Friday, May 22, 2009

For the Sake of Love

     As I sorted through the mail the bill stood out.  What happened? I thought it was taken care of.  Why am I getting another one of these?  I opened it with hesitation, concerned about what I might find.  But there it was in black and white.  I had a zero balance.  My debt was paid in full. There was nothing left to owe.   I knew it had come for a reason.  I heard it loud and clear.  “Your debt is paid, Jewel.”  “You don’t owe a thing.”

      For years I spent all my efforts trying to pay a debt I didn’t owe.  I was trying to score points with a God who was no longer keeping score.  The requirements that should have been placed on me were placed on Jesus.  I am free to be.  Why didn’t I know that?  How did I live so long and not know?

     We are free to be.  The church has ruined this, you know.

      I read it all over the place in the community called  Christianity.  “Do more, give more, pray more, read your Bible more.”  How does all that fit in with Jesus’ words, “It is finished.”  

      What was finished?  Was it just Jesus’ life and sin?  Could it be that what was finished was the separation of man from God’s unconditional love?  After all, didn’t He leave us with the words:  "I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for me may be in them and I myself may be in them.”*  Isn't it really all about living in love?  If we lived fully loved wouldn't we do those things anyways?

       Adam and Eve lost sight of God’s perfect love when they entered into sin.  The path was now blocked.  But Jesus, He restored what was lost.  He fulfilled the requirements of the law, bridging the cavern between earning and embracing.  He now invites us to enter in and just be loved.

      When I used to think of the cross I saw my sins.  It was the emphasis after all.   Because I was so bad Jesus had to leave His heavenly home and come to earth to take away my sins.  Wasn’t it love that brought Him here?  

      To think that when He went to the cross it was my face He saw astounds me.  It wasn’t my sins that took Him to the cross.  He loved me so deeply that He could not bear to have me separated from Him any longer.  So He came, swept me up and invited me to dwell in His embrace.

       I love the movie “The Last of the Mohicans”.  One scene in particular always speaks to me.  Magua, the enemy is coming after Cora and her sister.  He’s seeking to kill them because he has an issue with their father.  Nathaniel and the Mohicans are with them.  He’s fallen in love with Cora.  Suddenly they  discover that their ammunition is wet.  In order to save Cora , Nathaniel will have to leave her.  He says to her, “stay alive, I will find you.”  They jump over the waterfall in order to rescue.    It is love that drives Nathaniel forward. The look in His eyes, the passion on His face.  He will not be stopped until she is free.

      I love that scene because I know that is Jesus with me.  He will not be stopped until I am free.   My sin was not His focus.  I was.   My sins separated me from Him.  He had to pay their debt in order to get to me.

     He came that I might know love.  “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”*  Papa God has loved me even as He loves Jesus.  It's stunning.  What will I do with that?  Will I question, doubt or believe?  It is a life or death question.

      He moved heaven and earth to get to me.  He gave up His very life, not for the sake of sin, but for the sake of Me. The invitation is extended.  I am invited to know how deeply and intimately I am loved.

      “I have loved you with an everlasting love.  I have drawn you with loving kindness.   Jeremiah 31:3

*John 17:26

*John 17:23

©copyrighted:  2009  Julie L. Todd


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

His Forever Girl

     It was my first time coming back since I said goodbye.  I knew it would become more real.  Distance does that sort of thing to you.  You know the facts, but it doesn't seem true when you’re not there to be reminded.  I have returned to the place where I heard the last "I love you."  Today would have been my father's 74th birthday.

     February 25, 2009, he breathed his last.  The fragility of the moment still plays out in my mind.  Surrounded by love, his physical experience ended as his eternal one began.

     It all began on May 19, 1935, in a small farmhouse in Boone’s Hill, Tennessee.  His life was challenged from the very beginning.  He was delivered by an inebriated doctor.  As his tiny blue body struggled to breathe, his parents wondered if he would live.  The heavens rejoiced as that first cry escaped his lungs. 

