Exploding [Unconditional] Love

My kids and I have begun a fun little game where they try to explode me. With love, that is. When they’re being so sweet and loving, I tell them that they’re filling me with so much love I’m going to explode. Then I act out the explosion. They do it on purpose now, with the motivation of “exploding” me. It’s fun when love is like that, isn’t it? When someone says or does something showing their love, it’s easy to feel, speak, and show that love back. That’s the easy part. However, we live in a sinful world.

We need to remember that sin has infected all of us. You and everyone you love are flawed, sinful creatures, incapable of acting or loving perfectly in relationships and in life.

It’s when people have said things that hurt or didn’t say things you wish they would have that the “sacrificial” and “unconditional” come into play. When people make choices that make things harder on you and others, showing love then is the whole point.

Showing that kind of love is what we are called to do, in order to point people to Jesus, who showed perfect sacrificial love when we were nowhere close to deserving it.

Luke 6:27, “But to you who are listening, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.

Sometimes I think we get confused about loving our enemies, and showing unconditional love when others are not.

Showing unconditional love sometimes means turning the other cheek, and allowing things to roll off our back. However, it does not mean always staying quiet, enduring, looking the other way, and avoiding confrontation.

Unconditional love is playing the long game.

Your ability to show sacrificial, unconditional love will increase as you prioritize your relationship with your Savior. As you pray for and study discernment, you’ll grow in wisdom and understanding about what to say and how to say it when difficult situations arise.

You’ll also learn to be quicker to forgive. You know why? Because in the Word you will see over and over how incredibly much God forgives His people, see that translate in your own life, seeing the incredible debts God has forgiven you. Suddenly, seeing someone else miss the mark comes from a place of understanding instead of victimization. You’ve been there, after all.

When someone does something, though, that is drawing them or others away from God in the big picture, it’s not showing unconditional love to shrug and think “No one’s perfect” and let it go. It’s a whole lot harder, but a whole lot more loving to raise that person up to the throne in prayer again and again, delving into scripture and seeking wisdom to know how best to handle that specific situation.

Sacrificial, unconditional, beautiful and true love is a commitment. We’ve been forgiven so, so much. Only drawing nearer to our debtor can we begin to comprehend how to show unconditional love.

Matthew 7: 3-5, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

We have been shown such incredible, unconditional, unchanging love. We have also been called to show that love to those people who have been placed in our lives. This is not an obligation, but a reflection, a show of gratitude for the incredible love that’s been shown to us.

Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

If you’re ever able to clear everything else from your mind and focus on the completely unbelievable love Christ has shown you, it may just lead you to explode with acts of love toward those around you.

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His Mercies are New Every Morning

Did you make any goals for the New Year?

I made a few-- some of them more important than others. The most crucial goal for me is "Get Organized." I waste far too much time on things that don't deserve it. I also forget so many things, especially related to school and my daughter is only in 4K. She doesn't even go to school five days a week yet. I decided that I need a plan of action. Things will only get busier around here as the children grow and get involved in activities, not to mention I have my own schedule with deadlines to meet. I need to get this figured out, and the time is now! So I bought myself a bulletin board, a fancy, pretty planner, and a calendar that makes me laugh when I look at it. (Maybe you caught my Instagram post last week.) I've pinned my daughters school notes up on my bulletin board. I've filled out some to-do lists and my weekly goals in my planner. I've noted our schedule on our chicken calendar. 

Don't you love that feeling?

That feeling of a fresh start. 

Now you obviously don't need to wait for a new year to start accomplishing new goals and making changes in your life, but a new year lends itself to making the process easier. You're able to put the old year behind you. Forget about what didn't work. Forget about the mistakes. You are starting with a clean slate. It is a new year after all. 

Among my thoughts of a newly organized life, the books I want to read, the exercise I want to pursue, and so forth, I couldn't help but think of how lucky we are as children of God. We get a fresh start every. single. morning.

