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Saturday, October 29, 2011

What God Loves

I would like to take a moment to brag about my Baby Boy.  Most of these blog posts are about Eddie, which only makes sense.  It helps me to share him with you, to give him honor since I can't give him hugs, and his story is pretty much the meat and potatoes of my life's testimony thus far.  He witnessed to me the power and majesty of God's love, wordlessly and in an incredibly unique way.  All that being said, however, we all have as much to learn from our living children as I did from the one who has gone home before me.  As I've said before, our children are our greatest teachers, if we are willing to set aside our pride in ourselves and all our "grown up" knowledge and just learn from them.

I was five months pregnant with Baby Boy when his big brother died.  Not surprisingly, two weeks later I had a pregnancy crisis and ended up on partial bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy.  I say "partial" but really I was on bed rest.  I think my lovely midwife was afraid I would slip into a terrible depression if I was told I could do nothing for the next four months.  She therefore avoided the term "bed rest" but was very insistent that I seriously limit my activities for Baby Boy's sake and spend every moment I could at rest.  So I was already a little worried about him.

I was also worried about how my heart state was going to affect him.  I am a firm believer that the experiences of a baby in utero are human experiences.  We "welcome them into the world" when they are born but, especially by the time they are third term fetus, they really are already in the world, hearing and experiencing things through the hopefully safe filter of their mother.  I wanted my womb to be such a safe place.  I sang songs to my unborn children, told them stories, played them music.  I told them how much I loved them and how their Daddy and Jesus did too.  I only wanted good things to go on in there.  But, I am a human being, and I had lost my child.  So while I knew Baby Boy heard the words of love and soothing songs, I knew he was also there for the keening cries and racking sobs of a mother grieving for a lost son.  I was afraid he would come out already emotionally damaged, sad, anxious and moody.  I prayed about it a lot.

I shouldn't have worried.  Baby Boy is characterized by joy more than any child I have ever known.  He is just a really, really happy guy.  He smiled when he was just a few days old (and, no, it wasn't just gas; I hate it when people say that).  He loves with open arms, smiles so big you can see every single tooth, and laughs with great abandon.  He loves to sing and dance.  Now that he is a "big boy" who will be all of four years old in December, he is also our great encourager.  We call him the life coach.  Whenever we are doing any activity like a dance party or some family exercise, he says "great job, great job" and often suggests the next move, like a tiny personal trainer.  When his sister is having a meltdown, he sometimes tells her to take a deep breath "like this" and models the behavior for her.  He's just awesome.

He also has an uncanny grasp of spirituality.  Some of this I attribute to the church we attend, where he now goes to preschool twice a week as well.  Part of it I know is because of our practices at home.  But there is a lot of it that is just Baby Boy's spirit.  When I pack his superhero backpack to go see Nana I have to be sure that his Bible goes along, because at some point he will ask for it and want to hear some of his favorite stories.  He gets so excited when he sees pictures of Jesus and can recognize him from a variety of images, from the baby in the manger Jesus to the bearded guy in a robe Jesus.  He talks about him with the same enthusiasm as he discusses Thomas the Tank Engine or Spiderman.

But beyond that, he is getting the concepts.  He shares with his sister, even when I can tell he doesn't really want to, because it is the right thing to do.  He shows empathy and concern for the well-being of others.  He never fails to amaze me with his retelling of Bible stories and explanations of what they mean to him.  But the other day he just blew me away.  We were getting clothes that they have outgrown together to take to a women and children's homeless shelter in Dallas.  While we we packed them up we talked about what we were doing, that some friends might not have clothes or shoes to wear so we could give them ours.  So he and Baby Girl were very happy about our mission on the ride over.  When the time came, however, for Baby Boy to hand over his beloved Lightning McQueen slippers, he balked.

I was not surprised.  For one thing, he is three years old and he loves those slippers.  Although they are too small, he still carries them around sometimes or shoves his feet, toes curled, into them for a few moments.  He was the one who surprisingly enough added them to the pile in the first place.  For another, isn't that how we all are?  It is so easy to give the stuff we don't really care about.  The clothes that don't fit us anymore or are out of style, the broken household items, the furniture with stained upholstery.  These items get sent to Goodwill with glee as we make room for better, nicer stuff.  And we count that as charity and give ourselves a pat on the back.  After all, it might all have brought us a few bucks at a garage sale and we gave it away.  Yay us!

