What’chu Talkin’ ‘Bout, Jesus?

John 14:12 (NLT), “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to the Father.”

I scratched my head, furrowed my brow, and exclaimed, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Jesus?”

I felt a little like Arnold, a character from the 1979-1988 sitcom called “The Facts of Life,” when he questioned his big brother Willis!

As I went through the day, I pondered these words of Jesus. I thought about the great works He had done. Works like walking on water, turning water to wine, giving sight to the blind, healing lepers, and raising the dead just to name a few. I told Him I didn’t know anyone who had done anything remotely as great as these!

I admitted that I knew He was not a liar but wondered how to make sense of His words. What did it mean that we would do the works that He had done, and “even greater works”? Was it possible that my idea of greatness was a little, or even a lot, off?

Moments later I Corinthians 13 came to mind, “The greatest of these is love…” This chapter teaches that even if we do things that look spectacular, impressive, or great to others, without love they don’t amount to anything.

“Jesus, if love is the greatest work, what exactly does that look like?”

He seemed to say, “It looks pretty plain most of the time. In fact, it can go quite unnoticed by the world. It often looks like patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and grace. The one to whom you are extending these may not even be aware.”

No bells, no whistles, no recognition, no praise.

“These acts of love will flow in you and through you as you learn to believe, receive, and rest in My Love for you. Breathe in My Love and you will exhale My Love. It will become a natural part of who you are. In fact, you may not even be aware!”

I told Him I wasn’t sure I understood, but I wanted to.

“Are you aware of every breath you take? No? That’s how it will be with the works I do through you.

“I will give you eyes to see the needs of others and I will give you a heart of compassion toward them.  You will see the hungry and feed them. You will see the lonely and invite them in. You will see the brokenhearted and comfort them. You will see and you will do. You will not do out of a sense of obligation. It won’t be a checklist or a way to earn My affection or your worth. You will simply be compelled by Love. You will love when you have known My love for you.

“Dear one, do you know how much I love you? Do you know you are my greatest treasure? Do you know that there is nothing that can or ever will separate you from my love? Once you are rooted and grounded in this knowing, the doing will take care of itself.

“So you see, there is no need to focus on the doing of great works. I want you to simply accept My unconditional, extravagant, and perfect Love. Try not to put expectations on what My love will look like, because that will hinder you from receiving what I give. My love may not look the way you want or think it should. It may not look big. In fact, it may seem small. But small doesn’t mean it isn’t significant or powerful. A little pill can treat a big illness, right? But you have to take it!”

Jesus reminded me that love isn’t always flashy, “Remember when I was with the disciples I did some pretty ordinary things. I walked with them. I talked to them. I ate with them. I listened to them. I laughed with them. I taught them about the heart of My Father and corrected their wrong ideas of Him. I showed them compassion and patience. I forgave them and accepted them. I didn’t physically heal any of them, but I did heal their hearts. This is what I want to do for you—I want to heal your heart and then Love will flow without obstruction to all you meet along the way. And your love, our love, will heal other wounded hearts.”

Healing hearts with Love! How much greater does it get?

Grace Does That

I don’t remember what I said only that my words were cutting and filled with anger. My husband looked at me stunned, confused, and hurt. He could have walked away, he could have retaliated but he didn’t. Instead, he walked toward me and wrapped his arms around me. He spoke gently, “Amy, this is not like you. What’s going on?” In that moment, I experienced grace in a way I had never experienced it before. All the anger, all the frustration, all the pain, all the shame was lifted from me. It changed me. Tears ran down my cheeks and my defenses fell as I melted into his embrace. Grace does that.

Jesus did the same for the people He encountered. Know what Jesus didn’t do? He did not demand that anyone get their act together before He would heal, forgive, or love them! He loved people just as they were. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself and He was not counting our sins against us! (II Corinthians 5:19) He extended love and grace to those who may have seemed to us to deserve it least.

Matthew was one of those “least.” He was a Jew who worked for the enemy, Rome, collecting taxes and robbing his own people. He was hated by the other Jews and considered to be the worst of sinners. Jesus went to Matthew right there on the job and simply said, “Hey Matthew! Follow me!” Then He went to Matthew’s house and had dinner with him! Scandalous! Know what Jesus didn’t do? He didn’t say, “If you will stop collecting taxes then I’ll be your friend and Savior.” Matthew left his job, invited others to meet Jesus and was a changed man. Grace does that.