So when you are feeling down on your day (or your year even), take a moment to remember just that. God has forgiven you. He has forgiven you when you lack trust in Him. He has forgiven you when you missed the opportunity to witness. He has forgiven you when you got unjustly angry with your children or spouse. In fact, no matter what horrible things you managed to do today, he has forgiven you. 

That fresh start feeling doesn't have to fade away. 

Lamentations 3:22-23: "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." 

Perfectly Imperfect

Joy.My heart swelled with happiness the Easter our twins were nearing age two. The gratitude in my heart was overflowing as I remembered the overwhelming changes our family had survived over the last two years. We had grown from three children to five with the addition of the twins. We had moved from an international culture in suburban California to a northern Wisconsin farming community and were adjusting. We had purchased our first home. There was so much to celebrate as we prepared to worship our risen Lord. What a glorious morning it would be!

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Perfection. Every child had a new item of clothing for this service. The older girls had new dresses and our eldest sported new pants and a tie. I had broken out the sewing machine for the first time since the move and made the twins matching pinstriped sailor outfits, hers a dress and his with shorts and shirt. Tears of thankfulness stung my eyes as I surveyed my shining brood.

Normally we positioned our family in the back pews as any discrete family with active babies would do. This particular Sunday was different. I was happy and I was proud of my wonderful family. We marched right down to the front pew in church, scooted hither and yon to accommodate where everyone would sit, and settled in.

Expectation. All went well during the opening hymn and liturgy. The babies quietly moved amongst the five of us, in usual fashion, wanting to be held by dad, then sisters, then brother, and back to me. My normal vigilance relaxed as the sermon began. Had we passed the threshold of taking one or the other twin out of church at least three or four times each service? I began to be hopeful. They were all being model children. I just knew this was the turning point.

Within a moment of my musings, the pastor made the main point of his sermon. He asked for a call to action from the congregation with a loud question. Making use of the silence, the pregnant pause, he waited. The congregation held their collective breath as they searched their souls for a proper rhetorical response. The packed church was completely silent in expectation.

Broken. As if on cue, the response came. It was loud and clear from the front row, our front row. Imagine the loudest and longest and juiciest-sounding release of flatulence human ears have ever heard. It reverberated forward, then upward, then off the rafters to the back of the church and boomeranged around back to our pew. There was no doubt as to the origin of the sound. With a perfect sense of timing, one of the twins (remaining nameless) had single-handedly made a statement and sullied the pastor’s oratorical moment.

With the innocent indiscretion committed, my idyllic family image came tumbling down and me with it. First I saw the unbelieving sidelong glances looking for confirmation that the others had heard the same explosion. Stifled gasps erupted behind us. Our own pew shook with giggling and movement. We were dealing with the moment in the only way we knew – we laughed! As I recall, whatever remained of the sermon was lost as the front row motion went through the rest of the church.

Forgiven. The sermon ended quickly.  Our pastor, a good friend, wisely refrained from eye contact of any kind until much later in the day.  Being a forgiving person, he mollified my utter mortification over the event. Of course, it was out of my control, we reasoned. But, still. Really? On Easter Sunday? Why us, Lord? Would any one ever forget the disrespectful interruption we had caused?

So much for our perfect morning! My perspective on expectations for my family changed immensely that day. In hind site, the humorous event was just what we needed to lighten up the day. When thinking through the whole incident, I realize that what I really wanted was children who loved the Lord, us and each other. To this day, those desires have not changed, and my family has not disappointed. Not only that, we still giggle as we recall this Easter morning at family gatherings!

As the mom, I am so thankful that we don't have to be perfect to receive God's favor.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

How about you? Have your expectations been shattered? What lesson has it taught you? How is your family better for the incident?

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Am I Doing This Right?

IMG_0470"Wow! You're Super Mom!" I looked up, startled, to see a woman walking toward the table at the supermarket where my four children and I are eating hot dogs, a lunchtime reward for a successful shopping trip. My children, their mouths full, are all eating quietly and politely, and nobody is throwing any food or whining about their ketchup. It's a good day. "I just wanted to compliment you on your well behaved children," says the women. "They've been eating so nicely and quietly. You're obviously raising them well."

