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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Increasing the Capacity to Love

Capacity: the maximum amount a container can hold. 

No, I didn't look that up - I remembered it! I taught a first grade unit on capacity. We filled all sorts of containers with beans, marbles, rice, etc. to learn about the topic. Capacity looks a little different however when we are talking about the human heart. 

When I returned to State College from Christmas break, my little sister (of my host family) lovingly and excitedly informed me I was going to be a big sister again! My host mom was pregnant with Baby O #4. I continued to live with them through the months of pregnancy. I saw the days in which Mom felt great and could conquer the world - I saw the days where she was so sick she had to call reinforcements in to help - I saw the days where dropping a green bean on the floor could bring her to tears. 

The ups and downs; the goods and the bads. I saw it all. Month 8 of course, she became increasingly uncomfortable - ready to be relieved. 

Tyler Joshua Benjamin O. joined the world on August 9th at 10:03pm. 

The next day I went to the hospital to meet my new little brother. I had a flood of  
emotions - never have I held a newborn. Let me preface that I have come to love my three other "little siblings" over time. When I arrived one year ago, we took time to get to know each other. I built relationships with each of them. I love them dearly - but it was something that grew with time. 

I walked in to the hospital room a bit nervous. My host mother looked beautiful. Her eyes sparkled and her skin glowed. Her smile radiating pride and confidence. She was stunning - no one would know about the labor pains or how uncomfortable she recently was. What was born out of the pain made the process fade so quickly into the background of the past that it was no longer even a thought to her, let alone anyone else. 

My host mom placed baby Tyler into my arms. My eyes welled with tears. I felt like the Grinch. "In Whoville they say - the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day." I was struck with a capacity to love like I have never experienced. I knew that in the ten seconds I settled him in my arms, I would do absolutely anything for him. I loved him instantly with words I can not explain. 

Tyler has helped increased my capacity to love. 

My engagement ended over a year and a half ago. Yet, in many ways, I still feel like I am bearing it. There are days where everything is perfect - I've found my confidence again and I can conquer the world. Call it weakness or just allowing myself to feel, there are days when I feel sick. I struggle to get out of bed. Those are the days which I question myself. What did I do wrong? How could I have changed things? Did I really deserve it? Why wasn't I enough? I make myself sick trying to come up with answers to the thousand questions that still linger in my mind. And I have other days where the green bean on the floor can make me cry. It could be a song, something someone says, a vehicle, inside joke, dream or just the release of allowing myself to feel the injury. 

In all honesty, today is a green bean day for me. 

Recently on the phone to my mom, I was having a difficult time with the lingering pain of my broken engagement. "I just thought I would be past this all by now, Mama. Why does it still bother me this much? Why does it still hurt so bad? WHEN will this STOP?!"

Leave it to my beautiful and wise mother to soothe my weary heart. "Sweetheart, you're still in the process of carrying this. It will take time. The labor pains come and they hurt - they create the discomfort and the doubt. But when God births the beauty out of all this, you won't recall the painful process. You will simply hold in your arms and praise Him for the precious miracle He gives you." 

This was about one week before Tyler was born. God knows I am a visual and experiential learner. Holding Tyler in my arms was the tangible truth of my Mom's wisdom. I needed to see the beauty and strength of my host mom; the precious and perfect miracle of the baby. In that moment, a hope for my future family was renewed. I realized  that my ability to love another selflessly was not lost in the devastation of my broken heart. Hope renewed. Joy awakened. Strength infused. 

Is there a lingering pain you continue to experience? Wondering if it will ever go away or if you will ever be able to fully heal? Whoever said time heals all wounds was an nincompoop and a liar. Time heals little to nothing. Jesus is the healer. JESUS heals all wounds. "He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3. "He collects every tear." Psalm 56:8. 

You may still be carrying it (unfortunately there is no nine month limit). You may be experiencing the labor pains right before the release of something beautiful. Rest in the promise that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. That He will not give you more than you can bear. That He redeems and restores that which the locust took away. 

