Upside Down Love

UPSIDE DOWN LOVE

John 3:16

You guys know this one. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

But, I wonder, do you know about John?

As I’ve studied more about the Bible, I’ve learned more about John. (I usually relate more to the disciple Peter—the one who spoke boldly, but then would waver and screw up—I totally relate to that.) But this John refers to himself as “the disciple who Jesus loved.”

Why don’t I relate to that more? Why don’t all of us relate to that more?

Love.

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Love and Marriage Engagement photo by Greenlight Photography

 

It’s the statue in Old Town Scottsdale that my fiancé and I took our engagement photos around.

It’s what we promised to do “until death do us part.”

It’s on the coffee mug that I bought for him on our three year anniversary.

And he loved that coffee mug.

So much so, that he uses it every day.

Little did I know that it couldn’t go in the dishwasher…and my husband is really busy in the morning: up at 4 am, out the door by 6 am, back home at 6 pm to grade papers. He’s a teacher, so he often doesn’t have time to wash the dishes in the sink.

And that irritates me. Every day.

I mean, how much effort does it take to wash that mug? Obviously, too much for him.

So, every day, that LOVE cup sits there and talks to me from the sink, “Remember that fight where you were wrong? And he forgave you even before you admitted you were wrong?” It urges, “WASH ME.”

Then there’s this other voice that speaks up, “JEEZ— it’s your day off—didn’t he even think you might want to do nothing today?”

Back and forth. Two opposing voices. One on each shoulder battling it out over LOVE inside me

But something is happening.

—-

“In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10

I was walking and talking with a friend about an exquisite (and very expensive!) piece of art that she and her husband had both admired and then decided to “splurge” and to purchase. Having this piece for their very own would allow them to be enchanted by it on a daily basis. But it was like she had to justify it to me.

“It’s really spectacular. But beyond that, the artist is a genuinely nice guy. He has helped me when I was hurting, encouraged me when I was struggling, and he’s been there for me in so many ways,” she explained. “I love this piece we bought. It represents so much. I already loved it and because I know the creator of it, it makes me love it even more!”

—-

I have been struggling with some defensive, gossip-y, and often down-right mean individuals with whom I share an office building. There are times when I walk in the room and suddenly they hush up.  Hmm…

Other times, I’ve overheard the complaining and back-talking about others in the workplace and, yes, there are times when I get sucked into the talk.

It’s a slippery slope.

And once I get sucked in to the “conversation,” it is quite difficult to get out. Then I feel awful. I feel worse than I did when I believed it was me that was being talked about.  This back and forth struggle of opposing forces in the world…Where’s the LOVE?

But something is happening.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” Psalm 95: 4-5

I’ve been reading my Bible; studying the stories about the Creator of the universe.

“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” NIV Psalm 33:6. “The LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed, and all the stars were born.”

It’s something to wrap your brain around—a Creator who can just exhale and out comes the Milky Way! And what’s cool is that the very same “star breathing” Creator also made you and me; breathing His breath into us as we are born.

And, as told to us beautifully by John, that same Creator loves us so much that he sent his one and only son, Jesus, to earth to show us what Love is.

The more I study, the more I read about this unconditional, faithful, immeasurable LOVE, the more I want of it!

John, the one who Jesus loved, tells us :

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”-John 15:13

And it gets even more crazy. This LOVE that Jesus teaches throughout the Bible in Luke 6:29 says, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.”

Hmmm…

And, ultimately, even more remarkable is the type of love discussed in Romans 5:8:

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

A true representation at the Cross: A love that died for the sinner that repented AND died for the one who didn’t.

The more I read, study, discover, ponder… something is happening to me

I think my friend hit on this when she so wisely observed, because I know the creator, it makes me love even more.

LOVE

On those days when I am exhausted and just want to do NOTHING, it urges me to not only wash the LOVE mug, but to do ALL the laundry, get to the grocery store, make lunches for the week and send him a text that I’m thinking of him and praying for his day…

But that’s my husband.

I can grasp the brotherly love; the parental type of love that would sacrifice one self for those you love. But to die for the ones who are asking for your shirt? Slapping your face? Betraying you? Disappointing you?

