The Groom (love comes third)

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My heart overflows with a good theme… Psalm 45:1

It must have been five years back when I tried to write about God’s love. That’s when I used to send my writings to Jason for his perusal before posting. His input went something like this: “When you’re writing about God’s love it should be, I don’t know, just more.”

And he was right. I can’t remember exactly what I sent but likely, it lacked substance. Experience, even. Because back then, a lot about me remained covered up. There were things I didn’t mention. Stuff I’d completely forgotten or didn’t even realize.

Truth?

I didn’t know the depth of my sin. And dare I say this? If one doesn’t know the depth of her own sin, can she begin to comprehend the depth of God’s love for her? Because it was for that very reason He sent His Son to die. For those sins. And for so long, I just didn’t know…

However, time and experience has taught me God’s love runs deep. Deeper than all my iniquity. And I’ve learned the love of God is fervent. Unending and unconditional. And most amazingly, I’ve come to understand this type of love was first offered to me by my husband.

Jason.

Yes, he’s the one who provided me with my first glimpse of God’s love. And so, in honor of him and our twentieth anniversary (just weeks away), my desire is to try and write about God’s love once more. This time, though, I hope to get it right. Fortunately, I have my husband’s example to guide me.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

I heard a speaker last month. And she was so sweet. She shared she just wanted to be God’s little cup. One He uses every day. And that resonated with me. Because that’s my desire, too. I want to be useful to Him.

His own special cup…

A vessel used for honor, not dishonor. One prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 2:20-21). A vessel ready to be filled by His Spirit.

However, I felt empty for some reason. And cup half full or half empty (depends on one’s perception), my epiphany was that Jesus’ promise remained unfulfilled. Because He said He came in order that I may have life and have it abundantly. To the full. But in early May, I didn’t.

I tell you, I was pretty discouraged. And I sincerely pleaded with God, “Why? Why is the Spirit quenched within me?” Because I knew He had to be in there somewhere. His word says so (Ephesians 1:13).

Only, the Spirit seemed to be grieved into silence. Movement was nil.

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He who believes in Me – from His innermost being will flow continually rivers of living water. John 7:38-39

I think it’s ironic the river banks were flooding in recent weeks. Overflowing with murky waters. The irony being that the living waters had receded inside me. Yes, in May, I’d say they’d nearly dried up.

But God is gracious and He desires to fill me with His goodness. Thus, when I asked why the drought, He answered through the 5th Chapter of John. Stern words. But relevant. And though Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, I knew He was talking to me…

At least last month, He was. For He said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.”

At that point, it wasn’t just the Spirit inside me who grieved. For I did, too. Incomprehensibly, and despite hours and hours of studying God’s word, it was all clear. The love of God was not in me.

I was devastated. Really. And utterly confused.

Woe to you, (self-righteous) scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and robbery and self indulgence (unrestrained greed). You (spiritually) blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the plate (examine and change your inner self to conform to God’s precepts), so that the outside (your public life and deeds) may be clean also.

Woe to you, (self-righteous) scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. So you, also, outwardly seem to be just and upright to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:25-28

In May, I was confused because I’d been seeking to serve God for many years. Mainly, through writing. The desire came about nearly seven years ago and I don’t think it was of me. No, I believe God’s Spirit moved me in that direction.

However, one year into the writing venture, something came up. A skeleton from my closet. And when I shared it with my spiritual mother, she said something profound. She drew near and said, “God won’t use a dirty vessel.” I’ll never forget it.

Today, I believe last month’s experience was just an extension of that conversation. An extension of when my past first made an appearance. Because that was only the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t know how far there was to go. So deep to dig.

Yes, these past years have been a real excavation of my heart. And the biggest tool for digging has been the writing. The very thing I love to do has served to expose all that was hidden.

See, God has always known my heart. But when I first began to write, I didn’t. And I’m filled with awe that He lovingly gave me a gift by which all He wanted me to see would be unearthed. Because He knew until I did, I wouldn’t be able to serve Him properly. Not until I saw the depravity of my own nature, would I be useful to God.

I wouldn’t serve as His special little cup…

Funny thing, though. Just prior to May, I thought I was pretty much done. That everything had been uncovered. I didn’t realize there was more work to be done.

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Romans 1:29-31

God has a way of bringing things to completion. He has a way of putting things together so that vision is restored. So that the blind regains vision. And for me, May and June served that purpose. For that’s when I began to really see.