     Times were tough and money was scarce.  Early in his childhood, their small house caught fire.  He was told to gather his sister and head to the creek.  His parents tried to rescue their meager belongings while the fire consumed their house.   What does a small child do with that?

     His father was in the Army and there were times his mother was the only parent present.  His childhood was spent moving from town to town.  He moved 8 times before finally settling down in Chattanooga.  It's where he met and fell in love with my mother.  It's where I was born and raised.  

     I was my daddy's girl.  I still am.  I miss him so terribly at times that my heart aches.  Sometimes I wish I had one last conversation... one last day to tell him all the things that I've thought of since he left.  Some days I imagine him watching me.   I envision him gathering my tears and taking them to Papa God.  I believe he sees all that was in my heart towards him.  I believe he lives in complete love now, aware of how deeply he was loved.  It's what comforts me.


     Sometimes you don't see things until after the fact.   Imperfect beings who struggle to know they are themselves loved, are hindered from revealing how deeply they love.  It does not change the facts though.  Love waits in the hearts of all mankind to be revealed.  We are after all created in the image of God, the One who is love. 

     I realize the brokenness of this world when I see the lies that I battled for so long.  Love was always there in my father's heart.  At times he himself was too broken to let it out.  He didn't know how.  At times I didn’t know how to see it.  I translated his actions or lack of them and somewhere in the mix, things got screwed up.  

     I see the truth now and it’s staggering.  Love was waiting for me before I took my first breath.  First with my Papa God and secondly with my daddy.  For too many years I was blocked off from both unable to receive.  I tried to earn my way, it only hindered things.  Either way, it doesn’t change the facts.  Love was always there waiting.  

     I could not embrace the love of another until I received the love of God as it was, a gift.  A gift is meant to be opened and received, no strings attached.  Once I received and took this gift as my own, my world opened up.

     An enemy prowls around seeking to destroy what God ordained.  For the truth is, if we live as ones who are loved, we will be the very breath of God on the earth.

      There’s something about losing a parent that changes things.  Though I know life was hard at times, those memories are fading.   What I now see is that all along there was love, sometimes hibernating, but always there.

      Life is fleeting.  It vanishes in a vapor and is no more.  Before my daddy’s life vanished I was given a gift.  As he struggled to breathe I told him once again that I loved him.  He, through labored breaths tried to tell me he loved me too.  It was then I said, “It’s OK Daddy, you don’t have to tell me, I know you love me.”  And I did.  I carry those brief seconds with me for they are the declaration of my reality.

    But today, if for one more moment, I could have one more conversation, I know what I would say.   "Daddy, the love that was borne 74 years ago in your heart lives on today.......  in me.”  “Your forever girl.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Shall We Dance?

        I’m a Dancing with the Stars fan.  Anything that has to do with dance draws me in.    The thing I love about it is watching people who are not dancers learn moves they never knew they could do.    Part of the importance of the show though is to showcase the professional dancers who teach the stars.  They display their choreography and skill.  It’s really quite the metaphor for life.  

    Ty is a bull rider in the rodeo arena.  He’s a rough and tumble kind of guy.  The judges often said  that he looked like a robot, with his rigid moves.   “Lighten up”, relax” they said.

     Shawn is a 17 year old Olympic gymnast.  The judges kept telling her to let loose and connect with her partner.  The latin dances required her to show an intimate side, something she was not comfortable doing, especially with someone who was like a brother to her.   

      Gille was known for his sex appeal.  He’d been a model.  He’s used to people staring at him.  He had more difficulty showing sophistication.  He was encouraged to dial down on the raunchy  He showed too much.

      There’s balance in everything, even dancing.   You can have too much, be too raunchy, too rigid or have too little connection to the story of the dance.

      Each week the stars were given a new dance to learn, sometimes two.  They had a week to learn difficult steps.  They depended on their partner to not only choreograph them but to lead them into each step.