I’ve heard it said, “Those least deserving of our love, are the ones most needing of it.”

That’s upside down.

And yet, I am suddenly reminded of those times I listened to the “other voice.” The times I slid down the slippery slope and got involved in the gossip, and played a part in things that were UN-loving— No wonder I don’t associate myself as one who Jesus loved—do I deserve it?

“I am the thorn in your crown, but you love me anyway”-Sidewalk Prophets

And then I read about Jesus explaining why he took on flesh and came to the earth in Mathew, Mark and Luke–He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” 

Those, like me, who struggle with those two opposing forces. Those, like me and Peter, those who keep screwing up.

A Savior was sent because we need saving!

I read about Jesus’s last moments on earth- nestled between those two thieves, listening to their voices. Two souls in opposition fighting it out.

He reconciled it for the repentant sinner who listened to the voice of LOVE.

AND He reconciled it for the one who rejected Him.

Jesus did it for the Johns and for the Peters.

For those who are well and for the sick.

For the you’s and the me’s.

Willing to die for every last one of us.

As he exhaled his last breath on earth, He loved.

Oh how I wish I could love like that.

But something is happening to me—The more I experience my Creator’s mercy toward me, the more I am moved to extend it to those I’m struggling with. But not on my own. Without my Helper, that kind of forgiveness or tolerance is much too difficult. But with Him, I don’t have to do it alone—He who is in me is  much greater than me. He can do the things that I cannot.

I recall over my life, how my Creator has been there when I was hurting, I sense His LOVE and encouragement when I’m struggling, and I see His artwork all around me uplifting me and speaking to me in so many ways. I see it in my husband as he bears with me when I don’t wash his LOVE mug every day. And, as I allow my life to be turned upside down, He allows me to see the pain in those that have hurt me instead of myself.

As I learn more and more about the power of His LOVE, the more I Listen to the voice that says  “WASH ME.”

The more of Him (and less of me!), the more His Upside down kind of LOVE is available in me—To be poured out to a hurting world from my own Love cup.

I want to know Him more.

And then I found out about Peter. That disciple that I relate to the most.

“According to Christian tradition, Peter was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar. It is traditionally held that he was crucified upside down at his own request, since he saw himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus.”-Wikipedia

A love so impactful it cannot help but completely turn everything upside down.

I see how this Upside down Love, proven at the Cross, is poured out on the World from The Creator’s Love cup.

And this love, His work of art accomplished at the Cross, although very expensive, (priceless really,) is available for us all to have for FREE, to be enchanted by it every day.

That’s upside down.

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To the Moon and Back?

Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands”

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“Love you to the moon and back”—I’ve wondered about this phrase; seen it on necklaces; spoken to children from their parents; pretty sure there’s a book about it somewhere.
The moon. It is beautiful. We gaze upon it’s stunning light when it’s full; we marvel at it as our earth sometimes eclipses it—It revolves around us—we REALLY love the moon. And since we have landed on it, it is discoverable. It is 238,855 miles from the earth and back.

That’s pretty far. But then I reflect on the sun—

I just returned from a run in the desert of Arizona. In April. I underestimated the power of the SUN. There’s talk that this week we might hit our first 100 degree day.
93 million miles away from the earth and still that sun is something to reckon with.

Mercifully, it’s April 9th. I have time to prepare for the scorching days to come. But I had forgotten: forgot to take enough water, forgot to wear sunscreen, forgot about those extra “pizza-pounds” I am carrying along for the ride. I forgot how awful it feels to be THIRSTY…The cotton that fills your mouth, the salty sweat dripping into your eyes and mouth, making the journey even just a little more challenging. The whole time I kept reminding myself bout the gloriously tall glass of ice water awaiting my return.
Just gotta make it home…

Obviously, I didn’t perish. (I am writing this 😉
But-
“Summer is coming”
And it’s going to be BRUTAL.

Why don’t we say, “Love you to the Sun and back?”
At those roughly 93,000,000 miles away, it is 400 times farther away than the moon.
One way.
The suns’s diameter is 400 times greater than the moon’s.
This majestic sun is the source of the light that reflects off the moon that we love to gaze upon. It is so darn formidable, that we cannot even gaze upon it without damaging our eyes.
When it gets eclipsed, it’s a national phenomenon. And we revolve around it.

