Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February- cold weather, warm heart.

We're in the midst of a week of "snow" days here in North Carolina, but they haven't really been snow days. More like ice days. We had an entire evening of snow-sleet-freezing rain that led to about half an inch of ice on EVERYTHING. So, we got one good round of sledding in the morning and spent the rest of the day lounging about. I also did a crazy ton of baking, including a fabulous cherry pie and homemade ice cream, since snow cream wasn't an option...
We're totally failing about getting to the gym these days, by the way. I'm like three weeks out. :( It's just been so nasty and it's so crowded and everyone's been so germy and flu-ey. No gracias... Anyways, we enjoyed the day off, but I never expected we would be working on day 3! Apparently the "top" of the county got it worse, and the back roads are still bad. Such is life in Carolina - we are not equipped for winter weather. So with the time off, I took a break from lesson planning to update the blog and do some sharing.
For Valentine's Day, I was asked to be the guest speaker for a Valentine's Day Banquet at the church where Jake and I met. Granted, it's a small church, but nonetheless, I was quite honored to be asked to speak on love. So, for what it's worth, I am sharing my "speech," though, if you know me, much like how I never teach straight off a lesson plan, I didn't read this... I actually didn't even look at it. But, much of what I shared came from the preparation of this. It was received very well, and the pastor paid me a very kind compliment, comparing me to Gary Chapman, the love languages guy. 
We had an excellent time, and though it wasn't our usual date night at a swanky restaurant, it was lovely and sweet. We've got a late Valentine's/early birthday weekend getaway coming up soon at a little chalet in the mountains, complete with a hot tub. ;) Also, Jake gave me an ADORABLE necklace off of Etsy that says love in morse code, with the ruby and gold stones representing the short dots and long dashes, along with a heart-shaped pan from Williams-Sonoma and flowers! So precious he is. 

So, here's what I shared at the banquet. Hope your February is full of snow (and not ice) and lots of love too. :)

When I was asked to speak on Love today, I thought to myself “PERFECT” - this will be so easy. I fell in love at Sunnyside; it’s so fitting that I share about it here. But the more I thought about it, the scarier it got. How does one speak on something as deep and wide and profound as love? So I started praying about it. And I hope what I share with you today touches your heart in some way. I’m an English teacher, so naturally, I did what I tell my students to do. Break down your topic, and organize your thoughts. I reread many of my sermon notes and found some of the information we all remember about love. There are different types of love; the love between friends, intimate/physical love, and agape love, the love of God. We’re to love sacrifically and selflessly. I know you’ve all heard that before. What I want to talk about today is the falling in the God kind of love, because 1 John 4:7 says let us love one another, for love comes from God and 4:8 says God is love.

I’ve fallen in love three times in my life. Once was at first thought. I say thought because I loved my daughter before I even knew her name, and loved my babies without ever seeing their tiiny faces. The other two were gradual. Each time I fell in love, I learned more about the depth and the breadth of God’s agape love for me. So let me tell you about them.

The first time I fell in love was at the age of 15. Wild, I know. Most of you know my husband, Jake, and some of you have known him longer than I. When I met him here in this very church, I just knew him as the red headed bass player that always wore flipflops and cargo shorts. It wasn’t love at first sight, though he was pretty adorable. In fact, we were friends first. He truly listened to my stories (and I have a lot). He was funny in the cutest, cornest way (no lie, his first joke to me was: why are they making round bales of hay illegal? Cows can’t get a square meal!), he was honest, motivated, interesting, and best of all, he knew the Lord. We fell in love in the traditional sense pretty quickly. He could make me weak in the knees, and he still does. But falling in love in the agape sense happened gradually. I first saw this happen when he bought a series of sermon CDs on marriage at 17. I was 15, mind you. What couples listen to Ephesians 5 while driving around together on hot summer evenings? We did. And we learned, and applied it to our relationship. In the 12 years since then, have we failed some? Sure. Ephesians 5 said for husbands to love wives as Christ love the church (in other words, he’d DIE for her.) I know some of us ladies struggle with the idea of “submitting” as it says in Ephesians, but I’d just like to mention the fact that loving someone like Christ loved the church is a TALL order. I can obey and I can trust a whole lot more than I can love as selflessly and constantly and mercifully as Christ. And so, with marriage, I began my first real experience with falling in Agape love. Agape love is the selfless, sacrifical love God showed us in the gift of his son, and it’s this love that we should strive to show in our marriage.  Ephesians 5:1 and 2 say “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” It’s love that forgives all trespasses, holds no grudges, and gives freely and unconditionally.

