Category Archives: Love

Day 25: Baking Bread (31 Days of Simple Truths)

FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve tried giving up bread a few times. It’s not a problem if it’s for a limited amount of time, like during a Whole30 or some kind of cleanse. I miss it, but I can manage.

But I’ve tried it on a more prolonged scale, primarily seeing if a more Paleo-compatible diet works for me. And while there’s no question that my body feels better without white flour and basically all store-bought bread items, it turns out my soul needs bread. Specifically homemade bread.

Something about the process of mixing the ingredients, taking the time to knead the dough, waiting for it to rise, smelling the comforting scent that fills the house, and eating that first slice fresh from the oven—it’s sacred. It’s life-giving.

Yes, the main purpose of food is to feed our bodies, and the fuel you put in matters. But I think feeding our souls matters too.  Everything in balance and moderation, right?

So I think I will keep making bread and eating bread and sharing bread with others. It’s an act of love, a creative offering, and I’d rather not live without it.

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Filed under 31 Days of Simple Truths, Foodie Fun, Love

Day 8: Listening to Understand (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Death to Stock/Foster & Asher

Death to Stock/Foster & Asher

There is listening to understand and listening to defend.

If I am listening to understand, then I will hear the entirety of what you have to say without cutting you off to interject my own opinions.

If I am listening to understand, I will not be dismissive of your reality, even though I may have had a different experience.

If I am listening to understand, I will not automatically counter your thoughts with all the reasons you are wrong.

If I am listening to understand, I will not make assumptions about your heart, character, or personal convictions; instead, I will lovingly seek clarity where it’s needed.

If I am listening to understand, I will respond with thoughtful questions that show my desire to draw out the essence of what matters to you.

If I am listening to understand, I will take time to ponder what you have to say instead of promptly brushing it aside and moving on.

It’s not easy to listen this way, especially if you are challenging me, convicting me, or calling me into territory I am unfamiliar with or uncertain of. It’s not even a little bit easy.

But it’s necessary if I want to establish trust with you and if I want to walk alongside you. It’s necessary if I want to value your heart. It’s necessary if we ever hope to make a positive difference in this world.31daysOfSimpleTruths

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Filed under 31 Days of Simple Truths, Covenant Relationships, Love

Overcoming Evil With Good

*Dear readers, I’ve been doing a ton of writing for my job recently, which is making it quite challenging to keep up with this space. This is one of my recent pieces I did, and it’s a message really close to my heart so I wanted to share it here too.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:21

Before you watch the news or search the internet, or maybe just before you begin your day-to-day routines, it might be good to reflect on Paul’s words at the end of Romans 12. It is easy to be weighed down and discouraged by the struggles and very real horrors in the world. We can be paralyzed—so unsure of where to start or how to even address problems so big that we end up not doing much of anything.

But Paul gives us our starting point: Overcome evil with good. What this looks like for each of us will be slightly different, but it is a question we can bring before God daily—what good do You want me to do today?

Practical Mercy

In Victor Hugo’s classic masterpiece, Les Misérables, he tells the story of a man named Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned for 19 years because he stole a loaf of bread. Once he is released, it is only an illusory freedom. He cannot find anywhere to work or stay because he is an ex-convict. He finally finds a compassionate bishop who takes him in, but he repays the man’s kindness by stealing his silverware and slipping away in the night.

The police arrest Valjean and bring him back to the bishop to be charged, but in a stunning display of mercy, the bishop tells the guards that the silverware was a gift and demands that they release him. He challenges Valjean to take the silver and use it to become an honest man—a moment that powerfully transforms his life.

Come on over and read the rest!

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Filed under Faith, Justice, Love

What the Hope of Gilbert Meant

anne.gilbertIt seems that a lot of beloved celebrities have left the world in the last several months to a year. Maybe it’s more than usual, or maybe it’s just that many of them now are associated with my own childhood or other significant memories and so I feel it more.

I probably don’t have to tell you (but I will) that something is distinctly different about Jonathan Crombie’s death. Of course, in my practical mind, I know he is a very real, flesh and blood person—someone’s son and sister and friend, and all those people are grieving him as such. But for millions more of us, Gilbert Blythe is dead, and this strikes us in a deep place that is hard to articulate.