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—-
I like routine. I am comforted by things that repeat—things I can count on; even if the things are tedious; like getting up every morning at 5:30 am to go to work, flossing, church on Sundays.

There are also my favorite repeating things—things that bring intense joy; like dining on three meals a day (sometimes all pizza!), kissing my husband every time we say “cheers,” and church on Sundays. ;0

I have this friend who will point out things in nature that blow your mind. Things like seasons telling of the cycles of life, sunsets creating colors that no Costco size of crayons could ever capture and even the intricacies of the human eyes displaying the grandeur of His attention to detail. Things that she believes reflect a God who is so creative!

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“And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You say
Every painted sky
A canvas of Your grace”—HillSong United

If it’s true, that all things in nature are a whisper of who God is; then …

The sun is ALL MIGHTY-The source of our light: intense, powerful, all-consuming, and lighting us through our days—all across the earth and beyond into the universe. God placed the earth at the exact distance from the sun so that it would heat to just the right temperatures for human life and animal life to be sustained and multiplied (except for the summer in Arizona when we must hibernate;) On earth, the sun brings plants its source and ability to create food… After a chilly night, the sun greets us in it’s magnificence, warms us throughout the day and even as it sets, like my friend points out, it reminds us of His marvelous and colorful creativity!

And when the dark of night comes, we are reminded that the sun has not really left us. The moon, who’s light comes from the sun, becomes our guide in the darkness. It can illuminate the areas where our enemies can snare us. And it’s not a wimpy moon. This mere reflection along with the help of the sun has the power to move the masses of oceans and seas, and creates the tides that, as they ebb and flow, also remind us of His provision.

And the moon, on its waxing and waning journey can be hidden from the shadows cast by our world, but as it continues on faithfully, cycle after cycle, the light returns. Repetitious: sliver by sliver, it is born again, full and new.

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There have been many a time when I felt that God was more than a universe away from me. Times when I felt darkness pressing against my soul—divorce, death of a loved one, watching a friend suffer…

Yet, in His constant faithfulness during those chaotic times, I would be reminded of His nearness. When my dad died in the spring of 2008, A peach tree in his backyard that had not produced a single piece of fruit, overflowed with peaches the very summer after his passing. This spoke to me of a God who not only takes away but also One who GIVES. It was enough.

Maybe the Sun is telling us about God, our Source and Creator, and the Moon, as a Reflector of His light is a representation of Jesus, who’s light illuminated the earth.
And it was on the earth, that Jesus’s light was blotted out by those who did not understand this light; just to be reborn to shine again brightly.
Faithful and constant, through the cycles of our lives, as the tides ebb and flow away the days, we can get lost in the tedium. Yet, Jesus continues to make us His focus; still caring about every hair on our head. The moon and the sun, daily serve as reminders reflecting His constant presence— that He will never leave us, He will never give up on us. He is always there to shine into the deepest parts of our hearts, to bring nourishment to the seeds of faith planted in the human heart from the beginning of time and to sustain us as we walk through the days and nights, together with Him.

“If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I”
Hillsong United

And as I return HOME from my journey with the scorching reminder of the formidable sun, and I take a long drink out of the tall, ice-cold water cup, I am reminded that I have available to me the living water that will allow me to never thirst again. I’m reminded of the One who has been chasing me on my journey, One that will leave the 99. And I’m reminded of the All Powerful One who is the source of it all, continually awing me with beauty and power reflected in a nature that is beyond my understanding. A love that blows my mind …a hundred billion times

“God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created
The light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die” —Hillsong United

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And, God who created all this and every one of us; who, through His Son, Jesus, and His sacrifice for us, testifies to all the earth that His light can never be extinguished. And this All Powerful, mighty Creator— He loves us to the SON and back.

Christmas Cookies

“My sugar cookie tastes like peanut butter!” my hubs proclaimed as he chomped on the first tastes of the new year.

We had compiled a tin of all of our favorites Christmas cookies to enjoy on our return trip from spending the holiday in Colorado. Mom made all our favorites: sugar cookies, peanut butter marble whorls, peanut bars, lemon bars…

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

Yet, once thrown all into the same container and left to sit for a day or two, all of them tasted like peanut butter!

