Flat Out & Love

I’m sorry I haven’t written anything lately. Between work and packing our house, I’ve been going flat out. I’ve had random thoughts, though, so you’ll get the benefit of those.

Valentine’s Day.

valentines-day

“Oh, you better not forget tomorrow. It’s Valentine’s Day,” a coworker teased another employee on February 13.

“I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t do anything for it,” he growled.

I took my piece of paper and slunk out of the room. I tried not to laugh, because he has strong opinions about many things, including ink pens. I understand the mentality about Valentine’s Day. I know it’s a made up holiday. I have my own issues about Administrative Professionals’ Day. He and I had talked about this before, the pressure of having to appreciate or show love to someone on one specific day.

“You should appreciate people all year long,” he said.

I agreed back then. I still do. The problem becomes if you don’t have a set day of some kind, you may never do it. You might let their birthday slip by. “Oh, I’ll catch up with them later and take them to lunch.” Christmas might get a pass, too. Your wedding anniversary escapes attention. The years roll on. Circumstances change. The people who brought joy to your everyday move on in their journey. You miss your chance to tell them they matter and thank them for their impact on you. You live with constant regret.

When do you give care if you don’t make a plan? The special people in our lives deserve to know how much they mean to us. Any day will do. Just pick one.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. –  1 John 4:7

 

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Lars and Real Love

lars

Last night, we watched a movie made in 2007 called Lars and the Real Girl. It starred Ryan Gosling and other actors I recognized on sight but not by name.

Without giving too much away, the story centers around Lars, an exceptionally shy, single man in his late 20s, and his brother Gus with his expecting wife, Karen. Lars has no friends. He interacts with other people very reluctantly. To compound things, he wears the baby blanket his mom knitted him around his neck like a scarf.

Before you start to pity Lars, the situation gets more strange. Karen, concerned about Lars’ lack of social interaction, invites him to meals at their house. I should mention here the house belonged to Lars until his big brother and wife moved back to town. Then Lars voluntarily moved into the garage. Karen persists, even tackling Lars in his snowy driveway upon his return from work one night.

Lars sees his cube mate ordering what looks like a life-size doll on the internet. Yes, it’s anatomically correct, but that’s hardly the point. Bianca shows up at Lars’ house 6 weeks later. Lars introduces Bianca as “a visitor”. She’s got a whole backstory of missionary work and nursing training. She’s in a wheelchair, though, now, and a bit self-conscious about it. Oh, and she’s half Brazilian and half Danish.

Gus and Karen are gobsmacked. They wanted Lars to meet someone, even through the internet was okay. “Everyone does that now,” Karen states at one point. But this inanimate piece of plastic gets all his affection? They don’t know what to do.

They got to their family doctor, saying since Bianca lived in the tropics, she probably needs some assessment now that she lives in an inhospitable place in very northern U.S. Dr. Dagmar gives Bianca “treatments”, taking her blood pressure with a cuff and everything. She pronounces Bianca suffers from low blood pressure and needs weekly care.

Her interview with Gus and Karen proves very telling. Gus, frustrated and angry, puts questions to the good doctor.

“What’s going on with Lars?” he asks.

“Lars is suffering from a delusion,” she says.

“Well, when is he going to stop?” he asks, complete with eye roll and expletive.

“When he doesn’t need it anymore,” she says.

Gus and Karen set up a meeting with the town’s most influential folks, as well as Lars’ pastor. They plead for understanding and for them to “play along”. All these model citizens, one by one, say no. Until one of the older women speaks up about the freaky people in *their* families, namely a cat-dressing son and a nephew who gave all his money to the UFO foundation. But the minister nails it.

“Well,” he says, looking everyone in the eye, “the real question is what would Jesus do?”

And that, dear readers, changed the whole story. Lars and Bianca go on to have a romantic but non-physical relationship. Bianca volunteers at the hospital. She reads to kids at a preschool. She “models” three times a week at a local boutique. She even gets elected to the school board. Their journey together looks not unlike most regular, two-person trajectory stories.

I won’t give away any more, but Lars has serious things to process. Everyone knows him in this town. He grew up there. The neighbors balk at first, yet learn to go along and make believe with Lars and Bianca. This allows Lars to learn what he needs to and let Bianca go. In the end, the love surrounding Lars allowed him to heal and find a live girl. Real love makes all the difference.

This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. – 1 John 4:10

 

 

 

Love Changes Everything

jesus cooking fish on the beachWhile at the conference weekend before last, the teacher brought up a familiar scripture passage. You remember, right before Jesus went to the cross, Peter denied him 3 times?  While at an ocean-side fish fry, Jesus instituted this restoration for the ashamed apostle.

