Play It Again: Love Transforms

This post originally went live in the spring of 2013, but it’s a message that plays over and over again in my mind.  Living Loved in relationship with the Father instead of living by expectations and rules…

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I realize this so-called series on reigning in life may now have morphed into a general theme for the blog rather than just a series.  But then again, Pentecost Sunday isn’t until May 19th, so I guess technically speaking, in a church calendar sort of way, we’re still celebrating the Resurrection.  Shouldn’t we be doing that anyway???

I made the shocking revelation in my last post that Elf is one of my favorite movies (right up there with Steel Magnolias and Mr. Holland’s Opus) and that I believe it has some great parallels to abundant life.  I ended that post with a thought to ponder:

Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.

We all know there are several forms of love and in the Bible specifically, there are three.  So just for the sake of clarity let’s focus on the unconditional kind.  The kind that God has for us, agape.  Not only does God have this type of love for us, but according to 1 John 4:8, God is Love.  God is unconditional Love and through Jesus Christ we have direct access to that Love.

Not only do we have direct access to Love, but the living God, who is Love, then comes and takes up residence in us.  At salvation we are united with Christ.  It is no longer we who live, but Christ in us the hope of glory.  (Sorry for the huge leap, but I am making the assumption that we all ‘get’ the idea of the Trinity…if not, well apparently WordPress will allow me to write and post as many things as I would like and we can discuss it another day.).

So let’s just talk about the impact of that Love, the God of unconditional Love, that comes to dwell in us.

I think the Bible records the transforming power of Love most beautifully through the lives of three amazing men:  Peter, John the Beloved (as opposed to John the Baptist) and Paul.  These men were so changed by their encounters with Love and the life Love lived through them that their names were actually changed.  Simon became known as Peter;  John, a son of thunder, became John the Beloved; and Saul became Paul.  By the time Love was finished with them, they were completely different men.

Love transformed an uneducated fisherman into a pillar of the new church.  It took a man who wanted fire to come down from heaven and kill people who didn’t believe Jesus and transformed him into a man whose major theme in writing is Love.  It also took a man who followed the law to the nth degree, even killing under its authority, and transformed him into a man who wrote most of the New Testament.  And what was one of his primary messages?  That we are no longer under the law and we are to live free from the law.  We are to live by Love, Jesus’ new commandment.

What was so wrong with living by the law?  What is wrong with it now?  According to the New Testament it kills.  It brings death.  There is no life in the law.  The only life is found in Jesus who is The Way, The Truth and The Life.  By definition the law does not transform it conforms to pre-determined specifications.  It is limiting, confining.  And the truth is we can NEVER live up to the law’s expectations.

So, why do we go back to something that is going to kill us, hem us in and keep us from experiencing the unfathomable depths, heights and widths of the Love of God?  I am not necessarily talking about the over 600+ Jewish laws.  What about all the rules we put on ourselves to be closer to God, that we use to define a “good” relationship with God?

I am talking about “good” things like, a quiet time with God at 5:00 am every single morning, an hour reading the Bible every day, or being at church at least twice a week, or feeding and clothing the homeless every week.

Have you ever started the New Year with one of these goals in mind because you want a closer relationship with the Lord?  Then of course by the second week, unless you are highly self-disciplined, you have already missed a few quiet times or Bible readings because you got up late or your kids were sick or…fill in the blank.   So what happens then?  The condemnation comes.  Why?  Because that is what laws do (even the ones we place on ourselves), show us where we fail.

The problem with developing our own system (you could substitute the word law for system) for a closer walk with God is that it becomes all about us instead of Jesus.  It becomes about what we do instead of who we are.  Life in Jesus isn’t about a system or a formula, it’s about a relationship.

I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with any of the things above, but when they become a set of rules they become death for us instead of life.  They become one more way for the enemy to tell us we don’t measure up.

The Bible doesn’t record any system Peter, John and Paul followed to be closer to God.  It records some of their relationship with God, and some of the things God LED them to do, and then the eternal fruit that came from that relationship.  They had Christ IN them and as believers we do too.  Honestly, we can’t be any closer to the Lord than Christ IN us.

As Paul told Timothy, the law is for the unrighteous.  The law, even our own moral codes and formulas, only have the power to tell us what we do wrong.  They don’t change us.  God’s Love IN us has unlimited ability to transform us, if we let it.  If we can lay down our own expectations and definitions of successful Christian living, then God can make us unrecognizable too.

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Fully Alive?