I tested for myself 8)

I’m always amazed at how God speaks to us; through His creation, His church, the magnificence of a sunset, the brilliance of poetry, and…Christmas cookies.

I’m amazed at how my resolution to quit cussing is quickly washed away when I spend an hour or two in a traffic jam.

I’m appalled at my nightmares and thoughts after I watch a few horror movies and listen to some “angry music.”

When I watch enough late night tv, I simply want to eat burgers and go shopping for the latest …whatever!—This world has its temptations and can permeate into us so easily…

Yet,when we throw ourselves in with the love of family, time with friends, more enjoyment, laughter, memory making, joy, kindness, hope and– peanut butter; we tend to be more hopeful, enjoyable, and filled with the fragrance of love and laughter—it permeates and emanates.

“O be careful little eyes what you see…

O be careful little ears what you hear…

O be careful little hands what you do…

O be careful little feet where you go…

O be careful little mouth what you say…”

Recently, a good friend of mine stated, “I’m done wasting my time on people who aren’t okay with who they are. I want to spend more time with people who are at ease and know who they are!”

I get it. Those people can permeate into us and make us feel … well, we can feel less, feel guilt, and not feel okay.

Yet, sometimes these people are our co-workers, our friends, our family. So…what then?

I think God asks us to be the fragrance of change. Be the fragrance of forgiveness. Be the hope of things being okay.

He asks us to be the peanut butter.

May your 2016 be filled with the fragrances of gentleness, gratitude, hope, kindness and Christmas cookies.

Kids these days…

Frank A Clark from quoteswave.com

Frank A Clark from quoteswave.com

 

What if you had someone in your life who said to you, “You are the only thing that matters to me. I love you fiercely. I will never, never, never, NEVER give up on you. Ever.”

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins”–1 Peter 4:8

Parenthood–

“That heart-swelling, earth-shattering, all-consuming love for your kids is what creates the challenges of parenting, yet make them all worthwhile. It’s the cause of your woes, yet also the cure. It’s the force that drives you to near-madness, yet the balm that soothes your battered heart. Love makes parenting tougher, but it also makes it easier.”—Annie Reneau from her blog “9 Reasons Why Parenting is the World’s Hardest Job” (For some encouragement and perspective, check out Annie at: www.facebook.com/motherhoodandmore and www.motherhoodandmore.com)

 

“I see their faces, look in their innocent eyes

They’re just children from the outside

I’m working hard, I tell myself they’ll be fine

They’re in independent But on the inside, I can hear them saying…”

–Sanctus Real lyrics to “Lead Me”

 

In a world where the names of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight bring to life every parent’s nightmare, where “Sandy Hook and Columbine” conjure up images of terror instead of learning and when “Century 21” is no longer a night at the movies; I cannot imagine how much more difficult, terrifying and crucial the job of a parent is these days.

It is 2 a.m. on a snowy, cold Colorado night…um…morning–

ME: Breathing heavy through my sniffles, “Mom, come pick me up.”

MOM: “Where are you? Are you okay?”

ME: “Come get me.” Sniffles turn to sobs, “It’s too–I can’t–I can’t do this anymore.”

Mom: “Calm down, honey. Deep breaths. Are you okay?”

ME: through sobs, “Yes..yes..I’m okay.”

MOM: “I’ll come get you, but why don’t you get a good night’s rest? If you feel the same in the morning, I will come get you.”

ME: Breathing a little calmer, “Promise?”

MOM: “Promise.”

–I was twenty and living away from home for the first time at the university located 30 long minutes away from home.;) The terrible visions I had branded in my mind as I walked in on “the situation” that night did not seem as devastating by the morning light.

Sometimes you must shake the dust off your shoes and move on. I learned this that night.

All the unsolicited advice, the tumbles I took as I learned to walk, the countless band-aids and “mom spit” rubbed on wounds and that heartbroken night I made the phone call, I needed to know I had someone who wouldn’t give up on me.

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Even at age 20, I still needed my mom to “pick me up.”–And she still does.