I am not saying that we should not engage in this kind of giving.  It is a blessing to others.  I've been on the other end of it on more than one occasion and felt incredibly blessed by what someone else had given up, probably from their garage, attic, or the back of their closet.  But I think Jesus calls us to give beyond this comfortable kind of giving.  Let me rephrase that:  I know Jesus calls us to give beyond it.  He said so.  We are supposed to be willing to give up everything we own to Him.  He even wants us to give to those who take from us.  In Matthew 5:40 He says that if someone sues us for our coat we are supposed to give them the shirt off our back also.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Not only do we give until it hurts, we are supposed to do it cheerfully.  2 Corinthians 9:7 says that God loves a cheerful giver.  

Anyway, it was a very human moment when Baby Boy clutched his slippers to his chest.  I want to teach my children to give, but I want them to give the way God wants them to:  not reluctantly, not under compulsion, but cheerfully.  There is no value in learning,  "I give because my mom makes me."  So I gave him the choice.  I reminded him that we were going to give those to a little boy who did not have slippers, but that it was up to him.  If he was not ready to give his slippers to a friend yet, he did not have to.  They could come home with us and we would put them back in his closet.  He looked at them long and hard for a moment.  Then with a sigh and a smile, he handed those cherished little red slippers to the shocked and impressed volunteer who assured him that she knew a little boy who was going to love them.

As we left the shelter, Baby Boy was skipping and smiling as usual, asking where we were going next.  In the car a very choked up Mommy told them both how proud I was of them.  That they had given clothes and shoes to people who didn't have clothes or shoes, just like Jesus asks us to.  Then Baby Boy said, pointing out the window, "Yeah and He make the clouds and the flowers and He give 'em to me."

Wow.  Can I get an "Amen?"  You see, I struggle with the whole concept of giving.  The fact that we reluctantly hand over a ten percent tithe (or not) and grumble at the toll it takes on our bank account.  Yet, when asked, Christ said the path to true discipleship is to sell all of our possessions and follow Him.  Indeed, when He called His disciples they dropped everything in an instant, leaving their lives behind and starting on their new exciting journey without so much as a carry-on bag.  That kind of thing seems unheard of in our day, but the nature of God has not changed.  The question is:  are we willing to give up our stuff, not just our junk and hand-me-downs, but the stuff we still love and cherish for the sake of the One who gives us everything?  To the one who makes the clouds, the flowers, and the air we breathe?  If someone sued us for a thousand dollars, would we willingly give them the title to our house for His sake?   Are we capable of trusting that the One in whom we believe is going to bless us and provide for us above and beyond our greatest expectations in exchange for our radical obedience to His call to us to give freely, openly and happily?  What if, when faced with a person sitting out in the cold, we gave them the coat of our backs instead of the spare change in our pockets?  It seems so radical to us, because very few people do it.  Nonetheless, it is what Christians are supposed to do, who we are supposed to be.

I am so grateful to have little people in my life to teach me big truths.  To show me what a cheerful giver looks like.  Not someone who hands over something he doesn't want anymore with a smile, but rather someone who feels the uncomfortable tug of a selfish desire to keep for himself, but then voluntarily surrenders to the greater call with a heart full of gratitude for what has been given to him by a generous God.  Because while God will use our easily given gifts to bless others, He will use our sacrificially given gifts to bless us.  To give us hearts for gratitude and eyes that see blessings.  I see one right now, wearing camouflage pajama pants and a big grin, my little cheerful giver, who I love.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Peter

I love Simon Peter.  For those of you unfamiliar, he is one of the twelve apostles, the twelve guys who hung out with Christ on a regular basis, also known as the disciples.  He is far and away my favorite of the twelve (Judas Iscariot running a far 12th) but beyond that he is one of my top five favorite Bible characters.  If they had posters and trading cards for apostles, I would have the Peter collection.  I'm a big fan.

I'm a fan because he is so enthusiastic and yet so imperfect.  He is the "ready, fire, aim" member of the group.  He pops his mouth off inappropriately all the time but it stems from an overwhelming enthusiasm for what he is doing, for who he is following.  He is impulsive and passionate and he makes huge honking mistakes.  I identify with Peter.

