What is radical love? In looking for an image to illustrate my thoughts, I typed in the word “sacrifice.” This image of Jesus on the cross is the first choice. Is there, a more perfect example of radical love than to lay down one’s life on behalf of others? If there is, I can’t think of one.
I am having a hard time living in the world as it exists today. It isn’t just the political turmoil or the rapidly changing social dynamics, though both of those things play a role in my discontent.
I don’t do external conflict. I don’t argue, discuss, or debate. I turn inward. Thoughts roll around in my head like rocks in a tumbler. I want the edges to smooth out and the surface to become all shiny and pretty, but that is never the outcome. It always seems as though no matter how much I ruminate on a particular topic I fail to come to an adequate solution or even a soap box to stand on. Surely I am not alone.
And then I remember the one. The one who came to earth as a baby and as a man died to pay the price for all humanity. What would Jesus do and say at a moment like this?
The denomination I have belonged to my entire life is in the throws of a split. There are two issues that divide our country and our churches – abortion and homosexuality. No matter how hard I try, I do not see evidence of Jesus’ radical love involved with either of these situations. In Jesus’ earthly life he was surrounded by “holier than thou” religious leaders that condemned others while elevating themselves. How are we any different?
Who needs the radical love of Jesus anymore than a young woman facing an absolutely gut wrenching decision? Do I belong in a church that condemns rather than loves?
How about the gay man or lesbian woman who has been rejected by family and been told God doesn’t love them because they are homosexual?
I believe we are called to love like Jesus and leave the rest to God. Somewhere along the line it feels to me as though knowledge and logic eclipsed love and compassion. Dissecting the Bible to the point where the student feels superior has naturally led to being just like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. I have participated in that kind of study. I know I have thought myself superior in knowledge therefore it was my duty to educate others. I have begged forgiveness and received mercy and grace.
Today, I choose to see the holiness of God in each person that crosses my path. Even if their light is dim, they are still his creation and deserving of kindness.
I want to exhibit radical love as Jesus taught his followers to do.
Today I pray for the courage to be who God created me to be in all situations, not for my good but to point the way back to Him.
I love to go outside at night. There is a calm and a peace that flows over me as I immerse myself in the darkness. My time as a Girl Scout taught me to be prepared, so I never go without a source of light to guide my steps.
As a kid, a flashlight provided many hours of fun for me and my brother. Shine it through your hand, under your chin, up in the air and out at a distance. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, there were scientific as well as valuable life lessons happening as we played.
When we shined the light at our feet there was a strong, clear ring of light guiding out next step. But, if the beam of light is directed out into the darkness, it fades into nothingness. There is no direction or warning of a misstep ahead.
Life is filled with unknowns. How do we know for sure that we are making the right decision? Jesus, teaching at the synagogue, shocked the Jewish people with his knowledge. They wondered aloud how he knew so much when he had not been taught. Jesus replied:
My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.
As I stay close to God through reading scripture, praying and then listening I am taking the first step in doing the will of God. I am doing my part to maintain the relationship, I am sensitive to what happens around me and I can see the light guiding the way. God’s path is always the best path. He will only guide me to what is best for me and that path reflects the credit back to him. THIS, is my circle of life.
Two of the most famous miracles performed by Jesus were the feeding of five thousand and walking on water to comfort his fearful disciples. In the book of John, the morning after he had performed these miracles, Jesus had a conversation with a group of people whom he fed the day before. Jesus’ response to a simple question hit me between the eyes like a pop up mole in a carnival whack-a-mole game.
People, witnessing and experiencing the miracles of Jesus began following him, even getting in boats and crossing a lake to find him. But Jesus saw through their actions to their hearts. After holding them accountable to following him because he gave them something (food) Jesus told them to not seek the perishable, but to seek the eternal life that comes from him. What followed is the exchange above.
Most of my life as a believer I have struggled to make decisions because I desperately want to do what God wants me to do; however, I over think and get in my own way. What God wants is really very simple. Believe in the one he has sent.
