Not-So-Fond Farewells

IMG_1739The quicker, the better is my motto when it comes to saying good-bye to someone I love for a long time. I dread the moment when I will have to release them from my arms and watch them walk away. It feels like a part of my heart is being torn out, leaving a big aching hollow. I am not so fond of farewells.

This summer has been one of good-byes. My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter moved to Africa for 3 years with little prospect of trips back home. And after I said good-bye to my son when visiting him in a distant city, he sent me a note within the hour saying he missed me already. Every parting takes a piece of my too-tender heart with it which, I’ve come to realize, is the price for loving completely.

Of all the imperfections and missed marks in the world, this is the one I find the most arduous, sometimes to the point where I don’t want to say hello because I know a good-bye must follow. We say too many good-byes in this transient society where jobs require transfers to other cities, and rending divorces result in constant partings between parents and children.

The truth is, we were not designed for good-byes. In the perfection of this world before sin entered, God made man and woman in His own image. And God walked companionably with His creations in the garden in the cool of the day. (Genesis 1 – 3) God’s original intention was for an everlasting relationship with man, no good-byes required. Don’t you think it wrenched His heart to send Adam and Eve out of the garden? To say good-bye to the creatures He designed for relationship with Himself? The sin which broke man’s connection with God continues to throw good-byes in our path, causing hearts to break a little with each one.

So I wonder, how do I navigate those good-byes? Do I withhold myself, protecting my heart from painful partings? Not possible. I love those I love without reservation, making vulnerability part of the package. So I’ve decided to live in the good of the moments I have with each one I love. Some moments may be longer and some shorter before parting but each one is precious in and of itself. After His resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days saying good-bye to His disciples because they were so slow to believe and understand what He had done. During that time He made special memories with them, walking and talking on the road to Emmaus, visiting them in the upper room, making them breakfast on the beach. The disciples would have those memories to warm their hearts when He was gone.

Good-byes are an infinitesimal portion of my time spent with those I love. I choose to make that time rich, full of love and laughter, shared experiences, long talks and lots of hugs. It will still be hard to say good-bye but only because our love for each other will have deepened in the time we are together. Good memories don’t need good-byes.

 

 

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Beckoned

2007_0715BC0111She stands on chubby feet, knees flexed, arms up for balance. For weeks she has been standing on her own, yet not quite ready to take an independent step. Across the room someone kneels to her level and beckons with arms held wide, calling her to come. She recognizes the person as someone who brings delight, someone safe and loving. With eyes focused on that familiar face, she takes her first wavering steps, forgetting herself for the joy of responding to the affectionate beckoning of her daddy.

I remember when Jesus first beckoned me. I always had a curiosity about Him. I even asked for a bible for my birthday, a strange request in our family. Then I was invited to a children’s camp where stories and songs were all about Jesus. There I saw His love reflected in the glad faces of people who talked about Him as a friend. They told me He could be my friend too; in fact, He would come and live in my heart if I asked Him. I discovered He was not a distant deity high up in heaven too holy to care about a shy, eleven year old girl. I may not have understood the verses in the bible that told me so, but I knew He actually wanted to be my friend. He beckoned me in ways I could not define at the time, but now I look back to see His hand offered, saying “Come!”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 30:3 NIV)

“Come!”, sang the beauty of sea, sky and earth; of stars and sun, color and music. His lavish creation beckoned me to Him, spelling out His love in a language my young heart instinctively knew. “Come!”, beckoned those who already knew Him, not so much with their words but with lives lived in joy and contentment not found in circumstances. “Come!”, was the wordless invitation pressed on my soft soul in nights of searching and wondering.

So I came in all sincerity, but I did not stay. The world lured me away. too fresh to faith to resist. Sometimes I would hear His voice in the distance, calling, but it was too daunting a task to untangle myself from the darkness. Until the time came when I stumbled beneath a load I could not carry myself, and He beckoned again. Then I saw His arms stretched wide on the wood, His hands held out with a warm red bloom in the palms. What kind of invitation was scribed in blood, what door flung open through the sacrifice of His flesh?