He is one of the first called by Christ.  He is fishing with his brother, Andrew, and drops everything, his nets, his livelihood, his plans, everything, in a split second and follows Jesus.  He is the one who, when he sees Jesus walking on the water, has enough faith to step out of the boat and begin walking to Him on the waves.  He is the one who, boldly and without hedging any bets, answers the question, "Who do you say that I am?" with "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."   The the one who, when Christ has risen and appears on the shore, loves him so much that he jumps out of the boat and swims to Him.  He is vehement about his love for Christ.  He asks questions, sometimes stupid questions, but he always is wanting to know more, always seeking.  And he is greatly rewarded.  Jesus says to him, "...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom..."  Peter gets to go up on the mountain and see Jesus transfigured, see Him glow in His glory, meet with Elijah and Moses, and hear the voice of God.  Jesus asks him questions and confides truths to him.  The honor and privilege Peter must have felt at these moments is unimaginable!

But, still, he suffers massive failures.  The Lord who he loves with such abandon and who blesses him so richly, also rebukes him when he speaks foolishly.  Although he does step out of the boat and walk toward Christ on the water, eventually his fear overtakes his faith and he has to cry out, sinking, for Christ to lift him up.  He accompanies Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane, right before Jesus is arrested and sacrificed.  Jesus, being both fully human and fully God, asks for steadfast friends to keep watch for Him while He prays.  It is a simple request, but despite any good intentions, Peter falls asleep not once but three times rather than being vigilant and steadfast for the Lord.  Finally, against his violent protestations and insistence that he would die rather than deny Jesus, Peter denies Him three times after His arrest, just as Jesus predicts.  I don't know about you, but after all of that, I think I would be questioning Jesus about the whole "rock" thing.  I would feel shaky as sand and completely inadequate to act as the cornerstone of anything, much less the entire Christian faith.

God isn't looking for perfection.  He is perfection.  He doesn't require us to be.  What is he looking for?  I think the answer is found in His conversation with Simon Peter after the resurrection.  He makes the apostles breakfast (seriously, he does; isn't that cool?) and, after they are done eating, He talks to Peter.  This is the first one-on-one conversation they have had since Peter denied any knowledge of Jesus, much less that he believed He was the Christ or that the was one of His followers.  After Peter, who had loved Him, followed Him faithfully, and promised that he would die for Him had looked at Jesus, arrested and disgraced, and said, "I don't know that guy."  Peter knew Jesus knew about that.  He must have felt so ashamed.

But Jesus doesn't look at him and say, "So, have anything to say for yourself?"  He doesn't say, "I told you so."  He doesn't say, "You remember all that stuff about the keys to the kingdom?  Yeah, you can forget about that."  He doesn't call him out.  Instead, he asks Peter, not once but three times, if he loves Him.  The repetition hurts Peter's feelings; he keeps saying, "You know that I love you!"  And Jesus does know it.  He isn't repeating himself out of disbelief, but for emphasis.  Because this account is going to be read for some two thousand years and counting and He wants us all to know:  this is the question that counts.  A three time repetition is the Biblical equivalent of a double exclamation point!!  See what I mean?

Jesus doesn't keep score.  He doesn't care how far you've fallen short or how many times you have failed.  He doesn't care if you have denied His very existence either by word or by practice.  What He cares about is,  now, in this moment, do you love Him?  I know I may be beating this topic to death right now, but it is on my heart:  It's about relationship.  Not rules, not dogma, not good works.  It is DO YOU LOVE GOD with all your heart, your soul and mind?  He wants nothing more and nothing less from you.

I think that is why He chose Simon Peter be the rock, the foundation, of His church.  Because Peter wasn't the wisest man in the world.  He didn't have Paul's gift for words.  As discussed, he was far from perfect.  But he loved Jesus, passionately.  He loved Him so much he flung himself into the water, on two occasions, while everyone else stayed on the boat.  It was because of this love that he had the boldness to say what the rest of them knew:  that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  He stumbled and fell, he failed and he sank.  But he loved.