It came together when Jason and I went out west. He had a business trip and I was able to accompany him. And since we’ve made no big plans for our anniversary, I told myself this would serve as a nice gift. We’d have time to explore a new state and enjoy each other’s company.

Two days in, I sensed something was amiss. Jason just didn’t seem himself. When I persisted in asking, he grabbed my hand and assured me all was fine. So while he went off to work, I pushed those feelings down and ventured into a new city. Know how I felt when I got back to the hotel? Dirty. I felt sullied by the world.

Oh, the town was nice enough. Shopping and sights to see. But everywhere I glanced, I saw something sad. A homeless man on the street. Then two or three more. As I turned down a not-so-traveled alley, a not-so-nice odor met my nostrils. Finally, I went back to my room.

I was relieved when I got there. I felt safe as I latched the door. I changed into my swimsuit and allowed the sun to bake away my uneasiness. I immersed myself in the water and let the coolness wash away the filth of the world. And then, I simply put the world out of my mind. I thought all was well.

Wash me from my guilt. Purify me from my sin… Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Psalm 51:2, 7, 10

Me and Jason had a conversation a couple of days later. We had an hour to kill at the airport and something unpleasant came up. First, I was critical with Jason. A made a nagging sort of comment that came across as totally condemning. That’s when he told me the truth…

He pointed out my critical comments. He mentioned how I never focused on the positive, I always saw the negative, and further, I felt the need to point those things out. And though he didn’t say the following words, the truth was plain to see.

I realized how condemning I was. How unloving. And I understood that I was acting in complete opposition to Jesus. And the words I’d heard prior to the trip, “You don’t have the love of God in you,” seemed to be underscored by that entire conversation.

For the second time in one month, I was devastated. I wiped back stray tears during the flight. I felt sure I was the reason Jason didn’t seem himself days earlier. And by the time we hit the highway, closing in on our kids, I was undone. Sobs came forth.

Honestly, I was broken over the state of my cold, hard, unloving heart. And surely this was the reason I’d been feeling so empty. So devoid of God’s Spirit. Why He’d been grieving.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luke 6:45

“All excess is rooted in emptiness.”  This statement was made by Bible teacher, Beth Moore, and I have to agree with her. For my life gives evidence to her observation. See, I’ve come to realize how excessive my harsh judgments are. Too many criticisms. A condemning nature overflows. And why? I think part of this may be my old nature (how I grew up). But mostly, I think the excess is rooted in empty works. Cleaning the outside of the cup, so to say.

Works not propelled by God’s love. Empty actions motivated by guilt or compulsion.  Tasks fueled by empty religion and law, not relationship. And because I’ve placed these conditions on myself (the things I must or must not do), I inadvertently place the same on others.

Unfortunately, this has caused my love to be conditional. Mainly with my spouse. See, if the conditions are met, my love is doled out freely. But if not, I tend to withdraw. I can be cold. This is the truth.

And this is what God wanted me to see…

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Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:10-11

The definition of “comes out” in the above verse is to come forth, to flow forth – of a river. And this is what happened with me. All the ugly thoughts and judgments spewed. What was in came out. Oh, they flowed forth. Just like a river flooding the banks.

See, in years of seeking to serve God, I veered off track. I neglected my heart. And in paying too much attention to my outward, I developed eyesight that focused on others’ outsides, too. Yes, in trying to be approved by Him, I became disapproving of my neighbor.

Unloving of the world.

In the end, I wasn’t set apart, I’d segregated myself. And I wasn’t sanctified, I was sanctimonious. I’d inserted a big fat “self” in front of righteousness. This is what my heart was full of. Which left very little room for God. And His love.

Thus, His Spirit was quenched. Grieved into silence…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. John 3:16-17

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The trip Jason and I took in May turned out to be the best thing. It afforded us an opportunity to talk. And through the conversation, I got a good look at myself. Through my husband’s eyes.

I really didn’t like what I saw.

But you know, I got a good look at Jason, too. My beloved. The man I’ve shared my life with for almost twenty years now. And you know what…

I liked what I saw.

Because he seemed to house the very thing I’ve been lacking. There in Jason’s eyes, I saw the love of God peering back at me. And though he spoke firm words, they were not condemning. Just truthful. And even as he said them, he grabbed for my hand. He offered me his love.

A love that reflects God’s very own.

