Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No Greater Gift

I currently have a three month old (craziness!) with a cold (not fun).  It started yesterday with a cough and some sneezing and today my little guy is all stuffed up and still coughing.  No fever though, so thank you, Lord!

Today as I snuggled him close to me and watched his little eyes water and heard the wheezing in his breath I whispered over him, "I wish I could take this from you and have it myself.  I love you."  And as soon as I finished that sentence a treasured memory flashed through my mind.

I don't have many memories of my mom.  And the ones that I do have, the hard ones outweigh the good.  But one of the memories I cherish was when I was maybe 7 years old.  I had a horrible cold that consisted of a fever, sore throat and no energy.  I spent days on the couch watching Nickelodeon- miserable because it hurt to swallow even water.

I remember my mom sitting with me on the couch (I should specify- we never had a couch growing up.  We had hand me down patio furniture that my grandparents had reupholstered so it had normal material instead of the orange plastic-y fabric it originally came with.  I never knew this wasn't normal until I was in college.  I still feel deprived).  She had my head on her lap and she sat with me stroking my hair as I lay exhausted on the couch.  Then she said, "I wish I could take this from you so you wouldn't have to be sick anymore.  If I could be sick instead of you, I would."

Such a simple statement from the heart of a mother.  One I now fully understand.  And if this memory was precious before I was a mom, you better believe I hold it even more dear.  I get the love she felt for me in that moment.  She wasn't the best mom.  At times she wasn't a good mom.  But I know from that one statement that she did, indeed, love me.

There's something incredibly deep about the statement my mom said to me.  I was suffering.  I was sick.  I couldn't cure myself.  I couldn't fix me.  But she wanted to.  She was willing to suffer instead of me.  But she couldn't.  But her heart was there.

I have this other sickness.  It runs rampant through my body.  The truth is, it was killing me.  I was sick and I couldn't fix me.  I was suffering and I was going to die.

The sickness, you may have heard about it. It's called sin.  We're all born with it.  The Bible says in Romans that we've all sinned.  Sin is an archery term meaning to miss the mark.  I know I have missed the mark many, many times.  We are born with a condition of sin and then as we live out our lives there is the symptom of sin every day.  Ever lie?  Cheat?  Steal? Ever doubt God is who He says He is?  Ever curse?  Take God's name in vain?  Ever judged another person?  Gossiped? Have you ever lived like you were the king of your life?  Sitting on the throne of your life like you were in charge and life was all about, only ever about you?  

I have.  And if you're really honest, you have, too.  We're sick.  Sin sick.  But do you know what God's heart is?  It's the heart of a loving, kind parent.  He knew we were sick.  He knew there was nothing we could do in our power to fix ourselves.  We were and would always be sick with sin.  

But God is also just.  And the Bible says that the wages (what we earn) for our sin condition is death.  Forever separated from the God that lovingly created us and wants to know us and to be known by us.  So He couldn't just choose to ignore our condition.  Something had to be done.  We had to be made well.

And so, the heart of our Heavenly Father desired much what my mom desired when she uttered those sweet words to me way back when.  He desired to take our condition away.  Jesus came and lived a life that had no sin.  And when he was crucified on that cross it was God saying to his kids, "I am taking your place.  I am taking your sin upon me so that you can be well.  So that you can be made whole.  So that you can know the One that loves you and desires a relationship with you."  Jesus died so that when we pass from this earth we can still be in relationship with God.  But death could not hold him and after three days he rose.  He conquered death.  He conquered sin.  He lives so that we can live lives that are full of God's grace and rich in His mercy.  His resurrection means that there is hope for our sin condition.

It's really a beautiful picture of the heart of a parent for His kids.  But the reality is, it's a gift and a gift is useless unless we choose to accept it and open it.  A gift that just sits on a shelf unopened was not the intent of the one that gave the gift.  The intention of the giver is that we would open it, accept it and enjoy it.  

