(sacrificial) love

It’s been an interesting week, where I always had only one of two bananas I needed for a birthday cake, and the lives of three separate friends kept me up late thinking instead of sleeping when I really needed it.  In all three situations the same emotions kept coming up.  Emotions I have often felt myself: fear, exhaustion, selfishness, confusion, guilt, defeat.  

Our focus this month is Agape (selfless) love, so that’s been on my mind too, and in each case I saw sin pulling hearts away from that goal.  Pulling our love to earthly things, clouding our focus with self-pity, using a full calendar to mark away another day where servant love gets buried by impatience.  “Hmmm, THAT’s not going to work for a post… that’s not Agape love.”  I didn’t realize I was actually gaining a better understanding of God’s love from the ways human love is imperfect.  

“My grace is sufficient, my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 2:9

When you say goodbye to a baby too soon and feel your body failed, that you could have done something different, and wonder why God even gave you this pregnancy just to take it away— He loves you and your body, made in His image.  And He loves your baby.  He doesn’t make mistakes, and His love goes beyond this life.  When you doubt, He gives assurance.  When you feel you have failed, He is faithful.  He knows what we need and wills all things for our good, even our good meant His taking up the cross.  He willed His death!  That’s (sacrificial) love.  Will we suffer this for Him? 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

When you have to make choices for your child’s education and jump down the rabbit hole of how many things taught in secular schools are at odds with God’s word, there are so many choices and no helpful signs saying, “THIS CHOICE IS THE BEST!”  It’s stressful and probably not the last time you just want OUT of being the responsible party.  Even when the sinful world presses in on all sides, threatening to overwhelm, God loves you.  He gave his Son for us.  His own child not just ‘on his own in a public school’, but on a cross.  For us.  Don’t sweat the small stuff even when Satan makes it seems big!  In Christ all the big things are taken care of.  No strings attached, no ulterior motives, just (sacrificial) love.  

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

When it’s the middle the night and you cringe at the sound of a baby fussing.  The same baby you just nursed/rocked/bounced/shushed/paced/burped/swaddled for the fifth time.  Even cringing takes more energy than you have, and with all your might you will that baby to magically quiet himself and sleep.  Even though you know your will has no real power, surely this level of desperate wishing must produce some result.  But it doesn’t.  You pull off your blankets, pick him up again, feeling tears well up as you sink into the rocker, stare at the streetlight and wearily teeter on the brink of despair.  You love this baby but this, this is a new kind of challenge,  Motherhood has a way of testing extremes.  You are human.  You have your limits.  

God doesn’t!  He loves you, yes you in the same nursing bra you’ve worn for two weeks.  When you are weak, He is strong.  He has redeemed you, called you to this role and equipped you for it.  How amazing to feel spent in body and soul, then realize God uses this fragile, taxing time to pull you closer to Him.  Closer to an understanding of the depth of His selfless love, “Ah, my child, you have sacrificed this much, much more you can’t imagine— I love you so much better than that.”  

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, […] to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge— that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

We have what we need to get through new motherhood (old motherhood too!), in Him.  In prayer, and in friends in whom Christ’s love/compassion overflows.  Soak that servant love up!  Any bone tired mama would love their babe a little more if they slept through the night, but God doesn’t love us “IF….  or BECAUSE…” Good news, He never keeps score, or a little notebook of feedings and naps or lack thereof.  

Last, my hubs has a birthday in January which we’ve always celebrated a month later, around Valentine’s Day.  Almost for as long as we’ve known each other.  Just to give it a little space, a little dessert of it’s own, apart from the Christmas season.  It’s fitting to celebrate my spouse every day, but especially on a secular holiday filled with ideas of love that aren’t really selfless at all.  The mail had been full of ads for jewelry and chocolates and flowers, car sales, and date night coupons to restaurants.  Is that what God wants love to look like??  

Our wedding text is humbling, and an awesome verse for every day living.  Humbling because God gave me a spouse who is better at selfless love than me any day.  We’re definitely two sinful people doing life together, but I’m frustrated, refined and blessed by the way the Holy Spirit uses Matt to 'be Christ’ to me.  Sometimes our fights run like that one S.O.S. chart from confirmation class (shows our sin, shows our Savior), and as much as that can be hard for my ego to take, isn’t it actually pretty great? 

We see our Savior whenever we come face to face with the limits of our love.  When "mom life’s" duty and exhaustion crowd love out, when clouds of doubt darken our way ahead, when you disappoint the people closest to you or are disappointed by the way they love you, when questions about life and death shake the picture of life we had planned, keep your chin up.  Lift your eyes to the cross and know a love that’s better, bigger, and stronger than ours IS OURS.  :) Take the time to fill up, and let His love buoy you along on the quest to love well.  

