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Living Loved for Lent

heart with scribble

 

 

 

 

 

heart with scribble

 

I wake up Valentine’s Day to an empty bed.

The pink hearts and cute cupcakes we made don’t make the sheets warm. They don’t hold me strong and whisper hope and connect deep.

My Valentine is hundreds of miles away, sleeping in a strange bed in a foreign country and I wonder…

What do you do when love seems so far away? When you know the disconnect, the unfulfilled longings? When you crave it and no amount of cute pink and red fun fills the void?

How exactly can I stay filled up with love?

The kids are noisy and demanding and the environment is definitely not lit with soft candles as I open the letter from the greatest Valentine of all. But there are words, words of possibility and hope. Real words describing a REAL condition, just as real as my empty bed and noisy surroundings.

 

Jude 1:21

 

We can stay in Love.

No matter what. A provision has been made for us to enter into the Love Circle and stay there.

Author Keri Kent writes,

 

“Love consists, so often, of simply showing up. To be present with someone communicates far more than words. In a friend’s moment of grief or need, our presence is a far greater gift than anything we might bring or do, or even say.

The Incarnation is the ultimate example of “showing up.” But even now, two millennia later, if we pay attention, we will notice when Jesus shows up. He makes good on his promise to abide with us. His constant “being with” can be a source of comfort and joy. His inescapable presence consoles but also convicts. Our response varies by day, or even by moment.

Jesus is fully present with us, no matter where we go. The question is, do we acknowledge that presence? And do we, for lack of a better term, take advantage of it? Do we fully exploit and enjoy the fact that Jesus himself is nearby, looking at us with love?

How would we live if we fully embraced this incredible truth at all times?”

 

How indeed? To live every day a Valentine’s Day with a very present and real Lover who sacrifices everything to redeem and restore and relate with me?

It’s what we have, you know.

Maybe this Lent it’s time not to set rules but set aside a broken heart? Maybe it’s time to exchange empty fluff for real substance? For relationship? For Presence? Maybe it’s time to practice living loved?

 

 

An Invitation this Lent

 

from Keri Wyatt Kent, author of Deeply Loved:

 

Join Keri on a 40 day Lent study of her book Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesuson Facebook or by following her on Twitter (@KeriWyattKent #DeeplyLoved).

To read more from Deeply Loved, find the book at your favorite retailer or download the eBook for half price for a limited time.

About the Author:
Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of ten books, a freelance writer and speaker. She writes and speaks about slowing down, simplifying and listening to God. Excerpt from Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesusby Keri Wyatt Kent. © by Abingdon Press. Used by Permission.

deeply loved

 

Live Loved, my friends!

 

The Heart Stone

Ever since Richmond, we’ve looked for hearts.

It was July and every day we walked the hot black asphalt to get to our classes, Jackson and I to ours and the kids to theirs. Missionary training.

And one morning when we were running late of course,  Sunshine girl stopped on the black and pointed down. “Look momma,” she called to me already pushing ahead. “It’s a heart.”

Something, a divine hand perhaps, caused me to slow.

Sure enough, there in the burning black lay a speck of white, a glistening heart.

I looked my sunshine girl in the eyes and I told her that God wanted us to know that He loves us. “He’s sent us a message,” I said. “He’s reminding us that we are loved.”

Her smile and twinkle told me the words reached deep and we held hands and arrived late to our classes. Ever since then, we’ve searched for hearts.

And one day when the ordinary and mundane are in full swing and we are driving down I-40, Sunshine girl exclaims, “A heart momma! Look!” And I look up and there on a blank white billboard is the shape of a heart. It’s cut out of the board and you can see clear through- just an empty billboard with a heart blown through it.

We know we’re loved.

And one day when we are walking down the sidewalk, there’s a chalk heart and Sunshine reminds me “we are loved, momma.”

And then one day we go hiking with friends. Seven kids and four adults and getting lost and feeling tired and carrying piggyback…and a perfect heart. “Momma! Look what I found!” She’s yelling at me from behind, interupting the adult conversation that’s so rare. “What is it,” I ask and there she holds it in her palm: a heart stone the color of gold.

“Let me see, let me see!” her friend cries and snatches it out of her hand. “No, it is mine, I found it!” And mommas have to intervene and calm the fight.

Later, she slips up to me and whispers, “I gave Anna Grace my heart stone” and I have to admit my heart twinges strong. I want her heart stone to go into her keepsake box, a little reminder of how loved she is.