So I asked God for a word for 2014 and He gave me two, Fully Alive.  Sounds a little exciting, doesn’t it?  I had visions of adventure, mystery and joy.  Somehow Fully Alive (as opposed to dead) sounded exciting and happy to me.

So far though, Fully Alive has been TWO hot, messy emotional melt downs; being angry for multiple, ridiculous reasons that make no sense at all; experiencing a traumatic loss and walking through grief; being happy, joyous AND overwhelmed and feeling unworthy for ALL THE GOOD THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING; and simply being confused.  And since I’ve decided to be kinder to myself, there was also one brief moment of total brilliance that I really enjoyed.

And literally, as I am writing this, another bird just flew into my house.  And he felt trapped.

And I feel trapped.  Trapped inside a body that refuses to cooperate and just be fine.  A body that won’t just sit down, shut up, paint on a smile and pretend to be happy regardless of what’s going on.

I am forty-five years old and all of a sudden I have emotions and they are whipping me around like a ride at an amusement park…minus the amusing part.  Apparently I was born with them (AS ALL HUMANS ARE!) I just became very adept early in life at stuffing and hiding them.  It really didn’t seem to matter to anyone else when they made an appearance.  They were inconvenient and inefficient and so down they went.  Down into the pit of my stomach where they hid.  Until now.

They aren’t hiding anymore.  They won’t be quiet and they won’t leave me alone.  They don’t care how embarrassing, inconvenient and inefficient they are.  They are coming out and are on full display.  This really is some of the ugly part of life.

Fully Alive people have emotions.  And they allow themselves to be human and experience them.

This is hard for a woman who wants to do her hair, put on her lipstick, tuck in her mess and say, “I’m fine.”

Well I am saying it right now, I am not fine.  Fully Alive is hard.  It means being vulnerable and living in relationship with others and engaging with them even when it’s painful.  And it is painful.  And messy.  And beautiful.  And exciting.  And overwhelming.  And worth it.  (I am really counting on that last one being true because in this moment I’m wondering).

It’s 2014, I AM NOT FINE, but I’m Fully Alive.

Pray for my family, they look scared.  🙂  I think they are wondering if Fully Alive might possibly mean Totally Crazy!

Sometimes It’s In Spite of Us

Liv&Oreo

I shared earlier this week about the brutiful passing of Liv Loo’s dog Oreo.  All I will add to that traumatic tale is that grief is definitely a process.  His loss is felt by everyone in our home.  The other morning I came home from carpool and I was completely alone in the house for probably the first time in almost 10 years.  And it was really weird.  I was the only living being in the house and I could feel it.

Let me be clear:  I AM NOT A DOG PERSON.  But Liv Loo, Sophalopes and Popey are.  In fact, most of the time I am fairly certain that they liked the dog more than me.  Just sayin’.

At dinner the other night I noticed that Popey was moving the extra fat from his corned beef to the edge of his plate.  Towards the end of the meal he realized he didn’t have his four-legged buddy to share the scraps with.  Then it dawned on him that he had eaten his entire meal without Oreo’s tail beating him in the leg as he happily waited for the scraps.  It was sad.

While I AM NOT A DOG PERSON, I do appreciate the joy that Oreo brought to my family.  In particular, I am forever indebted to that little dog for the unconditional love he lavished on Liv Loo at some of the most difficult times of her life.

After Liv’s first hip surgery when she was 10 she spent two months in a wheel chair, unable to put ANY weight whatsoever on her right leg.  Unfortunately, our house was not designed for the disabled.  All the bedrooms and showers are upstairs and moving her up and down the stairs every day was too risky in our opinion.  So the decision was made to have her stay at my parents’ home where everything was on one floor and someone could be with her all the time.

It was very difficult on all of us, but particularly on Liv Loo.  She was very lonely and felt abandoned.  In hind sight, well…of course she felt abandoned!  But at the time, we were simply trying to make the best decisions we could that would hopefully result in her eventually being able to walk normally again.  And now thankfully, she walks normally, with minimal pain.  However, it came at great emotional cost.

During those two months of DON’T PUT ANY WEIGHT ON HER RIGHT LEG WHATSOEVER, two close relatives (they shall remain nameless) decided that what Liv Loo needed was a dog.  She had been asking for one for a long time, but I felt like we had enough on our plate raising three kids, two jobs, piano lessons, karate, church and Popey back in college  That was even before Liv’s diagnosis.  Who had time for a dog?