Knowledge [alone] makes [people self-righteously] arrogant, but love [that unselfishly seeks the best for others] builds up and encourages others to grow [in wisdom]. If anyone imagines that he knows and understands anything [of divine matters, without love], he has not yet known as he ought to know. 1 Corinthians 8:1-2

It’s funny. God filled me with words. I think it’s because I spend hours and hours poring over His holy Scripture. And I’ve done my best to convey what I glean from that time. Jason, though, he’ll have none of it. He calls me on it. He tells me when the godly words I issue don’t line up with my actions.

And I find it funny when I compare the two of us. Me spending hours and hours in the Word. Jason taking a few moments in the morning before work. This was the comment I made to him in that airport. Something along those lines…

See, I didn’t think he was being “spiritual” enough. Not spending enough time with God. Actions speak louder than words, though. And how true it is that our lives are living letters, known and read by all. For Jason reads me daily and I read him, too. And simply, he is a love letter.

Just like the one God wrote for us through the life of His Son.

See, when I first came to Jason, I was dirtied by the world. Like a doormat, people had wiped their feet all over me. I’d been cast off. Unwanted. But rather than feeling the need to turn aside and close the door to me, wiping away the dirt, Jason did the opposite.

Unfathomably, he wanted me. He accepted me as I was. And when my past came to light, he opened his arms wide. He hugged me. He loved me in my filth.

Dirty vessel and all.

And this is just how God loves us. Clearly, He shows and proves His love by the fact Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). In all our filth.

And this is the kind of love I see in Jason.

May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. Ephesians 3:16-19

I want to love Jason better. Today, I have hope and faith that I will. See, there’s this little rhyme kids sing, but I think they have it backwards. It goes: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes so-and-so with a baby carriage.” And in contemplating all the years with my husband, I think there’s a better order.

Because surely love comes third. At least with me, it does.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I loved my husband when we married. The best I knew how. But in truth, I couldn’t love him properly. Not fully. Because I tend to be selfish. And unfortunately, I’ve been so full of my junk, not much room was left for God’s love.

For way too long, I was incapable of loving the way He does.

But fortunately, life happened. First came marriage. Then came babies. That’s when my selfish nature was brought to the surface. Over the years, other things were uncovered. And as I empty those parts of me, the cup that I am gets cleaned on the inside.

A clean vessel.

Yes, as I empty out what doesn’t belong in my heart, God’s Spirit flows. And His love fills me. Thus, I say love comes third…

First comes marriage, second comes babies, and third comes love. His love. The love of God in me. And this is what I plan to give Jason for our twentieth…

A heart full of love. A heart capable of loving him the way he deserves to be loved. Unconditionally and fully. A heart that loves him the very way He’s loved me all these years.

Just like God does.

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In this [union and fellowship with Him], love is completed and perfected with us… 1 John 4:17

2 Timothy 2:21 is one of my favorite verses. It says: Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

That word for prepare is the same one used in Revelation 19:7. The Bride has made herself ready. And it’s the same one used in Luke 1:76, describing how John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Lord. The definition, metaphorically, is drawn from the oriental custom of sending on before kings on their journeys persons to level the roads and make them passable (Strong’s Concordance).

Wow, does this speak today. See, I’m cleaning the inside of my cup. In a sense, I’m making the road passable. I’m preparing the way. And it’s this action that allows the Spirit to move freely upon the landscape of my heart.

Further, I have great hope for I know Jesus is coming. The Groom will surely come for His bride.

But as for today, I continue to clean out my heart. Whatever He uncovers, I try to remove. Layer by layer. All that inside stuff. In doing so, I prepare the way for the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

The filling of me.

His little cup…

My cup runneth over. Psalm 23:5

Yes, I am a vessel made to be filled by God’s Holy Spirit. In this total consummation, I find abundant life. It’s the path I travel to my happily ever after. Feels just like a wedding…

See, an engagement of sorts took place when He promised me His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). And because of His word, I am made clean. A bride without blemish. As I was presented to Christ, He lifted the veil (2 Corinthians 3:14). And because we are joined together in holy matrimony, the union of God’s Spirit with my heart of flesh, God deems that no man separate us (Mark 10:9)…

Yes, what God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.

And in the fashion of earthly weddings, a pronouncement was made. A voice thundered, I now present to you the bride and the Groom.