But I smile and tell her that was so kind and I stroke her face and she beams at me happy.

He speaks to me in that moment, He does. “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. Herein is love made perfect in us.”

Love is perfected in me when I love another.

Love is perfected in me when I love another!

Love is not complete until I give it away. And I look at Sunshine girl~ who cares so deeply about a heart stone~ slipping it to a friend who throws it in the dirt and moves on.

Isn’t this why we hold back? Is this not the reason why we find love imperfected in our lives? Because we know someone will take the sacred from us and trample it? This is the kind of love that fears, an imperfect love, because perfect love casts out fears.

So we give stingy love. We love as long as it doesn’t cost us. We love if it’s going to be worth the investment. We aren’t lavish and free and generous with our love. We protect our stone hearts.

I wonder how to overcome the fear. How to give it away, just like that heart stone…even when you know it’s going to be ill treated or lightly esteemed and I cry for my girls who need to see momma letting love be perfected.

That’s when He speaks again:

“My child, you can never lose love. You can only lose the stone heart.”

When we give love away, love is not lost. Only the heart of stone is. When I give love, even if it is trampled, I only lose that which is worthless in me. I can never lose the precious.

If love makes a demand that I want to shy away from, I need only remember that He is asking me for my stone heart. I can never lose the precious!

So friend, in whatever situation you are facing, here’s your heart. It’s to remind you that you are loved.

Stone Heart

Now what are you going to do with it?

Photo credit

Linked up with Ann today, along with many other great bloggers. Check them out?

When you need some positive in your day

On my knees on the red carpet, the one with the play dough ground in.

“I’ll be your hero, mom,” he had told me.

The girls had smeared blue play dough into the carpet and I had fussed and he had found a solution. He took the red play dough and smeared in on top, covered up the blue.

I had laughed and hugged his sweet body close and decided to leave the play dough just like that, hero style.

Now on my knees, I was face to face with that play dough as I prayed the verses for the very first time.

I’ve never sensed a greater “Yes!” from the heavens as that day when I prayed those scriptures. I knew the affirmation of God.

And when I returned to the states and walked the ladies bible study group through the verses, we all felt the “YES!”   It was a powerful time, a sweet time, a glimpse of heaven.

We had all stilled our hearts and closed our eyes and imagined the scene, the birthplace of God’s love for us:

There’s God in Heaven. Before the foundation of the world.

Before the earth existed and before the first man was created and before there was a twinkling in the skies.

Just God.

And He’s there, pacing among the men and women, boys and girls, the thoughts and plans of His heart before yet one of them was.

He’s walking back and forth, to and fro. Then He reaches you.

He pauses.

He turns.

And He stretches out His hand.

He touches and He begins to speak…

“I bestow upon you LIFE! I grant you full freedom and liberty in My Son Jesus Christ. I speak over your life victory, fullness, and give you the title “overcomer.”

 
“To you, I give the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
 
“I decree that no weapon formed against you will prosper.
 
“I give you full access to the throne of grace.
 
“I call you by a new name. I grant you forgiveness. I call you holy.
 
“You are set apart, precious, special.
 
“I delight over you.
 
“You are sealed and protected forever.
 
“Greater is the One who is in you than he who is in the world.
 
“I grant you everything you need to live godly in Christ Jesus.
 
“I seal you with My Spirit, who will spring up in you like wells of living water and produce love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control.
 
“You are My Beloved. Nothing will ever seperate you from My love.
 
“I am Yours and you are Mine. Forever.”

 

And the tears flow and the hearts are soft and we feel the presence of Love God.

As I did that morning on play dough carpet.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed ~ eulogeo ~ us with every spiritual blessing in the HEAVENLY PLACES in Christ, just as He chose us in Him BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD…” Ephesians 1:3

 

When Love Needs Skin

“How is it that you are so crazy about me?” I ask him.

I marvel at the love of a man for a woman. He could have anyone he wanted, but he wants me.

“You’re my bride!” He exclaims. “Any man who isn’t crazy about his bride has one of two problems: He either married the wrong woman or he isn’t right with God.”

We laugh a happy laugh that we married “right” and I fall in love again with his uncomplicated outlook, his straight forward and un-reserved passion that doesn’t get tangled up in all of life’s “what if’s.” To him, a man loves his woman wild and there’s something wrong if he doesn’t.

