A LOVE+ly place to rest
It's past my bedtime and the street lamp outside is casting a sweet glow on the latticed construction paper hearts on the front window.
I lay in bed for a while, writing out this post in my mind and finally decided not to let this be the "big one that got away" from me. I remember smiling upon hearing that writers and musician's minds can come alive in the late night and early morning watches, feeling like I had finally found my "club." I've learned that I will not remember the things on my heart when breakfast begins and so I am sitting in one of my favorite spots getting it down before finally resting tonight.
It's a night for Little Debbies and Deep thoughts. This will probably give me a stomach ache later but it will be worth it for the joy of no one hearing my crinkling wrapper and for all of the magical cream that makes you eleven again.
There's a lot of eleven in my upper thighs.
It's almost, almost, my favorite holiday. The one that always ALWAYS makes me swell with excitement. While traveling in college with a singing ensemble, I recall vividly running into Walmart around this time of year and just standing in the candy isle with all of the glorious heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, wishing them all mine. Somehow just standing there sandwiched between two full shelves of everything red and puffy and chocolate, I was able to just imagine what true love felt like.
I didn't have two quarters to rub together to buy even one of those boxes, but it just felt good being around something that conveyed love.
After returning to the van, our chaperone asked me what I spent my time doing in the store. In the best Anne of Green Gables tone I could muster I told him and the whole van of people, that I had spent all of my time, "Mooning in the candy isle."
Yeah, it still doesn't sound good. Even all these years later.
Oh for the time when words meant what they meant in Anne's day.
When one could envision me idly gazing at wrapped chocolates instead of.... well, you know.
It was at that precise moment that my chaperone had to figure out if I was truly suited to travel and represent a BIBLE COLLEGE. He graciously allowed me to "back" out of my afore mentioned comment, express that I loved Valentine's Day and had shamefully overindulged in too many Anne of Green Gables marathons in high school.
Lesson learned and one for the memory bank. Anne is cute, I am not. Check. She also has the "messy french braid down to a science, and I do not. Double check.
My greatest lesson in love was yet to come.
My relationship with the Lord began some 30 years ago and yet I haven't known his love all of this time.
My marriage with my husband began almost 20 years ago now and yet I haven't felt his love and acceptance all of those years either.
And in a providential plot twist they both collided the very same year, some time ago now.
We had moved away from family and friends and the only ministry we had known and poured every bit of what we had into each of them.
We looked ready and knew the Lord was asking us to go and take our first church as our own in Western New York, but under the surface we were a heap of mess.
Along with all of our earthly possessions we carried along some extra baggage in the form of ministry burn out tucked away in the U-haul.
It was tearing at our marriage and I was physically a few nerves away from a nervous breakdown.
Wow. That was hard to type. Even with the Little Debbie.
But it is raw truth.
It was no one's fault that we had our hands in so much. And I could list coulda's shoulda's and woulda's until the sun comes up.
What matters is that God, in his wisdom, led us to come apart before we fell apart.
I was suffering physically so badly after the move that we saved enough money (on a few hundred dollars a week salary) to fly me to Texas for two whole weeks to be cared for by my dear friend's Mom.
I would wake in her guest room in such a state that I had to crawl my way to her bedroom, wake her and sit beside her until breath came back.
Wow. Equally hard to put that out there.
She took me to expensive, incredibly sought after doctors and my husband joined me to aid in my getting "better.' We flew home wondering if I would ever find physical peace.
I grew worse.
A new ministry, thrown into homeschooling due to the move just after school began, with books to still pay for and no teacher guides at my disposal to help with the learning, and I was failing.
In God's mercy he sent along a cheerful friend who lived down the road. If her visits were brief, as with the church folks, I could muster a smile, make them laugh and set them at ease. I had about a 20 minute window I could fill and then knew just how many steps it was from the church door to the parsonage door.
10 on a really bad day.
This again was God's merciful provision. My haven of rest was the closest I have ever seen a parsonage. See how God loves us?
This friend wanted me to meet her other friend who lived just down the road on the other side of me. This was almost too good to be true. Two ladies, seeking me out and me sandwiched in the middle?
I reluctantly went for walks with them, down one hill and up the next. We talked about everything and I do mean EVERYTHING and it was precious to me. They didn't care what I looked like, how silly I looked hiking in a skirt, stopping to look at every bit of sunlight streaming into the woods because it was new to me, or that I could NOT talk going uphill. Youngstown Ohio wasn't exactly great hiking proving ground.
We were crazy busy in Ohio. Who had time to hike anyways?
These two did.
And one day it just happened. One on one side of me and one on the other. It came shyly and quiet from one and seconded by the other until I was face to face with it.
"Do you know how much God loves you?"
I cannot remember if those were the words, but that was the question- almost a plea for me to open my heart and look inside for the answer.
I also cannot remember just how many tears fell on dirt, on sweatshirts, on leaves and on shoulders. I CAN picture a section in heaven of brilliant blue bottles labled, "Putnam Path," in heaven, just as the Psalmist asked Jesus to keep his own in Psalm 56:8:
"Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book? "
I can also tell you that it was during this time that our marriage hit its roughest patch. Deep wounds that actually left me telling Joel for the first time ever that I did not want a single thing from him for Valentine's Day.
