Unbounded Love: A Generous Life

Every day I have a choice:  I can live with my hands closed tightly around what I think I can protect from others or I can live with my hands open both to give and to receive.

Losing a child makes it tempting to cling that much tighter to what and who I have in my life.

But losing a child also makes it plain that no matter how tightly I hold onto the people and possessions I think are mine, in the end, I’m just not strong enough to do it.

I don’t have power over sin and death.   I can’t anticipate or control the thousands of potential dangers that lurk around corners and spring from shadows.

Every thing and every person that I treasure is a gift from God.  They were given me to steward, not to own.

There is an interesting conundrum associated with success documented in many studies: those who have more tend to give less.  The actual dollar amount may be larger, but as a percentage of income or wealth, it is much smaller.

It seems that those who accumulate wealth and experience privilege begin to consider themselves more deserving than those who live in poverty.

I think there is a corollary in the church:  we who are members of the Body of Christ and walk in the joy of forgiveness can drift from remembering that we, too, were once far from God, walking in darkness and without hope.

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Ephesians 2:1-6 MSG

God is a generous and loving God.  He makes his rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous :

You have heard that it used to be said, ‘You shall love your neighbour’, and ‘hate your enemy’, but I tell you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Heavenly Father. For he makes the sun rise upon evil men as well as good, and he sends his rain upon honest and dishonest men alike.

~Matthew 5:44-47 MSG

He longs for all to come to a saving knowledge of Christ:

The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. ~2 Peter 3:9 HCSB

And He has called us as His ambassadors of reconciliation to proclaim His goodness, love and generosity throughout the world:

All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.

2 Corinthians 5:18 GNT

When we walk with closed hands, when we act as if we are “us” and the rest of the world is “them” we build walls instead of bridges.

And we push people away instead of drawing them in.

Have we forgotten that but for the grace of a loving and generous God, we too would be lost?

What are you so puffed up about? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if all you have is from God, why act as though you are so great, and as though you have accomplished something on your own?

I Corinthians 4:7 TLB

 

 

 

 

Repost: Loving a Grieving Heart

If you love someone who has lost a child, perhaps these thoughts might help you understand a bit of their pain and how completely it changes the way we who have encounter the world.

Please be patient.  Please don’t try to “fix” us.  Please be present and compassionate.  And if you don’t know what to say, feel free to say nothing–a hug, a smile, an understanding look–they mean so very much.

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

 

 

Love Wins

“So then, whatever you desire that others would do to and for you, even so do also to and for them” -Jesus

Jesus taught that I should do to and for others what I desire they do to and for me.

But my heart is deceitful and it quickly turns my Lord’s command into a conditional suggestion–do to and for others IF they are nice, IF they reciprocate, IF they look like me, agree with me and don’t make me angry or uncomfortable.

But if God had been of the same mind I would be hopelessly lost–Jesus died for me while I was yet His enemy.nobody is as they should be brennan manning

True love is extravagant, costly and abundant.  If I am to authentically reflect the Father’s love there can be no exceptions, no limits.

You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence.

Colossians 1:21 MSG

That’s the standard.

And it doesn’t always look like a heroic rescue–it is most often a smile, a touch, an outreached hand or an open heart.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

The genuine compassion and extravagant love of friends and family have been my most treasured gifts since losing Dominic.

“Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa

love one another gif

Where there is love there is life and light.

Death and darkness don’t stand a chance.

Love wins.

Costly Worship

I don’t know what the wise men expected to see.

It seems natural to us who know the story–who know the REST of the story–that they ended up finding Jesus-The King of the Jews-the One whose birth was announced by a star in a humble abode.

But I think it might have surprised those rich rulers traveling so far to worship Him.

In their experience, future kings were born in palaces, surrounded by servants.  Such births were announced and trumpeted loud and long.

So when they found this little child with poor parents in a poor house, perhaps they thought they were mistaken.

We don’t know because Scripture is silent on this point.

What we do know is that they offered the gifts they brought, they worshiped the One they had traveled long to see.

They undertook a treacherous and costly journey for the purpose of worship.

True worship is expensive.

To raise my voice and my hands after losing Dominic is hard. It requires that I trust God regardless of my circumstances.

It means I lay my treasure at His feet even when I don’t understand why or how He intends to use it.