Don't grow weary, give up, or become so frustrated that you lose sight of the cross of grace and only see yourself. It's coming. It will be so worth it. 

Experiencing a heart of pain will always increase one's capacity to love if Christ is the one you allow to heal it. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Thought About Family

I turned to old Webster and looked up the definition of family. There were eight... I will spare you the vocabulary lesson and simply tell you that the definitions ranged from things like:  

 - a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head, to  - a set of curves or surfaces whose equations differ only in parameters

I believe that Jesus defines family as so much more. Mark 3:21 notes Jesus' brothers saying, "He is out of his mind..." I don't think this was a joke. I would venture to say that James and the other brothers and sisters of Jesus were probably unbelievers the whole time their brother ministered on this earth. It appears that something happened to Joseph as he is not mentioned after Jesus' 12 year-old trip to the temple. Did he die? Leave? Was there tension, strife and grief in Jesus' family? Duh! Have you experienced those things in your family at some point? (The answer can't possibly be no.)  

Throughout the Gospels we watch Jesus restructure this idea of family. He expands the definition to be something so great it's hard to comprehend. I learned this with a little help from the incredible Beth Moore. Recall that Jesus' natural family wasn't too thrilled with the attention and miracles. He left his hometown and began to minister in other areas. In John 2:12 we see that Jesus, his mother, brothers and his disciples reconvened and went to a wedding. And His Disciples. His family was growing. Have you added to your family? 

In Mark 4:31-35, Jesus asks, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" I don't imagine this was a well-taken statement by mom and bro. He broadened the definition of family and opened the door to us: "Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother." Praise Jesus for that! 

Over time a spiritual family is formed. In one beautiful moment at the foot of the cross, Jesus unites his spiritual family with his biological family. "'Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple', 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home."

I am exceedingly thankful for Christ's resurrection family. Acts 1:12-14 lists those who were in the upper room waiting on the Holy Spirit. Here's this powerful verse. "...and with his brothers." That's all. But think - his brothers were there. They suddenly were surround by believers - disciples. Waiting. Hoping. The mocking, taunting, teasing, comparing, and complaining was over. Did it take Jesus' death for them to realize? Maybe. But they were there. They believed. 

And I just love this! 1 Corinthians 15: 5-7 lists those to whom Jesus appeared after he was resurrected. The Twelve. Five hundred of the brothers and sisters. Then he appeared to James. then to all the apostlesThen he appeared to James.

Jesus always appears to the ones who need to see Him most. 

Can you imagine what that reunion must have been like? How powerful that would have been? Would Jesus have said anything or just held his brother? Although James was Jesus' brother, he could not come to God entitled. He came by grace. The same grace that allowed the once mocking brother of Jesus to pen the book of James and become one of the primary leaders of the first church. Wow. 

And all this = family. Biological, spiritual, resurrected. And praise Him for all of it! No family is perfect. But every family is ordained by a Sovereign God whether we like to believe it or not. No one gets to pick their parents. God picked for you - He doesn't make mistakes. In the Kingdom of God, family only grows. Never does it shrink. Each family has quirks. Yours isn't as unique as you think it is. We are all a little wacky behind the front door. God chose it for you. And no matter what your circumstance, we are admonished in Isaiah 58:7 not to turn our backs on our flesh and blood. 

I am realizing the longer I'm away from home, and the more I minister to thousands of moms and daughters across the nation, that my family is very much the exception. For them I continue to become exceedingly thankful. You might not have been blessed with family in the same way that I have been. God has a reason - maybe it's to change something for future generations. 

A family sticks together. Each individual brings strengths to the table - each also brings weaknesses that will occasionally need to be covered. Every person in a family is essential to the health and dynamic of the unit. My mom and I are the fiery, opinionated ones - the movers and shakers. Dad and Kyle are more patient and reserved - not easily offended or wound up. (Thank God.) My new sister-in-law is a beautiful mix of both. A family needs each other. 