 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?[e]

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.”  Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” – John 21: 15-19

All of the preceding, I’d read dozens of times before.  But the last paragraph and how the teacher, Dr. Ted, interpreted it, got me thinking.  The Greek word Jesus used when he asked “Do you love me?” is agapeAgape is altruistic, an all-encompassing love.  Peter, when he said, “You know I love you”, didn’t use the word agape.  He used the Greek word phileo, which is brotherly love.  Think Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  Or so I’m told. Finally, the last time Jesus asked Peter if he loved Jesus, Jesus himself used the word phileo.  Peter could only say, head hung low, “Lord, you know everything.”  They reached an agreement that Peter indeed loved Jesus as much as he was able – with great affection.

Jesus started telling Peter how Peter’s life would end.  That little bit always seemed incongruent to me, like is Jesus meting out punishment because of Peter’s betrayal? Dr. Ted said Jesus was up to something.

“Jesus was telling Peter, Hey, you love me.  It’s enough.  My love that I have for you and the world is enough.  You will grow in your love for me and the lost over time.  So much so that when you die, it will be for my glory. I know your limitations. Don’t fret.  My love covers you.”

Wow.

I know in my life, I see how much I fall short of God’s ideal. I’m terse when I should show mercy.  I could give more of my time and money.  But God.  It’s not over yet.  His love for me means that in the moment, who I am is enough.  Yes, I submit to His lordship and am willing to change. Because of Jesus’ love, I can put down my personal club of condemnation  – like Jesus had Peter do – and love as best I can now, today.

Love Lessons

Photo by globe-views.com.

      Photo by globe-views.com.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
– Colossians 3:12-14

I’ve been meditating on this scripture for a couple of days now. Every time I read it, something new stands out.  As Christians, we’re told to love and serve. But I know I’ve glossed over a lot of these admonitions. Love is such a squishy word.  “I love pizza!” “I just love her hair!” For Americans, it’s become an all-purpose word to show great affinity for someone or something.

The part that says “make allowance for each other’s faults” hit me today. In the New King James Version, it says “bearing with one another”. Doesn’t that sound like…tolerance? I’ve written about the merits of tolerance before.  If only we could stop trying to remake others in our image! “I like her, but I wish she wouldn’t talk so much.  She never shuts up!” Or, my personal favorite, “I like him. I do. Those terrible puns!  Oy!”

You get the drift.

I’m slowly, slowly learning this part of the truth.  For years, I thought if people just did it *my* way, we’d all get along swell.  Now I can see how incredibly boring the world would be if all its people acted the same way, thought the same thoughts. If I could only get Zac to be as driven at schoolwork as I was.  If I could only show Ruby the value of seeing a dentist on a regular basis.  If only, if only.

Not my job.

I’m not God.  I don’t get to move the chess pieces and turn hearts (see Exodus) or make the weather (see “Groundhog Day”). My particular specialty must be love. I haven’t the luxury of forcing folks into the mold of my superior judgment. No. I get to take people as they are, lifting them up in prayer as necessary and overlooking any offenses towards me in the process.

This is nitty-gritty love.  It’s not soft, or porous, or gooey.  This love helps the wheels of industry turn. This love keeps families together, husbands and wives on the same page. This love helps our pets to live another day.

This love will cost me, too.  I don’t get to right wrongs or exact vengeance; I let God handle that part. I learn daily to trust the image of God he put into those around me, believing the best of people. This love is straight from God. I can’t do it on my own. May His love pour through me to others today.

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him... – I John 4:16

Puffer Fish

https://vimeo.com/115237324

My aunt posted this video on Facebook recently. A male puffer fish made these crop circles on the bottom of the ocean. He hopes to win a female with his artistry. He works for 24 hours for a week straight, etching the sand more here, smoothing a bit there. Somehow, the undulating rays and circles create a pleasing picture to lure a possible love connection.

Sappy me, I cried when I saw the original video.  He’s just a little fish. He’s got purty iridescent scales but not much else to recommend him. Why would anyone want to hook up with him?

I think about how God draws us. He’s placed us on this Earth, His creation, for us to enjoy. His artistry shines forth in every flower; God even paints the insides and undersides.  Who does that?! Every day, the Lord woos us with His love. He longs for us. Why should the God of the universe even give a moment’s thought about us?