I told her I hated her and never wanted to talk with her EVER again when she grounded me for my junior year of high school (which, in hindsight, I totally earned!) ;)—And yet, she loves me anyway.

Just last week, I received a care package from her.

 

These days parents are working in a culture counter to effective families, working in homes that are divided in divorce and preparing kids for schools that have a common procedures for “lock downs.”

Kids these days are making decisions in a world cluttered with collisions of faith and strewn with newer and more addictive drugs. Our youth are facing temptations in a society laced with violence, bullying and media outlets where it is all thrust before them 24/7.

I watch as friends and family who joyously embarked on the path of parenthood, begin to struggle, wrestle and battle with things as their children discover this big, awful, terrible, beautiful, tragic, magnificent world we live in.

I don’t believe I have the resilient heart required for that of a successful parent these days. – I stand at the sidelines of this nail-biting adventure and cheer you all on…

Because of these life threatening hazards in raising kids these days, there ought to be a warning label affixed to those darling newborn babies. I think it would read like this–

Surgeon General’s Warning to Parents:

May cause: sleepless nights, headaches, heartaches, nervousness, extreme worry, depression, discouragement, disappointment, anger, sudden bursts of uncontrollable rage; May interfere with: your work life, your social life, your home life, your relationships to all, your ability to get up in the morning, your immunity to all illnesses…

 

“They step on your toes when they are young…”

-Good thing babies are so cute and innocent, because…

“… they step on your heart when they get older.”

-And then one can so easily forget their innocence.

But love them anyway.

 

I can name several parents who’re wishing they had the warning label.

—I wonder, would they make a different choice??

If you are one of those brave souls on the path of a parent, warning label or not, your heart must be strong, your skin must be thick and you MUST lead them through the hazards of this life.

No matter the age, in spite who your child decides to hang out with, regardless of those hormones changing their personality, and no matter how much they say they hate you, your child will ALWAYS need you by their side and to be willing to “pick them up.”

lead me5-Sanctus Real “Lead Me”

 

They need you to be their advocate in a world that is overcrowded with newer, more dangerous, more lethal avenues of life. As they journey, their paths can lead into more harrowing repercussions; they know NOT where they may tread.

They need you to set boundaries. Let them know that there are choices that take them too far.

They need you to forgive them when they say they hate you; they know NOT what they say.

They need you to lead them; to go before them and show them the way.

“I will go before you… and level the mountains and smash down the city gates of brass and iron bars.”—Isaiah 45:2

And they will always need you to pick them up; for when they fall these days, they fall hard.

And parents, I pray you would be encouraged. For all who have chosen the pitfall-laden path of parenthood, may you always remember that there is One who has gone before you. The Sidewalk Prophets sing “Love Me Anyway” which is a song that paints a picture of God’s love for you:

“I am the thorn in Your crown

But You love me anyway

I am the sweat from Your brow

But You love me anyway

I am the nail in Your wrist

But You love me anyway

I am Judas’ kiss

But You love me anyway”

 

—May God strengthen you for this journey—for He goes before you and He is with you.

 

He loves us anyway.

He is the One who shows us how to forgive when it is counter culture.

He is the one who shines light into the dark places.

And He is the one who helps us to love when it seems much easier to give up.

And He will never, never, never, NEVER give up on you. Ever.

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

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IT IS FINISHED

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IT IS FINISHED

After just recovering from pneumonia, I come back to the real world to be smacked up-side the head with many new issues: water pipes breaking, insurance issues, and an additional “to do” list that I can’t even look at right now.

I need a break.

Hiatus-a gap or a break (Webster’s)

Or- a vacation, a time to be still (Me.)

One of my new year’s resolutions was to achieve more balance.

Yet, I have a tendency to plan up my vacations, my breaks and my still time.

With stuffy nose, tired eyes, a multiplicity of “to-do” lists and my last nerve being frayed, I find myself lost in the land of “burn out.”  I own the fact that I contributed by my own inability to say “no,” my tendency to not be still and to end up un-balanced, and there it is: One more resolution down the drain!

With planning a wedding and the goals of getting two more books published, all while working at the crime lab, managing rentals and…well, life and relationships, and all of the above– I need a break!

I am taking a hiatus from blogging.