However, another proclamation was made. It’s one I needed to hear. For my God said, “Do not call anything impure that He has made clean (Acts 10:15).” And this is what I am today.

I am clean. Inside and out.

And oh, how my cup runneth over with the love of God.

Yes I, the bride, have made myself ready. I am prepared for every good work. Fully prepared to love the world. And my people. Most especially my husband, Jason. For indeed, He’s the one who showed me this type of love in the first place.

Somehow, with him, love came first.

And his love guides me.

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19

 

 

 

 

An Unwilling Wife, a Reluctant Mother

IMG_2726I’ve been mad at Jason lately. And when my better half asks what’s wrong, I don’t want to say. Like this past Saturday. I didn’t want to give him an answer because I know.

Oh, I know.

My reason isn’t a good one.

Because truth is selfishness lies at the bottom of my meanness. Inward focus the cause of the inky blackness that permeates my heart and soul, eventually seeping out and darkening the paths of those I love the most.

Like my husband. My kids.

Yes, darkness pervades my atmosphere when I try to retain pieces of what I consider to be my own. When I attempt to hold back big chunks of my life. All for myself. Just for me…

Time’s probably the biggest source of contention. Because when I feel like I’m losing it, I become resentful of everything that takes from it. This is where my poor husband comes in. Him and his recent inquiry.

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

And what a pitiful answer I offered. See, I weighed out my time verses his and he came out ahead (way ahead). At least in my mind he did. And though the rational part of my brain fully comprehends my scales are off (way off), I quietly stew over my perceived losses anyway.

This is what I tried to explain to Jason last weekend. And not so eloquently, I might add.

Because I knew. And I know.

I know how awful this sounds. But it’s the awful truth. And this is where I’ve found myself more than once this past month. Ironically, in the days leading up to Mother’s Day…

Me simmering and stewing and wishing I could do something else. Something in particular. But I can’t because I’m hindered. Slowed down by the things in life that keep me from it. Namely, being a wife and mother.

Because these roles are most prominent in my life. My first calls to duty. My family is of utmost importance. They are.

But God help me there are times I want to do something else. If only for a little while. I want to get to that other thing that draws me. The thing that makes me feel full of purpose. And important.

Yes, if I could just remove my wife and mom hat for a little chunk of time, I could accomplish all the things I set out to do. Or if only each day offered more minutes to do both…

My family and the million items on my to-do list.

Maybe then I’d be a happy camper. And maybe then I wouldn’t be so unwilling to accomplish wifely tasks. Not so reluctant in performing motherly duties such as feedings and wipings and cleanings and so on.

Guiltily, though, I’ve been unwilling and reluctant. And why? Because I’ve been placing my stuff over my husband’s and children’s. My desire to do something more has caused me to be greedy. A spirit of generosity overtaken by a spirit of withholding.

Stinginess.

And the piece of me that clings to what’s mine is a piece of me my family doesn’t have access to…

Because when I pine away for the thing I can’t get to, I don’t give my family my all. Instead, they get my darkness. Thus, Scripture is proven.

She who tries to save her life – and time – loses it. Because most definitely, the tighter I cling, the quicker my life force ebbs away. And blackness prevails. Just like a tomb.

It happens every, single time.

Sigh.

Friend of God

So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. James 2:23

I’ll tell you what. God never ceases to amaze me in how He brings home a point. And how He can weave together different threads of truth from different sources to create the most beautiful tapestry of revelation.

He did so this week. It started Sunday. An elder at church mentioned Abraham and how all the nations are blessed through him. It tickled my ear. On Monday, I heard about Abraham again. This time through a Bible study when he was referred to as a friend of God. And yesterday, my devotional book. It said, “Having a friendship with God is no small thing.” Abraham was the subject matter.

God had my full attention by then. I knew I had to investigate further. And I’m amazed at how He used this one term – friend of God – to shed light on my current issue. My struggle with selfishness.

See, I wondered what it took to be God’s friend. Because I’d like to carry that title, too. But the thing is, the relationship is costly. And it was more than belief that made Abraham a friend. It was how he acted on that belief…

Genesis 22 gives us the story.

God called and Abraham answered, “Here I am.” That’s when he heard the unthinkable for God called him to take his son, his only son, the one he loved, and offer him up as a sacrifice.

Can you imagine? God instructed Abraham to kill his son and he set out to do it. Scripture says it was a test. A test in that Abraham was called to put to death the thing he loved most.