I love Jesus.  I mess up all the time.  I say stupid stuff; I have too much pride.  I want things He doesn't want for me and sometimes, when things get uncomfortable, I "tone down" a little and thereby deny Him.  I fail.  But I love Him.  I love Him so much it makes me weep to type it.  I love Him because He doesn't care that I'm not perfect.  He sees my heart and smiles.  I love Him so much that I just want to fling myself into His loving arms.  I don't care if everyone else in the boat thinks I'm crazy.  I just want Him, more of Him, everyday, all the time.  If you don't love Him this much, get to know Him.  Because you know that crazy feeling you get when you first fall in love with someone?  Yeah, it's like that and it never has to stop.  He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  I invite you to get to know my Jesus, Peter's Jesus, and fall in love all over again.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bread

I baked bread yesterday.  Not in the bread machine or a quick bread from a mix.  I made Scots baps... from scratch.  (And, yes, I am disproportionately proud of myself for this fact.)  I haven't attempted anything quite this ambitious in the kitchen in a while.  I usually cook from books that involve short cuts and quick fixes.  I heat up a frozen entree prepared by Stouffer more often than I would like to admit.  I have an excuse; I have preschoolers.  Still, every time I serve up Shake-N-Bake chicken with a side of Rice-A-Roni, I feel a twinge of guilt.  Because I know that even though my days get busy, I really can cook.  I'm good at it.  No matter what the excuse, if something comes out of the freezer or a cardboard box, I'm being a little lazy.

I approached this weekend with an eye toward rediscovering my inner Julia Child.  I cracked open my nicer, fancier cookbooks and picked out recipes that I wish someone would cook for me.  I almost skipped over the book entitled The Art of Bread, thinking that would be biting off way more than I could chew.  But you have to know something about me:  I don't just love bread, I luuuurrrrrrvvvvve bread.  Not the pre-sliced stuff from the supermarket.  Rather the kind displayed in row after delicious row at Central Market or local bakeries.  I love to thump the bottom of a gorgeous artisanal loaf and hear the glorious, hollow echo.  I love the crispy crunch noise when you rip into a fresh baguette.  Good bread is something of an obsession.

So I found a recipe that not only seemed simple, as far as bread goes, but also brought to the surface lovely memories of my childhood years in Scotland.  Baps, these flour-dusted little ovals rolls, that were often served  when we dined at people's homes or that my mother would bring home fresh from Robertson's bakery on High Street.  I said a little prayer that my rusty culinary skills would not fail me and I got to baking.

They were wonderful.  Just as I remembered them.  It was awesome to be able to share them, both with my nuclear family, who had never had them before, and my family of origin with whom I also share those fond memories.  But the process was wonderful too.  The kneading, the shaping, the wonderful yeasty smell as they rose and baked.  There is just something magical about bread.

Eddie's first New Year's Eve was celebrated in the NICU of Brackenridge Hospital, Austin, Tx.  It was a big day for me.  I love New Year's anyway with its promise of fresh beginnings and new leaves.  And I was ending the most dramatic year of my life:  the year I got married, had my first baby, and came to know and trust God in a way I had never imagined possible.  It was also the first year Austin would be having a First Night celebration.  It was to be a family friendly parade, an alternative to the party scene at galas or bars.  It was modeled after a similar celebration in Boston and was a celebration of life, the city, and the arts.

Phillip and I decided to go.  Eddie had his primary nurse assigned to him that evening, an angel named Francesca, who we loved and trusted.  We knew this trust was well placed when she arrived for duty with a miniature top hat and party blower for our little Ed.  We spent very little time away from him in those days, the odd dinner out here and there, but mostly our time together was either in the NICU or sleeping at the Ronald McDonald House.  So our decision to head down to Congress Street early that evening before returning to NICU for the official ringing in of the New Year was a big deal for us.

The weather was beautiful.  Short sleeve and jeans weather but with a brisk wind that kept whipping down the wide avenue, bringing with it a cloud of black birds that perched in the trees only to be swept up in the next great gale.  I was exhilarated even before the festivities began, my soul dancing in the wind with those little birds, thrilling in the majesty of God.

The young woman standing next to me felt differently.  Every time the birds would take flight, weaving and creating patterns with their flock, she would cringe and say things like, "Eww!  Flying rats!"  (I feel this way about bats, as you may know, so, really, I'm not judging... much.)  But I didn't let her lack of enthusiasm dampen mine.  The parade began and my husband and I rejoiced, enjoying the colorful performers and floats.

One group was carrying a sign ahead of them that said simply, "Bread."  They were dressed in neutral colors but looked rather medieval and festive all the same.  They were handing out big, fat loaves of artisanal bread to those of us in the crowd.  As I held my hands up hoping to gain a loaf, the bird-hating lady next to me did as well.  She went as far to say:  "Give me some!"  One of the ladies from the parade walked over and placed a generous loaf of sourdough in my outstretched hands.  I smiled and thanked her and then, Christian that I am, offered to split it with the woman beside me.  She recoiled as if I had just offered her a pet black bird.  "Oh, no," she exclaimed, aghast.  "I don't eat it."