The minute they ‘surprised’ us with the dog all I could think was, “I need this like I need a hole in the head.  They are giving her a dog, but how the heck is this wheel chair bound kid supposed to take care of a dog????”  That was one of the most overwhelming moments of my life.  I AM NOT A DOG PERSON.  And at that moment I became THE MOTHER OF A DISABLED CHILD WITH A DOG!  I really almost lost it right then.

However, I was not the only one in the story.  My daughter needed the unconditional love and affection she got from that puppy almost as much as she needed water or food.   And so God loved on her, in spite of me.

Every night while she recuperated at my parents’ home my Mom would come home from work and she would push Liv Loo around the block in her wheel chair so Liv could ‘walk’ Oreo.  Usually Oreo’s short legs gave out on the first half of the block and he would ride on Liv’s lap in the wheel chair the rest of the way.  He watched tv with her.  He played video games with her.  He sat with her.  He loved her.

Once she and Oreo came home Sophalopes quickly adopted him as her own.  Against Liv’s wishes, and probably Oreo’s.  Liv and Soph were still fighting over him until the day he made his last trip to the vet.

One of my favorite memories is when Soph was about five or six.  I was sitting in bed one night reading and Oreo came flying up the stairs.  He was moving so fast that it didn’t even look like his feet were touching the ground.  He flew up under my bed and barely came to a stop when I saw Soph coming up the stairs.  She was clutching her favorite blanky (the blanky’s name was Bob – another story for another day) in one arm and she had one of her doll’s roller skates in the other.  Apparently she had been trying to put them on Oreo.

Soph carried him around like a purse.  She painted his nails.  She sat him in her doll stroller, strapped him in like a baby and pushed him around the house.  But when Olivia came home, he knew who he belonged to.  He was all hers.

So I would just like to say thank you Oreo for loving my family well.  You brought joy to the Dog Lovers in this house.  And for those of us who aren’t Dog Lovers, thank you for putting up with us and trying your hardest to win us over.

And thank You Father for knowing that I only see in part, even on my best day.  Thank You for loving my children better than I ever could.  Thank You that sometimes Your Love comes wrapped in fur at what seems like the worst possible time.

The Bravest Women I Know

Recently I’ve come across the writing of Glennon Doyle Melton.  Both in her book, “Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed” and her blog she talks about how life can be both brutal and beautiful, ‘brutiful’, and often at the exact same time.  Author Ann Voskamp calls these same moments the Ugly-Beautiful in her writing.  Those moments when pain, suffering, fear, grief and sometimes death hold hands with precious, beautiful, amazing and holy.

And in those brutiful, ugly-beautiful moments we have a choice.  We can embrace them and move through them open to all that God may want to do and say in them and through them.  OR we can suit up with our own version of self-protective armor and move through them on our own terms, closed to any outcome other than the one we want.

Last week I was privileged to witness one of those moments in our family.  With very little warning, but a whole lot of drama, tears, and heartache my oldest daughter had to make the decision to have her beloved dog of almost 10 years, Oreo, put to sleep.

For twelve excruciating, sleepless hours she stayed by his side as he suffered through uncontrollable seizures and difficulty breathing.  She whispered sweet words of love and affirmation as she continually pet him in an effort to keep him calm.  She bore witness to his struggle.  She didn’t turn away.  She didn’t ask for anyone else to do it for her.  She walked through every single ‘brutiful’ moment with Oreo

When the sun rose the next morning she knew that she didn’t want him to suffer like that anymore.  Liv Loo, Sophalopes, and I, made the painful trip to the vet’s office.

An hour later, after Oreo’s condition had deteriorated further and arrangements had been made, the vet let the girls know they didn’t have to stay if this was too hard.  But they couldn’t leave him.  As long as he was still breathing they were staying with him.

And so they sobbed uncontrollably, whispered love in his ears, pet him and looked him straight in the eye as the life left his tiny frame.  They bore witness to his suffering and to his passing.  And I bore witness to their love, their bravery, and their refusal to surrender to their own heartache.  As his heart stopped beating their hearts split wide open.

It’s a very difficult, gut-wrenching thing to watch a living thing, human or animal, give up its life.  But they never looked away, they were generous with their love and their presence.  They moved through each moment as it came and embraced it as profoundly necessary and holy.

Love stared death in the face and didn’t flinch.  Brutal and beautiful met, grabbed hands and wrestled.  And it was one of the most sacred moments I’ve ever witnessed.

Our little Make Stuff Girl truly is made of tougher stuff than I knew.  And the Everything is Possible Girl who confidently moves through life unshaken by those things that make her different, well she’s my hero, too.

They are the bravest women I know and once again I am humbled and honored to be their Momma.