"Haha! Thank you!" I stammer, an awkward joke at the tip of my tongue. I'm not sure what else to say. I'm never sure what else to say when this happens. Because, believe it or not, it's happened to me more than once. The couple at the restaurant, the old lady at the zoo, the man in line in front of us at the post office, and now this lady at Costco. All of these random strangers observing my family during a calm, peaceful outing, and complimenting my parenting. This should feel amazing, shouldn't it?

While it does feel a little nice to hear I'm "raising my children well," I'll admit my initial inward response when I hear this is defensiveness mixed with laughter. Sometimes I crack an awkward joke in response like "you caught 'em on a good day!" or "Yeah, they are being really well behaved. I'm starting to get suspicious." I want to tell these well wishers about all the times my family wasn't so well received by the general public. Like that time I tried to go out to breakfast with my three children under age 3 and the meal culminated in my 1 year old standing on top of the table and pouring an entire pitcher of syrup all over herself and the table while my baby and 2 year old screamed? Yeah, we did the walk of shame out of that one. I can still see the waitress's fake smile and gritted teeth as she eyeballed the syrup and deadpanned "have a nice day" while we high tailed it out of there. Or just last week, when my five year old threw an epic toddler-style tantrum about her shoes or her bike or something. She was kicking and screaming and rolling around on the sidewalk while we were supposed to be out on a nice family walk. The elderly neighbor out gardening who raised one eyebrow over her fence and muttered "oh my..." definitely wasn't paying our parenting any compliments.

It's funny how easily one kind word or raised eyebrow from a stranger can make or break my day. It feels so great to be admired and so awful to be scorned, that I find myself giving the desire for admiration undue attention. I will catch myself worrying over others' approval, even in instances where it doesn't matter! Will they like what I'm wearing? Ugh, this hair cut! I should have worn different shoes. Am I too underdressed for the occasion? Did the way I said that sound ok to them? What do they think of my kids? Am I doing ok? Maybe I should be stricter? Is that normal behavior for a four year old?

In truth, the only person I have to answer to and seek a yes or no from is my Lord. I spend so much time wondering and worrying over what other people think of me, whether I'm making the right decisions by worldly standards, when I can just take my concerns to the Lord in prayer instead! I can pray for guidance and help in my parenting, in my business, in my life as a homeschooling mother, in my marriage, in my friendships. I can look to Him for the model of how I should be acting and behaving on a daily basis.

"Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually." 1 Chronicles 16:11

And I can confess those times I fall short, ask for grace, and rest assured that I'm forgiven.

"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16

Lord, am I doing this right? Are my kids alright? Did I respond to that situation with the right mix of love and discipline, Lord? Help my kids, Lord. Help me be the best mother I can be.  Forgive me for the times I've been short tempered, angry, unresponsive, or lazy with them and others. Thank you for the times you've given me glimmers of a hopeful future with them. Keep them always safe in your care, and help them to have a strong and healthy relationship with you as they grow. Amen.

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broken for you

palm branches_-8 Palm branches sit on our table all week, humble offerings laid down for the King who rode on a donkey. Smiling children waved them as they walked up the center aisle in church on Sunday. Just a few days later, the palms are withering and pathetic. I reach to throw them away, but decide to leave them there.

Those brittle palms remind me that I am unquestionably, scarily broken, too. My heart and my flesh are dead in sin.

We are all in the same condition. But.

Today our broken world meets it's Savior.

The God Man who walked and breathed and lived. Perfectly. Tomorrow He hangs on the tree and endures the punishment for sin, in my place. In our place.

In His death, Jesus breathes life into us. Because of Love.

It's all too much to take in. This Sacrifice, this Love overwhelms me. With tears stinging my eyes, I offer up the only things I can lay down because of Him.

A repentant heart. A whisper of thanks. A song of praise.

A message of Hope to the broken.

By His wounds, we are healed.

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*Lent calendar from Naptime Diaries