Come Back, Please

Following up on last week’s post, Shepherds False and True, I want to focus on one aspect of that piece. I want to talk about love that pursues.

In my previous post, I referenced the passage of Scripture that describes the man with one hundred sheep, the one who left the 99 to go after the one that was missing. This story ended in rejoicing that after a search, the sheep had been found. The man loved the sheep enough to go after it. He pursued it.

For many of us, the thought of being pursued in love, and I’m not talking about some sick control thing, by any church when there is a problem is beyond comprehension. These institutions are so used to having traffic go both ways on a regular basis that one more family out the door means nothing.

If a family is struggling with something at the church, it is far easier, a relief even, for these leaders to just wave good-bye  than to actually face the issues at hand. Doing so might reveal deep problems, sin, real issues at the church, and “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Love that pursues.  Think of what these words below would mean when you are having to walk away in a seemingly unsolvable situation:

“Wait, would you come back? We value you. We love you and your family. You are important to us. Can we talk this over one more time? Please don’t leave yet.”

Think how healing these words, spoken in sincerity, would be! Think how beautiful to know that your presence, your family’s presence, matters. That all is not lost.

Imagine this scenario. A church has serious issues going on. Gossip is rampant, families are leaving in droves. Hearts are broken everywhere, as the environment deteriorates and families see no other choice but to drive away.

What if the pastor(s), rather than circling the wagons, meeting with lawyers, holding stern congregational meetings with threats about gossip and slander, stopped everything planned.

What if every meeting, every Bible class, every Sunday School class, every youth group event, every small group get-together, every single thing on the schedule came to a halt? And for as long as it took, they held prayer meetings inside the church sanctuary. Sackcloth and ashes time. A call to reconciliation and confession of pride and everything else. Pastors on their faces rather than lecturing against gossip. Imagine a congregation following the leadership’s model of humility and love.

What if apologies were sent out to pursue wronged and departed members, letters of contrition, letters of love and requested reconciliation to those families forced to leave by arrogance, pride and cold hearts at the top on down?

No slick “revivals”, no professional seminars, no programmatic anything. Just seeking the Jesus so often talked about, and yet so rarely present.

Would this change things? Yes, it would change everything if cold, unfeeling hearts were replaced by the Holy Spirit with new ones, tender and easily broken.  It would change things very quickly if callous indifference were replaced with love, the love that pursues and doesn’t give up.

Maybe this has happened in our time, somewhere in America. I have never heard of it if it has. I do know of countless Christians who have been forced to leave churches they once loved, churches where they hoped to raise their families. This is the terrible reality many know. Meanwhile, the church show must go on.

On a related note, there is general concern expressed in many places about the departure of Millennials from churches. I’ve read countless articles from various Christian news sources about how this demographic is walking away from evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

I’ve also read all the suggested fixes for this, ranging from the usual “cool church” makeovers of formerly staid and conservative congregations to denying cardinal doctrine.  It’s all a howling joke, people. It won’t work.

Some young people will leave church, because the message of the Gospel is offensive and they prefer the world. But who is to answer for the many others  who have walked away, because they have never, ever seen any reality of Jesus in the professing Christians in the churches where they were raised, and theyhave ceased to believe Jesus even exists? Who will give an account for the church politics (I could tell so many stories about that one), the obsession with image over reality, the false fronts, the play acting, the egos, the fraud and the total absence of power in the lives of the “believers” they knew from earliest childhood? Absence of power? What power? The power of forgiveness and reconciliation from Jesus Christ as seen in relationships! The power that can cause a hard heart to grow soft — a miracle only God can achieve. The power that causes change, not just empty talk.

This is what young people need to see. It’s what all of us need to see, more than ever in these times when the “love of many has grown cold.” It’s what we need to show in our own lives.

We may have nobody who pursues us in love, especially from any institution calling itself church. But we must be the church and pursue others in love when there are problems. Pride shuts the door and locks it on those with whom there is a problem. Churches like this are citadels of pride. We can all be citadels of pride. But where pride reigns, it ruins. It ruins people, and it ruins churches as a result.

“Please don’t go. You and your family matter to us. Come back, won’t you? Let’s talk this out. We love you.”

Those beautiful words, so rarely spoken in sincerity.  What wonders they could accomplish.