     As the show evolved I watched the stars look to their partners, who knew every move, every step.  In the process they learned to dance.  It was stunning. 

      There was something about watching Gille and Cheryl that was captivating.   They danced with unity and passion, connected, mutually submitted in trust to one another.   I wonder what life would look like if we saw Jesus look at us with a fierce zeal.  He does you know.  Would we would dance differently with Him.  Would we display a captivating picture?  Would people look at our lives lived out and see the captivating heart of Jesus on display?

    I wonder what would happen if our marriages were lived out of that.  What if we trusted God in the other person enough to submit ourselves in that kind of dance.  What would we display to the world around us?

      What if we lived in this dance with Papa like Ty?   He was committed to give his all.  Nothing held back.  He allowed himself to be seen in all aspects of the dance.  At times I believe he felt exposed in his weakness.  He was not a dancer.  It was way out of his comfort zone, yet he refused to give up and quit.  What if we lived life with nothing held back?  What if we let Jesus twirl us around allowing our weakness to be seen so that His strength would be demonstrated.  Would our relationships be richer?

      Shawn was a perfectionist who was used to pushing herself for excellence.   The judges challenged her to  let herself go, to find the pleasure in the dance.  She did.  It was beautiful.   What if we let go?  What if we relaxed, laying our efforts aside.  What if we gave up getting it right and allowed Jesus to perfect us.  What if we stopped needing our performance to please.  Would the beauty of God spill out all over our lives?

      We hold back, we give too much.  There’s balance in everything.  We are here to display His splendor.  It’s that simple.  As we place our hands into His He leads us into the choreography He has designed for us.  It’s not about us.   We are here to show Him off.  If we got that, what would our lives look like?

      He’s invited us into the dance.  The steps might look different from week to week.  The good news is we’re not on our own.  He’s got it all covered.   He knows the dance.  He created it.  

     They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.  Isaiah 61: 3b      

©copyrighted:  2009  Julie L. Todd

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Leading the Blind

      As He walked across the stage to sit down the picture painted a thousand words in my mind.  Scott McEntyre, a blind contestant on American Idol, had to be guided through every step.  He had no choice. It was his life.  

     What if we were like Scott?  What if we were that dependent?  Would life look different?  If you could not see one step in front of you, would you wait on someone to guide you or would you feel your way on your own?

     Jesus waited for His every step from the One who saw the big picture. He knew He was not to lean on His own understanding.  

      It’s a lost art in this day and age.  We are taught to figure things out, get it right, take care of ourselves.  Self-reliance is affirmed in the world around us.  Do we really have any clue what it means to be totally dependent on anyone? 

      My daughter is getting married.  The truth is we don’t have enough money to cover all the expenses.  We know God will provide.  We've already seen Him cover things in unexpected ways.  She’s happy to have what He has for her, but sometimes we both feel the pressure to figure it all out.

      She came to talk about the wedding cake.  It’s easy for her to bring the costs to her dad and I, after all we look like the ones who are supposed to have answers.  I could feel the tension mounting inside me to come up with a way to cover the expense, when Jesus spoke to me.  


      “Jewel, tell her to come to me with each detail of this wedding, first.”  “Tell her I have a cake picked out for her, one I will provide for.”  “Tell her to ask me to let her fall in love with the one I’ve chosen for her.”  “Tell her to give it to me to cover.”  “She’s looking to you and David.”  “You are not her resource, I am.”  “Teach her to depend on Me.” "Oh and by the way, you need to remember too."


      Jesus knows the path of trust.  He was not self-reliant  He didn’t have to come up with the answers.  He knew God had the answers to life around Him.  He knew the Father had His needs figured out and would cover them.  He didn't fret or struggle to make it all happen.  He waited to be covered.  He spoke what the Father told Him to speak.  He went where the Father told Him to go.  He said what the Father told Him to say.  Dependence was a way of life for Him.      

      Why do I not think life should be the same for me?

