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“He really loves you, you know.”
I had bumped into a friend in the hallway at church after Bible study. She is attending a seminar class in the evenings with my husband, and made this off-handed comment as we were swapping “Matt stories.”
“He really loves you, you know.”
It made me catch my breath. All my life, all I’ve ever really wanted is to be loved. Loved deeply and truly for who I am. Loved unconditionally despite all my insecurities and faults. Loved faithfully regardless of my quirks and idiosyncrasies. Loved…and accepted.
“He really loves you, you know.”
I know. I’ve seen the sacrifices he’s made. I’ve heard the pride in his voice and seen the admiration in his eyes. I’ve sensed the tenderness in his touch. I’ve noticed his acts of service – both big and small. I’ve witnessed the fire of his protection and felt the compassion of his care. Yes, I know he loves me. Without a doubt, I know it.
“He really loves you, you know.”
Yet, on this Good Friday, I wonder if I truly know what it means to be loved. And as these words bounce around in my head, I find my thoughts drawn to another…a Man who fulfills every expectation of what it means to love another. A Man who sacrificed beyond anything I can comprehend to pursue a relationship with me. A Man who abandoned His position of honor and authority in order to make Himself accessible to me. A Man who was willing to offer Himself as my protector, enduring the humiliation, scorn, and shame meant for me.
“He really loves you, you know.”
And then, to prove that love, this Man stood before my accusers. He accepted the insults, the mocking, the accusations that were rightfully mine. He demanded that the punishment I deserved be commuted onto His flesh instead. He carried my cross, laden with guilt, condemnation, and failure. He allowed Himself to be nailed to that cross, to be put on display for all to see, to suffer the death reserved for the most vile and degenerate. As that cross was lowered into the ground and his battered, half-naked body was lifted up, He stretched out his arms as if to show me…
“I really love you, you know.”
With His arms outstretched, He chose to die. He allowed Himself to be rejected by His own Father so I could ultimately be accepted. He gave His life so I wouldn’t have to. He endured the very wrath of Hell itself so that I would never see condemnation.
“He really loves you, you know.”
Yes. Yes, I know. I look at that cross, and I absolutely know. I drink the cup and eat the bread, and I know. I see my own sin – my ugliness and failure – and I know…
He really loves me.
Today was my final Bible study session on the life of Paul. Ephesians 2:8-10 was the text for the video session. I heard something I had never heard before – or perhaps had heard and forgotten.
Eph. 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The original Greek word for “workmanship” is poeima…and as it was spelled out and I wrote it down, the beauty of that word fell over me.
Literally, I am God’s poem. He is the Master Poet and I am his beautiful poem. His sonnet. His ode. For someone like me, who sings poetry rather than writes or reads it, I am His song. His beautiful, exquisite, tender love song. His song that He is writing day by day and singing over me with joy.
I can’t tell you what this does for me inside. I can’t tell you how much this means. I can’t tell you the joy and comfort this brings, and how deeply it humbles me. I can’t tell you how grateful this makes me, and how unworthy and undeserving I feel. But it’s true. It’s right there in black and white, signed with the blood of Jesus Himself. I am His song.
Me. Little old me. No one special. No one famous. I’m not especially good at anything, and I have a lot of faults, and I don’t always finish what I start and I let people down all the time. In the grand scheme of things I’m not really that great. Most of the world doesn’t even know I exist. Most of the world didn’t know when I arrived and won’t really care when I depart this life. But despite all that, God thinks I’m worth it. I am His song.
The session closed with the truth that “one day, all the lines will rhyme.” For me, I say, “one day, all the harmonies will be complete.” What God has begun is a simple melody line that is incomplete. One day I will get to hear that song with all the layers of rich harmony and dynamics and articulation and artistry and expression. It will be a beautiful opus of His love for me, love that tells my story from beginning to end. My story. His song. I can’t wait to hear it.
Isaiah 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
4 They shall spring up among the grass
like willows by flowing streams.
