when a very popular New York Metro Area radio station went off the air. It was one of those stations that played the same pop hits repeatedly, and it was the #1 station in the area for decades. (I can remember the summer before college listening to the station on a silver boombox as I begrudgingly helped my father paint the kitchen of my childhood home with Bobby McFerrin telling me Don't Worry, Be Happy in his sing-song voice.)
That pop radio station is gone now, and the Christian station K-Love took over its spot on the dial. And because I am constantly in my car, Ubering my kids around (and because I have no idea how to play music from my phone through the car sound system), K-Love is constantly on as well.
In case you were wondering, the lyrics that are currently stuck in my head are, I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody...
I will admit that my kids are less than enthusiastic about this alteration to our drive-time soundtrack. I tell them their complaints hurt Jesus's feelings.
When I surround myself with music or the words from a good book, the messages I take in stay near the forefront of my brain, steering clear of the back with its unfulfilled spring cleaning tasks and new year's resolutions. Those K-Love tunes -- just like my WWP Bible study books -- offer a wealth of reminders, and a consistency of message that strengthens my connection with Christ.
The Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart transformed me when I experienced it with a parish small group earlier in the year. When my group finished that study, my heart was opened, but as I admitted in this blog post, it might not have been opened all the way. My relationship with God was stronger, but not absolute. Love for Christ was not taking up all the spaces in my heart.
So now I'm reading Opening Your Heart again, this time on my own. And I am less concerned with completing the homework assignments and more concerned with absorbing the information; letting Lisa Brenninkmeyer's words stick around as long as they can in the forefront of my brain like the lyrics to a song. I'm allowing myself to really let it sink in when Lisa tells me that, “More than anything, He is utterly consumed with love for you, and it's the real kind of love that truly wants you to thrive.”¹
Knowing that truth, how could I not want to work on loving Him back?
Do you have any WWP Bible studies on hand that you may have read in the past? If you were to pick one up again, I assure you, the truths would grab hold of you a second time, and warm your heart with love for Him.
¹ Opening Your Heart, p. 34
For a special February treat, read these words from St. Therese of Lisieux…
I ASSURE YOU THAT THE GOOD LORD IS MUCH KINDER THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE. HE IS SATISFIED WITH A GLANCE, WITH A SIGH OF LOVE…IN REGARD TO MYSELF, I FIND IT EASY TO PRACTICE PERFECTION, BECAUSE I HAVE LEARNED THAT THE WAY TO JESUS IS THROUGH HIS HEART. CONSIDER A SMALL CHILD WHO HAS VEXED HIS MOTHER BY A DISPLAY OF BAD TEMPER OR DISOBEDIENCE. IF THE CHILD HIDES IN A CORNER THROUGH FEAR OF PUNISHMENT, HE FEELS THAT HIS MOTHER WILL NOT FORGIVE HIM. BUT IF INSTEAD, HE EXTENDS HIS LITTLE ARMS TOWARDS HER AND WITH A SMILE CRIES OUT: ‘LOVE, KISS ME, MAMMA, I WILL NOT DO IT AGAIN,' WILL NOT HIS MOTHER PRESS THE LITTLE ONE TO HER HEART WITH TENDERNESS, AND FORGET WHAT THE CHILD HAS DONE? AND YET, THOUGH SHE KNOWS VERY WELL THAT HER DEAR LITTLE ONE WILL MISBEHAVE AGAIN AT THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY, THAT MEANS NOTHING IF THE CHILD APPEALS TO HER HEART. HE WILL NEVER BE PUNISHED… ~ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX
An appeal to the heart of God never goes unanswered. It's always met with goodness, mercy, and grace. So why do we so often behave as if God is a harsh taskmaster? The lover of our souls wants to shower us with His love, and we run in the other direction, afraid of His disapproval.
Never enough. Does that phrase ever describe how you feel? Do you wake up and think, “I didn't get enough sleep”? Do you race through the day and crawl into bed thinking, “I didn't get enough done”? Never perfect enough. Never thin enough. Never beautiful enough. Never happy enough. Never enough.
Whose voice is this? Let me tell you emphatically, it is NOT God's. God looks at you with kindness, and His heart fills with pride. This is the good kind of pride. It rejoices in the wonder of who you are. He says to you, “You have been given fullness in Christ! You are complete in Christ!” (Colossians 2:10).
So who is creating these expectations? Is it possible that we have heard what God desires from us, and then added our own expectations and those of others? Could it be that the feeling of being overwhelmed and inadequate is coming from trying to do things that God hasn't called us to do?
What means the most to God? Is it an impressive resume of volunteering, our accomplishments at work, or the cleanliness of our homes? It's none of those things. What God cares about is how we love. That's how He measures success.
When the voice whispers, “You're not enough,” speak the words, “I choose love.” I choose to stand under the shower of God's love and just soak it up.
I choose to be measured by God's love for me- and it's unconditional, limitless, and steadfast. I choose God's love instead of perfection, love instead of expectations, love instead of a never-ending rat race of busyness.
I won't get all the things done today that feel so important to me. Instead of giving into feelings of discouragement, I'll choose to be defined by love. I'll choose to return God's love by admitting that I don't have nearly as much control over things as I sometimes imagine. Then I'll confirm my love for Him by telling Him I'm glad that He's got it all under control. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll give it all to God as an act of love. As I fill up with His love, I'll ask Him to let it overflow into the lives of those around me. On my own, I'm not enough. But “Christ in me, the hope of glory”…now that's a different story.
Praying that you experience a February full of awareness of how crazy God is about you and choose love.
This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in February 2013.