From the Roots of Grace

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“Love is a good thing…Do not fear…

Cause it’ll break your will, it’ll change your mind,
Loose all the chains of the ties that bind.
If you’re lucky you’ll never make it out alive, and that’s a good thing.
Love is a good thing…”

 – Andrew Peterson, from the lyrics of “Love is a Good Thing”


Join me for Part Four of my Practical Love Series! Today, I’ve shared my own struggle with understanding Love. To catch up on the other posts in the Practical Love series, check out the links below!

Part One: The Language She Knew By Heart

Part Two: Cedar-Lined Love

Part Three: To See Like You


The sycamore in our yard was huge. Broad green leaves unfurled like flag-ship signals every spring and shriveled into crunchy litter on the ground each fall. It was the kind of tree that just begs to be made into a tree fort, or support a swing. Generations could have grown up on that swing.

But, instead, one spring arrived and the tree never awoke.

Trees die many ways, I suppose. Insects or diseases can devour the leaves, or lightning can strike, or a drought can hit.

I’m not sure what did our sycamore in. Maybe it spent itself out. Maybe it had too much competition. Maybe it stopped drawing power from the earth. Roots have to dig deep, nestle into subsoil watering places, and seek out nutrients if a tree is to survive.

I’ve been thinking about that.

If Love is a tree, then its roots are Grace.

And right now, my Love feels a lot like that dead sycamore–powerless, decaying,unrooted.

Where do I even get the strength to Love other people?  How do I find the desire?

Because Love, it seems to me, isn’t as glamorous as they say.

It is dragging myself out of bed in the morning.

It is holding my tongue when I want to lash back to that family member’s thoughtless words.

It is trudging down the road to help out a neighbor even when I’m emotionally drained.

Sometimes, it is coaxing my silly little goats onto the milk stand when no one else has time.

It’s a thousand little things that I don’t feel like doing.

And Love hurts.

When a person gets serious about learning an important Biblical truth, it is amazing how quickly roadblocks will pop up. Since I’ve begun the Practical Love Series, Love hasn’t gotten easier for me. It has become harder.

I’m realizing what an immense, improbable, wonderful, and terrifying thing it is to Love.

Did the sycamore fear to stretch its fingers into the sky and grow up? Did it realize that each inch it climbed, the more limbs it exposed to whipping wind, the more bark it bared to the snow, and the more delicate leaves it opened to the scorching power of the sun? Did it shrink from the swinging sticks of the children who ran past, shouting and flailing in their antics?

There is only one way to Love.

That one, single, flaming way is to meet Him, Love Himself. To be submerged in Grace, swallowing it, swimming in it, inhaling it like an unborn child inhales amniotic fluid, the sea in which he moves. “Amniotic fluid is inhaled and exhaled by the [baby]. It is essential that fluid be breathed into the lungs in order for them to develop normally….Amniotic fluid protects the developing baby by cushioning against blows….” (Wikipedia.) This is what Grace does in a Christian: filling us, becoming our inhalation, exhalation. Divine Grace–inside, outside–is the fuel of our sanctification, the outer cushioning that also nourishes us.

So…you’ve  been waiting for three weeks for me to tell you what Love is, how to show it to others.

And, the truth is, I still don’t quite know.

All I know is that, to truly have Love, you  have to meet Jesus.

The tree doesn’t plant itself, the baby does not conceive itself, the Christian girl does not sanctify herself.

You will find the way to Love only through a Grace you cannot control.

Join me in praying, praying to really see. Praying for Grace to swallow me up, and for me to swallow Grace, so that I can see the magnificent Love poured out on my behalf.

Join me in reading, searching the Bible like the mountain of treasure it is, seeing how Love Himself dared to enter this mess of mine.

So….we really want to know how to Love?

First, we have to know the Grace-Giver.

And it is only from that Root of Grace that Love can bud out, a tree unafraid to stand in the sunshine.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are!

