05 November 2010

What's Love Got to Do With It?

"Thank you for letting me love you, and for loving me back. For letting me hug you, for hugging me back. For letting me say, "I love you", for saying it to me. For letting me encourage you, comfort you, listen to you, share with you, strengthen you... and for doing these things for me."

Of all people, Christians ought most to love and be known for their love. But in so many ways we seem terrified of that very thing.

Too often we are afraid to hug, because we might lust, or cause someone else to lust. We're afraid to open up, because someone might think less of us or betray us. We're afraid to listen because we might have to keep secrets, or be accountable, or hold someone accountable. We're afraid to touch in case it's seen the wrong way by someone else (leading to fear of public disgrace and lawsuits). We're afraid to be or even appear vulnerable, but many of us are also afraid of appearing cocky.

Perfect love banishes fear. (I Jn 4/18) Why, then, do we fear? The clear implication is that we lack love-- or at least perfect love. But we don't lack love. Daddy God loves us; He proved it by letting his only begotten son die on the cross for us. That same son, Jesus, loves us; He proved it by walking among us, healing and forgiving us (among other things), dying, and kicking death in the teeth for us. The Holy Spirit loves us; [s]he proves it every moment of every day by living in and with us.

So we don't lack love. We either don't fully understand that love, or we don't fully accept it (or both).

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (Jn 13/35) Love isn't distant. Love isn't afraid to be honest, to hug, to laugh and cry, to touch, to comfort, to be vulnerable. (Love also feeds, clothes and houses, but we're not as afraid of that part. Usually.)

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God with every bit of our being. Hot on its heels is to love each other as we love ourselves. These two commandments are the basis of everything God has said to us. (Mt 22/36-40) So... where is our love?

You might well have assumed the opening paragraph was written to my wife, Sharon. While everything in there applies to her (and I've said it to her), and while I love her more than any other human being, these were thoughts I wished I had said to a woman half my age right after I got off the phone with her last night.

Shock! Horror! Scandal!

Not quite. Ashley is my spiritual daughter. It still gets to me that God not only gave Sharon and me two awesome biological children (whom we love dearly), but that He has put so many other awesome people in our lives as family, to love... and who love us back.

But for years I felt that I had to keep some of that bottled up because some in the Church couldn't deal with love that expresses itself purely and passionately in this fashion. (Even the word passion can be dangerous in the wrong hands!)

If we really believe God... if we don't think He's a liar or a fool... if we really want to call ourselves His children and be like Him, we need to get serious about love. We need to let it flow into us until all the fear is washed away or squished to death under love's great, joyous weight. We need to let it flow through us, out of us, into and onto everyone around us, in tangible ways. Far more than a smile or "God loves you", though those are a good start, we need to look people in the eye and tell them they are loved (and mean it!), to hug them, to laugh and cry with them, to listen... to be real.

Who do you love? Have you told them lately? How? What are you waiting for?

01 November 2010

Pennies: A Parable. Or Something.

(Originally journalled 2010-Oct-11)

Back in September while walking to warm up for a run during lunch time at work, I noticed a half dozen or so pennies in the dirt by a light pole. Their appearance made it clear they had been there a while. Since I was about to run and they were only pennies, I left them there for whoever else might find them.

On a run a few weeks later I thought to glance down to see if they were still there. I stopped when I hear that still small voice I've come to know so well. "Pick up the pennies." That proved difficult as I could only find one. I picked up the lone penny; it hit me then how often I must have passed up opportunities in life because I was distracted, or unmotivated, or didn't see much value in something or someone.

But the urge that had come with the voice was still there, so I kept looking. And pondering. How many people had I ignored, discouraged, belittled by not seeing their worth? I made up my mind to never do that again... and promptly found several pennies.

"Keep looking." So I did, and quickly had 10 pennies, which was definitely more than I had seen before. The voice got specific. "You will find 20." I kept looking. A nudge, so I looked in a new direction. "Too far, back up." Now I had 19. "Look at your shadow, over by the bushes." 20.

The whole thing took about two minutes. After this I looked for another two or three minutes. 20. No more, no less. Just as I was told to expect.

What will I do with twenty pennies that had sat out in the weather oxidizing for weeks, or more likely months? I have no idea. But I won't forget the lesson. If God watched over these pennies, how how much is he watching over the forgotten, weathered people around me? And how can I ignore them or put them off til later?

So far, I can't. I pray I never will.

(Notes added later)

The next time I walked past this spot, God again said to look down, and there was a penny. He said I'd find one each run, and every run since then (an average of two a week), I have. Usually it's in plain sight but once he said to look in a specific shady spot, and there it was. Two times in a row, a penny was in the exact, same spot. Another day I walked past the spot again (as I often do) and he said to look again, and I found a second one. Occasionally I look around a good bit after finding one, but never find any more that day.


Today as I walked up to the spot, for some reason I had no hope of finding a penny. The song, "Turn, Turn, Turn" started playing in my head, and I thought the penny season was over. It's not a big deal, right? Just pennies. But something in me was really sad. And I couldn't find a penny ANYWHERE. Finally I asked that the pennies would continue (I can't really explain why; somehow it has become important), and the tone of the song changed from lament to joy, and I found a penny, half buried, half in the clear.

After my run, I heard, "Look for something greater than pennies." My imagination, of course, took off. Nickels. Dimes. Quarters. Half dollars. Silver dollars! Hundred dollar bills! Gold doubloons! Cue the heavenly laugh track. Have you ever been laughed at by angels? It's a very different feeling. Anyway, instead of getting offended, I laughed with them, and threw away the box I was putting God in. I spent the next few minutes staring at dead grass, new, tender grass, lovely flowers (mostly yellow and white, the reds, blues and purples mostly having given up for the year), rocks of all shapes. And walls. And dales. Vines, trees, cane brakes, the odd bit of trash, and buildings of somewhat organic design, working with creation rather than against it.

The pennies? They're all in a safe place. Intrinsic value? Just shy of thirty cents. Life lessons? Priceless.

The pennies are close to my heart, not because they're money, but because they remind me of you, of those I've loved, those I should have loved but failed to, and those I have yet to meet and love. And the One who made us all, and loves us even more.


The pennies keep showing up right on time, each and every time I run. With bonuses now and then. One day I didn't stop to look for a penny; there was a car parked right by where I've been finding them. Later, after my run, I heard to look in a different spot. I found a penny there (50 feet away from the normal spot). "Keep looking." Across the street from the usual spot, I found six pennies. I got to thinking about why I hadn't stopped at first. What was I afraid of, that someone else would find pennies? I mean, if this is a God thing (and it is) he can put plenty of pennies there for everyone.

Another day it was raining, so instead of running I went somewhere to eat. In the parking garage, right by my car, I found... a penny. It was definitely not there earlier that day. It looked just like the ones I've been finding, like a penny that's sat out in the weather and dirt for a long time. God's provision isn't dependent on me, on whether I do "the right thing", or anything else. It's just that, grace. And it's sufficient!