I still wonder at this kind of love when I arrive at church and the service begins~ I’m alone this morning, my Wild husband insisted on being the one to stay home with the sick children. I settle into my seat and hear again of the Savior who took on flesh, indwelt a body marked for death, because of crazy love for me.

I marvel still, trying to grasp it.

Then. I hear of Dr. Orlando, a man from Chicago who was in a car accident one night while with his wife. He was uninjured but his wife was severely hurt and needed an immediate skin graft in order to prevent infection.

When they arrived at the hospital, there was no skin donor available, so Dr. Orlando of course volunteered his own skin.

When they got to the OR however, there was no doctor available to do the procedure…but him.

So he prepared for surgery, took the scalpel, and with no anesthesia for himself, took graft after graft of his own skin to heal his wife’s injuries.

As his skin peeled and his blood flowed, the nurses and staff assisting him in the OR wept…but Dr. Orlando could not afford tears for his own pain. His agenda was his wife.

Steadily he worked until the procedure was done and everything had been supplied for his wife who desperately needed help.

Why would somebody do that?

Because it’s the way a man loves his woman.

And why would God peel back the glory of heaven and put on the skin of a man? Because of love, the love of God-man for His bride. For didn’t He take on skin so that He could give it up for the healing of His bride? And didn’t it “please the Father to bruise him?” And didn’t He, for the joy set before, endure the cross and despise the shame and reach down and peel back the flesh?

And isn’t it by His own stripes and wounds that I am healed from the curse and consequence of sin?

He went to the uttermost, all the way, loved to the very end, until He was able to say “It is finished” and only then did He bow His head and give up His spirit.

So I could be helped. Healed.

Redeemed. Salvaged. Restored.

LOVED.

The Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world, was given out of love…for me. For you. For us, His bride.

“How can God be so crazy about me?” I wonder.

Then it hits me. This question assumes His love is somehow associated with my worthiness. But just as my husband’s love is no credit to me but to him…he is no boy with immature feelings…he is no half-man who loves for self-profit…he is a man who has moved beyond childishness, who knows how to love another and does it well…

So it is with God.

God’s love for us was never intended to be to our credit, but His. This wild, heart thumping love that pushes to the most drastic of measures is a reflection of the Giver, not the taker.

He is God and there is none like Him.

He loves lavish. He loves tender. He loves softly, madly. He woos and whispers. He sings and dances. He hides expressions of His love throughout our days for us to discover. He pursues and beckons, He invites and waits.

He is God and there is none that loves like Him and it is impossible for anything to separate us from His love.

His love is a credit to His God-ness and I would be a fool to persist in trying to understand why He loves someone like me.

So I’ll just believe it. Embrace it. Tell Him “YES!”

I’ll delight in waking up to His warmth each day, in finding and opening His daily gifts.

And I’ll whisper to Him, “You love me so well. Can we do that again? I think I’m learning how to love You back…Shall we practice some more?”

I’ll love Him because He first loved me. Together, we’ll dance the dance of Lovers.

{Repost from the archives}

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How Christmas Comes

Her words fall soft in my inbox, “Can we bless you?”

I’ve never met her and her husband, just swapped emails every now and again, two sisters sharing virtual hugs. But when the words flutter soft, I suddenly know what Christmas means.

I know Christ all over again.

Christmas is Christ, the expression of God’s goodwill towards men.

Christ, the gift that cleared up any misconceptions about His intentions toward us.

How else would He prove to a world gone dark and spinning out of control that He hadn’t given up on us? That He had a plan and everything really was under control after all and we could finally believe that His intentions are safe?

His intentions are safe!

So the Son came as a baby.

Hasn’t it been said that the most vulnerable place to be is in the womb of a woman? And to prove His desire for us, His willingness to forgive, His undaunted love towards us… He shot His only Son out like an arrow, pierced the womb of a woman, and became the weakest, most vulnerable among us.

This is how Christ comes.

And with that, the bruised reed need not fear that He will break them. The smoldering wick need not fear that He will snuff them out. We can finally, fully trust because He has lavishly, extravagantly, extrovertedly proven His love.

This I see as one woman takes on the form of Christ and becomes His ministering hands and feet. She becomes weak so that I may become strong. She gives so that I may not be in want.

Surely Christ is with us, wooing and calling and giving and asking us to become like Him so that we can become His expression to another: “Fear not! I’ve good news from God. His intentions towards you are good! You can finally trust and be at peace.” 