In less than a year's time, all of my hard things were exposed. I was physically struggling, I was failing as a mother, I was wounded as a wife and I was spiritually flailing.
God was bringing me to the end of myself so that I could only see his love for me.
A book I was given by these friends was a salve to deep wounds. It wasn't some magical "fix," which is why I do not list it here. It was a tool the Holy Spirit used to draw me to himself. I sat up nights reading an amazing love story.
It was mine.
One I had never read before.
One that showed me that I didn't need to work for the Lord, I just needed to rest in Him because (wait for it) HE delighted in me.
When my eyes were open to this and my heart finally ready to receive a love that doesn't require payback, I was literally dumb-founded.
Work for Jesus! Burn-out for Him! If you love Him, you will take your six small children in tow to every Nursing home, every teen event, you will do it all, because you love Him, don't you love him???! and when you have done it all and have nothing left, you will finally fully know and feel that He loves you too.
All these things I had told myself came crashing down on the bedroom floor one night.
I heard recently that it takes your body 30 seconds to fully absorb a negative comment, and 3 minutes to absorb a complement.
It is easier to take-in something harmful and believe it than any kindness verbally offered.
It is easier to feel SHAME than to feel LOVE.
This is why we can live for so long believing that striving is pleasing and not truly allow ourselves to just be delighted-in by the Lord himself.
Why it's so easy to condemn ourselves and not rest in His love freely given.
My walks in the woods became the doorway to me understanding what these sweet girls had in their back pockets. What they had been enjoying on sun kissed trails for years and what they realized I had been missing for way too long.
When my sister Dawn and I were little, we used to say to each other (and still do!) "I just love to love love!" We laugh and carry on, but the truth is that we DO LOVE LOVE. We love how it feels, how it looks, and even passing it along to others.
LOVE has been as much a part of me as my dark brown eyes.
For my 30th birthday my husband surprised me and asked 30 friends to send along a note to me. Being the word girl that I am, you can imagine what it was like to hear from so many friends and old chums and soak in their every word. One letter in particular rings in my memory as I type. It was from a college friend who traveled with me and reminded me of something we would discuss on long van rides across the United States. She said, "I remember you telling me that when you had children of your own, you would tell them you love them often."
I would tell them I love them. I wept when I read it the first time and still do now.
So looking for that resting love in those days that my goal for the future was to desire to somehow give that gift to the children I didn't even know I would have.
Thinking of this just breaks my heart wide open. And the joy of being able to take it out of MY back pocket and share it with my own children is almost too much to try to express.
To show them that it's not in wrestling, but in resting.
Little and little in Humphrey, New York, next to a cornfield, day by day, walk after walk, I fell in love with the Lord again. Better yet, I LET the Lord fall in love with me again. I allowed him to woo me and cherish me. It was exhilarating and almost embarrassing how much I soaked-
in his love for me. When I realized how often he was thinking of me it was almost more than one heart could take! It was sheer joy. I exchanged my worn-out ideas of working to reach his approval, and my never-good-enoughs for a rest I can only explain as supernatural.
Little and little, once I knew rest in God's love, I didn't need my husband to keep some "cup of love" filled for me. With God's love filling it up, anything my husband added was just topping it off to overflowing. He didn't have to work to be a knight in shining armor up on a high horse and I didn't have to be a fair maiden. I wasn't always looking up to reach him anymore, he was just there beside me, at the foot of a tall rugged cross where we each needed forgiveness and healing to even know how to love the other.
My physical difficulties began to resolve themselves as I sought physical and emotional rest and as we found a new way of serving as a family.
This was not a quick fix, but it was a turning point for me, for our marriage and for our ministry.
Both my husband and I have shared with others who are walking this same road, that we would not be in the ministry today if we had not had this time in New York. God used it to show us his love in his time and in his way just as we needed it.
Many poems have been written trying to describe what it means to be loved.
For me, getting ready to celebrate a holiday that means so much to me, love means knowing that because Christ sought me out of complete shame and brokenness and redeemed me to himself, I need never ever EVER feel unworthy again. I need never EVER feel that I must gain his approval by working my spiritual fingers to the bone.
I need simply to rest in his love and delight as his own.
Zephaniah 3:17 has been my goal verse since New York. It is my goal to comprehend it's depth, and live every day in light of these truths.
"The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing."
I say this because this has been a long road back to rest for me. Because of the physical stress I placed on my own body and mind in striving I still have residual issues that I face. These are good reminders to me to look for others caught in this same spiritual hamster wheel and reach out to them with both broken hands to turn them to the Lord.
Valentine's Days sure have gotten sweeter since that time in our lives, and my service for the Lord has radically changed.
II Corinthians 5:14 says it best:"For the love of Christ constraineth us;" His love for me doesn't force me to strive, but compels my heart to allow him to work in and through me because I cannot help but love him back.
And my sincere prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would be fully aware of what resting in God's love can mean for you.
I have it here in my back pocket and can grab my coat for a walk anytime. Just let me know.