What Haters Lose

I’ve been targeted  by a man for 31 years in May. He’s a relative with too much time on his hands and very little to do but follow my life, read this blog and send attack emails in hopes of causing injury and angry reaction. It used to be hurtful and confusing. It is now a source of humor and pity, simultaneously.

When we have real love, we have no need to hurt other people for sport. The sight of blood in the injury of someone else causes horror and concern, not pleasure, if you are a loving and normal person. That is one big “if.”

The goal of this kind of sad person is always pain. But they won’t say so. They will wrap their true goal in regal robes of religious pomposity or faux concern. These people have a barge full of personal garbage in their own lives, and worst of all, they think nobody knows it. But that doesn’t stop them from going full on pharisee about the lives of others. It’s chuckle worthy if you can see the humor in it. If not, shed a tear for them.

The beauty of the passage of time, lots of it, is that it brings things into focus in a way that makes you wonder why you didn’t see things as they were years before. Pathological antagonists are sad people. They are worthy of pity and prayer.

I think how different lives like this would be if they had lived in love. The very thing hate-filled people supposedly crave could be theirs–a lifetime of it. Because respect sown into the lives of others grows respect. Love and understanding grow love and understanding. You give and find out that what little you gave comes back to you in far greater amounts. It’s how God designed it.

Belittling someone’s pain, adding to it, mocking, judging, attacking, piling on in someone’s life at difficult moments, dear stalker, if you only saw yourself as God and others see you. If you only knew what you have thrown away on the altar of pride and malice. You could have had it all, untold riches of generational love and respect. True wealth.

When you are dead. When your lifeless form lies silent and cold at the funeral home awaiting burial or cremation, what do you want people to say about you? That you were one kick-rear business person? That you had a great house and pool or the best vacations money could buy? That you were a great communicator or blogger or athlete or leader who fought moral evil or (fill in the blank)?

This is what I want others to think about me when I’m gone. I want them to know that I loved people. That I grieved when things weren’t right with them. Maybe too much so. That people were important to me, even if I was not important to them. That I have a heart that was easily pricked and convicted. That I shut nobody out permanently. That I was always open to sincere reconciliation, even if nobody was interested in sincerely reconciling.  That I may have had differences, but that I didn’t hate anybody.

I have been married to a man for 22 years in June. His hallmark is humility and kindness. He has never deliberately and maliciously hurt anyone. He is moved with compassion so easily, it amazes me. He once got up in the wee hours to bring a bag of food to a former colleague who had fallen on hard times–someone who had called, because he was literally without food. The man passed away shortly after that. He KNEW who would care, because Tom never turns anyone away with real need. He doesn’t judge people. I’ve seen this times without number.

I am blessed beyond measure to not only witness Tom’s love, but that of his beautiful family. They are role models for love in action, decades of it. I owe these people my life in many ways. Love like this restores your hope and counteracts the poison of lies from those who live in hate. It contradicts the haters who tell you, you are hopelessly flawed. You are the problem. You are wrong. You are defective. You are not worthy of my love.

Love says, I’ll take you, flaws and all. I will bind up the hurt places. I will cover you with my kindness. I will keep you warm when you are cold. I will listen when you open your heart and I won’t dismiss or laugh at you, I will believe you. You are worthy of love.  I love you.

That kind of real love makes another human being come to life again. It does something else.  It causes a person  to want to  return that love with everything they have. The haters will never know love–love that gives life and laughter and joy. The haters spend their years wanting blood and pain from a victim, hacking away with all their might, only to find out in old age that the only one they were really  injuring was themselves.  It could have been so different and so beautiful if only they would have loved and without conditions.  Could have been.  The saddest words in the English language.

Yesterday, I caught the blue of the sky as background for our magnolia tree in full bloom. God’s glory shining through his creation.

Where Love is Found

It’s not in Valentine’s Day bouquets and chocolates that true love can be seen and felt, as nice as those things are.

It’s in the dear voice in the hospital room when a scary diagnosis comes. “It’s OK. We’re in this together.”

Love is in the extended hug at the end of a long day when a tired husband comes in from the cold, having toiled so that wife and child can have what they need.

It’s found in the man who carries the laundry baskets up the stairs for a wife who struggles physically.

It’s in the clean laundry a husband finds in his drawer and the meals prepared, however simple.