 

Thank you to each dear reader who has blessed me with kind words, link backs, shares, and faithful readership this past year. May the words shared here on Arabah be a gift of grace to you, an expression of love from the Father. Much love, Arabah

If you would like to receive updates automatically, you can subscribe to this blog (it’s free) by clicking here.

Scandalous

lonelyness

 

 

Eric and Woody were looking at me, listening intently, wondering what exactly I had discovered.

I’d entered that dark, cold prison cell with John the Baptist. With him, I’d asked, “Are You really the One?”

I’d agonized.

I’d wondered if I was really His.

I’d doubted God.

I’d done the opposite of what Jesus said the “blessed” ones do.

“My faith was obliterated,” I told them. “I needed to know where that left me. Was I shipwrecked?

“I did a word study on that word ”stumble.”

“It refers to a very specific condition, “to cease believing.”

In fact, one dictionary says it is to “cause a person to distrust One who is worthy of complete trust and obedience.”

It’s what Jesus said not to do to children.

“Furthermore,” I told them, “it is the word Jesus used when He went to the cross. He said all of the disciples would “fall away.” This is the same word He used. See, even the disciples stumbled in their faith.

“And Jesus told Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith would remain. And when you have returned, strengthen your brethren.”

I looked into their faces, my own eyes wet. “Stumbling doesn’t have to be permanent,” I told them.

“When it all comes down, it is understanding that He holds onto us. That no matter what evil has been done to us, no matter what dark nights we have seen, no matter the fear and loneliness…no matter our own faithlessness and falling away, the depth of our sinfulness… HE IS FAITHFUL.”

“It is holding onto His character.”

And I don’t know how they understood the weak attempt I made, but they did.

Husband took over from there and explained the love of God and talked for another hour or more, doing much better than I did.

He shared how God was demonstrating His love that very moment, in bringing us all to this same place at this same time, out of every place we could and should be, the globe over…

Yet He orchestrated each of our lives so we could be together, in order for us each to know His hope and grace and speak together of His love.

“He loves you. He wants you to believe it.” And he quotes John 3:16. Such a simple statement, yet so rich.

Later, after we’d hugged Woody’s neck and prayed for them both and slipped a $20 in Woody’s old truck as an expression of God’s love, we left and returned home to our own babes and noise and busyness.

“What did the Lord say to you through all that,” husband asked me.

“I’m not sure yet,” I told him. “I need to think about it.”

I thought about what had happened to Woody.

I thought about what had happened to me, as a child.

I thought about Little Bit and the trauma she has experienced.

I thought about the depths of pain and sin and heartache and trauma.

I thought about what persecution did to John the Baptist and what disillusionment did to the disciples and what oppression did to the Israelites.

In each case, it skewed their perspective of God. It caused them to stop believing.

I thought about all the things that cause us to withdraw and reject and not believe God’s love for us.

And then it hit me.The word for “stumble,” that word that means to cease trusting the One who is absolutely worthy and deserving of our complete trust and obedience.

It’s the word “Skandalizo” in the Greek.

Scandal.

And there He is, reaching deep again and bringing me to my knees. I know what to tell Jackson. I know what it is He wants to say to me.

“It’s not what is done to you that is scandalous, my child. Distrust for Me is the real scandal.

This is what causes heavenly hosts to gasp and cover their eyes and bring hands to mouth. This is what causes those who know God’s nature to hide in shame….when one of us distrusts Him.

I thought of the abuse I experienced as a child…and that the real scandal is that I responded in distrust for God.

I thought about hardship and pain and trauma and rejection and abuse and neglect and poverty and deep suffering the world over…and yet still the real scandal is when our response is distrust for the Holy One.

Because the sufferings of this world don’t compare to the glory of Him.    If we could just see!

And isn’t this why Satan attacks our faith and starts even with the youngest of children? He wants to blind our eyes with pain. He wants to mar our vision with abuse, neglect, and hardship.

He wants us to keep our eyes on our own failures and sin.

He wants to scandalize the One who should never, ever, ever be doubted, the One who demonstrated the depths of His character by entering the womb of a woman…being cared for by sinful man…being vulnerable to other’s sin…then dying at the hands of us all.

Oh yes, Satan wants to establish early on a lifestyle of truly scandalous living…distrust for One whose very name is Love.

I drop to my knees and pray to the Holy One who is worthy. “Oh my God, may I never scandalize You again!”

