Monday, April 16, 2007

Redeeming Love Has Been My Theme

Last week I began listening to a CD that one of my best friends sent me...a compilation of songs that told the "story" of her life for the past year. There were two songs that stood out and touched me deeply. I'll get back to this in a moment.

If you know me, you know that I deeply desire to be a wife and a mother at some point in my life. Not that I'm rushing it now or that I feel any kind of "clock ticking." A few months ago that would be true; but now I am learning to be content in my circumstances. And if you know me, you know I am very picky and refuse to settle just to satisfy the norms of society. So last week, as I was driving home from work, I was listening to the CD my friend sent me. There is a hymn on the CD, "There Is a Fountain" sung by Selah. I have sung this hymn thousands of times in my life and never have really felt the impact of the words until last week. As I was listening the words of the chorus hit a place in my heart that just moved me to tears and allowed an "epiphany" of sorts to happen. "Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die."

And that's when it hit me on the drive home. Redeeming love. An unconditional love that does whatever it takes to win my love. Isn't that what I'm looking for? Isn't that what everyone is looking for? I long for someone to pursue me, to do all they can to win my love. To truly desire me and love me for who I am. And suddenly, as I heard and sang those words over and over again, the Father gently began to speak to my heart, and I began to understand a wonderful truth.

I have a mental list of certain qualities and characteristics that I seek in a husband. They vary from the very deep and spiritual (like he has to be a Christian and be willing to be the spiritual leader of our home without being a dictator and ruler) to the very odd and mundane (like being able to have a 3 hour conversation over a cup of coffee). This list is only in my head, and is subject to change on occasion. I do not seek perfection, but I do have high standards - which I believe I'm entitled to have and which everyone should have. The divorce rate would be a lot lower...but that is another blog.

So this brings me back to the drive home and the song and the wonderful truth I discovered. This redeeming love I'm searching for, this wonderful lover and friend, this amazing person who loves me more than I can comprehend...He's already here. As I started to go over in my mind that night this list of mine, the Father started to show me how He already fulfills all of those things in His own way.

Here are some examples. I want someone who will surprise me with little notes about how much he loves me or that just have some encouraging word on them. Well, God already does that in His word. Every time I open my Bible and read, I find some treasure that He left for me to find. And I find those treasures, those notes at the exact times I need them. He always leads me to a verse or passage that is relevant to exactly what I'm dealing with at that time. Hmm...could be on to something here.

I want someone that I can talk to for hours on end and it feel like no time has gone by. Well, I already have someone I can talk to. God is available 24/7, no matter what mood I'm in, no matter what the day. And He wants me to talk with Him and spend time with Him. So if I'm mad and need someone to yell at, He doesn't mind. If I'm sad and need a shoulder to cry on, He listens as I pour my heart out to Him. If I just want a sounding board, He listens to every word. No matter the subject, the mood, the time of day, I can talk to Him for hours and know that He truly listens and cares. And that He is interested in everything I have to say. Could it be?

I have a problem with confrontation and have this unfounded fear of someone leaving me if I let them in on the real me. So I tend to keep up walls, afraid to let people in on the real me. Well, guess what? God not only knows the real me, He made the real me.I can be honest and open. And He will never leave me! No matter the mistakes I make, He will not walk away. He stands by my side no matter what. He will go to bat for me. He knows me better than I know myself and loves me anyway. How many human beings can you say that about? He will never break my heart. And heaven knows it's been broken badly before. Hmmm...

I want someone to bring me flowers and give me little gifts...not necessarily spend a lot of money...but gifts that are from the heart. A poem, a bouquet of wildflowers, a night out on the town. Again, God already does this day after day. This week on my way to work, I noticed these little bouquets of white flowers that are popping up all over. Now, this may be considering myself too important, but you know what? I think He put those there just for me. And if you have noticed them, too...He put them there just for you. His gifts are personal and special. I know that in the past couple of months, He has blown my socks off with His gifts. My friend that sent the CD...He has used her in an amazing way to bless me. And she came into my life at just the right time. Which leads me to my next point.