In Jesus’ darkest hour His friend Peter abandoned Him, and yet when He rose from the grave He told the women at the tomb to go tell His disciples “and Peter” that He would see them in Galilee. Peter must have been relieved to hear that Jesus still considered him a disciple and that He had specifically wanted to see him! (Mark 16:7) I Corinthians 15:5 even tells us that Jesus went to Peter before He went to the other disciples! Know what Jesus didn’t do? He did not condemn Peter or wait for him to beg for forgiveness. Jesus sought him out! Peter went on to become a pillar of the Church, ministering to and comforting others, because he had been loved by Jesus. Grace does that.

In John 4 Jesus met a Samaritan woman who had been divorced five times and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. Know what He did? He offered her living water to quench the thirst in her heart for love. He did not tell her to get her act together or even to stop living with the man she was with. In her excitement, she left behind her water jug and ran to tell those she had previously hidden in shame from about Jesus. Many of them believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony. Grace does that.

In Acts 9 Saul was traveling to Damascus threatening and murdering anyone who followed Jesus. And know what Jesus did? He appeared to Saul and simply asked, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (because what you do to others, you do to Me). A few days later Jesus sent a man to tell Saul that God had chosen him to tell others about Him.Saul’s name was changed to Paul. Not only was his name changed but his heart was too. Jesus did not mention that Paul had been a murderer or a self-righteous know-it-all because where sin increased, grace abounded! (Romans 5:20) Grace does that.

In Luke 19 Jesus met another tax collector named Zacchaeus and said, “Hey Zacchaeus, get out of that tree and come here! I want to go to your house!” Jesus doesn’t say a word about the unsavory nature of Zacchaeus’s work or character. But Zacchaeus was changed. He declared he would give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he had defrauded with interest! Grace does that.

Our ugly is God’s opportunity, a holy moment, when God gently whispers, “This is not like you. What’s going on?” And our lives are forever changed. Grace does that.

Ripples from the Wrinkled

“Mooooom, why do we have to go?” Once a week the kids and I would go to an assisted living home near our house and visit with the elderly people who lived there. Often times we played Bingo and then sat and talked. I wanted my kids to be comfortable around people of all ages. I wanted them to see the value in the people whom our society often forgets or discards. I wanted to teach service above self.

To be honest, there were days when it wasn’t convenient. Their excuses were often numerous. “Mom, I have a lot of homework.”

“Mom, I’m tired.”

“Mom, I’m hungry.”

There were days when I wanted to give in to their pleas and excuses. There were days when I was tired and mentally listing my own excuses to skip out. But I chose to be an adult (which is not always easy).

“We don’t ‘have to go.’ We get to go.” Maybe this response was as much for me as it was for them. I began praying out loud in the car, “Father, thank you for this opportunity to put others before ourselves. Thank you that we get to go and love on people.” Nothing like using prayer to lay on the mom guilt! The kids grew silent. Maybe they actually heard me and saw this as an opportunity to love but most likely they were just eye rolling in the backseat.

I don’t know if the kids learned anything from those moments with the mature but I did. I learned that not one of their stories included how they had paid off their houses early or how much money they had in their bank accounts. Not one mentioned how successful they had been in their careers. Not one mentioned how well-kept their yards had been.

I was reminded that the things that meant most were the memories created with family and friends. They told stories of family vacations, camping trips, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. They told stories of their military service, of investing in something bigger than themselves. The years were erased from their faces as they laughed recalling the pranks they had played on friends so long ago.

I smile now as I remember each one. Ms. Margaret- a tiny lady made smaller by osteoporosis. Her back bent and her eyes blind. She shared the same birthday as my daughter. She always grabbed my daughter’s hands and told her how beautiful she was. Beautiful to the blind. Maybe that’s true beauty.

I will never forget Mr. Jackson, a former postman and war veteran, tall and thin with a big smile. My son liked listening to his military service stories. We were all drawn to his kind heart, wit, and wisdom.

I can still see Mrs. Sullivan, a former school teacher, unable to stand up straight yet still bright and funny with an easy laugh. Her young spirit trapped inside an old body. Joyful.

As each one shared, the years between us seemed to disappear. We are all just people who have been given the gift of life. People who are here one day and gone tomorrow. We are all just passing through. As morbid as it sounds, not one person will remember us 100 years from now. (How many of you can name all the US presidents? I sure can’t!)