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Give ear and come to Me: hear Me, that your soul may live.” (Isa. 55:1, 3)

When I came this time, I came broken, sin sick, desperate for grace I knew I did not deserve. But this was an invitation freely given without condition but that my heart accept the hospitality of the Divine Host. In the grasp of His beckoning hand waited a life for my soul, not just here and now but forever.

Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me
and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come.                    ~Charlotte Elliot  1835~

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Overflowing Pitchers

overflowing pitcherBefore the birth of my second daughter I wondered if I would have enough love to give another child. The love I felt for my firstborn was so immense and intense, I had a hard time imagining having the same love for my second. I needn’t have worried. The moment she was born I found my heart expanding to accommodate another precious little girl, and eventually, a baby boy as well.

Love, I discovered, is a self-propagating force. The more I give away, the more there is to give; it is never used up. William Shakespeare’s Juliet expressed this to her Romeo:
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”

Infinite love is found only in God. He is the creator, propagator and source of all beneficial love. “Dear friends,” the apostle John wrote, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

As finite beings it is hard for us to imagine never running out of love, but God has a reason for giving us such a limitless resource; He wants us to lovingly care for one another. When we experience the love of God in our lives, we find we cannot contain it in our lowly vessel; it is going to overflow. If our hearts have been truly changed by Christ’s indwelling Spirit, then He fills us up with so much love we cannot help but splash it onto others.

Human love tends to have an element of give and take to it. When we love someone, we desire and even expect to be loved back. When love is God-prompted it comes with no expectations but to bless the receiver. The scriptural Greek word for that kind of love is agape. Pastor and author John MacArthur says biblical agape love is not an emotion but a disposition of the heart to seek the welfare and meet the needs of others. We have no capacity to generate agape love on our own. The love of God is only unquenchable when allowed to flow through the channel of a yielded Christ-follower. Edward T. Welch writes, “Our goal is to love people more than need them. We are overflowing pitchers, not leaky cups.”

This is the kind of love needed to give up family and home to travel to an impoverished country and minister to orphaned children and HIV/AIDS victims.
This is the kind of love sustaining an inner-city pastor whose congregation consists of drug addicts and prostitutes.
This is the kind of love we need when our mates disappoint us, our children ignore us, and our friends hurt us.
This is the kind of love which flowed from the veins of Jesus Christ as He sacrificed His life so we might know forgiveness and eternity in heaven.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38

 

Synergy

IMG_0056Harbingers of fall, flocks of Canada geese stitch familiar V patterns across the blue prairie sky as they migrate south. My eye is drawn to them — a chevron of graceful birds marking distance as one unit. I wonder how each bird knows to fly slightly above and behind the goose ahead, creating an aerodynamic formation. Or how the larger, stronger lead goose knows when it is time to give way to a fresh replacement.

Their combined action creates synergy, resulting in a greater outcome than the sum of their individual efforts. Formation flying allows them to cover as much as 1,500 miles in 24 hours, a distance a single goose could never accomplish.

As with so many aspects of the natural world, there is a spiritual lesson to be drawn from the interdependence of Canada geese. They need each other. Without the support of its flock-mates, a goose could not fulfill its purpose as God designed. Just as we would be greatly inhibited in our Christian life if we did not have a body of believers to walk alongside us. Beyond benefiting ourselves, there is the goal of the greater good.

“We who are strong are not just to satisfy our own desires. We are called to carry the weaknesses of those who are not strong. Each of us must strive to please our neighbors, pursuing their welfare so they will become strong. The Anointed One Himself is our model for this kind of living, for He did not live to please Himself. I pray that our God, who calls you and gives you perseverance and encouragement, will join all of you together to share one mind according to Jesus the Anointed. (Rom. 15:1-3, 5 The Voice)

The apostle Paul wrote these words to Christians coming from differing backgrounds of Judaism and paganism. He urged them to help each other, in spite of the disparities in their former way of life, setting aside selfish motives for the greater good of proclaiming Christ. “In this unity, you will share one voice as you glorify the one True God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, our Liberating King.” (Rom. 15:6)

Just as I see a flock of geese made stronger and faster in unity, so Christians setting aside their differences and coming together create synergy, a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. In this world of self-seeking and personal fulfillment, setting aside our own desires to benefit a greater purpose is almost a foreign concept. Yet when we do, we experience the satisfying peace and connectedness of being a small, vital part of a much bigger cause.