Timing. As humans we screw up on the timing of stuff so often. I do it all the time. Mostly, I'm too impatient and try to work things out myself. Often, we are "too busy" to attend to the needs of others. Or we say we'll get to it later. Well, God's timing is perfect. Again, the CD is a perfect example. I actually received the CD in the mail almost a month ago, but I just "didn't have a chance" to listen to it. Of course, that was all part of God's plan. I wasn't supposed to listen to it until last week. Not until I was ready and my heart was ready for the gift that it turned out to be. And I was given the gift of two wonderful songs (well more than that actually, but two that stood out). They were exactly what I needed at that precise time in my life. God knew He was getting ready to deal with me about something specific and that those songs were what I needed. Last month, this same friend sent me an iTunes gift of the song "None But Jesus" (which I advise listening to). She sent it to me weeks before I actually downloaded and listened to it. One night, at a down time with tears in my eyes, I remembered her gift. So I downloaded it. Coincidence? I choose to believe not. If I had opened that song any earlier, it would not have ministered to me the way I needed it to. Again, God's timing is perfect. I think I am on to something.

I also want someone who loves music. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you know me, you know how important music is to me. I want someone who understands the passion I have for music and how it can reach me the way nothing else can. Well, since God created music, I'm pretty sure he understands this.

These are just a few of the things that floated through my mind on that drive home. And I realized that everything that I'm looking for in another person, I already have in my Savior. Yes, I do still long for an earthly relationship with an amazing man...the one God has for me. But while I wait on Him to work that miracle (and love truly is a miracle - what else do you call two complete strangers with two completely different personalities traveling through life together and enjoying every minute of it - a gift only God can give), I can learn to be content and satisfied with my relationship with Him. I know that in His time He will bring the most wonderful person into my life, and He will delight to surprise me beyond comprehension with that gift. But for now, it's just me and Him. I am His and He is mine. See, even if we are blessed in this life to find true love, it will end. Be it a broken heart due to a break up or a broken heart due to death. But His love will never end. It is eternal and amazing and wonderful and surprising and any other word you can think of to describe it. Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.

Now for the second song I mentioned at the first of this blog. As I wait, my prayer is that I will be used by God to help others, to better the world for someone else, to do what He calls me to do. So I pray as you read the lyrics to this song, your desire will also be to be a "living prayer" to Him. The words are so appropriate for those of us who are single; yet it is appropriate for anyone who seeks to live for Him. After all, what more do we have to offer this Love who never ends than to be a living prayer for Him.

A Living Prayer by Allison Krauss

In this world I walk alone
With no place to call my home
But there's one who holds my hand
The rugged road through barren lands

The way is dark, the road is steep
But He's become my eyes to see
The strength to climb, my griefs to bear
The Savior lives inside me there

In Your love I find release
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God to Thee

In these trials of life I find
Another voice inside my mind
He comforts me and bids me live
Inside the love
the Father gives

In Your love I find release
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God to Thee

Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God to Thee

Prayer for Virginia Tech

Normally I would be posting a new blog as it is Monday. However, in light of the events today at Virginia Tech, I am going to postpone my new blog for a couple of days and ask you to pray.

Please pray for the families who lost loved ones in this tragedy and for those who were wounded. Also pray for those who survived as they deal with the loss and possible survivor's guilt.

No one can comprehend the pain and devastation lauded on these victims and families todays. No one but Jesus. So please pray that His peace will fill their hearts and lives and that He will be their comfort and hope in this painful time.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Loving Your Neighbor

One of my favorite versions of the Bible to read is The Message (all Biblical quotes used in this post will be from this version unless otherwise noted). I love how it is written as if you are reading a book and how the phrases jump to life and make it so real to me. A couple of weeks ago I started reading in Romans. The whole book of Romans is amazing and holds so many truths. But I started reading chapters 12, 13 and 14 and the words just jumped off the page and caused me to think about how I live my life. Do I live it to the fullest and take advantage of each opportunity God places before me? Do I share His love with each person I come in contact with each day? Or do I keep what I've learned to myself and stay in my safe little routine and ignore the needs of those around me?