      He speaks to me again.  “Do not lean on your own understanding, Jewel.”  “In all your ways acknowledge Me.  “Look to Me in all things, big and small.  I will direct your path.  I never meant for you to lean on yourself.  I made you lean on Me."  "I've got your covered."

      He knows the path.  He knows the answers.  He has it all cared for. Whose understanding will I lean on?  Mine or His?  One will carry the burden, the other will relieve it.

      It’s pretty simple to understand, yet hard to live.  Jesus asks me to live what He lived.  Rely on the Father alone.  Don’t look to myself.  Don't try to figure it all out.  

      In those moments of blindness my need for dependence is great.  I cannot see.  I have no choice.  I must be led.  Need invites dependence. Dependence leads to life.   

      He's familiar with all my ways.  Every detail is cared for by the One who ordained my life. It's was the path of Jesus.  It's the path He wants for me.  Self-reliance will kill me, while dependence will bring me life.  Jesus knew this.  He chose the path of life.  It is there I will find Him.  It's where He walked.  It's where He now waits to walk with me.  

     Laying aside the world's entanglements I choose to stand in my blindness and wait. I know He is there. I feel His touch. I hear His voice.  Rest permeates my body as I lean into Him knowing; He’s been waiting for me.  He's got me covered.

        What about you?    Is your immediate response to turn to Him or to try to figure it out?  Is dependence more familiar to you or self-reliance?

      Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge (look to) Him and He will direct your paths.  Proverbs 3: 5 & 6


Also posted at the Internet Cafe

©copyrighted: 2009  Julie L. Todd

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Mother Heart of God

The years of skinned knees are a distant memory. I wonder how many “boo-boo’s I’ve kissed through my 22 years of parenting. There’s something about the comfort of a mother that makes it all better.

I remember a time in my life many years ago when I had a boo-boo that needed to be kissed by God. It was unlike any other storm I had faced. With tears streaming down my face I pleaded with His mercy to give me something to hold onto. He spoke tenderly to me. “As a mother comforts her child, I will comfort you.”

As the days moved forward He began to show me in tangible ways how present He was. My daughter kept getting hurt. I would sweep her up in my arms, hold her tight, wipe away her tears until she was comforted. He spoke to my heart. “That’s me with you.” “I’m holding you tight, wiping away your tears.”

He knows when we sit down and when we rise up. Our thoughts are ever before Him. He knows the number of hair on our heads. He wove us together in our mother’s wombs. We are intimately and personally known. I get a small taste of it when I think of my own love for my children.

As mothers we kiss boo-boo’s, sometimes staying up into the wee hours of the night to nurse our children. We sweep them up into our arms to comfort them. As we hold them tight, sometimes we sing softly over them or whisper words of love until their pain is soothed.

I can hear my children’s cries above any other. In a crowd full of people my eye is searching to know where they are. I know their voice. They know mine.

I have carried them close to my heart while forming in my womb. They have felt my heartbeat. They are forever woven into the fiber of my being. They have left their mark on me, now part of me is carried in them. They are the apple of my eye, my greatest treasures on earth.

As I consider my heart towards my children, He invites me to see Him. As a mother comforts her child, so He comforts me. He dances over me with singing. He tenderly carries those who have young. I am the apple of His eye. He is woven into my very being and I am woven into Him.

The Mother heart of God tenderly carries me when life beats down. He sings to me His songs of love. He knows my voice. He hears me when I cry out. He runs to grab me up and kiss away my pain. He listens to me when I want to talk.

There’s a place upon His breast where I can nestle in. It’s a place where the storms around me subside. It is there I hear His heartbeat. I settle in close as the rhythm of His heart soothes me. It is then I realize. I am where I belong. He carries me close to His heart.

Papa God, today I am thankful for Your steadfast love that never ceases. I am thankful that You carry me close to your heart. I am thankful for a mother who didn’t give up on me, who waited for me to find love from You so I could see hers. Thank you for the gifts of my children. They are my treasures on earth. I love you.

©copyrighted: 2009 Julie L. Todd