And that cause is love, fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, who told us, “Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others.” (John 13:34-35)

Like wind beneath wings, Christ’s love carries us forward into His greater purpose — to love as He loves.

©Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Along the Road

EmmausTravel has a way of drawing out internal things. As the body is engaged in getting to a destination, the mind has time to ponder and explore, away from daily routine. On a seven mile journey by foot from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a few days after Jesus’ crucifixion, two of His disciples discussed the internal things closest to their hearts.

Shoulders slumped, feet scuffing the dusty road, faces sad and perplexed, their demeanor spoke their discouragement. They had put their hope in Jesus of Nazareth as the one who was going to redeem Israel, but he had been arrested, crucified and buried, and his body probably stolen, for his tomb was now empty. With the road stretching before them, their conversation was tinged with sorrow and confusion.

In the aftermath of a life-shattering event, we want to study it from all angles, dissect the details, try to figure out the why and how and now what? Somehow it gives us a sense of control to analyze the facts and search for some answers, preferably with someone who can commiserate with us.

Processing a traumatic event turns the focus inward. The two walking to Emmaus were so absorbed in their discussion, they probably did not notice a fellow traveler until he came alongside them. Wrapped in a robe, dusty and windblown, like themselves, they did not recognize Jesus. Even though it was Jesus they were discussing, seeing Him in person was the farthest thought from their minds. Although He had spoken of it often, His resurrection was outside their realm of possibility.

When we are caught up in our own problems, trying to cope with an imperfect reality, we can miss Jesus walking beside us. Life narrows our vision to focus on looming bills, a serious medical diagnosis, a fractured relationship. Even when we fail to recognize Him, He is beside us through all the difficulties because He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. (Heb. 13:5)

Still disguised, Jesus gently chided the two on the road for being foolish and slow of heart. In modern terms, He admonished them to “look at the big picture”. Then painting the big picture in words, “He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27 NIV) And they still were not aware it was Him.

When all I can see are the problems right in front of me, the best thing I can do is adjust my spiritual lens, go wide angle and take in all of who Jesus is, what He has accomplished and what He has promised for the future. His story is woven throughout the Bible from the first word to the last. Reading it reminds me of the providence of God so clearly demonstrated in the life of His son Jesus, so I can trust Him for my life too.

The two travelers warmed to their wise companion as they walked. They strongly urged him to stay with them and have a meal. “He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31)

This part of the story touches my heart, because it was in the act of thanksgiving and sharing bread that Jesus revealed Himself. And He will continue to reveal Himself as we practice thanksgiving, focusing on the One who has given us all things. We are called to give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess. 5:17). Thanksgiving points us to Jesus, our true north, who guides us into all truth.

Finally they put the two together. Jesus, the man who walked to Emmaus with them, once dead and now alive, was the Messiah. fulfilling all the prophecies in Scripture. Their hearts burned within them with this revolutionary knowledge.

The story of the two on the road to Emmaus is our story too. Often blind to the presence of Jesus right beside us, we listen to His story in Scripture, but until we thank Him for His body broken and His blood poured out for us, we cannot see who He really is. When we finally recognize our constant companion, our hearts will burn within us — with love, with gratitude and with worship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for the One

lightning-caspian-sea_57275_990x742I think I was always looking even when I did not know who I was looking for. Like any child, my days were spent doing small things in my small world but I remember a vague yearning, a searching for something outside myself. Lying on my back in the grass, gazing up into the limitless blue sky, I wondered who had made it all so beautiful. Surely this amazing world had a Maker and if the Maker made the world, then he made me too. So I went looking for him.

The cardboard Jesus stuck on a flannel board at Sunday School hardly fit my idea of a Maker. His pristine robes and benign expression belonged to someone who appeared too mundane to explode a universe into being, no matter what my teacher said. So I kept on looking.