I know people won’t remember my name but will they remember my love? Will my life leave a positive and lasting impact on those who have known me? Will that impact have a ripple effect on the next generation and the next and the next? Ms. Margaret, Mr. Jackson, Mrs. Sullivan you are not forgotten. Your life, your love, your wisdom and your kindness live on. You taught me about true beauty, proper priorities, and joyous living. May those ripples resound throughout eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

Soul Food

Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, and hot buttered cornbread. Comfort food any Southern girl can appreciate! These are the foods that remind me I’m home and I’m loved. My daddy pulls on his apron and rolls up his sleeves as he lovingly prepares food that more than satisfies the family’s hunger, it leaves us content and well fed. We sit around the table moaning in pleasure, licking our fingers, and unbuttoning our pants! My daddy smiles as we all brag on what a good cook he is and thank him for this feast! It pleases him to please us! And I can promise you we never leave my father’s house hungry!

I wonder if our Heavenly Father is any different? Didn’t He create the world and all that is in it for us to enjoy? I think my Daddy would be sad if I pushed away what He prepared for me and I went away hungry. Yet that’s what I did for many years. I didn’t recognize the “food” He offered and so I rejected it. I was like a child stubbornly refusing to eat her vegetables. My soul was starving yet the table was full.

One day my Father gently said to me, “Amy, will you receive what I offer? I promise it is exactly what you need though it may not be what you want or expect.” So, I timidly took a bite of my “vegetables” fully anticipating disappointment but instead I discovered that I did like what He had prepared! He didn’t offer me the miracles or emotional highs I had longed for but what He offered did satisfy my soul. Fullness came when I learned to relax in my husband’s embrace, when I watched the dogs run with abandon across the fields, when a sleepy child’s body went limp in my arms, when I imagined God singing “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” and whenever I gathered around a table enjoying food, conversation, and laughter with friends or family.

My friend, are you hungry? Not for comfort food but for “soul” food that will truly comfort? Will you pause for a moment and consider what feeds your soul? What are those moments when your heart feels happy, satisfied, content, or overflowing with thanksgiving? Maybe it’s gazing at a breathtaking sunrise or sunset? Enjoying the breeze on your face, the vastness of the ocean, or grandness of the mountains? Maybe it’s music, dancing, or laughing with friends? Maybe it’s the way the snow sparkles when the sun shines on it or the beautiful colors and varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers? Our Father offers abundantly more than we can imagine!

Daddy sets a table before us and rings the dinner bell, “Come, eat, enjoy! I want you to have and enjoy life to the full!” Now, let’s eat!

Dad in apron

Delighting in Dandelions

 

Have you ever looked at something a million times and never seen it? Maybe it sounds crazy but that’s what happened to me as I stood in the middle of a field covered in dandelions. These were weeds I had seen all my life, but suddenly I was caught off guard by the beauty of the bright yellow blossoms surrounding me!

I had always heard and believed they were nothing more than a nuisance or an eyesore, and completely undesirable. But not today, today I saw them differently! Today I actually saw them. I mean I really saw them. As I bent down to inspect the weeds, I noticed these bright yellow flowers were really incredible! Each one had hundreds of tiny petals! Their leaves were long, serrated, green blades. Their bodies golden like a lion and the sharp edges of the leaves like the lion’s teeth. In fact, that’s how they got their name!

Then I noticed that not all were bright and yellow, some were white and feathery. If I didn’t know better I would have thought they were two different plants, but they weren’t! (I’m pretty sure there’s another story hidden in here about how the yellow flower represents the quickly fading beauty of youth and we are left with white hair that falls out easily! Ha-ha!) I began to wonder, “When and how do they become the puffballs we enjoy blowing when we’re children?”

So here’s what I found out: The yellow blossom only lasts up to three days before it closes up. During the next 6-20 days, depending on the season, they will produce their seeds. At the end of this phase they will reopen a second time looking completely different! This time they are white, furry globes that are perfectly round, soft, and fragile! Puffballs ready to blow! Amazing! Once they are blown by the wind (or a child), their seeds are released and they reproduce into replicas of the original! One single dandelion potentially produces more than 2,000 seeds in their 5-10 year lifespan!

At one time these weeds were seen as quite desirable! The Europeans who settled in North America brought these flowers with them to remind them of home. They used them as ornamental plantings and as roof coverings on their houses.

For centuries, people used the dandelion for medicinal purposes—a liver tonic, removal of warts, to help an upset stomach, relieve intestinal gas, joint, or muscle pain, treat eczema, increase urine output, a laxative to increase bowel movements, and for soothing calluses, bee stings, and sores.