Humans muddy the waters, but Jesus cuts right to the heart of what is important. I do believe. I also work at the relationship; I learn, I read, and I listen. Then, no matter where I go or what I do I know I am pleasing God.
Don’t overthink…believe. Believe as little children believe.
From the moment babies learn that they are independent from their parents a struggle for autonomy and authority begins. We have all heard of the “strong-willed” child. When it comes to God’s power in our lives, I believe most of us are still strong-willed children. I know I am.
Jesus is my example. So, I ask for God’s will not mine and I wait to see what doors are opened and experiences come across my path as I go about my day to day life. God’s will is always what is best for me.
I am a chronic over thinker. When it gets really bad and I am paralyzed in indecision, I usually ask my most trusted friend, “What should I do?” I am always pointed in the same direction.
When I reconnect to God through prayer, reading the Bible, and worship, suddenly I am not so anxious. Decisions become clearer and peace of mind returns.
At the beginning of his ministry on earth Jesus performed three miracles. He turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana; he healed the son of a government official as well as a lame man in Jerusalem. There is something to be gleaned from all three stories but what struck me this morning is that in each case Jesus gave all three people a command. Something they must do — “Fill the jars.” “Go back home.” “Stand up, pick up your sleeping mat, and walk!”
All three had been given a command, but they had a choice. Stay where they were, or believe and take action. These three took action. Not only were they the recipients of a blessing but others around them saw and believed as well.
Everything we do is witnessed by someone. We will never know the impact of a simple gesture or stepping out in faith to do something scary. But what I know is that if I have taken everything to God, trust him and then act, that water will start flowing again.
In closing…this does not mean that I think I will get everything I want. But I know I will have everything I need and more importantly, the peace that comes from being in close communication with God. Jesus made that possible. His life, death and resurrection ensure that all who believe have this access to God.
I’m a clinger. I cling to those I love, the things I love (or think I might use again one day), and I cling to ways of thinking that are no longer productive. Letting go of any of these lifestyle choices is frightening. The “what if” monster starts whispering in my ear and fear of the unknown takes up residence in my brain.
Now, before I go any farther down this rabbit hole, I need to make something quite clear. I have not fallen into the realm of satan and I have not lost my faith. Quite the contrary. During the past few months, as I draw nearer to God and Jesus, I have begun to see and hear, evaluate and either accept or dismiss spiritual concepts that, prior to this, I automatically dismissed because they didn’t fit with my traditional view of God and the world. I was simply unable to ask questions or think anything outside the mainstream; it was too frightening. I had to cling to the belief system as I had come to know it or what else is there?
Then God began doing an amazing work in me. I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that when I am in tune with God, listening and waiting for Him to guide me, He is right there with me. I read Holy Scripture, meditate on what I read and know that in the fullness of His time, God will reveal his truth to me and increase my understanding. This is just one of the gifts given to us when Jesus came to earth and then died a sacrificial death. We no longer need high priests to mediate for us with God. We can go directly to the source. Thank you Jesus!
The human mind is finite. We can only know and absorb so much before our brains short circuit and we shut down. A discussion this week with a friend about people with brilliant minds who burn out early made me think about this phenomenon. God knows what, how much and when I can handle deeper revelations about Him and the universe He created. God is huge. I always heard, “Don’t put God in a box.” I am now seeing I have lived as if I knew all I needed to know about God because I have studied the Bible. I delved into original languages; I even went to a Bible College so that I would know the truth and be set free. For a while my human arrogance, armed with this knowledge set about to show folks what I knew. It didn’t end well.
Now I take everything I learned and I sit with God and let Him teach me. I pray to Jesus, “teacher, teach me.” I am their sponge. Not amazingly, one by one tiny little scales are falling from my eyes and I am beginning to see things with a deeper field of vision. I am more sensitive to God’s movements in my life and am seeing my life in a brighter light.
I used to dismiss any idea of cosmic energy, energy from so called inanimate objects as new age hoo-haw, aka nonsense in my language. But, like so much in my universe lately, I am rethinking this concept particularly as it applies to the spiritual realm.