More times than not, I am afraid that I have done the latter. Oh, I mean well. I think of ways to help or reach out to others. I see opportunities all around me, but somehow I just figure that surely God will use someone else. That He has something else for me to do. I call myself someone who is compassionate and my very profession is one of helping others. But when something calls me to step outside of my little safe box of routine, do I respond? Do you?

Romans 12:9 tells us to "love from the center of who you are; don't fake good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle." This is not an easy thing to do. Love from the center of who you are. In order to do that it is important to know who we are, who God made us to be. And to love ourselves...which is very hard to do at times. Practice playing second fiddle. Wow! That is also a very tough thing to do. Sure, we want to help. We want to make a difference. But at what cost? Only if we get recognition? Only if we get a pat on the back? Or are we motivated by something deeper. Something beyond ourselves. Motivated by the love God Himself placed inside us. The desire to live out the life of Jesus in us and share that love with others - regardless of what we may or may not receive in return.

Romans 12:14-19 also contains some wonderful words of wisdom. "Laugh with your friends when they're happy, share tears when they're down...Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great beauty in everyone...don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. 'I'll do the judging,' says God..."

Laughing with your friends and sharing their tears with them seems easy enough. This verse says nothing about sharing your opinion and interjecting your thoughts into the situation. Why is it when we have a friend who comes to us needing simply a shoulder to cry on do we insist on opening our big mouth? They are not coming to us for words. They are coming for comfort. And that is exactly what this verse is saying. The NIV says to "rejoice with those who rejoice" and to "mourn with those who mourn". Our job as a friend is to simply BE there. When someone has suffered a great loss, for example, they simply want a person to understand and just cry with them, not offer them a solution or tell them it will be OK. At those times our needs and our thoughts are not what are important. What is important is to simply love that person and laugh WITH them and cry WITH them.

Make friends with nobodies. Discover beauty in everyone. At first glance this, for me, seems easy. I wasn't popular in high school and have always seemed to fit in best with the "misfits". But when I look closer at my life, I see that I, too, tend to be "stuck up" at times and am not always friendly to the "nobodies" of this world. It is so easy to do. You pass the man in the grocery store who may be unshaven and unkempt and maybe even smells a little. You try your hardest not to make eye contact and avoid him. All the while never knowing what may really be going on in his life. Do we ever stop to think that maybe he has been at the hospital all week with his dying wife and just stopped in for a quick snack on his way to see her and hasn't had a chance to shave or wash clothes this week? You see the woman at church who isn't all that attractive by the world's standards and she isn't dressed in the latest fashions. So you just glance her way but refuse to go up and welcome her. Do we ever stop to think that maybe she is like the woman who gave all she had while the Pharisees and Sadducees complained that she hadn't given enough? Maybe she is on a fixed income and gives her money to help some missionary in another country or gives to help the homeless. And heaven knows that God views her as more beautiful than most gorgeous super model in the world because of what's inside. Do we ever stop and think about the story behind the people we meet or see everyday? The ones we do our best to avoid? God does. He not only sees their stories; He is writing their stories. I am so thankful that He looks at our heart and not our outward appearance. We would do well to do the same. Some of those nobodies we pass by just might turn out to be some of the most godly and giving people and some of the best friends if we would but give them a moment. And after all, without Jesus, aren't we all just a bunch of nobodies? Isn't He the one who makes us beautiful? Time and time again the Bible tells story after story of the "nobodies" Jesus used and continues to use to share His message and His love. Fishermen as disciples? A prostitute as a rescuer? An atheist as a Bible scholar? So remember...make friends with nobodies. Christ has done no less for us. And see beauty in everyone. If a person has Christ in their heart, they are beautiful beyond compare. And if a person is lost, we should still see the beauty that Christ could bring to their life and share His love. We should see beauty in each person no matter what. God does, and He asks no less of us.