They have been used to produce yellow and green dyes, and their white milky sap used as mosquito repellent. They are rich in vitamins and can be eaten in salads, made into wine, or used as a coffee substitute! Is there anything this plant can’t do?! I had no idea! Did you?

With new eyes and new insight I knew I would never look at a dandelion the same way again! They are not exactly what I’ve been told and realizing that has freed me to enjoy them!

I wonder now what would happen if I began looking, and really seeing, the people around me. Maybe the people I’ve been told were wicked, ugly, wrong, or dangerous really aren’t. Maybe instead, they are beautiful, valuable, and interesting! Maybe they’re a reminder of home, created in the image of their Father who says, in fact, that they are very good!

Maybe like the dandelions that open each morning  in the warmth of the sunlight we need to offer each other the warmth of our love because that is when we will open up, blossoming into our full beauty.

 

(Sources: Drweil.com; Hunker.com source;Webmd.com; Naturenorth.com; Fremonttribune.com;Ipm.ucanr.com; Encyclopedia.com)

When Hurting Helps

 

“I would never….” We say this so confidently of ourselves and so judgmentally of others. “I would never lie to get what I want. I would never cheat on my spouse. I would never hit my child. I would never pad my pockets with money sent to the ministry. I would never drink and drive.” And yet you did. I did. If it wasn’t one of these things it was something else. Whatever your “never” was, it probably had the same effect on you as it did me: shame, hiding, and humiliation, along with regret, self-punishment, and hopelessness.

I want to share a true story with you. It is one of hope, restoration, and redemption. I think it’s one we need to remember. Let me paraphrase:

“I may not be perfect but this I do know, I love you and I will NEVER abandon you. I will die before that happens.”

And yet you did abandon me (temporarily). In fact, you denied knowing me not once, not twice, but three times. I don’t say this to shame you. I knew you would. I even told you I was expecting it. You didn’t realize how close by I was when you denied that we were friends, but our eyes met in that moment and you knew I had heard. It was too late to take back the words you had just spoken. You felt caught and humiliated. You were pretty sure I was angry, disgusted, and disappointed. You were pretty angry, disgusted, and disappointed in yourself so you assumed I would be too. I wanted to say, “It’s okay. You are not a failure. You are not a traitor. You are scared and I am too. I love you. Everything is going to be okay!” But I didn’t get a chance to say any of that, not right then. You were embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid so you ran and hid. You told yourself you were despicable, the worst of the worst, unforgivable, a traitor. For many days, you were tortured by your thoughts. You couldn’t sleep, you couldn’t eat, and you couldn’t imagine that I could forgive you, love you, or that anything good could come from this. My friend, you were not unforgivable, you were unforgettable. I had always treasured you and always would. I didn’t see you as an enemy deserving of punishment but as family worthy of forgiveness. Our relationship was far too valuable to just discard. I knew your failure was my opportunity to show you how perfectly loved you were even when you felt most unlovable. I also knew that only this kind of love would heal you, relieve you of all your fear, and restore joy and hope for your future and our future.

Yes, your pride was hurt. You had been pretty sure of yourself. You thought you were courageous. You considered yourself loyal. Then you realized that you were not as strong, not as brave, not as loyal as you thought you were. When push came to shove, you weren’t able to stand. In fact, you fell. Flat. On. Your. Face. It was not pretty. In fact, you got pretty scraped up. Your face was covered in mud. You were humiliated. Humiliation is not what I wanted for you. Humiliation is not the same as humility. I wanted you to know and believe that there was absolutely nothing that could separate you from my love! I wanted you to receive my forgiveness, accept my embrace, and move forward with compassion for yourself and others. Receiving what you know you don’t deserve takes humility. If you want to hold and enjoy grace, you have to let go of what has disgraced you. Grace heals and holding on to shame destroys you.

I want you to hear something: You turned out to be even more courageous, loyal, brave, and kind than you imagined. You heard me right! It’s true! It took courage to admit to others, “I really messed up. I had three chances to get it right. Fail. Fail. And fail again.” Wasn’t it a great surprise when they looked at you with knowing eyes and felt your shame too! In admitting your failure, you gave them courage and permission to admit their own and you found deeper fellowship with these guys then you had ever known. You hugged each other. You offered words of hope and encouragement, “He always knew we weren’t perfect and He always loved us.” You didn’t stay in that place of shame. You dared to hope, to receive my embrace and my forgiveness. You realized that if I forgave you then you should forgive yourself and you did! Now that is true courage.

