Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Like Nobody Loves Me

Today I found Christmas in an unexpected place, and I need to share it. I found the joy of Christmas on an iTunes play list.

A couple of year's ago I made Jeff a mix CD for some romantic occasion (Valentine's Day? Our anniversary?). I titled it "Little A's Sassy Love Mix." On it is everyone from Mary Chapin Carpenter to the Rolling Stones.

Jeff may have listened to it once or twice, but it is my most listened-to play list in my iTunes library. I love it so much because the songs are just what I want to say to my husband. But at least half of them are lyrics I wish he'd say to me.

I preface what I am about to say by citing my excellent track record of praising my husband via this blog. (Despite that fact that I learned on a John Tesh radio program that bragging on your spouse is in the top-10 most-hated activities on facebook I do lot of it.)

But here's the truth. My husband doesn't love me like I want to be loved.

There's a hole in my heart that he doesn't and cannot fill. Sometimes I smack up against that reality with a mixture of shock and sorrow. The holidays can bring this into sharp relief. Like most women this time of year, I'm working flat out to make magic for the family and I want to feel seen and loved for the heart behind what I'm trying to do. (Whether or not I should be doing this is the subject for another blog.)

Today I walked into my women's Bible study room feeling kind of, well, beaten down and unloved. We finished up a 15-week Bible study by reading aloud with a treasured group of women the beautiful prayer Jesus prays over his disciples at the last supper in the book of John. I left church uplifted, wanting to tune out the whole world and stay in the peace that reading gave me.

I put on my headphones as I walked through Trader Joe's and turned on iTunes. What came up on shuffle? My love mix. And I realized, Jesus was singing to me. He was doing it in Keith Urban's voice, but I heard Jesus.

I want to stand out in the crowd for you, a man among men. 
I want to make your world better than it's ever been. 
And I'm gonna love you like nobody loves you. 
And I'll earn your trust making memories of us.

Tears start coming in TJs. Other shoppers think, Oh no, that housewife has cracked up under holiday stress. She's crying over her spiral sliced ham. But no, I'm crying over the way Jesus has earned my trust.

Memories start coming to me of all the places He has shown up and saved me, spoken to me. In mountain camp chapels and Sunday school circles as a child. In back rows of churches and back seats of cars as a teenager. In the delivery room and hospital waiting rooms and alone in my laundry room crying out for relief. In sunsets and leaves changing and the call of a friend on a day that I really needed it and the Scripture brought to mind that would mean nothing to someone else but meant everything -- everything -- to me on a certain day.

And then He went on...
I'm going to be there for you from now on
This you know somehow
You've been stretched to the limits but it's alright now
And I'm going to love you like nobody loves you...

I hear other words, recorded gospel words.
"In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world." John 16:33
"My peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27

My play list went on. Song after song I'm realizing why I chose them for my husband, what my heart was crying out. I want to be loved like nobody on earth loves me! I want to be loved like nobody on earth can love me. 

I want love that is rescue, passion, security, eternity. I want a hero, a husband, a father, a friend. I want someone to pick me out of the crowd, choose me, see me, love me. Jesus did: He came looking for me.

Sting: I'm going to find you a place to live, give you all I've got to give." 

"I'm going to prepare a place for you  and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:3

Bruce Springsteen: I'll work for your love, dear. What others may want for free, I'll work for your love.

He worked for me: In the manger, on the mount, on the cross. In His prayers for me in John 17, 2,000 years before I was born. Jesus was a gentleman and gave women value like no one else in His day. They saw in Him someone who wouldn't strip them of their dignity, but clothe them in honor. He earned their trust. He has earned mine.

Now I'm still listening, I'm still crying. I'm in Walgreens buying pillow pets for nieces and nephews. I'm in Gelson's buying bags of dried peas for Christmas Eve soup. And I'm hearing it played out in these secular songs: Jesus, Son of Man, man among men, loving me. And my response...

Bob Marley: In life I know there is lots of grief, but your love is my relief. 

Bonnie Rait:  I was in a daze, moving in the wrong direction 
Feeling that I'd always be the lonely one
Then I saw your face on the edge of my horizon
whispering that I wasn't the only one, the lonely one
When I heard your sweet voice calling, saw your light come shining through
I couldn't stop my heart from turning, turning out my love for you. 

The Bible study I've just finished (well, I've finished Part One, anyway...) is called the Eternal Love Story, written by my dear friend Barb Egbert. On this mid-point celebration day for our small group of women, Jesus made me a mix CD filled with love songs. He loves me like nobody loves me. I'm not ashamed to say I need that kind of love. I'm so grateful I have it from Jesus. 