How I Know

This morning (at this writing) we woke up to 8 degree temperatures here in North Carolina.  Just a few days before Christmas I rode around town with my sunroof open, enjoying the breeze.   The forecast for this weekend includes temperatures in the 60’s and a week from now there is the possibility for a Wintry Mix.  I think our state motto should be changed to “The Schizophrenic Weather State” or “The Multiple Seasons a Week State.”

Schools were delayed two hours due to extreme cold so we took full advantage and slept in. You need all the rest you can get to work hard at staying warm.  A few minutes before I headed out to warm up the car Sophalopes started looking for gloves.  After several minutes of searching the dark recesses of our closets all we could come up with was one white glove and one brown one.  I had no idea I am the only female in the house with a matching pair of gloves.

Soph suggested that we stop at the grocery store on the way to school and see if they had any.  I thought it was an odd place to shop for gloves, but she thought she remembered seeing some.  So off we went. (Just a quick shout out for the Most Awesome Husband Ever who bought me a car with heated seats!  This “tushy-less” wife was very happy this morning!)  After a quick 30 seconds in the store she came out empty-handed and got back in the car.

I looked down at my leather-clad hands and as a Mom I knew it was one of those moments when you make the ultimate sacrifice for your child.  With a tear in my eye and a quivering voice I quietly offered up The Best Leather Gloves in the History of Leather Gloves to save my child’s precious hands.  I just knew generations from now people would be talking about this Momma Moment and how brave I had been.  Especially if she follows through on her plans to become an orthopedic surgeon.  I could be THAT Mom one day!

I really expected a huge smile as she lovingly took my offering and a gave a heartfelt, “Thank you.”  Instead, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “These will be fine.”  These.  These.  “These” are the one white glove and the one brown glove.  The mismatched pair of gloves was fine with her.  I silently wondered how on earth this profoundly self-assured, confident young lady could possibly the daughter of such a mess as me.  Keep in mind she is the one who really tried to talk me into buying the yellow tube top dress back in the summer.

When we pulled up at the curb at school I watched in amazement as she gathered her things and got out of the car like nothing was amiss.  I looked her in the eye one last time as I tried to hand her my matching leather gloves and said, “Are you sure?”  And she just rolled her eyes and said, “Mom” in that tone of voice that reminds me she is closer to adulthood than I am sometimes.  She closed the car door like she does every day and walked into school like everything was right in her universe…with her mismatched gloves.

And everything is right in her universe because she knows she is not defined by her gloves…matching or otherwise.

Unfortunately, 31 years ago if I had been in her shoes (or in her gloves), I wouldn’t have worn any gloves in 8 degree weather if they didn’t match.  I would have been HORRIFIED.  To stand out in any way was a completely paralyzing thought to me.

So this morning, when I watched her walk into school that’s when I knew that I knew in the depths of my soul just how big my God is.  And how small I am.  While I have written this wrapped in humor and a bit of self-deprecation, please know that my bottom line is deep and profound:  God is so much bigger than me, my mess(es), my mistakes or my ability to screw things up.

Amen.

Mark 10:27 (ESV) ~ “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.'”

Important Update:  Just so no one thinks Sophalopes is completely devoid of any fashion sense…when she got home that afternoon she did ask that we go shopping for matching gloves (and scarf, and head band).  She is now all set for the 60 degree weather coming this weekend!

What If?

What If?

“…love by its nature seeks union.  With the grace of recognition comes the awesome and alarming awareness that Jesus, the incarnation of the furious longing of God, wants more than a close relationship with you and me; He seeks nothing less than union.” ~ Brennan Manning, “The Furious Longing of God,” p. 68.

What if we lived like this statement is true?

What if the whole point of our creation is to be loved by Love Himself, to be one with Him?

What if we embraced the Truth of Song of Solomon 7:10 (NASB):

“I am my beloved’s,
And his desire is for me.”

What if we truly believed we are the beloved of God and He doesn’t just want to meet us and have a casual friendship, He truly DESIRES us?

What if we lived naked and unashamed?  No hiding, no covering up, no fig leaves.

What if we lived in deep, abiding, restful union with Christ?

What if this is abundant, reigning life?

What if this is what it means to be Fully Alive?

I’ve Lost It

So in late 2012 I asked the Lord to give me a word for 2013.  He didn’t.  He gave me three words: Engage, Embrace, and Enjoy.  The same thing happened the year before, at the end of 2011.  I asked for a word for the coming year and he gave me four words:  BE More, DO Less.