While worshipping crystals is clearly pagan idolatry, I look at who created crystals…rocks, stones, dirt, water, air….and think, God made those too. They are part of creation; could they bear some kind energy? Could they be more than the sum total of their molecules? I have no clue. But still, I wonder.
In another conversation with my same friend, he shared a concept from quantum physics that made my head spin. He explained in a way that my brain could grasp. The theory states that what we see doesn’t exist until we look at it. If I stooped to using emojis here I would definitely add both the mind blown and shocked face emojis to express how I felt when I heard this idea. Since I do not have a scientific mind, I found the following quote to be sure I could explain what he was talking about.
Let’s take a look at some interesting quantum experiments that point toward the mind-dependent character of reality… Fundamentally, we’ve got a situation in which reality at the quantum level does not exist until it is observed.
Bruce Gordon, Physicist, Mind Matters Podcast April 20, 2021.
The Energy Of Stuff
I wrote all that simply to say, I think there is energy that exists around objects. The things we cling to or are simply a part of the background noise of our lives – all things possess a certain energy. This is where I know I might loose some of you, but hang in with me.
Yesterday I told the story of the furniture that came to live with us last week. What I didn’t talk about was what I got rid of to make room for that furniture. This is an epic story of clinging to something far too long.
In 1984 (or thereabouts) I purchased a solid oak draw leaf dining room table, two Queen Anne style wing back chairs, and a vintage sewing table. All from approximately 1900-1940. I loved these pieces of furniture. I was married to my first husband who had bought the home we lived in without telling me he was doing it. I bought these pieces of furniture without asking him. Tit for tat. Almost. When I left him about a year and a half later I took these with me. I moved into my first apartment as a single person with just these items and my personal effects. Since that time I have moved them in and out of three different apartments before coming home to Stately Means Manor. Finally, I took them to use in my store before coming back home for good. I thought I loved them. I thought that they were important. Until I watched them loaded onto a truck and taken away to be donated.
I thought I would feel something. I felt nothing.
A few days later I realized that I am different. I am thinking about things in a new and different way. I feel lighter; more focused and free. Could it be that the negative energy from an unhappy marriage has been sitting in my home and my business all these years? I never thought about them in terms of the relationship. I saw them as tangible evidence of me taking a stand and doing something on my own. In truth, I outgrew them. I am finally allowing myself to be who I was created to be. I breaking free of being the person I think I should be and becoming just me. Letting go of the things and any energy connected with them has opened a new window into my soul and there is light shining both in and radiating out of me.
I have way more stuff to let go of and now I feel equipped and emboldened to do it. Things, whose very presence in my life, weigh me down. Things that a few months ago I thought I couldn’t live without. I am ready for them to find new homes. As Marie Kondo espouses in her theories of organization and possession – I ask myself, “Does this spark joy?” I now have a true frame of reference to determine joy vs comfortable. Do I keep these things because they are familiar and comfortable or because they bring joy into my life? Do they represent the life I want to create or are they part of a past that should remain in the past?
All this is a process, a journey that each of us walks in a different way and for different reasons. Some of you will resonate with my experience and others of you will think I have lost my ever-loving mind. And that is fine. It could be a little of each, but this is my path and all I see ahead of me is the soft glow of God’s love and light drawing me forward.
Before moving on to Christmas, I am not done with Thanksgiving. I would be remiss if I didn’t share a story of generosity, friendship and thankfulness for the people God gave us for neighbors over thirty years ago.
It is a rare thing, in my life anyway, to have friendships that span decades. As a child once we started moving for better opportunities, I never lived in the same place for more than five years. As an adult my friendships have been all work based; when the job changed those relationships slowly faded away. None of the usual ways people make lifelong friends seemed to apply to me. I didn’t have a mommy group or college friends, and I didn’t stay long enough anywhere to establish and maintain relationships.
I do accept responsibility in this matter. I am not a great friend. Well, let me clarify. I am delightful to be around and willing to help anyone with anything. But when it comes to initiating contact, following through and actually doing things to maintain a long term friendship…well, let’s just say I could do better.