My second experience with agape love came with experiencing the love you feel as a parent. My journey to parenthood is probably different than most of yours. I first fell in love one summer afternoon when I took a quick pregnancy test and to my shock, saw the positive results. In that moment, that instant, a warmth radiated through me, and my heart was obsessed with the little life growing in me - a little person with  budding little fingers and toes. Dreams and plans were made, and without even meeting that child, I was in love. Head over heels. Like the father’s love for me, it was unmerited, unending, and unconditional. That pregnancy, along with the three we have since experienced, all ended in miscarriage. Still, though, that love remains. It’s everlasting. I fell in love with my daughter Makinzy in a similar way, though it was not during a pregnancy test nor an ultrasound. I can remember the day first we heard about her. We were told, “I know of a little girl who needs parents. Are you interested?” The question mark at the end of sentence could have been a punch to my chest. It literally knocked the wind out of my lungs. Without knowing her name yet, I was in love. As many of you know, we adopted Makinzy, and her adoption made me realize my own adoption. Ephesians 1: 4,5,and 6 tell us that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will to the praise of the glory of His grace” You see, being adopted by God, as I am, means I get the full inheritance of God. In the 1st chapter of 1st Peter, we learn the inheritance is eternal life and love, and it will never fade. That’s pretty amazing. It gives me peace and hope in the midst of trials, which we have certainly faced. It means no matter what, I am His and He is mine. And let me tell you, there is not a day that goes by that being a parent doesn’t teach you about God’s love. Some days, I get so frustrated. When she tells me a lie, or when she disobeys and does something I specifically tell her not to do, I am reminded of the Father’s disappointment in me when I continue to sin in my heart or not do the things He specifically told me to do. I feel that same frustration. It teaches me the real meaning of grace and mercy. I have done nothing to deserve the Love of Christ. In fact, more often than not, I’m guilty of doing the opposite. Yet, He loves me. Just like matter what, I love Makinzy. She doesn’t have to earn my love, and she’ll never lose my love. I am hers, and she is mine.

My third experience of falling in love has been the longest running love story of my life. I first met the One who loves me most when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. I was at church with a neighbor. I grew up in a Christian home, so I knew about Jesus. They were telling us about Jesus riding into town in a donkey fully aware he was riding in to die for people who didn’t even know him yet. The story struck me. Though I didn’t really understand the magnitude of that decision at that age, I did know I wanted him in my heart if he loved me that much. At sixteen, I was baptized here at Sunnyside, determined to live my teenage years as a Christian should, and to keep my relationship with my boyfriend Jake Godly. I learned showing love through forgiveness, and I learned that showing love back to God meant keeping His commandments and following His example. Just like love between two people, the love I share with God has an ebb and flow, a rhythm. I let Him down, and He forgives. I ask Him why and when He doesn’t respond with an answer I want to hear, I pout and ignore Him. When I’m hurting, I seek Him and pray, and find His peace, much like a hug from a loved one, wraps me close. But I want to point out the big difference between the Father’s love and all the other examples of love I have shared today. Notice that it’s never Him who lets me down or backs away or fails. It’s me. And that’s why though I find elements of God’s agape love in the relationship I have with my husband, my daughter, and even my family and friends, God’s love is different because it is truly without sin or blemish or failure.

A song I find myself singing lately is by a guy named Jason Gray, and it’s about falling in love with God, and it says “”it’s gotta be more like falling in love than something to believe in…” In other words, being a Christian isn’t just a set of rules we live under, a pledge of allegiance, or just label we place on our lives. No, instead, it is a relationship. God’s love for you is apparent all around you. In the beauty of nature, in the eyes of your children, in the words I’m sorry, in the arms of your spouse, in the laughter of your closest friends, and in the many other gifts He’s given us. Of course, Love is in the biggest gift of all, in the forgiveness and salvation that awaits us if we chose to live with Christ in our hearts. The biggest and most beautiful example of love is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. 1 John 3:16 says “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” While the love we share between one another is beautiful and from Him, the love you feel when you truly realize what He has done for you… well, there’s no words to describe it. If you haven’t felt that kind of love yet, I encourage you to pray today and find out what it’s like. Thanks for having me today, and for listening.

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