More than one woman I know has tried—very unsuccessfully—to explain to a husband or significant other or just any male in general why this is a loss. I know my own husband has given me more than one “are-you-kididing-me” look since I heard the news. And I almost feel silly. Why did I actually cry over this? Is this like weeping through Titanic and Rose’s heartbreak as she pushes Jack’s body off the frozen iceberg? Is this like watching The Notebook? Is this chick-flick madness run amuck?

I’m going to have to say no. There’s a reason—a far better reason than a beloved book or excellent onscreen portrayal of a character. Gilbert Blythe is so much more than the heartthrob male lead in a love story. I mean, of course, he was perfect. His boyish grin that stayed with him from the schoolyard days when he had that unruly mop of curls all the way until he was a distinguished medical student—sigh. He was handsome and smart and charming. Even when he called Anne “carrots,” we were already falling for him.

When he clapped like a goofball after her performance at White Sands. When he gave up the Avonlea school so Anne could stay with Marilla. When he was heartbroken after Anne rejected his proposal and told her he knew she’d marry some fool who’d sit and read her Tennyson by firelight and he hoped he’d break her heart, whoever he was. Heck, even when he was at death’s door because of scarlet fever and revealed he’d broken off the engagement with Christine because there’d never be anyone else for him besides Anne—he was perfect.

But there’s still more. Gilbert Blythe meant something to so many of us as young girls because he sent a message through his unyielding love for Anne that countered practically every other message we receive as women every day of our lives.

Gilbert was hope.

Hope that smart actually was better than pretty (or at least as good as, because come on, Anne was lovely). Hope that we could be smarter than a man and instead of being threatened by us, he would celebrate us. Hope that we could have days when we were at our worst, days that could possibly include smashing slates over his head or knocking him over with our basket of flowers, and he would still want us. Hope that our pasts did not define us. Hope that it was really ok to not be like the other girls. Hope that it was ok to crave both romance and something more. Hope that ambition in a woman was not unattractive. Hope that we really could give a dramatic performance or write a book (or any other creative endeavor), even if no one around us ever aspired to such things. Hope that if our imaginations got the better of us and we ended up in some bizarre scrape (like hanging onto a bridge for dear life because our little skiff sprung a leak), he might tease us a little, but at least he would bail us out.

The fact that a man like Gilbert might love a woman like Anne meant that maybe we actually were not too much. This was perhaps the biggest hope of all—that with all of our fiery emotions (and possibly bad tempers) and lofty ideals and propensity for mischief and artistic bent and flair for the dramatic and tendency to make mistakes because we were so outspoken, maybe we were not more than a man could handle. Maybe we were just right, exactly as we were.

No wonder a fictional character managed to be the first true love of so many young girls. Maybe it was silly. Or maybe it was exactly what we needed to keep us from losing heart.

10514541_804042912973190_2247408792594572404_nAnd when I look at the man I’ve married—well, perhaps he’s not quite so eloquent and refined as Gilbert. But goodness, he has always embraced all of me—the good, the bad and the crazy. He champions me. He cheers me on when I chase my ambitions. He laughs at my dramatics . . . and occasionally gets a little dramatic himself. He picked me because I wasn’t like all the other girls. He’s not threatened by my strengths. He’s my safe place.

Like Anne, it took me a little bit to find him because I went looking for my ideals outside myself too. But even there is another gift Gilbert gave us—the hope that if it took a long journey to find ourselves, we would eventually find our way home, find our way to the love we’d always needed.

I don’t know if this will help our men look any less bewildered as we cry over a fictional character, but pondering the significance of this beloved character and how he actually shaped me has helped me to understand my own heart a little better and to appreciate my husband a lot more. And I’ll take both of those things any day.

So, rest in peace, Jonathan Crombie. And thank you, thank you for immortalizing the reminder of what kind of love we could hope for and giving us courage to be true to the women Anne inspired us to be.

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Filed under Creativity, Hope, Love, Marriage

Pausing for Gratitude

The final days of January are dwindling down—a month I went into with a lot of question marks and a strange cocktail of dread, anxiety and hope. But here I am on the other side, happy to report that I survived. We all survived. (I know most of you never doubted we would, but I did.)

In marked contrast to the swirl of emotions I carried into the month, I find myself with only one overpowering everything else now: overwhelming gratitude. Deep, deep wells of thanks.