Mr. Means has been a tremendous help in this department. He is a quintessential extrovert who pushes me out of my comfort zone and into social gatherings. Unlike me, he does have friendships that have stood the test of time primarily because he is the person who will call and stay in contact; every relationship group needs that person.
In February 1989, I took up permanent residence in Stately Means Manor — living in a historic house with a name has been a running joke between us so we gave our house a pompous sounding name. We were engaged and I didn’t want to renew the lease on my apartment. I thought I had won the lottery living in a nearly new home in a lovely master planned community. Never in a million years did I envision this for myself. It was a magical time. Kids playing in the cul-de-sac, neighbors visiting while doing yard work, decorating and playing house. One day Mr. Means called for me to come outside and meet the neighbors; they had a new puppy.
Puppy was the magic word. Little did I know that meeting Buster and his mom Lisa and dad Tim would change and enrich our lives forever. A friendship was born that has spanned thirty two years, and experienced births, deaths, laughter, tears, and lots of Mexican food. These dear people were our first couple friendship and to this day the only couple friendship we have made together. We dearly love these friends – they are an extension of our family.
Loss – Closure – Generosity
When we first met there were eight parents between the four of us. Now we have three. A few months ago, after several years of battling an invisible illness, Lisa’s mom was tired; she went home.
When the time came for her to prepare her mother’s home for sale, Lisa made an incredibly generous offer. Knowing my affinity for mid-century modern decor she offered me a king size bedroom suite. I was elated. The day came to go see it in person to be sure it was a fit and I walked into a home full of furniture from that era. All of it was mine for the taking. I stood in disbelief in the middle of the living room and wept. I had to talk to Mr. Means and figure out what I could make room for in a home already stuffed with furniture.
This offer was so big that I initially turned it down. I felt a sense of responsibility for someone else’s family memories and wasn’t sure I was up for the task. But two days later I agreed to take a different bedroom suite as we will be needing guest bedroom furniture one day. It pained me to leave the rest behind but I just couldn’t accept so much. It was too generous.
There were two items I could not forget about. I could envision them in my home. I kept thinking, “surely someone else had snatched them up…but what if…” After sharing this story with family at Thanksgiving, I decided to ask if they had been given to anyone else. In hindsight it sounds kind of insensitive. “Happy Thanksgiving, and oh by the way can I have the coffee table and china cabinet?” Fortunately they have known me long enough to not think twice about my methods.
I am now the proud owner of these items.
All of the furniture came from the same collection manufactured by Drexel Heritage in the early 1960s. Lisa’s mom was a fastidious lady and she cared for her belongings so well that, despite a cross country move, her sixty year old furniture looks brand new. These amazing pieces are now living at SMM and will be cherished for as long as I live.
Tim and Lisa would not accept money for the furniture or even the rental truck required to move everything to our house. What was important was knowing that her mother’s furniture had a new home where it would be loved and cared for as her mother had lovingly done for so many years.
Humility & Gratitude
I am humbled to have been entrusted with these precious items. My heart skips a beat every time I walk in the living room and see my beautiful new treasures. I am grateful beyond measure for these friends. Not because they gave us stuff, but because they have been part of the fabric of our lives for so many years. It is easy to take people for granted. We go through our days preoccupied with the mundane and suddenly wake up and realize something has changed. I am getting too old to live like that. I know that in the blink of an eye life can change.
If we have learned nothing else from the Covid invasion it is the reminder that life is fragile and fleeting. We are mortal human beings with a finite number of resources at our disposal and the rest is left to God. How many times and in how many different circumstances does God have to tell me, “Trust Me. Lean not on your own understanding.” What I see with my eyes is only part of the story.
As we decorate and plan for Christmas, it is important to remember what we celebrate on December 25th. The real story is Jesus. Jesus came to earth as the embodiment of God and His love. To follow Jesus is to love others better than we love ourselves. To see the pain and need in the world then help as we are able; to love people not because of who they are but more importantly, despite who they are. Jesus turned the world inside out and left us to do the same. We are here to love because like the song says…love is all there is.