Thankfully for me, for us all, in Christ even our wimpy attempts at agape love will be blessed! 

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.  And lead a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Ephesians 5:1-2

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Agape Love

There is an exercise that has been a wonderful blessing to me throughout my life. I Corinthians 13: 4-7 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Now re-read those passages again and every time it says “love” or “it” insert your name.

_____ is patient, _____ is kind. _____ does not envy, _____ does not boast, _____ is not proud. _____ does not dishonor others, ______ is not self-seeking, _____ is not easily angered, _____keeps no record of wrongs. _____ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. _____ always protects, _____ always trusts, _____ always hopes, _____ always perseveres.

That is agape love. That is perfect, unselfish, unconditional love; the type of love God has for us.

God’s love for us does not depend on what we do; it’s completely dependent on Him. Unconditional love does not depend on anything the other person says or does.  As we love others with that same love, we reflect the agape love we’ve been given.

Imagine, your love for your husband has nothing to do with what he does or says. Your love for your children is not based on what they do or how they act. Your love for your parents holds no record of wrongs, but instead protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

Agape love means you support, and encourage your friend, even though it feels like you often give more than you receive. Even if they forget your birthday or if they always vent their frustrations without ever asking about yours; agape love does not depend on what they do, it depends on what you choose to do. Agape love is motivated by a Servant’s heart because of how Jesus loved us.

Agape love means you love your husband with a perfect love whether he takes out the garbage or not, whether he forgets your anniversary or brings you flowers, regardless of the unkind or insensitive things he may say, you choose to love him with no conditions on that love. Your love for him is not dependent on what he does. You love him because you choose to love him. He is the object of your love, you have chosen to love him and be with him. Unconditional means there are no conditions in which you would not love him. This does not mean we do not have expectations and boundaries in our relationships, God certainly has expectations for us and has established clear boundaries, but he loves us regardless.  

That is the love God has for us. There is nothing we can do to make him love us more, and there is nothing we can do to make him love us less. His love is perfect.

And because He has done this for us, we now share that same love with others, “We love each other, because he loved us first.” (I Johns 4:19 NLT)

This is a tall order and I fall short every day. Fortunately there is forgiveness, due to his agape love for me. However, his mercies are new every morning, and each day we begin again.

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.” (I John 4:16 NLT)

There is a lot of pressure when we insert our name in the blank of love. A wise friend recently reminded me that it’s not us, we have a God that IS love and fulfills it in every way. Any love from us that is pure and acceptable is the love of God. You have that love, and you can share that love!

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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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Small act, BIG results.

A year ago, I was in my dorm room. It was the quiet part of my evening - the time I typically spent sipping tea and making a to-do list for the next day, with something light-hearted on Netflix quietly humming in the background. I was picking out an outfit for the morning’s classes when the loud *buzz buzz* of my phone resting on the laminate top of my desk distracted me. My screen lit up, showing a text from one of my close friends.

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I finished laying out my outfit. I grabbed my favorite boots off of the shelf and put them by my freshly packed backpack. Pouring myself another cup of tea, I unplugged my phone from the charging cable, and nestled into the couch. Hair in a bun, cozied up in a felt blanket with my steaming mug in hand, I finally checked my notifications. Opening my friend’s text message took my breath away.

 

“How can I pray for you today?”

 

I nearly burst into tears.

 

My evening was nothing extraordinary, and my week hadn’t been either, but that simple text message engraved that moment into my memory forever. My LED screen lit up because I had a notification, but the light of the message itself burned so much brighter.

 

I can’t tell you how I responded to that text message. I likely asked him to pray for a mind focused on my studies or for strength to make it through another week of college life. I really don’t remember.


Whatever troubles and hardships were going on in my life at that moment - though probably inconsequential - have long been forgotten. My friend’s Christ-like act has not.

 

Isn’t that reassuring?



I have already forgotten the heartaches and stressors of last year, but I haven’t forgotten God’s love beaming through my friend.  A straightforward question deepened relationships - the relationship with my Father and with my friend. The support, encouragement, and love evident in both of these righteous relationships was made more apparent on that normal, quiet evening last year. A small, selfless action produced big results.

 

Reminds me of how a plain man endured a seemingly simple criminal’s death in an execution far more groundshaking than it appeared.

 

Small act, big results.

 

Today, I want to encourage you to shine. You don’t have to follow my friend’s example, but it might be a humble place to begin. Don’t fuss over being lengthy or eloquent. Don’t stress over the means of communication, if your message isn’t delivered face-to-face. I promise, it can be as simple as sending a seven-word text message at the end of the day. The Savior’s love will radiate through your efforts.

 

Humble yourself, reach out in a small way, and watch our Father pour out his big love.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
— James 5:16

 

Rev. 3:11

Let your crown shine today.

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