IMG1565My daughter had surgery the very first week of the year. Of course, there are so many emotions that come with something like this, but there was one I didn’t allow myself to voice in all the weeks leading up to it. I was really afraid of being alone. We were expecting to be in the hospital 2-3 days, but my husband was only going to be able to be off work one day. And every time I thought about sitting there alone, I cried. But I didn’t want to say anything because I knew we couldn’t afford for him to take any more days off work, and I didn’t feel like I had anyone else I could ask to come be with me.

On New Year’s Day, my dad mentioned to me that he was planning to be at the hospital the day of the surgery, to be there for his grand baby and in case we needed anything. And I finally had the courage to ask, to say that I was more worried about being alone the day after her surgery and if he could only come one day, could he come then? He didn’t hesitate, just said, “I’ll be there.” I could have sobbed with relief.

Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect. Would he come for just a little bit? Would he only come one day? I didn’t know, but it was enough knowing he would come.

We ended up in the hospital a total of 3 days, and my dad was there for each one. He came in the morning, and he stayed until my husband came in the evening. One night, he stayed even longer because his granddaughter asked him to stay and watch a movie, and of course, his abuelo-heart couldn’t resist! He made sure I had coffee, and he made sure I ate. His mere presence was so indescribably calming to me. There were so many little things, little moments that might not have meant anything to anyone else, but they meant everything to me.

IMG1571He was the first one to coax a smile out of my baby girl post-surgery when he showed up with this balloon whose picture bore an uncanny resemblance to our dog.

When she wouldn’t eat, he’s the one who thought to buy some strawberries from the frozen yogurt place, and she devoured them—practically the only solid food she ate for 3 days. He helped me get her to move and get around so we could actually be released from the hospital.IMG1568

But more than anything else, he was the presence and nearness of God to me in a situation when I desperately needed my own heart to be seen. And because my Papa saw me, I knew God saw me. The intense comfort of this has lingered with me even to this moment when my eyes are blurring with tears yet again over the wonder and unconditional love of it all.

When we finally got home, I started to get overwhelmed with the thought of needing to not only take care of my recovering child, but also my son who would still be full of energy. And everyone would need to be fed. But when my mom showed up to bring my little man home, she came with bags of groceries—things to put together easy, healthy meals for a few days. She had already sent a container of soup with my dad one day, thinking ahead and making a double batch one night as she’d fixed dinner. And just like that, another burden was lifted off my shoulders.

My son can still be quite clingy to his mommy, and I was worried how the separation would affect him while we were in the hospital. But my mom and brother loved him on so much, so extravagantly, that he was more than fine—he was so secure and so seen. He came home bubbling over and amazingly prepared to be patient and gracious to his sister.

I am still in awe of the way my parents wrapped my little family in so much love. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise; they’ve always been pretty wonderful, and my own mama-bear heart would do anything for my own kids. But still it humbled me and touched me in a way I don’t even really have words for.

I am reminded all over again of the sustaining power of love. My parents didn’t have any power to change what we had to walk through, but they loved us through it. They saw the needs, and they did what they could do. And it did more than keep me surviving; it challenged and inspired my heart to new depths of loving people.

IMG1575If that wasn’t enough, women from my writing community—some of whom I’d never even met or interacted with much before—showered my daughter with art supplies so she could do what she loved while she went through her recovery. Daily, when she pulls these things out, she marvels that people who don’t even know her loved her enough to do this; she is also getting a glimpse of how far love can reach.

So here we are, on the other side of it all. And I am grateful that we were not alone, that love appeared in extravagant and unexpected ways. I thought I’d be trying to mostly block this month from my memory, but instead, I am tucking it away to treasure.

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Filed under Love, Motherhood, Presence

A Fierce Love (Guest Post)

I’m so excited to host my first ever guest on this blog.  Jen Bradbury is a story sister, and her words here are full of truth and depth.  I posed the question, “What is the most important thing you want your kids to know about the love of God?”  Her response touches a particularly special place in my heart as a former youth ministry person myself.

Image Source: CreationSwap.com

Image Source: CreationSwap.com

Recently, a student told me this story:

A Sunday School teacher shows her class a picture of a squirrel and asks “What is this?” A child responds, “Well, it looks like a squirrel but I know the right answer is Jesus. The right answer is always Jesus.”  

 As a youth worker, I fear this story is all too true. We’ve conditioned our church kids to know the right answer is always Jesus; Even when they cannot actually see Jesus.