“Satan has done everything he can to sift me and shipwreck my faith. But You have prayed for me and You are the author and finisher of my faith, Jesus, and You have been faithful to me when I have been faithless. Praise Your Name! Now, Worthy One, may I never scandalize You again.”

And I pray for a man named Woody, a man traveling into a Colorado winter and a painful, lonely death. “May he be saved,” I pray. “May You find him. May his dark, cold prison of death be where he discovers Your faithfulness….Your trustworthiness. May his stumbling turn to faith.”

And His whispered response reverberates deep within: “Strengthen the brethren, my child. Strengthen the brethren.”

Friend, are you stumbling? If you are, I have written you a letter that answers the question “How can my faith be restored?” I’m staying up late at the Lord’s prompting to write this :) It is my joy to share two simple lifestyle habits with you. To access the letter, simply click here. Love and blessings, friend. AJ

{Part I of this story can be read here}

How To Afford What Really Matters- Living Loved

We step over gooey gum in the parking lot. Oldest carries the sack lunch and everyone but Little Bit herds to my side of the van to get in.

I call for her to come join us. I buckle youngest into his seat and Little Bit still hasn’t shown up.

“Little Bit,” I call, “Come around to this side and I’ll help you get in.”

Nothing.

I’m afraid she’ll wander into the parking space adjacent us so I go to check on her and there she is, standing at the back of the car, eyes hard, arms tight. For reasons only known to her, she is threatened by my instruction to come to the other side and has decided to resist.

The sight of her standing there like that in full blown rebellion makes my blood boil just about instantaneously. Here we are trying to make a fun family outing and she wants to pull a rebel stunt in the middle of the parking lot over something absolutely inconsequential.

I want to reprimand her. I want to slather her in harsh words. I want to exercise my parental “rights,” and re-iterate my expectations. I want her to know it is unacceptable to ignore instruction and impolite to hold everyone up with her silly games.

I want her to pay for the interruption in our plans.

Except there is something else at work in me. Something that reminds me this way doesn’t work. Something that asks, “Is this really what you want?”

The flesh in me cries out for relief. Yes, it is what I want. I want to lash out and exact payment, all in the bounds and guise of correction of course.

I know this voice well. How often it tells me that I need to teach my children a lesson; that a few well placed, hard words will bend them to my liking and will prevent future mishaps; that in order to get the appropriate response I want, I must listen to my emotions, lay down the law. I surely must address this and nip it in the bud. If not, my child will run wild and I’ll never be able to “control” him or her again. I simply can’t afford anything other than strongarmed parenting.

Except the voice has been proven a liar.

I’ve been down a parenting road or two that I don’t ever care to visit again.

This is one of them.

But how to find the way out? Because it is a dark road, not well marked, and finding your way back isn’t easy.

And just because I’ve learned that Shepherd’s staff trumps Egypt’s whip doesn’t mean I always know what the staff looks like…how it plays out from situation to situation. It can all be so frustratingly ambiguous. What exactly am I supposed to do?

The refrain echos from the chambers of my heart: “Live Loved,” it says once again.

“Be rooted and grounded in love, so that you may be filled up with the fullness of Christ. Be imitators of God, as dearly beloved children. That is, walk in love, just as Christ also loved you. Lay aside the old self and put on the new self.” Ephesians 3:17-19; 4:20-24; 5:1-2

Living loved is what enables one to give love. I can never muster up enough forgiveness, enough grace, enough kind words for parenting my children…unless I live in the love God has for me.

I can never deal well with life’s interruptions and little slights and rejections and hurts…never can I live humble and meek in a dog eat dog world… unless I live in the love God has for me.

But when I live loved, I can afford forgiveness. Generosity. Gracious Speech. Kind words overflowing.

I can afford to take a beating.

I can afford to suffer a wrong.

I can afford costly inconveniences and painful slights.

I can afford to lay down my life, quarter by quarter.

In fact, living loved is the only way I will ever be able to afford to give my kids the things that really matter.

I’ve tried holding it together myself, being a good mom, being morally and spiritually impeccable. And I’ve flat out failed so many times that I’ve come to the realization that I’ll never be my own Savior. It is not in trying harder and being more spiritual that I have a hope to be a better mom. No, only in receiving the Love He has for me do I have a hope of giving grace, pouring kindness, taking risks, letting go, bearing it all.

Isn’t this why both Colossians and Ephesians couch the “put off the old/ put on the new” passages with instruction to live as beloved of God?