This experience sticks with me for a number of reasons.  As a whole, the First Night parade stands in my memory as a time when I was able to celebrate with an open heart.  I was able to embrace life at a time when mine was very hard, to throw my arms open wide to a world that God created and love it with every fiber of my being.  To laugh, to soar, to dance.  When the parade was over, we walked down Congress, enjoying our fill of delicious sourdough before passing half of our loaf along to a man who most likely had missed a few meals.  He smiled and took it with as much joy as we felt in offering it.  Then we went back to our first born son, counted down the minutes to a new year with him and with a staff who loved him like one of their own, and raised a glass of sparkling juice in his honor.  It was a wonderful, beautiful night.

I am grateful that God gave me a moment of contrast in the midst of it all.  I think it was no mistake that I stood next to this young woman, who could not have been older than thirty, attractive, dressed fashionably with great hair and makeup.  I don't know what her life looked like on the inside, but she certainly wasn't impoverished and I feel rather safe in assuming that she did not have a terminally ill child in the hospital a few miles away.  But still she had so little gratitude.  She was so imprisoned by her life that she could not see majesty in nature, that she would ask for a loaf of bread but recoil at the idea of eating it.  I pray for her every time I think of her.

Jesus said, "I am the bread of life."  I know Him and He is not the 89 cent, pre-sliced sandwich variety.  He is sustenance, but beyond that He is rich, dense, organic, and beautiful.  He is sweetened with honey.  He can be experienced with every sense.  Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."  And He is.  All the time.  He is the Bread of Life.  And I feel that there are far too many people out there like the bird hating, bread eschewing woman, who recoil from experiencing Him, fearful of what would happen or who they would be if they let go of all of the rules and embraced a living God.  Who are standing with their arms out and hands open, needing to be loved, needing to have peace, wanting to be happy, but then rejecting the free gift that God is offering them.  Not realizing that if they would only taste and see, they would know a freedom and a joy that is unimaginable and inarticulable.

He is with us.  He was with me yesterday, smiling I think, while I was kneading the dough for my baps, while I was allowing the first taste to fill me with precious, comforting memories of days gone by.  He was with me, laughing, on that First Night when I told my worldly circumstance to go to hell and worshipped God with complete and utter abandon.  He is the Bread of Life and there is just something magical about bread. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Space Between

Until recent years, I have always considered myself something of a thespian.  Drama was my passion in high school and in early college.  Even after college, I pursued acting, taking classes and even participating in the odd audition here and there.  I scored some minor roles and some offers to be part of the crew and work my way up with various companies.  I had not only an inflated ego when it came to the word "crew," however, but a busy schedule, what with practicing law and all, so I actually performed very little.  If you don't count jury trials.  Those tend to involve some high drama.

Once Eddie was here, all my aspirations to the stage faded into the background and my life's drama became the focus.  And what a drama it was.  Enough triumph and tragedy to inspire any playwright and enough angst for any good Method actor.  Unfortunately, I was not portraying a part and returning to a gentler, easier life when that performance was over.  I was living it, trying to play my part as well as I could, to comfort my little one and glorify my Creator.

In the first three years after the curtain went down on Eddie's final act, I had no desire for theatrics of any kind.  It has been a quiet period, soul-wise.  I have been busy in the task of raising two small children which brings much joy and hilarity, but can at times seem rather mundane and, let's face it, downright pedestrian.  I love my children and I'm grateful for the privilege for raising them myself.  But if someone were filming my life right now, it would not draw much of an audience.

For the most part, I have been content with this new reality.  But I have moments of longing for the excitement of younger days.  Recently I went to see 25th Anniversary production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."  It was a one time performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London but they were simulcasting it to select theatres in America.  So my sister bought us tickets for a Dallas showing and we were able to experience it in all its majesty (sans jet lag).  

Sitting in the crowded movie theatre but seeing and hearing the sounds of people taking their seats in Albert Hall, my heart began to beat faster.  I knew what was coming.  One of my favorite life experiences:  the moment after the house lights dim, just before the curtain rises and the play begins.  There is such delicious anticipation in that moment as an audience member, an electric current in the hush that falls over the crowd.  I love it as a spectator.  