 In the same way, when we talk of God, we’ve conditioned them to know the right answer is always love.

 When I ask church kids, “What’s God like?” most will say, almost reflexively, “He’s loving.”   

 To some degree, this is good. I want the students with whom I work to know, without a doubt, that God is loving.

 However, my fear is that because this is our conditioned response, most kids don’t really understand what this means; Most kids don’t really know how God’s love differs from the love of others. And because they don’t, I worry that our constant association of God with love actually has actually reduced God into something he is not: A wimp or a doormat who we can trample over.

 For this reason, as a youth worker who’s not yet a parent, there are two things I most want my kids – the students with whom I have the privilege of working – to know about the love of God.

 The first is that the manifestation of God’s love is Jesus. I want my students to know without a doubt that they don’t have to guess what God’s love looks like; It looks like Jesus.

 I also want my kids to know that God’s love is fierce.

 Take, for example, the love of God we see in Jesus’ interaction with the adulterous woman in John 8.

 In this story, love compels Jesus to stand in the gap between this woman and her accusers; To recklessly pursue the unworthy; And to offer this woman unmerited grace. Beyond that, however, the fierceness of God’s love demands the best from this adulterous woman, that she “Go and sin no more.” In the process, it changes her, giving her a new identity.

 So it is with God’s love with us.

 Its fierceness pursues us into the depths of our pain and sorrow, into the places we’d rather it not go; Its fierceness demands our best, not out of fear of punishment but in response to a love so much greater than any we have ever known; It lavishes us with undeserved grace and in the process, it changes us.

 Ultimately, I don’t just want my students to know love is the right answer to questions about God’s character.

 Instead, I want them to have truly experienced God’s love. Beyond that, however, I want my students to have been changed by God’s love so that they, in turn, can radically love and change others.

 Wimpy love will never do that.

 But a fierce love manifested in Jesus will.

 

jen headshotJen Bradbury is a career youth worker with a diverse spiritual heritage that makes her uniquely qualified for youth work. Jen currently serves as the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL and writes for Youth Worker Journal and the Christian Century. She lives in Glen Ellyn, IL with her husband, Doug, and blogs at ymjen.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strengthen What Remains

Image Source: Jennifer Upton

Image Source: Jennifer Upton

For the last week, I have found myself glancing at the calendar impatiently, as if somehow I can coax the last few days of this month to move a little faster.  February has not been kind to me.  I am ready to shout some version of “Good riddance!” and “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

It’s frustrating.  I had a lot of hopes for this month, plans, intentions.  But it seems like all my hopes were met with disappointment or hurt or failure or a dismal combination of all of the above.  Throw in a very unexpected, expensive vehicle repair and a very sick child, and I’m telling you, this is not the recipe for a good time.  So here I am – glaring at the remaining days and trying to stay low key, avoid anymore upsets.

Until it dawned on me.  This is not how God works.  Not one bit.  He never stares us down and sighs with exasperation, “Well, you screwed that up, so let’s just bide your time and get past this.”  He never looks at a person or circumstance only to toss them into the “lost cause” pile.  His mercies are new every morning.  No – wait.  Don’t glaze over that as a cliche or overused Bible verse.  Drink it in – Mercy. Fresh. Today. Now.

God never stops believing in redemption.  It is the story He has been writing since the beginning of time, and He will not stop until all things are reconciled to Him.  And all He is asking is for us to believe in this too: nothing is beyond the reach of His redemption. Nothing.

Why?

Because everything else fades away – things spoken to us and over us, things we think we know, seasons we are in, the limited picture we can see now.  It will all cease and be stilled and pass away.  And then these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these?

Love.

Which brings me full circle to my hopes for February.  I wanted to spend the month pondering and probing the depths of this love – His love and the glimpses of love He offers us through others on this earth.  So maybe it hasn’t gone according to plan, but there are three more days in this month, today included.  And today is as good as any to stare full on into the wonders of His love.

In all my interactions with people, most especially with my children, I find myself considering more and more – what is the most important truth I can leave on this heart today?

And it is this – His love does not fail.  It is relentless.  It is powerful enough to redeem anything and everything.  Where we feel there is nothing left – no hope, no goodness – His love is the breath that strengthens what remains and infuses us with new life.

You do not have to give up today.  His love most certainly will not let you go.

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Filed under Faith, Hope, Love, Presence