It’s the only way to afford love: live loved.

“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. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (I John 4:12,16)

I stretch out my hand and take Little Bit’s. “Come on, Little Bit,” I tell her. “We are going to have a picnic and I need you to be my big helper. Can you do that?”

I lead her around from behind the van to the side door.

The flesh and the law hates to let go of the inner tirade it wants to spew out. But I see little lips tugging into a smile and I know I can afford oh, so much more. How well I’m loved!

“Silly ol’ girl!” I tell her and reach down to tickle her belly.

She laughs and I’ve just lived and given.

And deep within, I can almost feel Love being perfected.

 Reposted from archives as I’m reminded to be rooted and grounded in love…

You’ve Got A Friend {How Jesus Loves}

 

When I shook his hand back in early ’02, I had no idea that needles had been shoved under those fingernails, that an electric baton had been placed in his mouth, that he’d shrunk up so small his own family didn’t recognize him.

It was his mother who finally confirmed his identity through a tiny birthmark on his shriveled, malnourished body.

Husband and I were standing in the parking lot of the missionary training center. “They are headed to your country,” our mutual friend said and a translator interpreted the introduction. Husband and I beamed, fresh and inexperienced, ready to change the world for Jesus’ sake. Ready to forsake it all. Ready to give our lives.

I had no earthly idea that I should have dropped to my knees right then and there and washed this man’s feet.

He shone Jesus. He oozed Jesus. He was filled with the joy of the Lord.

It wasn’t until later that I read his story, an absolute incredible story of a life filled with Jesus and poured out for Jesus and used by Jesus so powerfully and I couldn’t put the book down!

It was in those pages that I read of Brother Yun and a crazy man named Huang:

One morning the director of the prison called me to his office. He courteously offered me a cup of tea and asked me to sit on a soft chair. He said, “Yun, I know you believe in Jesus. Today I’ve decided to give you a special assignment.”

I thought he was going to ask me to report on other prisoners, but the director continued, “In cell number nine is a murderer named Huang. Every day he tries to kill himself. He is crazy and tries to bite the other prisoners. We’ve decided to send him to your cell. From now until the day he is executed we want you to watch over him and make sure he doesn’t harm himself or the other prisoners. If you don’t remain alert, and he kills himself, we will hold you fully accountable.”

When I heard this news I immediately felt Huang was a precious soul the Lord had given us to rescue.

When Huang was brought into our cell the next morning, I thought he was like the man possessed by a legion of demons, in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. He was handcuffed behind his back and had chains manacled around his ankles. He spoke filthy words and kept trying to mutilate his body by cutting himself with his ankle chains. He was ferocious and full of hatred, and just 22 years old.

In cell number 9 the prisoners had treated him like an animal, kicking and punching him. They’d refused to feed him for days. Instead, they mocked him by deliberately pouring his food over him. His clothes were covered with food stains.

One day, out of sheer desperation and pain, Huang waited until nobody was watching and rammed his head into the wall as hard as he could, in a bid to kill himself. He survived, but left a dent in the wall.

…For many days he had not washed because of his chains, so he smelled terribly. Because of the love of God in our hearts, we loved Huang. The cell mates pointed to me and told him, “This is Yun. He is our leader and a Christian pastor. Do not fear. We will take care of you.”

I asked everyone to give Huang some of their precious drinking water. We filled a basin and I carried it to Huang’s side. I tore off part of my shirt and dipped it in the water. Then I gently cleaned the dirt and dried blood from his face and mouth.

After drying his face I tore off part of my blanket and cleaned the cuts formed by his handcuffs and foot chains. I used a little toothpaste to disinfect his raw wounds, then carefully bandaged them.

Huang didn’t say a word. He just sat there with his eyes wide open and stared at everyone. I knew the Lord was already touching his heart.

At lunchtime we each gave some of our rice to our new cell mate. I used a spoon to feed Huang…

Dinner that evening happened to be the time for our weekly mantou (a small piece of steamed bread). All the brothers looked at me. I knew they were so hungry. I told them, “Today we’ve already shared our rice and water with our new friend Huang, so we can eat our own mantou tonight, but I hope you’ll share some of your soup with him tomorrow.”

I fed Huang first and then started to eat my own meal.

When I took the first bite of my mantou I felt like crying. A tender voice welled up inside me, saying, “I died for you on the cross. How can you show me that you love me? When I am hungry, thirst, and in prison, if you do these things to the least of my brethren, you do them unto me.”