I looked within my family and friends, but their love stayed on the plane of earth, imperfect and variable. I looked for the ultimate answer in education and knowledge, but came away confused by too many contradictory ideas. I ran fast after romantic love, thinking all questions would be answered through the heart, but found it to be a tender organ, quick to bruise and slow to heal.

The gravity of this world held me down. My eyes saw horizontally, my time taken with looking after my physical needs day after day. Yes, I was looking, but through squinted eyes, instead of opening them wide to the reality of a Maker who is Messiah, the anointed, God with us. I didn’t bother to look up, to raise my eyes to the Risen One, to recognize that death had no hold on Him.

Years later when the words of God took on life for me, I saw my seeking self in the women who came to Jesus’ tomb after his burial. They expected to find an earth-bound Jesus, no longer reachable, his body cold and gray in death. Reality was much different. “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.’ ” (Matt. 28:5-6 NIV) They were looking for the living among the dead, as the angel said. But Jesus was not there. He was alive again! And later he appeared to them in the flesh.

It wasn’t until the painful weight of this world pushed my face in the dirt that I truly looked. Looked up with sin-caked eyes, desperate to be loved no matter what, yearning for a life beyond this. Looked up because to look down meant death. Looked up to discover a free, forgiven, forever eternity with Jesus, the lover of my soul. He once said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40) When I believed, then I discovered He had been looking at me all this time, waiting to welcome me into His embrace.

I am still looking, but not because I am still seeking. I have found who I was looking for all my life, even when I did not know who He was. I am looking to Jesus now because He is beautiful to me, in His perfection, in His power, in His compassion. And I will never stop looking.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

 

 

The Tabby Catalyst

2007_0715BC0020I lost a good friend recently. A friend whose gentle companionship and unconditional acceptance is now missing from my days. For twelve years my cat, Pete, greeted me each morning with his distinctive squawky meow, asking for his breakfast in his gentlemanly way. Evenings he curled up on the back of the couch, his comforting purr sounding like an idling tractor in my ear. He wasn’t a lap cat, preferring instead to sit near where he could receive an occasional chin rub and hear the voices of his humans.

When I became Pete’s owner, he was already a mature cat with a sad history. He had been abandoned, then passed from home to home before he came to live with me. Once he knew he was in a safe place he relaxed into the mellow, slightly world-weary feline comrade I grew to love. I understand that cats are instinctive creatures. Much of their behavior is a result of God’s design for their survival, but there were aspects of Pete’s personality that revealed things I believe God wanted me to learn.

When Pete came to live with me, I was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. After a morning at the hospital, I would go to bed to fight through the effects of the toxic drugs. Chills, nausea, foggy brain — Pete saw it all from his post on an old towel laid on the bed. Except for brief visits to his food dish and litter box, he never left my side. For 10 months, one week out of four, Pete kept vigil. His constancy brought me comfort, as if he knew he had a job to do by staying close. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17

Pete adored my bath mat. Something about its thick, soft material put him in his happy place. After my shower he would flop down on that mat, curl himself into an upside down comma and grin. Then great purring would commence, along with stretching and kneading. Pete did contentment well. He found little things (like a bath mat) that brought him contentment and he revelled in them, enjoying the moment for what it was. He didn’t worry about the rest of his day, or what happened yesterday; he was content for right now. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” – 1 Timothy 6:6

The purchase of a new couch and love seat meant no shedding cat allowed. At least that was my resolution, but Pete had another idea. Loud clapping, shooing, pushing and even squirts from a water sprayer did not deter this cat from his self-appointed task of taking over the new furniture. Eventually his tenacity won out, while I collapsed in defeat, exhausted from jumping up constantly to get him off.

Tenacity borders on obstinacy but it also reflects perseverance. Although I lost the battle, I had to admire Pete’s determination. He knew what he wanted — to be on the couch. He knew what he had to do to get there — keep jumping up, no matter what. He knew he would face opposition, but he was determined to persevere.  Maybe I’m giving his little walnut-sized brain more credit than is due, but it sure seemed like he was out to win! And he did. End of story, except for what I learned from it. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

Pete was just a little charcoal-colored tabby, but God used him as a catalyst (pardon the pun) to teach me bigger lessons about living a godly life. You will be missed, Mr. Pete!