— I will continue posting, but it will be in the form of “guest posts” and re-posts. (AND, you can always find me on Twitter and my Julie Stoddard (Eddy) Facebook.)

After my mom has put her “all” into something and finds her input no longer needed or her portion completed, she throws up her hands and shouts, “DONE!”

I promised God that, as long as He provided words for each post, I would continue to honor that.–Thank you GOD! –for being a faithful provider.

I promised to spend the hours upon hours each week if He would show me at least one person was impacted by those words. –Thank you to each person that proved this in their comments or words spoken to me! And Thank God (again) for moving in people to prove this to me!

God is my constant encourager in a world that tends to beat us down.

For me, this blog has been an incredible and humbling journey of God’s provision and faithfulness.

I set out with a goal of one blog posting a week for an entire year.

–Actually OVER-DONE, but God wasn’t finished, so I continued on in the promises to honor His nudging.

 

But before I can throw my hands up, I have to cover this one thing.

It’s a biggie.

I’ve danced around this topic in the blogs for over a year, but because it’s so GI-NORMOUS. I’ve avoided it.

I’ve seen health be devastated by it.

I’ve seen marriages destroyed by it.

I’ve seen co-workers estranged by it.

I’ve seen parents and children’s lives forever damaged by it.

It’s touched my life in very deep ways.

So many great musicians sing about it–

“It’s anger’s own worst enemy”-Matthew West

10th Ave North-“Maybe there’s something I missed But how could they treat me like this? It’s wearing out my heart The way they disregard”

“’Cause we all make mistakes sometimes And we’ve all stepped across that line But nothing’s sweeter than the day we find…” (Toby Mac)

“It’s the hardest thing to give away And the last thing on your mind today It always goes to those that don’t deserve It’s the opposite of how you feel When the pain they caused is just too real It takes everything you have just to say the word…”–Matthew West

And the great Don Henley gets right to the “heart of the matter”:

“The more I know, the less I understand All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter But my will gets weak And my thoughts seem to scatter But I think it’s about…”

 

FORGIVENESS

“Un-forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” –St. Augustine

Harboring un-forgiveness is deadly.

 

“Girl, you really did it this time.” It’s that nasty voice in my head hissing at me. “This is huge.”

I can almost see the smug smile on his face.

“How can you call yourself a Christian?” He taunts.

This enemy knows the arrows that pierce the worst.

He is now nodding with arms folded across his chest, “What will the ladies in your Bible study say?”

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Me–“Nothing. Because I’ll never tell them! This is too HUGE.  I can’t. I can’t believe I did this. This same sin that tangled me up before I was a Christian. This is huge. I would rather die than tell them this.  –I’ve been a believer for years… and I still couldn’t stop myself. I seriously want to die.”

“Yep,” he hisses his acknowledgement, “You are unforgiveable.”

And I contemplated it: deeply. Pills? Gunshot? Alcohol?  How could I get out of this? All the while, the enemy to my soul was prodding me along.

My thoughts landed on the scene from the movie “The Passion” as Judas, who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, horrified and steeped in his sin, committed suicide. That death was what I earned.

“That’s it! A noose is what I deserve. I am a betrayer of what Jesus had begun in me.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. This pain would end so easily. I was resolved.

But then something happened. The hissing words of the enemy stopped.

All was still.

Through my tears and agonized breathing, I heard a soft whisper, “But look at me.”

I looked up and around. Where was that coming from? In my mind’s eye, I saw it — the bloodied face of Jesus. His face scarred by the crown of thorns, his battered body hanging from the cross.  His sad, piercing eyes rose to mine.

They say the greatest distance traveled is from your mind to your heart—measurably about 1 foot from head to chest, but for an idea to travel from the brain and find its way into your heart—immeasurably far.

A different whisper now, “I did this for you. I paid for your sins past, present and future. It is finished. I’ve already forgiven you.”

I’d read lots about forgiveness; but to see it face to face; to feel His undeserved sacrifice after what I had done.

It was easier before I was a Christian; easier to discuss those nice ideas of grace and mercy, and then to go about your business. But as a Christian, holding yourself to a different standard, and being held by the world to a different standard, and still screwing up.