What a refreshing promise for us during this time of drought! God will – in a very literal sense – end this dryness. He controls the weather patterns, the earth’s cycles, even global warming! He understands creation’s “groanings” for His healing and restoration. Just imagine how much more beautiful our landscape will look after seeing so much brown and yellow, how much we will appreciate the lush greens and vivid colors after seeing the dry, brittle grass and trees, and how refreshing it will be to see ponds filled with water rather than prairie grasses.
And in a spiritual sense, He will do the same for us. In those seasons of spiritual dryness, He will – in His time – pour out His spirit of blessing and refreshing. He will saturate our cracked and dry heart-soil. He will saturate our parched and thirsty souls. He will fill our empty reservoirs of joy, peace, and purpose. And our vine will be lush and beautiful, bearing fruit for Him once again.
I was reading in Isaiah 37-38 today and two events really struck me:
Isaiah 37:14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord.15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord…
Isaiah 38:1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.”t2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord,3 and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
What struck me in both of these passages was Hezekiah’s response to these dire situations. In the first one, he had received news of the Assyrians attacking the neighboring cities, towns, regions, and had basically been told “Don’t expect your God to save you. The gods of all these other countries weren’t able to save their people, so why should yours be any different? The Assyrians are just too strong, too powerful. Be prepared to die at their hands.” Rather than allowing fear to paralyze him into inactivity, or taking matters into his own hands and gathering a large army to confront the Assyrians, Hezekiah goes to his knees. I love the image of him spreading his letter before the Lord. I can almost picture him saying, “See THIS, Lord?? THIS is what I’m up against!”
In the second passage, God has told Hezekiah directly that his illness is fatal. “You shall die, you shall not recover.” But what does Hezekiah do? Well, what he DOESN’T do is wallow in self-pity. He doesn’t take matters into his own hands and seek out healers and remedies. He doesn’t lax into apathy or depression. He “turns his face to the wall” and prays. I’m convinced the only reason he didn’t get down on his knees was because he physically couldn’t! And he gets bold right there on his sickbed and basically tells God, “Look, I have done everything You asked me to do. I have followed You wholeheartedly and obeyed Your words. Doesn’t that count for SOMETHING??” And God’s response is, “Okay, Hezekiah, you got it. I’m not only going to heal you, I’m going to give you another 15 YEARS to follow Me.” Wow. In those days, 15 years was half a lifetime.
These verses have challenged me to:
- bring my requests to God FIRST. Action can come later, once I know what God wants me to do…if anything.
- be specific in my requests, recognizing that my help comes only from Him.
- not be afraid to ask in boldness, knowing that God yearns to unleash His power and blessing over my life if only I will have the courage and audacity to ask.
Today is a very special day for children all over the area. For many of them, it is the day they will return to school for another year of learning, mental stimulation, and social development. For others, it represents those first steps into the world of academia, the beginning of their educational journey. For some, it will mean a transition to a new school, a new type of educational setting. For all of them, it means the end of summer vacation. And for all their stay-at-home or work-at-home moms, it means OUR vacation is just beginning.
Not really. But yeah, a little bit.
As I’ve done every year since they were in preschool, I had to get the traditional first-day shots. This year was a little different as we weren’t able to provide new clothes, backpacks or lunchboxes, but our kids didn’t seem to mind. Last year’s stuff was still in great condition and after washing a few times looked *almost* like new…if you didn’t look too closely. Crisana actually found an outfit in her closet she had never worn, and decided that would be her “new” first day of school dress. Trey, on the other hand, picked out a favorite shirt he’s had since he was in THIRD GRADE and that by some miracle of God still fits him. He did, however, wear shoes that have sat in his closet all summer long, and a “newish” pair of shorts he’s only had since spring.
It’s hard to believe that we now have a middle-schooler in the house. But there he is, ready and excited for his first day of being an Evans Middle School Panther.
It’s quite a task getting all that middle-school gear packed up and carry-able. Between a backpack, lunch box, stuff sack for gym clothes, binder, and eventually a trombone, a child needs about 4 arms or a porter to carry it all. Trey has his system worked out, though, and we watched as he “sherpa’d up” to go out to the car.