– 1 John 3:1, CEB –


  How has the work of God in your life shown you what Love is really all about? Has this changed how you see others?

Comment below and share!


Thanks to Yinan Chen at Public Domain Pictures for today’s lovely tree photo!

 

To See Like You

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“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together.  Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”

~ Charles Finney ~


In Part Three of my Practical Love Series today, I’m taking a closer peek at how to really love brothers in Christ. If you’re like me–and I’ve found out that most of us girls are more alike than we’d like to admit–this kind of love may just be one of the hardest to figure out.

How do we love as brothers and sisters, “with all purity”? (1 Timothy 5:2)

If you’re just now stepping into the series, you might want to go back and look at my other explorations of practical love in Part One: The Language She Knew By Heart and Part Two: Cedar-Lined Love.


Dear Father,

When you look at your sons, these joint heirs in Christ, what do You see?

I  wonder.

Because it’s really hard for me to see them like You do, to love them like you do. Your kind of love must, in fact, start with really seeing the person.

Of course, the difficulty of doing that starts here at home, with the best brother ever. But some days I chafe and wrestle and wonder if I’ll ever get this sister thing right. How to encourage. How to really, whole-heart love.

And not just biological brothers. Christ-brothers. Those set free with me. My family in Him. Blood brothers bought with more precious blood than that of earthly parents.

It’s hard to see them right. My glasses get colored rosy and it becomes about me, myself and I–all my dreams, goals, aspirations. And guys can so easily become only a means to an end, a way to fill up and be satisfied. Only it doesn’t work like that.

But then–how do I treat these soul-brothers right? How do I love like You love? How do I get past fleshly goals and get to the deep encouragement of hearts sold out to one Master?

I’ve begun to pray. I pray–and You’re letting me see. A peek. Just a vision.

But what a vision!

I look at one–wow, Lord. You’ve got Your hand on him for sure. I can see passion for You when he smiles. I can feel the pulling current, that pushing toward you, when he shares a struggle to the group, asks for prayer.

Another–God, You’re working in him too. So much energy, so much direction. I’ll pray for him–sure. And I as I do, I sense a deeper tie that only begins when brothers and sisters lift up one another before their Father. Surely this is Your kind of love, that makes me want the world for him. Wish I could pray it all down for him.

And yet another brother. When he shared in a few words the pain, what he’s come out of, I trembled inside. Trembled, because I sensed the power, the depth of Your working, how much You could do with him. I still pray, still long, that he will proclaim Your story. You have done–are doing–great things in that life.

What is it about this kind of brother-love? It’s so much like my yearning for my sisters, but different.

Different, because there’s so few good men.

Different, because there’s vision here. There’s passion here. There are lives being poured out for You.

And I hunger to see more of it, more fruit, more leadership, more You.

So I pray. And as I pray, the temporal fades.

My own future isn’t nearly as important as whether these guys are walking with You. My heart stops hungering so much for filling and starts longing that You would fill them. In praying, I learn that I don’t want nearly so much to get attention–I only want to see You get their attention.

And when You bring them to triumph, I want to be there and smile.

‘Cause these guys, they may never know I prayed.

But one day, maybe You’ll tell me that it made a difference?

That I prayed, and that day that one’s soul was encouraged?

That I prayed, and You saw fit to bless with that job, that one?

That You prompted me and I wondered, but prayed anyway for that guy I really didn’t know, but knew You must have a plan in spite of the wreck he’s made so far? And You worked in him.

This warrior thing–can I be strong for them when they fall? They’ll never know.

Never know that I saw the shadow fall over their face at those words.

Never know that somewhere a girl whose name they couldn’t quite recall knelt beside her bed or stared up at her room’s ceiling and felt an ache in her soul that a brother was hurting. Prayed a prayer for vision, for joy, for peace, for courage.

They’ll know that the victory came from God. But maybe they won’t know that part of the battle was fought on the knees of a sister who prayed.

I know, Father, that I can’t take any credit.

I know, that You are the one who grows.