In 2013 those three words (Engage, Embrace and Enjoy) echoed everywhere for me, all the way to the very end.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the Lord meant by those three words, but in the end I realized it wasn’t my job to figure it out, it was His job to REVEAL it.  And He did, ALL YEAR LONG.

So as the year began to close down and the season of Advent arrived, it became apparent that those three words were an invitation to live in each moment with the Lord regardless of my circumstances.  To engage, embrace, and enjoy each and every moment with whomever I was with and in whatever was happening.  Even the ugly moments.  Instead of hiding from the unpleasant and the ugly things to lean in to them with the Lord and allow Him to speak and heal.

For me, the Christmas season has historically been a time I feel the intense and overwhelming need to put on my armor and hide.  For many, many reasons:  the shopping, the expectations of others to get the perfect gift, the pressure for everyone to behave and perform and get along because it’s such a wonderful time of year.  And it is a wonderful time of year, but the pressure and the expectations that it be perfect and that everyone smile and be happy make me want to crawl in a hole and come out with the groundhogs sometime in February.

But this year was different for me.  The revelation of Engage, Embrace and Enjoy really started to take hold in my heart, partly through 31 Days of Advent in October. 

This year I also felt a real sense of release to Engage, Embrace and Enjoy from Popey (even though he didn’t know it).  Early one morning in December I called him at work and this is how the conversation went down:

Popey:  “What do you have today?”

Kimmie:   “Pam’s Christmas party (side bar: my FAVORITE EVENT AT CHRISTMAS EVERY SINGLE YEAR because the only expectation is to have FUN!) and then more shopping.”

Popey:  “Have fun.”

Kimmie:  [Heavy sarcasm] “Well, you know how much I ENJOY shopping.”

Popey:  “Well, you need to enjoy your life.”

Then I promptly hung up and burst into tears because in his simple reply I heard a precious invitation from the Father, yet again, to enter into each moment and enjoy it for whatever it is and whatever it brings.

So I called Popey back:

Kimmie:  “Thanks for telling me to enjoy my life.” [Sniff.  Sniff.]

Popey:  “You are welcome.  I have to work now.”

So off I went engaging, embracing, enjoying.  I had a blast through the rest of the Christmas season.  The Saturday before Christmas I even ventured out one last time for some last minute shopping and enjoyed every minute of it (for those of you who know me in the 3D world, this is nothing short of miraculous).  I rode around town with my sunroof open (that’s what winter in NC is like – very schizophrenic) listening to my satellite radio and just enjoyed being out, in public, with people.

I was so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for all the good things God has blessed me with that I just sang and wept.  I cried like a little girl.  One of the things I was most grateful for is a husband who loves me, wants God’s best for me and gives me the space to figure it out (mostly because he’s not sure what to do with me or for me, but also because he loves me).

So I finally figured it out, right?  Well, I thought so.  But in the interest of keeping it real and honest and not hiding my version of crazy…here’s the rest of the story…

The Sunday after Christmas Popey and I were enjoying a quiet, delicious meal at home, alone.  He grilled the most fabulous steak I have had in a LONG time (he is known in certain circles as THE GRILL MASTER…which is the other main reason I love him, besides his money and his body (wink)).  We had a little wine.  We were both enjoying the evening, when I burst into tears.  And the truth is I am not entirely sure why.  I was just all of a sudden overwhelmed with an intense sense of loneliness, sadness, fear, and regret.

I didn’t just cry for a minute.  I cried the ugly cry…all night…and most of the next day.  And I am still not sure exactly why.

The bottom line?  Even in the confusing, ugly and less pleasant place I found myself in at the end of the year, I still hear the whisper of the Father inviting me to Engage, Embrace and Enjoy.  To lay down the right to understand everything, figure it out and fix it.  I hear Him saying, “Just lean into it with Me.  Don’t hide from it.  I’ve got you.”

I asked Him for a word for 2014.  He didn’t give me one.  He gave me two:  Fully Alive.  I think He’s showing me this week, even in the middle of the ugly cry, what it’s like to be Fully Alive.  Fully Alive doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be fixed and neatly tied in a bow.  Fully Alive may be ugly and painful, but the operative word is ALIVE.

As opposed to DEAD.

Dead people don’t feel.

Alive people do, even when they don’t understand what they’re feeling.

So here’s to being Fully Alive in 2014 – the good, the bad and the ugly!  I admit that I have no idea what that means at this moment, but I am ready to see what the Lord wants to show me.  And I am willing to Engage, Embrace and Enjoy the process, no matter how dazed and confused I feel along the way.