Immediately I knew God wanted me to sacrifice what was left of my mantou and give it to Huang. I bowed down and wept. I said, “Lord, I’m also starving. I feel so hungry.

A Scripture from the Bible came to mind, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35)

I wrapped the rest of my mantou in a handkerchief and placed it inside my clothes, saving it for Huang. Immediately peace and joy returned to me.

The next morning’s breakfast consisted of watery noodle soup, containing just a few strands of noodles. We all shared with Huang, but he wasn’t happy even with his larger portion so he shouted to the guard, “I’m going to die! Why don’t you give me a good sized meal? Are you trying to starve me before you execute me?”

Right then the Lord told me, “Hurry, take the mantou from your shirt and feed him.” With my back turned towards Huang I broke the bread and placed the pieces of mantou in his soup bowl. Immediately Huang’s stony heart broke.

Huang dropped off his chair, knelt down on the floor, and wept. He said, “Older brother, why do you love me like this? Why didn’t you eat your bread last night? I am a murderer, hated by all men. Even my own parents, my brother and sister, and my fiance have disowned me. Why do you love me so much?”

I knew this was the time the Lord wanted me to share the gospel with him. This hardened criminal tearfully accepted the love of Jesus into his heart.

~From Brother Yun’s biography The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, one of those books that will change your life. Brother Yun also tells what happened to Huang after he received Jesus. Truly amazing.

 

And this man reminds me of the tender love of Jesus and how we are to owe no man anything but love and do I love like that? Do I allow myself to be loved like that, to know the love of Jesus that deep?

To experience the deep, tender, passionate love of Jesus means I allow Him to use my body as His means of expression, as the vehicle of His demonstration. “God is love and the one who abides in love abides in God and God in him. By this, love is perfected…” I John 4: 16-17

Perhaps my body goes hungry. Perhaps my body grows tired. Perhaps my arms ache and my feet blister and my heart hurts. By choosing to love, God’s love is perfected in me.

So when I hear of a mom and son in our area for medical observation, I jump at the chance to be His hands, His feet, His expression of love. Will He really allow me to play such a part? Amazing! 

It’s not much, but it’s a Holy Spirit prompting and I follow it. I print the card and glue it onto construction paper and write on it, “You’ve got friends in Memphis.” And I attach it to cookies and deliver it so they know that Jesus is with them and Jesus people are here for them and even if they are far from home they are never far from His arms and we are ready to make sure they don’t ever forget.

So I want to say the same to you, dear reader: “You’ve got a friend.” Jesus is with you and Jesus people are here for you and even when it seems like you’re all alone, the love of Christ is there, compelling another to express His love to you.

You are loved and you’ve got a friend.

Can I express it to you, dear friend? Here, take my mantou and know the love of Christ…

**Such a blessing to meet this blogger friend in person. Jennifer has mentored me in so many ways through her testimony and her family’s faith walk. An honor to meet her and son Nathan… And please…consider reading Brother Yun’s story? I promise you will be glad you did.

Patchwork Motherhood

I probably should have known better, but when I put the stuffed dog in the wash I really didn’t think there’d be a problem.

That evening when littlest asked for his doggy, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had busted him in the washing machine and he remained in there, torn apart, stuffing all over the place.

Schedules pushed and bedtimes called and poor doggy lay in the washer all night while little boy slept with a stand in. Come morning, I had already forgotten about the busted open…until I tried to do the two daily loads of laundry.

I called little boy. “Here’s your doggy,” I told him. “He’s busted open.”

“Doggy has a boo-boo?” His little voice squeaked as he watched me pull him from the washer.

“Yes,” I told him. “But mommy is going to fix him.”

I grabbed the sewing kit I picked up at Dollar Tree and my reading glasses too, because there’s no way I can thread a needle without them…and sat down at the kitchen table.

Little boy comes and tugs at my arm. “I wanna sit you, momma,” he told me.

He climbed into my chair and we re-stuffed the doggy and he took each roll of thread from the bag and broke the scissors and poked himself with the needle. And I get the thread tangled somehow and end up using green on a black and white dog and little boy’s friend carries a ragged repair job, but little boy and I are so happy doggy is fixed.

And I think about how mommas help heal boo-boos…how we help ease hurts….how we fix broken things.

Or try.