“But what about the ladies in bible study?” I asked Him.

“You’ve already experienced their unconditional love for you. They love as I do, they forgive as I do.”

“But what I’ve done is…” I hang my head. My thoughts return to nooses, to ending it, to a way out of the pain, “…it’s unforgivable.”

“I know you.” The whispered words convicted me. In a flash of a moment, I understood He saw every moment of my entire life.

“I know your heart. This is part of it all. I am not finished with you.” That gentle whisper again. “I will continue to work out this good thing in you that I have started. But you must understand that you are pre-paid. Look at me.”

When I looked I saw–

I saw hands pierced for me. I saw a mocking crown worn for me. I saw unspeakable pain and death that my sin deserved. My earned sin was redeemed by this: His crucifixion. And I saw the grace and mercy that flowed from the cross. As my eyes traveled the distance from one nail to the other nail across his outstretched arms, that idea of grace suddenly traveled the greatest distance–instantly.

Image

 

I became newly aware of the beauty flowing from the symbol I hang from my neck. Bloody, battered, betrayed love extending and enveloping me right there, crouched on my living room floor.

“I see how you forgive me. You are Jesus, you are God…But…” the hiss of my doubts began to rise.

The kind whisper again, “You must forgive yourself as I forgive you.”

“But…how?” My shame, insecurities, doubts and questions up-rise in me like lava.

Continuing on this life journey unfolded like a deep dark chasm before me, I wavered…

“You cannot do this alone. It is my example to you and my power in you that will enable you to accomplish this. And I will never leave you.”

“Never?”

“NEVER.”

Suddenly, the chasm of my circumstances was bridged with His mercy. His forgiveness and faithfulness lifted me up and across the doubts as I was flooded with a new resolve and a new freedom.

So many of us live in the belief of our salvation, but are still chained in bondage and not living in the freedom of our forgiveness.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21

We are to forgive continually; even when it comes to forgiving yourself.

“Most certainly I tell you, whatever things you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever things you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” Matthew  18:18 (WEB version)

Forgiveness brings life to the forgiver. Sometimes the effects are not realized in the world, but are undoubtedly recognized for ever after.

And it’s now about how many times you fall; because we are all going to fall. And it’s not about just getting up, because I see now that is the only choice. I believe it’s what you do when you get up that makes all the difference.

So, as I arise from my knees, what to do about this forgiveness thing?

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~Paul Boese

I realize it isn’t easy. But if I am going to do this life thing, I want a future—and not one steeped in shame and cowering in a corner. I want a future filled with freedom and abundant life!

Remembering the image of Jesus and what he already accomplished for us gives me the visual I need to do this.–I think this is part of what it means to “take up the cross daily.”  (Luke 9:23) Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” It’s difficult and burdensome and it requires a rigorous, daily commitment to focus and carry it out. I find myself continually forgiving myself for my past mistakes, yet that effort has kept me from making the same mistakes again (most of the time!;) I live aware of my human tendencies and realize my need to depend on God for this.  I now also live free in God’s grace and try to spread that around to a world that is severely lacking in this area.

There is a fantastic self-help book out there that will help you along your journey—The Bible.

Forgive as I have forgiven you-(Matthew 6:12)

I will never leave you or forsake you-(Joshua 1:5)

Christ’s power made perfect in our weakness-(2 Corinthians 12:9)

Start with something simple—like forgiving that guy in traffic for cutting you off, or that teenager, with his pants drooping down and underwear hanging out, in the “Express Lane” of the store with 29 things.

Tuck away the knowledge that Christ’s power in you will allow this to occur. Then, when you are in the hang of it, move up to forgiving a neighbor who called the cops on your birthday party, or maybe a co-worker who took all the credit for that project you worked on tirelessly.

Continue on, keeping your eyes on Jesus,—forgive your parent or a sibling who hurt you in senseless ways. Or, find forgiveness for your child who you sacrifice so much for, for whom you would give your life for, but who endlessly hurts you with their words or ingratitude.

And, once you have daily walked this burden of taking up the cross, achieving levels and depths in knowledge and in the power of forgiveness…take the longest journey and tackle that big one—

Forgive yourself.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 3:14)

I say it again–

Forgive, Forgive, And FORGIVE. And then forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive….