Love is there in forgiveness when an apology comes from one or the other.

It is in the warm hand that covers a cold one when life’s tragedies seem overwhelming.

Love is in the eye contact where a smile is never far away.

It is in the ear of the listening spouse who may have heard the same story many times, but doesn’t say so, because he knows something lies underneath the telling of it.

Love lies in deep understanding of where a spouse is coming from, even when they are at their worst.

It is real love that patches up hurt places, that listens, that protects and defends. It’s real love that builds up the other, that looks through kindly eyes, that supports, that is loyal and steadfast.

This is what young adults, especially, need to know in this tragic, broken world of fakery and fraud in counterfeit love and marriage.

When you remove all the contemporary wedding frippery and glitter, all the Instagram filtered glam of the Big Day, you will have either a foretaste of hell or a glimpse of heaven.

It takes two who are committed, by God’s grace and with his help, to walk through life together with the goal of bringing a little heaven down, whether it be in a hospital room, a little cottage or a castle. It can still be done.

“And standing there…Jane knew that she had found the best. Marriage was not a thing of luxury and soft living, of flaming moments of wild emotion. It was a thing of hardness shared, of spirit meeting spirit of dream matching dream.” ~ The Dim Lantern by Temple Bailey

“…Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~ Corinthians 13:!3

Caring Hand on Senior Hand

He Gathered the Pieces

Twenty-one years ago, I was getting ready to marry Tom (on the 30th!) . Our lives have taken many twists and turns with six children, many joys and some big losses. The simplest way to express what my husband has meant to me is found in these words below. For some reason I will never understand, Tom valued my “scattered pieces”, and he picked them up, more than once, and glued them back together. I owe the man my life.  I carry a photo of Tom in my wallet and every time I buy groceries or need ID, I see his face, and I am thankful for him. Every day that goes by, I see God’s kindness to me in providing this man, who loved me when other people in my life that I loved  just walked away. Thank you, Tom, for loving the broken pieces like Jesus.

faithfulfriend

So Much…

So much bleakness, so much bad news, so much fear in our times. but there is so much good also, right in front of us, miracles that remind us of God’s goodness. Our children and grandchildren bring joy and love to our lives. Little Gianna, our youngest grandchild, is growing and filling out. We are looking forward to having a family  get together tonight, just because. Just because we enjoy talking and being with them, just because they are what really matters in life, just because we love them all. That’s what family is supposed to be. A little refuge of love in a dark world.

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Party Time

Emmy left for school today with a bag of Valentines she had prepared for her class and teachers and even the pastor. She also had packed a bag of chocolate kisses and boxes of candy hearts with messages on them for her fellow students. It brought back memories of being in first grade, and having the big party to look forward at the end of the school day with the pink frosted cupcakes and cards to read. Delicious.

Aunt Kris sent some heart socks that we decided would be an appropriate touch for the party. Emmy informed me that she would like to wear her Sunday shoes instead of school shoes, because the socks called for more celebratory footwear. (That was the gist of it anyway!)

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Only One Face

I first posted this in April of 2011, and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, it says what I would like to say about love.

I was leaving a concert last Friday night when I was stuck in a big crush of people trying to leave the building. Hundreds of people surrounded me coming down the stairs and pouring out of the doors onto the avenue in downtown Milwaukee.

All of them were strangers I was unlikely to see again. It was a sea of faces, and I did not recognize any. It’s a melancholy feeling being surrounded by people, all of whom have someone with them and you don’t.

As I descended the stairs I kept looking around me for one familiar face, but there wasn’t one. I was pressed forward into the crowd towards the street, carried away by the strangers around me.

Just as I reached the doors, a man grabbed me on the shoulder, and I turned around, startled. He was wearing a tux, and his eyes were smiling. In his left hand was a trumpet case. My Tom.

I grabbed his arm, and we made our way down the busy downtown street to the parking garage. On the way home, I thought about all the millions who have ever lived and all the billions alive today, and how among all those people, there is only one man’s face I look for. That’s the thing about love. Nobody else will do. No other face can light up your heart but one.

In that brief moment, I was reminded again of what a miracle real love is in this world that has so much hatred and so much pain in it. It isn’t something to take for granted, and if you have it in your life, do all you can to nurture and protect it. Thank God for that one and only person who loves you–the one and only face you look for in a crowd.