He wants to commune with us. He does everything in His power to win us over. Only unlike the puffer fish, he works nonstop at pouring out his affection. Every day He shows us in big ways (favor from a supervisor) and small ways (a glimpse of a winging goldfinch) how very much He cares.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! – 1 John 3:1

All Day Delight

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Today’s pre-service prayer included thinking about Jesus standing right next to us.  My good friend, who led the prayer time, read from the 23rd psalm.  What a great picture of God’s care for us, providing grass, refreshing water to drink and a place to rest.  He anoints my head with oil; my cup runs over…

Even more than that, the Lord impressed upon me how much He delights in us.  He made us.  He designed each one of us.  Our hair color, our eyes shape and tint, our height (or lack thereof).  He influenced all of that.  Yes, He used our parents’ genetic makeup to get a blueprint.  But even that, friends, was His plan.  He loves our laugh.  He adores our smiles.  We are, in short, the apple of His eye.

But do we believe it?  I’ve spent most of my conscious life living under condemnation.  I’ve written before about my especial affinity for self-flagellation.  I should have gotten a merit badge for it by now.  It’s that impressive.

Yet what a waste of time.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.Romans 8:1-2

Why do we keep living like God is going to swoop down with a heavenly fly swatter and give us a thunderous smackdown?  “Take that, mangy human!” Jesus took all those for us, on the cross.  If we repent, God forgives us.  It takes very little – only surrender – to get back on track. At times, we may need to make restitution to those we’ve wronged, sure.

We, who are weak and sinful, know how to give our kids good gifts.  We got Zac a new phone a couple years back.  He was blown away.  We got Ruby a sewing machine for Christmas.  The kids felt blessed that we knew them enough to get them things they like and would put to use.  Isn’t God so much more intimately acquainted with our needs and desires?  Doesn’t it tickle Him to paint a technicolor sunrise each morning and send rain when its needed?  Doesn’t He surprise us with friends dropping by when we need a lift?  Or maybe a piece of really rich, dark chocolate to soothe our spirits?

If He is more than able to bless and load us with benefits on a daily basis, why don’t we trust His goodness?  Perhaps our earthly fathers were, shall we say, less than patient with us.  Maybe they yelled a lot.  Maybe they withheld approval when it could have done the most good for our spirits.

God isn’t like that.  He withholds no good thing.  He has our best in mind each day, all the time. Let’s trust He will continue His good and perfect will for our lives.

Dogged by Grace

The dog looked at me with a wary eye.  Was I friend or foe?

I laid down my small offering of lunchmeat turkey breast and leftover sandwich bread with mayonnaise on it.  I placed it all in a bowl and slid it through a hole in the fence. He looked thinner than the last time I’d seen him.  Pink skin showed through just above where a collar should be, the fur ripped out by frustrated flea-scratching.

“Here, boy,” I said.

He thrashed around in the bushes, up and down the hillside a couple of times.  I couldn’t tell if it was out of excitement or fear. Finally, he stopped and looked at me. We gazed at each other.  Several seconds passed. Then, hunger overcame any fear.  He pushed his square nose into the bowl and pulled out the bread.  Gulp! Each slice disappeared in one gulp.  His brown-black fur shone in the sun. Next he gobbled the meat.

In between bites, he looked at me as if to say, What are you going to do about it?

I looked up at the pale blue sky and thought, There but for the grace of God go I. Not that I would be a dog, mind you, but starving.  Homeless.  Lost. Alone and scared.

This dog lives behind our garden fence.  He’s rather bony and not a young pup anymore. He traverses the hill on grooved paths, has a little nest with a donated blanket and generally looks out for himself.  Several of us whose homes abut the hillside feed him. He belongs to no one anymore and actively avoids acquiring a new owner. Ruby named him Max.

We’d like to own Max. We would rig a living space for him in the carport.  We’d take care of his basic needs and show him affection.  But Max, badly abused by his last nomadic master, will not cotton to new management.

Are we any different?  God comes to us in big and small ways.  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Yet we resist. Our last encounter with Jesus or His so-called people left us bloody and broken. We want nothing to do with church, thank you very much.  And God can take a hike, too, for that matter.  Why didn’t He stick up for us?  Where did He go, on vacation to Bermuda? Or even for those of us who don’t eschew the fellowship, we don’t want to get too close to anyone.  Past betrayals and hurts put us on guard, our invisible walls forever too high to scale and too thick to break through. So we attend church on a regular basis, get in our cars and go home. No muss, no fuss.

We hope to woo Max to us, in time.  We’ll continue to bring him food he loves.  We’ll talk to him,our voices soft and low, the metal fence still separating us.  Maybe, just maybe, we can reach out a comforting helping hand and bring him in from the cold.

God’s grace remains for you, friend. People will fail us in this life.  They make promises they can’t keep and lash out from their own pain. But…He is calling you today. Whether you believe or not, He is still there.  He longs to care for you. He longs to be your friend and for you to walk with Him. He has all that you need. Will you let Him care for you?