But, even more, I love it as a performer.  The thrill of that moment defies description.  The fear and excitement.  The fact that at that one moment you cannot recall a single line but you know that in mere seconds you will be in action.  That all eyes will be on you and you will become someone else, the words you so arduously memorized will become your words, the stage directions your actions, the emotions your feelings.  It is like jumping from a cliff.  It is the breath before the first kiss.  It is intoxicating.

For two beautiful hours, I vicariously lived through the madly talented actors on stage.  I reveled in Webber's powerful score.  I wept, I laughed, I was transported.  It was a magical afternoon.  I watched as the actors took their bows before the sold out crowd, who were on their feet, applauding wildly (standing ovations are rare in Great Britain and therefore a tremendous honor).  I thought of how that must feel.  What a pinnacle moment that must be:  to deliver the performance of a lifetime and receive a standing ovation at the Royal Albert Hall.

I began to feel an unhealthy yearning for a life other than my own.  But I caught myself.  Because I know those actors left that stage to return to rather ordinary lives themselves.  They have troubled relationships, ordinary tasks to perform, worries to overcome.  Life is life all the way around.

What is extraordinary about life are those moments when it transcends itself.  When you take one step away from the world and one step closer to the divine.  We have the opportunity to experience these moments every day.  To live more and more in the moments of anticipation, in the space between what we were experiencing a moment ago and what we are reaching toward and expecting to experience in our future. If we comprehend that God has adventures for us, every day, then every morning we can awake and be excited.  They won't always be pinnacle moments.  They won't always be in a dramatic locale.  We may have to search a little to find them, but they are there.  They are to be found in nature if we will look and reflect.  I find them all the time in music or while watching a great movie or play.  They are in museums and in books.  They are at sporting events.  They are in the eyes of our children.  They are in creating, in doing, in being.  We are just too busy complaining to experience them.

Today I want God to dim the house lights.  I want to hear the voices diminish and a hush settle over my busy mind.  And I want to feel the excitement of something great that is just a moment away.  Something unexpected, beautiful and brilliant.  Because the yearning I feel is for Him and He never disappoints.  Whether I am on the stage in what comes next or sitting gleefully in my seat, I am ready to experience everything He has for me.  I don't have to be bored or dissatisfied; I can thrive in the space between, relishing the peace of the moment and awash with joyful anticipation of what is to come.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

For God So Loved The World...

Sometimes repetition renders things virtually meaningless.  Think of the first time you told your spouse or a romantic partner "I love you."  There was so much meaning behind those words, a bit of risk and even a little fear.  We thrilled to hear the words repeated back to us.  Then, later, months or years into the relationship, we use the same three words every time we sign off on a phone conversation... "I love you.  Bye."  Not that we don't love the person or that we love them less, but speaking the words doesn't have the same impact on them or on us.  It has become just one of those things we say.

I think sometimes the same thing happens with God's word.  If you are raised in the church, you probably know the Bible verse John 3:16 by heart.  Even if you weren't, you are still probably familiar with it, having seen it on evangelical  material or even at sporting events.  It says:  "For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  It rings so familiar with so many of us that we almost bypass it.  We don't really hear it; we don't absorb it.  We just smile and move along.

I want to pause on John 3:16 today.  I want to soak it in, to let it seep through me like a fine bag of English Breakfast tea in a cup of hot water.  Because there is a reason it is oft repeated; it is terribly, terribly important.  In fact, I think if you never read anything else in the Bible, if you never heard another verse or were told another truth, it would in itself be enough.  It says not only that God loves you but how much.  It says that no matter who you are or what you've done, you have salvation and it tells you what that is and how to get it.  That should give us chill bumps, just like that first time someone we loved told us they loved us too.

When Christians talk about "the world," usually it has a negative connotation.  We are trying to not be "of the world" but rather "of the kingdom."  We sometimes look down on the world.  But John 3:16 tells us that God loves the world.  Every soul in it, from those worshipping in a church, a mosque or a synagogue to those selling drugs or their bodies on a street corner.  He loves people sitting in prison because of crimes they really did commit as well as those who suffer in innocence.  He loves people who abuse children.  He loves women who have abortions.  He loves those fighting in wars and he loves both sides equally.  If you hate any single person or group of people, keep in mind God loves them just as much as He loves you.  He loves the whole wide world.