You are loyal. You were just afraid. I was too. You never left me really. Sure, you struggled but I saw your heart. You were never far from me. You were following me, even if it was from a distance. You had even tried to protect me that same night. After you forgave yourself, after we ate that fish together on the beach you never left my side again. The leaving was only in your mind anyway. Our hearts had always been linked.

You are strong. You stumbled. But you got back up! It would have been easier to stay down but not only did you get back up, you helped and encouraged your brothers and sisters! Every time one of them felt like a failure, you remembered how terrible your pain and shame had felt and you comforted them. You lifted that shame right off of them and shame is a heavy load to lift! And you also remembered the reunion we had! It was amazing! We embraced, we laughed, we talked, we wiped away each other’s tears, then we feasted on that fish! It was pretty delicious if I say so myself! You bragged on your brothers, how they had shared your grief and had not alienated you. You told me how comforting it was to know others understood and identified with your shame.

You told me you never dreamed how hurting could also help. But now you could see that your hurt, your shame, your fear had led you to a deeper understanding of my grace and my love. It led to a deeper compassion for others. Your hurt had not destroyed you but had made you kinder, wiser, and humbler. Your hurt led you deeper into my heart and there you found comfort and a love that was greater than you thought possible. You had always thought I loved you for your strength but you found out that I loved you in your weakness!

Miracles, Moses, and a Meat Man

“Jesus loves me this I know…” but I didn’t know.

“For God so loved the world…” but did He love me?

I was consumed and tormented by this question.

I put God on the stand and built my case. “What kind of Father are you? Why are you withholding peace when you could give it? If you really loved me, then you would give me a miraculous moment—a knowing of your love that would flood my mind and heart. You have given others miracles, why not me? You are guilty of failing me as a father. You are guilty of being unloving. You are guilty. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Silence. Not a word. Proof.

Then one day I came upon a story about a rich man who died and went to Hades where he laid in torment. I wasn’t in Hades but I was in torment. He had five living brothers he cared about very deeply so he asked for a miracle. “Please raise someone from the dead to warn them and tell them to repent of their sins and turn to God.” Like me, his miracle was denied. “They have been warned by Moses and the prophets.” I joined my voice with his, “IT IS NOT ENOUGH!”

Once again proof that you are guilty of being unloving!

“Have you raised others from the dead?”

“Yes.”

“Did it result in some turning to you?”

“Yes.”

“Why then would you NOT do it for these men?”

With tears in His eyes God responded with five simple words, “They still would not believe.”

This time I was silent. Not a word. Proof.

I was guilty. God had given me exactly what was needed. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t miraculous. But it was enough. I recalled songs that had comforted me, unexpected phone calls of encouragement, books handed to me, notes of encouragement, comforting dreams, and a meat man. Yes, you heard me right, a meat man.

It was a Thursday. The kids were at school and my husband had gone to work. Somehow, I needed to find relief from the turmoil within and sleep seemed my healthiest option. As I curled up on the couch, the often-repeated words fell from my mouth, “God, I just want to know you love me.”

When the doorbell woke me I mumbled in frustration, “Why can’t I just sleep?!” At my door stood a tall, thin, lanky man with a silver beard and hair to match. He spoke quickly and with enthusiasm, “Your husband told me to come back today since you do all the grocery shopping. I was wondering if I could show you my meats?” (Not even kidding)

I am not sure why I didn’t say no thanks and send him on his merry way but I didn’t. Instead I invited him in and allowed him to proudly display his products on my dining room table.

“So, what do you think? Would you like to buy some meat?” I had never bought anything from a door to door salesman. Never. But for some reason the word, “Sure,” stumbled out of my mouth! Moments later we were loading the freezer and making small talk about the weather when he suddenly paused and looked straight into my eyes, “You know what I’ve learned from that ice storm last year?”

“No, what?” I said with my, “I-don’t-really-care attitude.”

“God sure does love us.”

“Wait! Double-take! Did he really just say God loved me? ‘God loves us.’” My heart skipped a beat.

Of all the ways I had wanted or dreamed God might show me love, this was not one of them. I knew in that moment I could choose to receive this man’s words or once again insist God show me another way, a better way, my way. It wasn’t exactly a miracle and it wasn’t even Moses or the prophets but it was uniquely mine and IT WAS ENOUGH.

Each day God gives a choice to receive or reject what He offers. One choice brings life and the other death. I was tired of dying so that day I chose Life. And today I choose Life. Humbly I choose to accept daily bread, as plain as it is, and not demand quail. It may not be what I want but it is exactly what I need.

I am loved and my friend you are too!