Because sometimes I go through the days acting like nobody loves me. But the real issue is, nobody loves me like Jesus.

His love frees me up to accept the love from those around me (my wonderful husband included) without demanding that they love me that way, because they can't. C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity “If you find yourself with a desire that no experience in this world can satisfy, then the most probable explanation is that you were made for another world.” Even the best romance in this world can't compare to the eternal romance of being Jesus' bride.

My prayer for you, reader, whoever you may be, is that Jesus sings His love -- a love that is specific, unconditional and eternally precious -- over you in this next holy week. I'll send you my play list if you need it. But I don't think you will. Keep your ears open, because I know He has a song for you, too.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Table Before Me

For the last month, my dear friend Jennifer has been preparing a talk on the subject of gratitude to deliver to a Celebrate Recovery group at a local church. As she's been researching and processing the concept of gratitude, and asking for input, so have I.

One of the principles she uncovered in her reading and thinking on the subject is that of perspective. We see what we have in perspective. When we see our lives in the context of the bigger picture, we find gratitude  even in difficult circumstances. 

A valuable observation. 

However something has been troubling me about how I hear people express gratitude, or how I observe my own thinking on the subject.

Sometimes perspective becomes comparison. We find thankfulness by looking for ways in which we are better off than so many others in the world, or even than so many others in our own neighborhoods. 

Our thoughts and speech goes something like this. 

The flu season has been rough this year, but at least I'm not struggling with a serious illness like....

I sometimes wish our house was bigger, but so many families our size are living in apartments.

My husband's salary isn't what I want it to be, but at least he's not unemployed.

These are all true statements and do, for the moment, make us feel grateful. 

But the danger is, what if we make a comparison, and we come out on the bottom? There is always someone worse off than me, but there is also always someone better off. 

And in the unstable human heart, comparison quickly turns to competition, and when I come out on the bottom, I sometimes unconsciously seek how to devalue the person who has come out on top. 

She may have lots of money but she probably doesn't have such a great marriage. 

She seems to have a great marriage, but her kids are really struggling with...

The real perspective, the safest one, the kindest one, the truest one -- and probably the one Jennifer realized and lectured on -- is the true bigger picture. 

I have what I am meant to have. I am grateful to be me. 

You can't really be a Christian without some sense of destiny, the idea that  on a mysterious level, God is in control. Though there is conditionality or cause and effect in the Bible -- blessing follows obedience -- equally true is that some things God determines. 

My life is a gift from the Creator of the heavens. My personality is a gift from Him. My talents and gifts are literally gifts. And my flaws, which are basically the flip side of my gifts, my gifts on steroids, unchecked, overbearing, are also what I am meant to have in one sense. 

So though I try -- work, train, strive, struggle -- to do my best with what I've been given and be creative with my life, which is my right and responsibility as a woman made in the image of my Creator, I have to work with what I've been given. Ah, destiny. I can't be someone I am not.

So the positive side is...I am who I am meant to be. 

Or at least I am the rough version of who I am meant to be. And my life is about moving closer to the perfect version God has held of me in His mind since before I was born, as it says in Psalms 139. 

Our pastor Kenton Beshore gave a sermon on the 23rd Psalm many years ago, and it has been with me ever sense. My favorite portion was from verse 5.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. 
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 

 This is a Psalm of gratitude, Kenton said. God has prepared a table before you, and you should accept it with thanksgiving. If you don't feel thankful, maybe its because you're looking at what someone else has on their table. Eyes on your own table, boys and girls! 

The table is a surprise, perhaps, and it's set in the presence of my enemies; the challenges without and the flaws within me have not been removed as I feast. But I am safe,  to sit down and enjoy what's on the table, because God told me to. 

In the meantime, my head is anointed, a sign of God's favor and a purpose spoken over me, as a king was anointed in ancient times as a way of marking him for his role. And my cup is filled to overflowing. My cup might not be as big as yours is, or it may be bigger. But it's my cup, set  on my table. God is setting one for you too.

As the gratitude season -- brought to us by the Pilgrims and Facebook -- comes to a close and we enter advent, the season of waiting, I'm anticipating what God will lay on my table. I'm praying, as I feast, to get a glimpse of the Big Picture, a true Perspective.  I'm saying grace, asking for the ability to drink up everything He pours in my cup.