Assets

“But, she thought, setting her coffee mug carefully on the chipped table top, on her worst day, at the worst moment of her life, she could always comfort herself that she was not like the creatures from Johnson Road. The empty shells who walked around posing as humans, as Christians,  but who were ancient, and anything but human or Christian. The ones who enjoyed the suffering of others and who feasted on innocence, joy and goodness.  No, she was not like them at all. And they hated her for that.

They had tried everything to destroy her for being different. She watched dust motes float slowly from the ceiling with the light from the setting sun through the window highlighting their slow-motion ballet. Her thoughts touched ever so briefly on all they had tried to do.

But she had two traits they couldn’t wipe out, and it infuriated them. One was her joy that had a way of bubbling up, even while they stalked around her windows at night, scheming, plotting, wishing the worst upon her. And they were outside, never inside, no matter how hard they tried to get in to divide and conquer. They couldn’t be allowed in. They had to be kept away for her own protection.

The other trait the creatures hated in her was an iron-clad sense of humor. She smiled at the incongruity of  the words.  And the truth was,  angry, miserable people were funny if you could get past the superficial pain they inflicted. They could be counted on to show up on cue, like dark knights, Job’s comforters—their faces set in granite-hard  lines , eyes cold with anger, their bodies wearing their umbrage like black death shrouds.  You could almost hear the music of Jaws or the fight scene from the Montagues and the Capulets when they approached.  Yes, they were funny, in a sad sort of way.

What made it most ridiculous was that these people said they were Christians, Christ being the first part of that word. She thought of every scene in the New Testament where Jesus Christ appeared. Not one glimpse of him stalking around pridefully, spreading malicious gossip, sneering and holding himself better than others, giving out pompous advice while living otherwise, throwing the first stone at an adulterous woman or scorning the Samaritan woman at the well.  Instead, He knelt down, touched the untouchable, responded to the calls of the disabled. He spoke only truth, even hard truth, because he valued the souls of people.

The creatures used the name of Jesus. Did they really believe themselves to be Christians, pure delusion, or did they know all along what they were doing and who they were? It was impossible to say, she mused. Those they spent so much time trying to destroy knew very well that they had nothing to do with the kindly Jesus, the one who sacrificed his own life for others.

She noticed suddenly the aroma of apples and cinnamon that had filled the small, shabby kitchen.  The goodness in the oven was radiating happy deliciousness. The dog who dozed on the floor was warm on her feet. Through the window, she saw her husband come through the gate and down the walk to the door. The sight of his face made her heart sing a jazzy little tune.

That was something else they hated. She was loved. In all of her imperfections, contradictions, impulsiveness and other sundry flaws, there was someone who, unbelievably, saw her as being worthy of his love. It was because of him that she could believe that God, in his mercy , loved her also, and had taken care of her through it all.

The simplest things of life could make her smile, dust motes, warm dogs, pies, freshly-brewed coffee, because on her worst day, at the worst moment of her life, she was not like the hard-faced, cold-hearted creatures from Johnson Road. Other people and their happiness mattered to her. She had a conscience. There was the love of her family. She laughed out loud. Riches.”

~  Ingrid Schlueter

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Love Is Very Strong

With so much brutality going on in the name of Christianity, it’s good to be reminded of what real love looks like. This children’s book quote says it well.

“It is so easy to worry, so easy to be afraid, so easy to lose hope. And once you’ve lost hope, you’ve lost something precious. It’s like losing your heart. Yes, it’s really that bad.

But when things seem to be at their very worst, we should not give up hope. We should never give up hope, because there is one thing that makes all the difference in cases like this. Know what it is?

Love.

That’s right. Love always trusts, always hopes, always persists. Love never fails, and it never gives up.

While love may seem like a weak, small thing, there is really nothing bigger or stronger than love.

It is made of very tough stuff. Nothing can shake it, or break it. Nothing can stop it.

And even when bad things happen, love is still toiling away, sight unseen, smoothing out the rough edges, making up the shortfall, untangling the snarls, bending all ends to the good. Love is stubborn. It never lets go…Love holds everything together. That is worth remembering, I think…”

(Brown Ears at Sea, Stephen Lawhead)

This is a paraphrase of what I Corinthians 13 says even more clearly.