Our third-grader was also incredibly excited to head off to her first day of school – though being a McGowen Maverick is no longer a novelty to her.
Though we are still in the throes of lice treatment, we found a way to make her hair look special for the first day…despite the nasty egg-removing gel. And after the necessary driveway pictures, we headed off for our first stop on the Tour-de-Carpool-Lines. We arrived and parked across the street, giving us the opportunity for a marquee shot:
As he’s done every year since the school opened, Mr. McGowen was on hand to greet the students as they entered. With a kind word of welcome and a handshake for every child and parent, he is truly a treasure. Graciously, he allowed us to capture this moment, though the picture seems to be missing something without Mr. Forsyth.
Since we’d already gotten the beginning-of-the-year teacher-student photo, we didn’t need to take that one again. Instead, we got the action photo of unpacking the backpack at her desk.
And of course, at her locker. Apparently *this* is the face you get when you realize your locker is one of the few that doesn’t have a name on it because your teacher ran out of the cute little name strips and so it just has a post-it note with your number.
Since elementary school starts a full 45 minutes before middle school, we had some time to kill, which we did…with DONUTS! We started Trey off right with a healthy dose of sugar, fat, and processed carbs, washed down with some chocolate milk…and took this opportunity to get a first-day shot without embarrassing him in front of all his peers.
We did escort Trey into his school – from a distance, mind you – to ensure he knew how to open his locker and assist him with getting his binder set up and prepared for class. But very quickly we were encouraged to leave – no hugs or kisses or pictures, thankyouverymuch Mom – as he headed confidently off to first period.
And as Matt and I headed off for a few hours of “just us” time, we realized just how lonely and quiet vacation can be sometimes.
Are You there, God?Â It’s me…no, not Margaret.Â It’s not *that* kind of post.Â And anyway, that book’s already been written.
I ask that because…well…sometimes it seems as though You’re not.Â When Matt had cancer, I almost felt Your arms carrying me through the difficult days.Â There were times I could tangibly sense Your presence hovering over, around, and within me as I cried tears of uncertainty and confusion and frustration and hurt.Â When he was falsely accused, I was secure in Your strength, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that You would be his advocate, his judge, his vindication.
Even in those times when I have stepped out of Your will and allowed myself to be governed by my own fears and insecurities, You have been right there beside me, whispering in my ear.Â I have been unable to escape Your faithful, loving embrace, drawing me back to where I should have been all along.
So why do You seem so silent now?
I have so many questions.Â Over the past six months, I’ve asked and searched and pleaded and prayed and sought and bargained and cried out…and there have been many times I’ve felt as though my words were merely echoes in a vacant place.Â As though my prayers and petitions don’t have the power or strength to span the distance from my mouth to Your ears.Â As though my pleas and cries bounce back to resonate within my mind, awakening the demons of doubt and despair.
So I ask again, Are You there, God?Â Do You hear me?Â Are my cries getting through?
And out of the blue, You assure me…Yes, my daughter, I am here.Â I may not be speaking as often, I may not even be as visible to you, but never doubt the fact that I am here.Â I have promised, I will never leave you nor forsake you.Â You are my precious child, and I love you.Â Always remember that.
Almost as if to prove it, You send me a blessing.Â A little pick-me-up in the form of an encouraging word.Â A reminder in a message of hope and peace that I desperately needed to hear.Â A love note in the form of an unexpected – and undeserved – gift from an unlikely source.Â A ray of light in the form of an opportunity I couldn’t have seen coming.
So yes, God, You are there.Â In the midst of this famine of hearing Your voice, You are there.Â In the deafening silence, You are there.Â Waiting, patiently, for the fulness of the time.Â Waiting, knowingly, until that hunger and thirst borne of famine causes me to drink fully and completely from Your word, and be filled by You and You alone.Â Waiting, peacefully, until the exhaustion of striving and straining causes us to surrender.Â Waiting, providentially, until we are ready to receive Your blessing.
God meets me in the strangest places these days.Â I’ve already shared how God met me in Target and while visiting The Big Guy.Â This morning, He met me in my kitchen, over a plate of Eggo mini-pancakes, Zippy Zoo vitamins, and a plastic Ikea cup of orange juice.