Because I get threads tangled and make a mess of repair jobs. And I use wrong colors for the child-scheme I’m working with and the best I ever seem to do is still a ragged-edged mess.

When the doggy is done, Little Boy hops down and the spools of thread are all scattered. He reaches down and eats a peanut off the floor as he grabs a spool and I think of how this kitchen needs a good cleaning and the laundry still needs starting and meat needs thawing for dinner.

But in my hands is a ragged-edged repaired doggy for my little boy.

I kneel down in front of him. “Here, buddy,” I tell him softly. “Here’s your doggy.”

He takes the doggy with a joyful laugh and I look deep into his eyes. “I love you so much,” I tell him as I touch his face.

I feel crumbs on my knees.

Chances are, he will never remember momma fixing his doggy while spilled snack crunches under our feet. He will probably never remember green thread on the white underbelly of a dog.

Our children may never know the small ways we pour out, the little sacrifices that amount to the best of one’s life.

But they are gifts anyway.

Even when the edges are ragged and the color is wrong and the needle pricks and the threads are tangled. Even when it looks we’ll never be able to fix and repair the busted.

Give it anyway, your imperfect patchwork of love.

The Way He Loves Me

 

Dark skies split open and thunder cracks loud, waking me up. By the time I get to the airport several hours later, the storm moving up the eastern coast has caused major disruptions to flights, including mine~ cancelled.

The airline re-routes me but another delayed flight means that I’ll likely be spending the night at the airport.

“There’s no other flight out to Memphis tonight,” the attendant tells me. “There’s a chance your connecting flight may also be delayed, but don’t get your hopes up. I’m reserving you a seat on the 6am tomorrow.”

I’m prepared to spend the night in the airport…but I’m not giving up yet.

I reach Cleveland. It’s 5:20 and my connecting flight leaves at 5:40, on a different airline, at a different terminal and I have no idea where to go to get there. It’s not looking good at all.

I’m standing there, looking around for departure information, trying to figure out where to go. Out of nowhere, a man is beside me. He’s carrying a bag and wearing a white “Continental Airlines” shirt. “Where are you headed?” he asks.

“I’m on Delta at 5:40,” I tell him.

“Alright, you’re going to need to go down these stairs and then walk down the people mover.” He’s not a chatter.

He is by my side, move by move. Each step of the way, he coaches me… down stairs, around corners, through construction areas, out of terminal D and into terminal A.

“Just keep walking,” his voice is behind me, urging me on, directing me where to go. We are running through the airport.

 He takes me straight to the gate. “Thank you, sir,” I tell him, near tears. “I’ve got 4 babies at home wanting to see their momma tonight and without you, I’d be sleeping here. God bless you.”

He nods and disappears. An angel.

The plane is already boarded. The jetway is closed. “Has Memphis departed?” I ask the attendant. He is processing the next flight: Houston.

“Yes ma’am,” He says. “But let me just check…”

The clock behind him reads 5:26 and says that gates will close 15 minutes prior to departure time.

Another attendant appears and I ask, “Is there anyway I can make this flight? If not, I sleep here…”  My voice trails off and I can see he is receptive. Here is another of Cleveland’s best, a young black man with the energy of my 8 year old son. He looks at me with favor, grace.

Gift.

“I don’t know if there is a seat left,” he tells me. “Let me run check…” Before he exits through the “Authorized Personnel Only” door, he turns back. “Come with me!” he says.

I grab my bag and run. Again.

We run down stairs and outside through the rain.

“Hey!!” He yells it up to the flight attendant on board, waving his arms to prevent the door from shutting.

I’m standing in the rain with my bag. I see the staircase at the open door and I know I’m on this flight. Thank God, I’m going to see those babies tonight.

He runs ahead and checks for a seat. There is a single, solitary one remaining onboard.

And it’s mine.

I thank another Cleveland angel and everyone is watching me as I pass to the back of the plane and I’ve never felt so loved in all my life.

I sit down next to a lady headed to Pheonix and I know my face is beaming. It’s gotta be.

“It’s a miracle you’re on here,” she tells me.

“I know,” I smile. “I know.”

All the way home the rain disappears and I look out over cloud formations of mountains and canyons and islands floating…and I bask in the provision He made and the strangers He touched for me to get home.

I think of all the years I felt unloved by Him. The years I wondered. The times even now I’m tempted to doubt.And I praise Him for the eyes to see His love for me. He was sent to give sight to the blind and today I see. Today I hear. Today I know….the way He loves me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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