When Abraham told his servants to hang back (it was a three day journey), he told them, “the boy and I will go over there to worship.” Worship is what he said. That’s how he described laying down the life of his only son.

Thankfully, God stepped in at the very last minute and provided another sacrifice. But the point is, Abraham was willing. He was willing to do the unthinkable because God commanded him to. That’s how full of faith he was. And that action is what made him a friend.

Abraham’s willingness to obey.

And the act of obedience is why all nations of the earth receive blessing through Abraham. “I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars… all nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.”

Yes, belief led to obedience in Abraham’s life. And this is part of what God wanted me to see.

This is My command: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14

You know, Jesus has friends, too. But no different than Abraham’s relationship with God, it’s costly. Because if we want to be His friend, we have to obey His commands and that’s not so easy to do.

Like when He says to love one another as I have loved you. Well, He loved us to His death. He laid down His very life for ours. And that’s a hard act to follow. And when He tells us to pick up our cross daily, He means we’re to die. Every single day.

Yes, Jesus wants us to put ourselves to death. Our wants and our desires come second to His command. But who wants to do that?

Who wants to sacrifice their very life? Because we love ourselves too much. We love our time and our stuff which causes us to hold back big chunks for selfish purposes.

At least I do…

If just for a little while.

But He says no. He commands the opposite. To love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Really, to love them more than ourselves. Because that’s exactly what He did when He died on the cross.

And that’s the heart of it. This is what God wants me to see.

For He’s commanding me to love other people as I love myself. No, more than I love myself. Specifically, my people. My husband and my kids. He calls me to be a willing wife and devoted mother because they come first. Their wants, their desires, their needs.

So unlike Abraham who was called to sacrifice his son, God calls me to sacrifice myself. My life in place of theirs.  This is the price of being Jesus’ friend.

And I want to be His friend.

Thus, belief prompts and act of obedience which in turn is my spiritual worship. And worship is how Abraham described sacrifice.

Me, too. This is how I worship my God…

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:2

God gives examples. Threads of truth woven into our lives to give insight. Like this week when He gave me Abraham, His friend. And He gave me Jesus, His Son. I look to their lives as a pattern for my own.

But you know, He also gave me my mom. And she knows exactly what it means to sacrifice one’s life. Because that’s just what she did. She gave up her life for mine. And for my brother.

She gave up huge chunks of time so that our future would be secure. Her wants and desires came second to our needs. Every single time.

She sacrificed her happiness. Her life. Her all.

Yes, unlike me, Mom was selfless.

And in return, I have life. And she is my pattern.

She is my mother.

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I wish I could say I’ve followed my mom’s example. But I didn’t. No, for so long I was selfish and didn’t even know it.

Like in this picture when I was pregnant with Levi…

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And I have to laugh when I see it. So carefree. So devil-may-care. That’s because I hadn’t a clue what was coming. I had no idea what a hard road motherhood is. I didn’t realize how much of myself I’d have to put to the side. The countless sacrifices and daily deaths…

At least for a season or two.

Or three.

And I’d be lying if I said I was a natural. Frankly, being a mom hasn’t been easy. Because at times, my selfish nature quells up and it’s hard to push it back. I want what I want when I want it. And when it seems far off, darkness presents.

That’s when reluctance makes an appearance. An unwillingness holds court. Like this past month.

But God grabbed my attention and He illuminated my selfishness. That ugly part that takes away from those most dear…

Like my husband. My kids.

And I know I’m on the right track. Because I want to please them. I want to put aside my stuff in favor of theirs. I want to be a good wife and good mom. So once more, light overtakes the dark and stinginess gives way to generosity.

Thus, what Jason told Levi is really true. It’s a fact I love my son more than anyone else in the whole world could. Because I’d give my life for him. I’d die for him. That’s what mothers do…

And if I’m willing to sacrifice my life’s blood, then time is easy to release… the chunks of “mine” I tried to cling to.

Thus, I put away my faulty set of scales and lay down my life for theirs… again. See, this dying thing is an everyday occurrence. I have to find fresh resolve to do it. But in doing so, I find great reward.  Because obeying makes me not just a friend of Jesus but also, a great mom and wife.

And through this act of obedience, I am blessed. As are they… those closest to me.

My husband and my kids.

Because I am a most willing wife. A wholly devoted mother.

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Proverbs 31:28