He met me in the tear-filled eyes of a 10-year-old boy.
Most mornings, breakfast is a time of hurry-up, we-gotta-get-to-school-on-time, quit-talking-and-eat-your-breakfast.Â But not today.Â Today, breakfast was a time of being still, of listening, of pondering…and of learning.
I noticed Trey seemed a bit emotional as he was preparing his breakfast.Â I asked him if he was okay.Â In a shaky voice he replied:
I was getting dressed this morning and I just started thinking about what a sinful man I am.Â Â And I realized…that…I just don’t deserve to go to Heaven.
He wiped his eyes, took a deep breath, and in a sorrowful voice continued:
Sometimes, I just feel like there’s a demon running around inside me…and…I just don’t deserve to go to Heaven.
And before he could stop them, the tears splashed down onto his cheeks.Â His chin quivered.Â He struggled to compose himself.Â And so did I.
Because…he gets it. That whole redemption story?Â That whole idea of the total depravity of man, the concept of grace, the theology of unmerited favor?Â He understands that.Â Far greater than many twice, three times – heck, even TEN times – his age, Trey has grasped in his heart what so many have rejected.
That’s the whole point.Â That’s the whole reason for Christmas.Â That’s the real reason we celebrate Christ’s birth.Â Not simply because He came, but because of what He came for.Â Not simply because He became a man, but because of what He became for us.Â Not simply because He lived on earth, but because of what He lived on earth to do.
Trey’s right.Â We don’t go to Heaven because we deserve it.Â Even at our best, we fall woefully short of God’s standard of absolute perfection.Â Despite our best efforts, we never could attain it.Â And that’s what makes Christmas so special.Â That’s why we celebrate the gift…the gift of sacrifice, the gift of atonement, the gift of eternal life, the gift of Heaven.
And as I stood in my kitchen, I held that precious boy in my arms and assured Him of God’s promise of forgiveness, of the certainty of His salvation, and the protection of His spirit.Â I’m almost certain there was another pair of arms enfolding us in a loving embrace, as God’s smiled from Heaven at the treasure He had placed in my son’s heart.
Once again, I realized just how undeserving I am…of this child God has given me, of the blessings I enjoy in this life, of God’s love and salvation…and of Heaven.
We had the coolest experience today.Â I don’t know if you realize this, but God shops at TARGET!Â I know, because He met us in the checkout line this afternoon.
It was one of those typical Saturdays…dance classes, haircuts, errands, housework.Â All the exciting stuff that grown-up people get to spend their weekends doing.Â And knowing that our shoeboxes for Regalos de Amor are due at church tomorrow, I had taken the kids to do our shoebox-shopping at my new bff, Target’s Dollar Spot.
As a family, we have been doing this since Trey was a baby.Â In the past, Mom and Dad usually make the decisions, but in recent years, we’ve been handing over more and more control of the decisions to Trey & Crisana.Â This year, they practically did it all.Â I couldn’t have been prouder as they scoured the bins in the Dollar Spot, looking for toys, games, school supplies, and personal items to stock for those less fortunate.Â We filled out our boxes with a visit to the travel-size hygiene items aisle and a quick stop by the register’s candy stash before checking out.
To be sure everything fit, we had already stocked our plastic shoeboxes as we shopped.Â At the checkout line, I told the cashier not to bag anything; we would repack it in the shoeboxes after it had been scanned.Â Although he seemed a bit confused, he obliged and began the process of piling up all our items as he pulled them out, one at a time, from their neatly nested places in the shoebox.
As we waited, a group of women, obviously from the same family, came behind us at the checkout.Â The matriarch of the clan, recognizing what we were doing, kindly asked Trey and Crisana if they were making shoeboxes.Â They eagerly shared what we were doing – how we had picked toys, school supplies, soap and shampoo and brushes and toothpaste for children in Mexico to have gifts at Christmas.Â The kind woman became so excited and shared her own involvement with Samaritan’s Purse.Â She ooh’ed and aah’ed over every item that came out of our shoeboxes, telling Trey & Crisana over and over what a great job they did, what a wonderful mix of useful and fun items they had selected, how the children would be so happy to receive those boxes.