Live in the freedom of forgiveness, paid by Jesus once and for all at the cross. Extend forgiveness to others, just as it was extended to you. And be gentle to your spirit; always forgiving yourself.

It is, indeed, FINISHED.

And now, I can raise my hands up to heaven and shout it out, like my mom, “I am SO DONE!”

Run 2 Remember

Run 2 Remember

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:20

Every so often, God’s grace touches down in our lives at the strangest of times…

This is one of those times.

Marne and Me before R2R

Marne and Me before R2R

It was 0-dark thirty, January 6, 2011 and at 20 degrees it is one of the chilliest mornings of the running season. Me and my running partner drove in the warmth of our car down nearly deserted streets to meet up with our friends at a park in Chandler, AZ to partake in a 5K (3.1 miles) race called The Run 2 Remember.

Because of their smaller distances, 5K’s are usually quite fun and festive, with people dressed in costume and loud music blaring. This particular 5K is run in honor of police officers across Arizona who’ve lost their lives. Military, fire departments and others also join in on this race and run to honor those they’ve lost in service.

It’s an emotion-filled, somber race.

Tense with the chill of the morning and the topic of the event, my thoughts turn to those whom I’ve lost and can never forget; I think of who I run for.

My friend, Marne, with whom I was meeting up with this morning, was grudgingly convinced (by me!) that moving from Colorado to Arizona was a good idea. But, with her deep attachments to family and her intense love of the Rocky Mountains, she was only staying a year; after that I was on my own.

Yet that day in 2011, the7th anniversary of the Run 2 Remember marked our 15th year in the desert.

It also marked another unforgettable day.

Having been in track and cross country, I’ve run so many different races, I’ve lost count. But Marne, a gymnast and a brand new runner, with her husband and three kids to commemorate, was running her very first 5K race.

As they go to get donuts, Marne and I begin affixing our race numbers.

She looks at me with a quivering lip.

“Don’t be nervous. You’ll do great; just run your own pace.” I assure her.

She shakes her head and looks down, “Jules, today is the 7th anniversary of when my dad died.” Her eyes well up as she looks at me, “Can you believe it’s been seven years??”

I flash back to the memories I have of her father; rosy cheeked and always smiling, with his full shock of white hair…I remember the devastation in her voice when she called to tell me of his unexpected death those seven years ago today.

Today, already feeling overcome, I simply don’t have words. I just hug her.

Arm-in-arm, we stand at the starting line. The gun goes off and hundreds of running shoes crunch across frozen desert tundra. We wind around the sidewalks and canals that make up this course. We choke up reading the t-shirts with the photos of loved ones lost in the line of duty. Gasps are heard in the midst of frosty exhales as many are also touched.

We can barely breathe as we watch the U.S. Marines, with frozen hands bravely hoisting heavy American flags, racing along honoring their friends, their family members, their brothers who served and sacrificed.

Running is a great coping method; the forward motion of it, the ease of getting into a rhythm where your mind can wander into forgotten realms. Running forces you to breathe and to push forward when you would much rather stay paralyzed in grief and stuck in a stagnant loss.

With each step, our pace accelerates. Mile by mile, we continue passing countless others lost in their very own races against memory and sorrow.

With each foot-fall advanced and breath inhaled, the light of dawn grows stronger.

Something unexplainable happened as we pushed ourselves on this cold morning. As we changed stride and began sprinting across the last few hundred yards of the race, lost in breath and motion, something else lifted us and pushed us forward…We finished exhausted, frozen and exhilarated.

This day, this anniversary for my friend will be one she will never forget.

With her three kids whopping and hollering and her husband and us tearfully cheering, she accepted her first place medal with such a shocked smile spread across her face. (And for those of us who run 5K’s, we know this is a really, really BIG DEAL!)

First Place!

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Watching her accept her medal and pose for photos, my mind flashed back to the jovial and grinning image I have of her father. This day, the day her father died, but this new day, also her very first race and a first place finish. As if giving her permission to be something other than sad on this day, delivered straight from heaven was something to make her smile on this anniversary.

This was, indeed, a run to remember.