But worship inclines my heart to the God Who made it.

Just like the star led the wise men, worship leads me to the feet of Jesus.

And there is where I can safely leave my treasure.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

Matthew 2:1-2, 10-11 KJV

 

 

 

 

Making Room for Grief at the Christmas Table

Our family didn’t do Santa.

We started to with our first child, but when she asked, “How does Santa know everything and how does he live forever?” at two years old, we ditched him.

I realized that even her young mind had picked out the inconsistencies between Jolly Old Saint Nick and what we were teaching her about God and the human condition.

The path to joy is filled with pain.  The way to heaven is traveled through a world where children die and cruelty is common.  Not every good little boy or girl finds their wishes fulfilled on Christmas morning.

This is precisely the place where the grieving find Christmas difficult.

Even Christ followers tend to section off the celebration of Jesus’ birth from the agony and necessity of His death.  We welcome the Baby but disregard the crucified Savior.  We like to pretend that “all is calm, all is bright”.

The pressure to maintain the facade of jollity overwhelms my heart and makes me weary down to my bones.

Joy and sorrow both dwell in my soul and I cannot reveal one and hide the other.  I may laugh and cry in the same moment.

It is all too easy for others to welcome the laughter and to shut out the grief–to insist that those who gather pretend everyone gets what they want for Christmas.

No one can bring my son back to me.  No one can giftwrap a restored family and place it under the tree. 

But you can give me and other mourners space for our pain at the Christmas table.

You can honor those we miss by noting their absence–you can acknowledge that eternity is truly wonderful, but today is so very hard.

That is a gift we would treasure.

 

Tell Me Your Story

One of my greatest fears is that Dominic will be forgotten.

If I ever speak it out loud, people are quick to assure me that he will always be remembered. But I know it isn’t true–unless others allow me to tell my story.

Not the Reader’s Digest condensed version–but the full length director’s cut–the one that takes time to tell and time to hear.

Because the farther away I get from the last living memory of him, the harder it is to think of him in the present tense.  And I know if that’s true for me, his mother, it must be doubly true for others.

We buy tickets to movies, purchase books and cruise the Internet gobbling up other people’s stories.  Yet we often make it difficult for those we know to tell us theirs.

We jockey for attention at gatherings, or worse, give all our attention to electronic devices.  We think we KNOW other people’s stories so we don’t want to bore ourselves with listening again.

The truth is, we know less than we think about the folks we rub shoulders with every day.

Invite others to tell their stories–not just the grieving, but the elderly, the quiet ones in the corner, or the neighbor you’ve only seen from across the way.

Take some cookies, put away your phone and just listen.

(And feel free to share in the comments section too–I’d love to know YOUR story…)

 

 

 

 

 

Relational Acts of Kindness

I have two very special friends.

After Dominic died and the meals and visits and cards had dwindled and the silence and heartbreak had become oh-so-overwhelming, they came out to spend the day with me.

The whole day.

With me.

With this crying, couldn’t hold it together, didn’t know what to say mama who had buried her son just weeks ago.

They brought lunch.  And let me talk–or not. They didn’t try to fix me, didn’t offer platitudes or Bible verses to smooth things over when conversation lagged.  They hugged me and listened.

And they have been doing this every few weeks since.

It costs them a whole day and it’s 60 miles each way–but they keep coming and keep lifting me up so that grief and sorrow don’t drown me.

This time of year social networks buzz with posts and tweets and Instagrams of “random acts of kindness”.  That’s a good thing.

But on a scale of 1 to 10, those are easy.

We pick a stranger, discern a way to help (maybe paying for a meal or a coffee) and then both walk away feeling warm and fuzzy. No relationship, no commitment.

Relational Acts of Kindness are much harder.

We can’t just do our thing and leave.  Our hearts and resources are going to get tangled up with theirs.

It might get expensive.

That’s what my friends did.  They leaned into relationship with me even though it was messy, and hard, and costly.

So my challenge to you is this:  who do you know that could use a relational act of kindness?  A neighbor?  A distant relative? Someone who sits alone in a pew?

There is no greater kindness than coming alongside someone at just the moment they feel their strength is gone.

I know that without these friends I would not be able to bear my grief nearly so well.  I pray that God will bless them abundantly as they have been a blessing to me.

“Help carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ.”  

~Galatians 6:2 GNT