Family must be a priority. I believe we are called to love God first,  our spouse next, then children. Friends, jobs, hobbies are to be farther down on our list of priorities. When Dad came home from work, he was home. There was no talk of work stresses or a briefcase open on the table. No job, deadline, trip or Bunko night is more important than any family relationship. Be there with yours. 100%. 100% of the time. Work and responsibilities will always be there - the loved ones around the table might not be. 

A family first needs a foundation that is Christ - solid, immovable, unshakable. The second thing they need is a frame - sturdy, built-to-last. Parents. Mine are grossly in love after 28 years of ups and downs. They still kiss in the kitchen incessantly. 

Dads provide affirmation for their kids. What child doesn't crave it? Mine gave it - in abundance. He showed affection constantly. Tickling with Mr. Wiggle Finger on the floor when we were young, to snuggling with me as we watch a movie now. When my engagement ended there was no need for a rebound guy - Daddy's arms were there to hold and snuggle. Dads, your kids are never too old for you to hug them and love on them.

And Moms, they have the scary responsibility of shaping a child's self esteem and level of confidence. They can fill their child's bucket so full that no hole poked in it by the world will leak enough out to make a difference. They also have the ability to chip away at a child's confidence and value by constantly criticizing and belittling. My mother has filled my bucket to overflowing. Moms, take the responsibility seriously and watch your words - even if they are meant to tease, it can leave permanent damage. Don't clip their wings if you want them to fly someday. 

Siblings. I'm glad Jesus had them. I think they are God's way of helping us develop patience here on earth. I love my brother and we've always been close. This is not to say that I might have been inspired by The Parent Trap when I was ten and decided to booby-trap his room. It's also possible that to retaliate my little brother hung his dirty underwear from the ceiling fan, locked me in his room and turned it on high so they flung all over me.... Brothers and sisters are built-in, life-long friends. Trust, transparency, friendship. (Just like in the picture above - Ky wanted to do the trust fall. He knew I would be there to catch him.) 

And yet, they will let you down! When and if you fall, they will be there to help you up. I am so thankful that the Lord has given my brother and I a blessed friendship. He has taught me so much. Around Christmastime I was exceedingly angry over a situation that had deeply wounded my heart. Based on a series of events, I was ready to go address the individual. Fuming mad I was on my way out of the house. Kyle confronted me knowing that my heart was not right. I yelled at him - demanding that justice be served. He knew I was speaking out of hurt and anger, but he also saw me determined to go start a fire - knowing I would be the one getting burned. He gently but firmly grabbed my shoulders and tried to hold me. This simply made me angrier. I fought for a while. Going so far as to dig my heel into the top of his foot (it left a bruise.) He wouldn't let go. Eventually I collapsed into his arms, crying with grief and pain so heavy I fell to the floor - his strong arms guided me down. Thank you Kyle. 

Even though you grow up, part ways and make your own families, never neglect the importance of a sibling. You will always need them. They will always need you. (For the record I didn't realize Ky was actually going to fall... I tried to catch him - I really did!) 

A family helps carry one another's burdens. 

They hold you up when you're down. 

They lead you to the One who can heal. 

Love covers a multitude of sins. 

Love is willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of another.

Love waits, believes, hopes, trusts - it doesn't quit and never does it fail. 

A family built on Love doesn't quit and never does it fail.

Maybe you have not been blessed with what you consider to be the ideal family. God picked your parents - He used them to help you become the person you are. To establish the family you one day want. Forgive. Don't give up on family. Study how Jesus restructured His own. How He can restructure yours. With God, no family situation is beyond hope and healing. Forgiveness is a choice. Love is a choice. Family is a choice. 

By no means is my family perfect. We've had our share of disagreements, arguments, ups, downs, challenges and victories. I do know that my family strives to be to others a picture of grace; a picture of the Gospel. 

A family is a reflection of Christ - of love, acceptance, mercy, grace and adoption to the rest of the world. If Satan can destroy the family unit - he can diminish the picture of the Gospel. Don't let Satan take your family down. 

*Photo credits to Mr. Zane Rader