(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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It Really Is Simple

“Why do I have to make everything so complicated?” I asked myself as I was trying to figure out the details of my son’s birthday party. My son’s birthday falls two weeks after Thanksgiving (a holiday we host every year) and two weeks before Christmas (a holiday we were hosting for my husband’s side this particular year). The holiday season is hard enough on all of us, but to host three large gatherings every two weeks during the most hectic time of the year, I was feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.

For months I had been hearing a voice inside saying “it really is simple” and for the life of me I could not figure out what this voice was referring to. Over and over again I would find myself lying in bed at night, walking on the treadmill at the gym or standing in the shower and this voice would pop up speaking simplicity into my soul. I decided one night to really give it to God and ask what on earth I was supposed to do with this message.

The next two weeks I spent a lot of time praying about what specifically I needed to simplify. One look around my house told me I had WAY too much stuff (especially after just having a December birthday party and celebrating five, yes five, family Christmases)! But I knew there was more I was being called to simplify.

2018 was an exciting year for our family, we welcomed our nephew into our home while my sister was deployed to Iraq, and we also welcomed a new baby in the fall. There was a lot of change and, while it was all positive, the impact it had on our family life and my sanity (if we’re being honest) wasn’t always cheerful. With three kids under the age of three I recognized very quickly that my parenting style was best described as “survival mode” and my relationship with my husband was, at best, lukewarm. It’s not that we weren’t a team or no longer in love, but we were running on fumes most days and hadn’t spent much time investing in our marriage. These were all areas I knew I needed to spend time nurturing but if I thought I felt overwhelmed in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, trying to determine how I was going to work on every area of my life and home was starting to feel like too much.

Yet the voice persisted, “it really is simple”.

The first Sunday of the new year I was sitting in church and our sermon that weekend focused on a marriage that works. Our pastor asked us, speaking of our marriages, “are you enduring or are you enjoying?” and I recognized that this question is applicable in every aspect of my life.

Am I enduring parenthood or am I enjoying parenthood?

Am I enduring a cluttered house or am I enjoying this space as a place where love and joy can flourish?

Am I enduring feeling sluggish and tired or am I enjoying this body as a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells?

Am I enduring my life on earth as a Christian or am I enjoying the rich and full relationship God has called me to with him, through Jesus Christ.

That weekend I resolved that in order to simplify my life in the areas I was being called to, I first needed to start with my relationship with God, another relationship that I felt was lacking. All throughout the Bible, when the Israelites or Christians were struggling, the same message was given: “return to me.”

Lamentations 3:40 tells us “let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”

God isn’t asking me to be the perfect Christian, the perfect wife, the perfect mother, sister, friend, etc. God is asking me to turn back to Him; to start with him and to watch how he can help everything else to unfold. He’s reminding me (over and over again in his word) that he loved me SO much, he gave up everything for a relationship with me and in turn, he’s asking me, very simply, to love God FIRST and then to love others. He’s asking me to put HIM before the birthday party details, before the laundry list of things I think I need to be doing, before the “stuff” and before my unrealistic expectations of other people (especially my poor husband).

See, what I found was that the more I let things clutter my space and my mind, the more out of control and complicated things become. By ridding myself of the things that are taking up unnecessary space in my home, heart and mind, by handing them over to the one who has it already figured out (see Jeremiah 29:11), I can spend more time focusing on being who he called me to be.

So, while I’m not one for resolutions I am working on simplicity, or actually- just making things less complicated. I’m working on turning my home from a vessel of items to a place where my marriage and children can flourish, where guests feel welcomed and loved. I’m working on making parenting less complicated (which actually starts with bored kids – maybe a topic for another post?) and taking time each day to enjoy the gift of being loved, so very loved, by God. I’ve got little notes all over my house with three simple words: “return to me”, as a way to continually turn my thoughts in every situation back to Christ.

To think that God has found a way to use a couple of post-it notes to help me take captive my thoughts is nothing short of incredible. While not always easy, it really is simple.

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