I was 17 when I learned about my sin condition and my inability to make myself well.  To make myself whole.  And it was then that I realized that God was loving.  He made a way for me, for you, to be well.  Jesus suffered in our place.  I was 17 when I accepted the gift God has given.  At 31, I'm still amazed at this gift and how loving the God of the universe is.  And as a mom, I continue to grasp more and more what God's love is like.  I used to think that this gift sometimes depended on me and how I acted or how "good" I was.  As a mom, I now see, I love Sullivan because of who he is (my son) not what he does.  I would take his cold from him in a heart beat not because he's a good baby or because he deserves it but because I love him.  Because he's my son.  Because I'm his mama.  

In case you don't know, God is crazy about you.  Not because you are awesome (although, you probably are pretty cool) or because you do amazing things (although, you might do some amazing things).  He loves you and he took your place on the cross because of who He is.  Because He's your Heavenly Father.  Because He's loving.  Because He's good.  Because He's awesome and He does do amazing things.  

If you want to get more of a picture of God's heart and who He is, check out the book of John in the New Testament (I like the NIV version, but that's just personal preference.  The Message would be good.  And unless you are partial to "thee's" and "thou's" I wouldn't recommend starting to read the King James Version).  

"Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends."  John 15:13 (NIV)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Seasons Change

As we head into mid November and the weather seems to be heading into early September I am reminded of the word that God has been speaking to my heart.  "Season."

Seasons are a beautiful thing, especially when you live somewhere like Buffalo, NY where there is tangible change as we enter into a new one.  My favorite season is autumn.  Hands down.  I love the colors, the warmth of the oranges, golds and rich browns.  I adore the smells of pumpkin, cinnamon and spice.  Mayer Brothers apple cider and Starbucks pumpkin scones could be my sustenance throughout the entire month of October.  I am not a huge fan of Halloween, but family gathered around the table at Thanksgiving with my Aunt Sue's turkey on the table makes my heart smile and makes me drool a little, too.

Summer is a close second with the sweet smell of freshly cut grass, a warm breeze blowing and the first warm day when you drive with all the windows down even when your car has air conditioning.  Life has many seasons but sometimes I fail to realize that.  I lose sight of that and think solely about the here and now feeling overwhelmed that nothing will ever change and whatever obstacle I'm facing will forever be there.

But life has seasons.  This is comforting to me- and I'm not a girl that particularly likes change.  But it reminds me that I don't have to have it all together.  It reminds me that I don't have to have it all figured out.  It reminds me that tension or that time to adjust to something new will end, because life has seasons and seasons change.

While with all my heart I knew I wanted to stay at home with my baby boy after he was born it wasn't necessarily an easy decision both from a financial stand point but also from a I've worked since I graduated college, this is who I am and this is what I do standpoint.  After quitting, while God made it very clear that was what He wanted me to do, and while I knew it was something I wanted as well, I struggled.  What was my purpose?  Days went by with my energy drained filled with thoughts of sitting behind a desk again with adults that could communicate with words that would affirm my abilities, who also wouldn't spit up on my clean outfit or need me to feed them every three hours.

I remember sitting at my MOPS table early on- Sully was only maybe a month and a half at this point and I hadn't yet quit my job.  I shared the struggle that was going on within me and one of the other moms told me she went through the same thing.  And then she realized it was a season.  Working full time was a season.  Staying home with a baby was a season.  And then having multiple kids and one in pre-school was a season.  Those words washed over me, refreshed me.  If working was a season, it would be ok for it to change.  If having a little one to care for that sucks all of my time, energy and attention is a season then it's ok that there is this adjustment period and there is hope to one day sleep a full 8 hours because someday a new season will come!

I don't know what your season looks like.  Mine is filled with a sweet, chubby cheeked little boy that has stolen my heart that needs to be fed every three hours and can now sleep longer than he did a month ago!  And when I get to the end of my day or my week and I have nothing left to give I remember that this is a season.  And because it's a season and one I won't be able to go back to with him I try to be intentional about pouring out all the love, hugs and kisses I can.  I try to be intentional about enjoying this season, hard as it is at moments.  Maybe the season you are in involves potty training, or sleepless nights or maybe it involves a really tough battle.  Maybe your season is filled with joy and excitement and times of blessing.  But I know that some of you may be in a season of loss, unknown, waiting or hardship.  Remember, it's a season.  And winter always seems longer than spring or summer (at least in Buffalo it does!) but it's a season.  There is hope.