But You do promise to work through prayer.

And there’s this joy that bubbles up when I get to work hand in hand with You in molding a life.

So all the Jake’s and Joshua’s and Peter’s and Paul’s and Luke’s and Lance’s that You have me pray for may not ever know.

But You, gracious Creator, are doing the work. And I get to tag along and watch the building.

I get to pray, and I get to rejoice at the results.

I like this job.

Thanks.


 

“May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.”

– 1 Peter 1:3-9, CEB –


Who does God want you to hold up in prayer? Pray for His kind of love to overflow in you.

Comment below and share what you’ve learned about being a true sister in Christ!


Thanks, Atalie, for a beautiful photo! Everyone, please check out Atalie’s hard work at Atalie Bale Photography!

Cedar-Lined Love

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“Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web ―


Today, in Part Two of my Practical Love Series, I take a moment to remember the incredible friendships that God has given to me. The Bible says that the greatest love is to lay down your life for a friend (John 15:13), and some of my friends have done that in an eminently practical way–they’ve made a hundred sacrifices, both small and huge, in order to bless me.

If you missed the first part of the series, please do go back and read Part One: The Language She Knew By Heart.

To my dear sisters who have stuck by me through the years and always inspire me to cling to Jesus in everything: This is for you.


I wasn’t there.

But I can see her.

Her long fingers—often busy plucking strings and wielding pens and stirring up biscuits and feeding sheep—glide along an old piece of varnished cedar. Old, but the two-toned wood gleams still.

Her eyes, those sea-foam green orbs that glisten when she tells me about her latest story idea, sparkle now too. She’s stayed up at night trying to dream up something for my birthday. Then she saw the wood. And she knew.

She knows me, the girl-woman she only sees at church. Knows that I truly care, maybe care more than most have dared to love her.

She knows that I understand the inner draw to characters, the unquenchable spark inside to tell a story. She knows that sharp words or cringing shyness or late-night discussions or you-are-totally-crazy looks won’t drive me away. She knows I’ll keep coming back, because God’s put me here, with her.

In a way, she’s my little sister. I thank God for the day He made our lives intersect.

So, in the weeks before my birthday, she scrounges around and finds a still-radiant piece of cedar and a sheet of smooth particle board and a couple old hinges and she pours her heart and love into crafting a treasure straight from her heart.

And, that Sunday at church, the week of my birthday, she gives me her heart-gift.

A lap-top writing desk.

“So you can write in the car,” she says. She bites her lip. “It’s not very good, I know.”

My throat swells and I want to shed tears right there. All I can do is hug her and keep saying thank you.

But my heart said so much more.

Inside, I marveled that somehow God had found for me a place in her heart.

I don’t love her perfectly. I don’t know how, all the time. For having spent twenty-one years in a world full of people, you would think I ought to understand them better.

She is the same way–with love in process, like mine.

Perhaps that is what made my heart swell with unshed tears that Sunday as I caressed the smoothed sides of the cedar lap desk. We both were unfinished, imperfect, not quite symmetrical–much like the dear box that she labored over. A friendship with a few loose nails, a few cracks that need filled with glue.

Remembering now, my heart has a joyful kind of ache, like the rise of a symphony’s crescendo.

My friend’s gift reminds me of the widow who put in her last pennies, or the woman who poured out her perfume, or the child who gave up his lunch to Jesus.

They gave all they had. Imperfect, perhaps. Sin-marred, yes. But, swelling from awakened hearts, the gifts were accepted. Jesus opened His arms with joy.

Those people were unfinished, imperfect, not quite symmetrical. They had a loose nails and cracks in need of filling. But Love does that–it covers and washes and purifies and finishes the less-than-complete, making it not just acceptable, but absolutely Perfect.

Maybe that’s why a small wooden box looks a lot like love to me. It’s not about the gift itself. It’s about a girl who let me see a little more of what love really is.

Something like a lump steals to my throat.

And, in my heart, something like redemption breaks into song.