I'll do the judging, says God. Hmm. Where did we get to the place where we thought it would be OK to judge others? I've come to realize that when we judge others, we are really judging ourselves. Usually we have an area we know we are failing in and so we automatically see that in others and feel the need to judge them. God tells us time and time again that He is the judge. Not us. The only person I have any right to judge is myself. Like I said above, we have no idea about the stories behind peoples' lives. We have no idea what led them to the place they have come. I may see someone as harsh and stand offish. Yet God sees the fact that they had their heart broken and are doing all they can and putting up walls to keep from getting hurt again. I may see someone who has a "bad reputation". But God sees someone who is searching for love and not finding it. I may see a person with an addiction. God sees a person who is trying so hard to shut out the pain. How many lost people have we turned away from God because of our own selfishness or because we are more concerned with how we will be viewed by fellow believers rather than how God may be calling us to minister to a person in need? How many believers have we let down because we were more concerned with looks and position and what we could get out of something than with how we may be able to meet their need? May God forgive us for seeking our own way rather than His and for turning away from those in need.

Loving our neighbor is not always the easiest thing. But if we will take some time to look beyond the surface, to see the bigger picture, we can see them as God sees them. Loving your neighbor begins with loving God and then loving yourself. Mark 12:31-33 (NIV) tells us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." No commandment greater than these. Greater than anything else He commands us to do. Greater because if we do these two things, everything else falls into place. So the next time you pass that stranger, take a moment and offer a smile or a hello. The next time your friend needs a shoulder to cry on, let them do just that. Offer them a shoulder and share their tears instead of your opinion. When you see a new person at church next Sunday, walk up and say hello. When you see a person struggling with a sin, be there for them and pray for them rather than judge them and kick them when they are down. You never know when God will decide to use you to lift up someone else. And you never know that He may use that stranger to lift you up. Remember "be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Hebrews 13:2)

So this week seek to love your neighbor. Truly love them. Love from the center of who you are. Make friends with the nobodies. And learn to discover the beauty in everyone. Train your eyes to see beyond the surface, to see the story behind the person. Take the time to listen and to care. After all, God took the time to see beyond what the world sees in us. He loved us enough to send His Son who demonstrated the ultimate example of love by dying in our place. The least we can do is to love each other. Life is hard enough without us tearing down each other. So seek to love and let Him love through you. The blessing you receive from obeying that command is so far above and beyond any earthly acclimation. And the results will last for an eternity.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog! I have been blogging off and on on myspace for a few months and have really enjoyed sharing my thoughts and ideas the Lord has shown me about different things that I have encountered in my life. Over the last several weeks I have been feeling that He wanted me to do something more, to share in a greater capacity. I'm still praying about specifics and all that He wants for my life. However, I have felt that starting a blog was a good starting point. So here it is.

I decided on the name Expectant Hope because that is a phrase that kind of came to me during a situation towards the end of last year where I was seeking God's guidance about a life changing decision. As I sought His will in the matter, several verses came to mind about asking Him for what we need and what we want, about being "carefree in the care of God" (Matthew 6, The Message), about hoping for what we cannot see. I used to be the person who never believed that good things could happen for fear they would not and I would be disappointed. But as these verses came to mind I realized that it was OK to hope, to dream that those things would come to be. And thus the phrase "expectant hope" was born in me. It's about a hope that expects God to do what He said He would do. Not a brash, arrogant expecting. But a hopeful, trusting, confident expecting. After all Jesus Himself said to believe that we have what we ask for and it will be given to us (Mark 11:24, NIV). It's not a hope that expects God to be at our beck and call or do what we want when we want it. Rather, it is a hope that expects God to answer in His time, in His way and with His answer. A hope that expects the best God has for us.

As I post new blogs I have no idea what direction they will take or what topics I will cover - most will be from my perspective, the perspective of a single woman trying to navigate the path He has for me. A woman who falls many times and who is not anywhere near where I know the Father wants me to be. But a woman who is seeking His will and trusting in Him to give me the desires of my heart.

My prayer is that the Lord will somehow use this forum as a way to share that expectant hope with you who read it. That you will not see the words as what I write or as my thoughts. But that you will hopefully hear the Father's words and feel His love. I'm not saying I'm the best writer or that I have all the answers or even that what I have to say is always perfect or important. It will be far from it. You may agree or disagree. But I hope that it will cause you to think and to seek the Father in a deeper way than you have before. And I hope that it will cause an Expectant Hope to arise within you about what only a loving God can do in your life.

Please feel free to share any comments.