Here's the hope I cling to- whatever the season God is good.  Always.  The seasons of our lives change.  But the God of the universe is unchanging.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  Whatever season you are in may you have the hope and peace that comes with knowing that God is good and that He's always in control.  He is crazy about you!

Monday, November 5, 2012

By God's power

"What would it look like if every Christian in your community fully submitted themselves to the Spirit's leading?"

This is the question that Francis Chan asks on page 107 of his book, "Remembering the Forgotten God" workbook.  I wanted to share my answer because yesterday after Ryan and I left church the Holy Spirit was laying heavy on my heart this question but in a, "Danielle, what would your life look like if you fully submitted yourself to my leading?"  And I haven't been able to shake it.  I've been thinking and dreaming for the last day about this question.  Today, I sit down to finish chapter 7 of this study and here is that question.  So, I started to just dream.  To just write out my answer as things flew into my brain and two pages later, I could have kept going.  

I want to share it with you- whether you believe Christ is who He says He is or not.  I want to share it because it's on my heart.  So, here goes.

If every Christian in my community, including myself, fully submitted to the Spirit's leading it would look like this:  The poor would be fed, clothed and cared for throughout the year, not just at Christmastime.  The orphans would be loved, held, fostered and adopted.  The rich would be generous with more than just their money.  The ones with less would give more- not for their own glory, but for God's.  Walls would come down in every heart.  Masks that have been worn for years would be taken off.  Insecurities and lies would be thrown at the foot of the cross, left there and replaced with the incredible truth that God doesn't make junk.  That He has created man and woman alike in His image, for His glory and to live in relationship with Him.  Conflicts would be addressed and forgiveness would abound.  The gospel wouldn't just be preached on Sundays, but lived out every day of the week before an unbelieving world- for all to see, for all to experience.  Church would become more than just four walls, a pulpit and a preacher.  It would be a body of people choosing each day to believe God is who He says He is, even when life hurts, tears fall, and circumstances don't make sense.  It would look like people choosing to step out of the safe into the unknown, laying down what is most precious to them and picking up the cross.  It would look like comradery, the kind that comes from doing life together, from being in the trenches together.  When one person hurts, all would hurt and when one rejoices, all would rejoice.  Selfishness would be thrown to the wayside to instead lift others up, put them before ourselves, even when it isn't easy or convenient.  The goal of life wouldn't be to obtain things that are bigger, better or faster.  The goal of life wouldn't be more stuff, a bigger house, a newer car or a top paying job.  Instead, the goal of life would be to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and to love others as yourself.  And while there is nothing wrong with having a nice house, a new car or things, it wouldn't be the pursuit of the people of Christ.  If we chose to submit to the Spirit's leading we would recognize all that we have is really God's.  He can give and He can take away.  And we would wake up daily and ask Him, "God, how can I glorify you today with all that you've blessed me with."  It'd look like the people of God, regardless of age, race, gender and socio-economic status, asking that very question and living with open hands and open hearts.  To fully submit to the Spirit's leading would look like crazy, radical living and the world wouldn't know what to do with it.

Zechariah 4:6 says, "...'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty."  And Matthew 22:37-40 says that the greatest commandment is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."  Finally, in Galatians Paul writes, "So, I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such things there is no law... Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."  (Galatians 5:16-17, 22, 6:9-10)

So, today, I am asking God to submit me to His authority.  I'm asking Him where in my life I need to step out in faith and truth Him to be who He says He is.  I am asking Him to provide opportunities to be generous, giving, compassionate and kind and that in that moment, scary as it might be, to act.

Join me in asking these things.  Let's live out the gospel- loving the unlovable and caring for those God has put in our lives.  We can submit to His authority and choose to believe Him and love Him today.  Christ died that we may have life and have it abundantly.  Let's choose to share it with those around us.