If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

– 1 John 4:12-16, NKJV, emphasis mine –


 

How have your friends shown you the real meaning of love?

Comment below and share!

 


 

A super thank-you to Lisa Runnels at Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

 

 

The Language She Knew By Heart

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“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”

– Julian of Norwich –


What is love? A raw emotion? Something sacred to family? Romance? A word that works overtime as a noun and a verb? A churchy kind of feeling? An emotionless action? Something grown trite?

I want to know.

A while back, I was talking on the phone to a friend and we found that our spiritual struggles overlapped in an interesting way–we had both been questioning “practical love.” That is, we were hungry to know just What God wanted us to do and How He wanted us to do it, especially in our families. Mostly, we wondered how to pull off love when we just didn’t know how to begin.

So, the next several posts will make up a Practical Love Series, my ponderings and questions about what love really is.  This is the goal:

To pause and reflect on the Biblical portrait of Love, so that, by seeing Him, we might better see.


 

Our connection was immediate.

Disparity of age–more than twenty-five years, perhaps.

To communicate, we had to lock eyes. My friend is, mostly, deaf.

And years–I’m not even sure how many had passed since our last meeting. Five? Ten? I was a child last time I saw her.

Yet she pulled me into her arms like a dear friend. Her lips carefully shaped tones to speak my language.

English, my language. A language she could not hear.

Her fingers flowed with her enunciated speech, punctuating words with fluid American Sign Language.

Two women–almost strangers, a generation apart, and separated by state lines. Her finger-words and my oral language seemed to be barriers. Our bodies decreed the separation–I with ears young and whole; and she, who could be my mother, living in shuddery echoes of silence.

But a language transcended all these walls, a language of the heart that shone bright in her eyes.

I dove into the conversation, almost trembling with joy with the way our eyes drank in every lip movement, every finger twitch, of the other. I was caught up in rapt concentration, full immersion in the exchange.

I had long adored the mute grace of ASL, and it was pure excitement to be able to converse with someone bridging the gap between the language I knew and the language I loved.

Unmistakable was her energetic expression of abundance. This once-again friend shone with the joy of Jesus Christ. Patiently–apparently with all her soul–she sat with me and encouraged me.

You know that feeling, when hearts twine together?

“I’d love to learn to sign,” I said, with a radiant, wistful look.

She smiled. “You can pray that God will bring someone to help you learn.”

I laughed. “But I love to do so many things that I don’t know what to choose.”

“Take all the opportunities you can,” she advised. “Some doors will close.” A twinkle shot through her eyes. “Then look for a window to crawl through.”

I showed her, faltering, my attempt at the ASL alphabet.

“I”ll just stop you if you mess up.” She leaned back after a few signs, nodding. To my relief, she did not have to stop me at all.

“I think you could learn fast,” she told me.

Although our whole conversation overflowed with ecstatic words, one moment nestled the woman’s beautiful spirit into my heart.

“God has great things planned for you,” she said.

That night, lying in bed, I closed my eyes and could still feel the glow of our meeting.

We live two separate lives, with few intersections. But the grace of God bloomed at one of those brief moments and the love of our Savior became a language we both knew by heart.

Her fingers and my mouth weren’t even necessary to translate the language.

And now, I remember that sacred joy that welled up in my heart, and I long to take that same breathless love into every conversation, every day.

A thirty minute conversation opened a window to heaven for me. For a moment, I saw more than the woman seated across from me. I saw the evidence of Christ within her. In her smile, in the light of her eyes, in the joyous proclamation of her life that God is good, I recognized the imprint of my Master.

Through His strength, she loved me.

Weeks before, a telephone conversation began my quest for the “how-to” of love. This, my first lesson, fills me with inspiration.

For my first teacher, words weren’t even necessary.

I wonder what will come next on my journey?


My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge….”

– Colossians 2:2-3, NIV –

 

 

 

 

A big thanks to Public Domain Pictures and George Hodan for the photo today!