He loves us all so much that He gave His Son for us.  This part has a special meaning to me, because I know what it feels like to lose a son.  We sing a song called The Stand in church that says in part:  "So I'll stand with arms high and heart abandoned in awe of the One who gave it all."  I realized the last time I sang this song that when I thought of the "One who gave it all," I was always thinking of Christ, giving His life for us on the cross.  And I think that is a fine interpretation.  We often think of there being no greater sacrifice than dying for someone or some noble cause.  But on reflection I think there is a greater sacrifice.  I would have happily died in Eddie's place and it would not have been sacrificial.  It would have spared me the pain of losing someone I loved more than my own life.  But God choose to sacrifice Himself for us in every way possible, not only becoming a human, carrying the weight of our sin and dying for us Himself but also losing a child on our behalf.  He suffered every single pain for us to save us and to illustrate to us the depth of His love.  When I really think about this I am struck dumb.  I am so humbled to think God would love me that much.  That He always loved me so much, even when I was denying Him, even when I was sinning against Him in abhorrent ways.  He looked down on me then and loved me with a love that would nail its own child to a cross for me.  How can we even comprehend such a love?

When Eddie was just a few days old and his prognosis was already considered terminal, I was asked if I was angry at God.  I answered with the truth;  I was not.  I know that seems impossible, even to me, but it is the truth.  And it was because God had given me insight not only into who He was but how He loved.  I said what I knew and know to be true:  God was not asking me to do anything that He hadn't already done for me.

I prayed for Eddie to live.  Every day, all day, I prayed for healing for my baby.  My faith well exceeded that of a mustard seed.  I consented to every medical treatment that we thought could save his life.  But even with those attempts and in those prayers, I laid my child at the foot of the cross, trusting God and loving Him with a love that accepted His will even if it meant my child's death.  Eddie was going to die whether I loved God or not.  Whether I placed him in God's care or not.  But God still honored the sacrifice of my heart by assuring me of His great and all encompassing love for me and blessing me with a quiet peace that transcends every circumstance.

All of that to say:  HE LOVES YOU THAT MUCH TOO.  His love doesn't care what you have done, how you have worshipped or not worshipped, what sins, great or small, you have committed.  He loves you with a love that broke His child's body and hung it on a cross to die for you.  If you aren't a Christian, I just want you to take a moment and think about that.  I don't want you to think about whatever preconceptions you have about the religion, about its "rules" or its dogma, about the dos and don'ts.  I want you to think about a God that loves you beyond any other love you could ever experience.  He exists and is just waiting for you.  With an open invitation to heal every wound and bring you to a place of peace, hope and joy.

Even if you are already a Christian, I invite you to meditate on this truth.  I know I've mentioned it before but it bears repeating... The pastor at my church once said something to the effect of if we truly comprehended the nature of the gift of grace, all we would be capable of feeling is gratitude.  Instead, I find we as a body of Christ spend a lot of time shaking our fists at God.  At a God who gave us EVERYTHING, who sacrificed His own life in human form and His son's in divine.  I may love you, but I can tell you right now if God had told me I could either sacrifice Eddie's life or you would go to hell, you would be hell-bound.  I would never have given up my child for the salvation of another human being.

Luckily, God's love is so much greater than mine.  Would you sacrifice your child's life so that some random murderer could go to heaven?  How about a terrorist?  The suggestion seems ludicrous.  But that is just what God did.  He sacrificed His only son so that all of us could be saved.  He gave us all the free gift of eternal life bought with the blood of His own child.

All you have to do is believe.  No matter who you are or what you've done, all you have to do is come to God with a heart that knows the Truth.  That Jesus Christ, the Son of God, sacrificed Himself on your behalf and that you believe He is your Savior.  If you believe, you won't die.  Your body will go to the ground but your soul will have everlasting, joyful life.  That is a great deal.  And it is all right there in a verse we hear so often that it becomes almost silent:  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  Period.  If you already knew this, I want you to ask yourself if you are living in gratitude for what He did for you.  Because, frankly, most Christians are running around like a pack of ingrates.  If you aren't a believer, I want to assure you that the details beyond this simple truth are unimportant.  God will lead you and guide you once you allow yourself to know Him.  It's not about politics, it's not about denominations, it's not even about morality.  It's about pure, unadulterated, and inconceivable love.  God loved you so much that He gave His only Son for you so that, if you believe, you can spend eternity with Him.  His invitation is always open, His hand always extended, and His love is everlasting.