With tears in her eyes, she shared how she and her husband have supported this project for years, but have never experienced the joy of seeing the children receive their boxes first hand.Â They live in California, but have never been able to make any trips to deliver the boxes.Â When I told her that our boxes would be hand-delivered by the high schoolers at our church on a weekend in December, she could hardly contain herself.Â And soon her whole family had gathered around to see what we were doing and share in the joy.
The checkout clerk didn’t quite know what to make of all this, but I knew a seed was being planted.Â He dutifully did his job, and as he did, I prayed that God would do His and make a mark on that young man’s heart.
Our order was finally completed, and as we fit the last few items into their proper places in the shoeboxes and gathered our receipt, I finally had the chance to thank this woman who had taken such an interest in us and our project.Â As I looked up, I was greeted with the shining, smiling faces of her daughters and granddaughters as well, all thoroughly engaged in our conversation.Â From teenager to senior citizen, those women had all been a part of connecting with us in that brief moment.Â I wished them all a happy thanksgiving and a wonderful visit together.
“God bless you!” the woman called out after me as we left.
I looked back at her kind, sweet face before we turned the corner.
“Thank you – and you, too!” I called back.Â But then I realized…He already has.
I do believe pigs have flown.Â Hell has frozen over.Â And, unfortunately for the Rangers, the fat lady has sung her final notes.
For you see, for the first time in franchise history, the Rangers have made it to the WORLD SERIES!Â And in a proud moment for the Edwards family, I was the first family member to ever attend a World Series game, thanks to my awesome friend Christin.
We arrived early and excited, tickets in hand.
Inside the Ballpark, the feeling was electric.Â It was surreal to see this:
Brooks took it all in, mesmerized by the sights, the sounds, and the intensity of the atmosphere.
The ceremonial first pitch was a special thrill for the true Rangers fan as Fergie Jenkins threw to former battery-mate Jim “Sunny” Sundberg.Â Thank goodness they weren’t wearing those powder-blue uniforms of their era.Â (Though as a UNC Tarheel, I’m sure Christin wouldn’t have minded.Â In fact, she might have even thought they were beautiful.)
It’s always a thrill to see the presentation of the colors, but watching the Marines gives me goosebumps.
And then it was game time!Â Cliff Lee threw out the “real” first pitch…a strike, right down the heart of the plate.
Unfortunately, the game did not turn in the Rangers favor.Â With the Giants holding a secure lead through most of the game, we turned our attention to some of the more interesting things around us…like unusually colored fans:
Alas, it was not to be.Â The Rangers were felled by the mighty Giants, who celebrated with their fans following a well-deserved, well-played world series.Â I couldn’t let those nice gentlemen behind us return to San Francisco without a special souvenir of their experience here, so I gave them a rally towel and made them promise to hang it with pride on their wall, framed.Â I’m pretty sure they did just that.
And in return, I got a San Francisco Giants scarf, which I wore – not necessarily with pride – back to the car.Â It’s now found a permanent home tucked away in the back of some closet somewhere in my house, sharing space with the dust bunnies.
(on a side note…people can say what they want about Rangers fans, how we need to be “spurred on” or “choreographed” to cheer or make noise.Â But at the end of the game, when the Giants had won and clinched the series, I was never more proud to be a Rangers fan.Â Because all around us, the Rangers faithful stood in honor of the Giants’ win and applauded their accomplishment.Â The Giants fans that sat behind us cheered wildly…and received congratulations, handshakes, pats on the back and high-fives from several wearing Ranger red around them.Â You don’t find that kind of sportsmanship in professional sports very often.Â Well-played, Rangers fans.Â I’m proud to be part of Rangers Nation.)
Halloween is a very unusual night.Â You never know who you’ll meet roaming the dark streets and lurking around the pond.
It might be a treat, for you may find along your path a beautiful princess:
TRICK OR TREAT!!
After all, it IS Halloween.