How Big Is Your Love?

I grew up believing that God was the ultimate, most important thing about life.

Yet then it struck me, around eleven, that perhaps something else was more important, or at least just as great. The more I grew, the more I realized the wonderful and deep value of love. Yet if God was surely the most important and greatest of all, where did love fit in? Was it only a close second? I couldn’t comprehend how that could be, but love surely couldn’t exceed the importance of God. It was all very confusing.

I wrestled with this for weeks, and I still remember the very day the answer came. I was sweating and uncomfortable in warm clothes on a hot day, inside a little church building, for the funeral of an unknown mother of a family friend. But my ears perked up as my eyes were opened to the pastor’s words: God love and He is love; in loving others, we are serving God. 

It all made sense then and I grew very relieved that I could give to both equally, serving God through my love, and loving when I did God’s will.

I wondered, How big can my love become? I knew it was just tiny then, but I had hope for more in years to come.

After the message, we sang:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

~~~

Now I work at a Thrift store five days a week. Like anyone who works in customer service, I have a “survival smile,” and a painfully fake happy voice I can use on command. Half the time, I pretend to show interest in the little stories of woe and joy I am told.

Because the days are long and I’m tired at the beginning, middle, and end.

Because the questions are unending. “Can I see this?” “How much is that?” “Where are the other Thrift Stores?”

Because the demands won’t cease. “That’s horrible that you charge tax!” “Show me that!” “That’s mine!”

Because people swear and yell over their opinions on our organization and prices, sales and hours. Because others steal, concealing under clothes and switching their dirty shirts for ours. They make a mess of inside out tops and jeans in baskets on the floor.

As the days, questions, demands, and offenses pile, I grow in bitterness, slowly but surely resenting all those in and out of sight. Hating the very ones I vowed to love.

The more I live, the more I resent. The man who swears and yells; the woman who leaves her dirty shorts in the dressing room. The imperfect people, living in their grit and grime, unwilling to change, aware of their guilt, but seemingly unashamed.

How big is your love? I hear from a Voice within and above and around.

“This isn’t about love!”

HOW BIG IS YOUR LOVE? I hear it again, but it’s time to cash out and pack up and drive home.

How big is your love? The wind whispers hollowly, but I’m fast asleep, dreaming of a new day.

~~~

It’s several years since I was at that funeral where I learned that God equals love and that love is the best thing we can give. Sometimes, I forget for split seconds or minutes, hours, or even days how seriously God requires this. Perhaps I even forget how much He pours this love over me.

And it’s been weeks now since they’ve come and “terrorized” my little store front and made me work extra hard and apologize to paying customers. But still the anger and bitterness and utter resentment burn in my heart.

Now we set up tables and carry bags of food from the nearby trucks. My head is spinning a little, knowing I might see “some of them.” Some of the people I’ve grown to resent.

We work together, facing the crowd of hungry people. I smile in spite of myself.

Suddenly, I see her. She’s picking clothes out of the full bags we’ve brought, trying to find at least one suitable top. But she doesn’t make a mess this time.

Her frame’s as forlorn as ever. She weaves in and out of the garbage bags and other hopeful souls, searching for something to fit her tall but tiny body.

She is made vulnerable to my eyes and I gasp inside while handing out sandwiches. How big is your love, Elizabeth? How great and wide? How deep and strong and firm and vast? Apparently not very big, I realize, suddenly coming face to face with my own hidden shame.

“I am no more deserving of this love than anyone else.” The realization hits me like a dart.

How big is your love? 

“Not as big as it should be. Not big at all. Tiny. Pitiful. Sinful,” I answer, truthful at last.

And she, the long-resented woman scurries off into the deep blue summer night while I watch in shame. She’s reminded me of my unlove, my sin, my disgrace. 

How big is your love? 

From this day on, it shall be bigger. Much, much greater and deeper and stronger and firmer and ‘vast beyond all measure’.”

Why?

Because my Father is love and He first loved me. 

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

 

 

Love People

Almost a whole month ago, I completed my first year of university. It was a great year; I did well, I learned a lot about myself, God, and my craft, and I began the process of following my career dreams. Yes, it was a very good year indeed.

But still, I have regrets. Even though I managed my time well. Even though I studied for every test and handed each paper in on time. I still wish I could do something over again.

I didn’t love people. And I regret that.

Back in September, I arrived at university, fresh out of high school with all kinds of expectations for how I was going to make friends and be a great person. The first couple of days, I was very friendly, making small talk with every freshman I saw. But that’s all it was — just small talk. And I regret that.

I was one of about thirteen other first years in my program. I certainly wasn’t lacking in people who shared a common interest with me. And they are all, along with our entire theatre department, warm, interesting, and friendly. But still, I didn’t find myself at home there.

I think I did it on purpose. See, I’d run away from people. I remember eating lunch and even doing homework outside for the first couple of weeks of sunny school days. I told myself and others that I “wanted to take in the sun while it lasted” and perhaps that was partly true; but now I know that I also just wanted to avoid other people.

I didn’t arrange to go to see shows or do homework or just hang out with others because it “wasn’t convenient” or “we didn’t live close by” or “I really worked better alone.” I became obsessed with my schoolwork; I was worried that my grades would falter if I lent even a bit of time to my friendships.

I even let my older friendships go. Sure, I was really busy. But still, I just abandoned everyone. Stopped all communication, pretty much. All because I was afraid of my grades dropping.

But really, deep down inside, I was afraid to love people.

I was afraid to let myself go and allow people to see me for who I was, with all of my flaws and imperfections. And let them love me for that.

I was scared of the rejection that I thought that I “knew” would come of loving others.

But I’ve learned that this is not the way to live. In fact, not loving people without reserve was one of the biggest mistakes that I made this year. Because even though its rewarding to read a prof’s compliments or a glowing transcript, you’re alone. Praise is lovely, but it isn’t a friend. Accomplishments — no matter what form they are in — are always great, but success will never love you as much as you think you adore it.

So love people. It isn’t easy. I’m still learning how. I think it’s maybe even easier for me to write an English final than truly, really invest in people on a daily basis. But it’s really worth it.

good friends

Photo Credit

Love. Because it is lovely. And I don’t think you will ever regret it.

Love the Lord. Love people. Because Jesus said those were the greatest of the commandments.

Love others. Because God made us to love and be loved.

Who I Am

This summer, I wanted to make a difference. I knew I’d be meeting new people and seeing others more. I was going to represent Christ to them. I wanted to show them love, kindness, compassion, and God. But honestly, I failed.

I know that is a depressing way to start a blog post, but it is the truth. I didn’t live this summer like I wanted to live it. I was irritable, angry, and upset with family members. I barely reached out to others. And once again, there was no great transformation to Christ like I’ve always longed to be apart of.

But it’s really so easy. So why haven’t I done it?

Yes, it’s easy. Easier than I thought. I don’t know what was wrong with me. I suppose I got tired and stressed and imagined my tasks were much too hard. But the first step is in who you are to others. The first step is simply friendliness, pleasantness, love.

I’ve been taking a driving class for the past few weeks. I went into it with a slightly bad attitude. Yes, I wanted to drive. Oh, I wanted to drive! That’s why I was there after all. I participated in the class, listened to the instructor, and took notes right from the start. But I told myself that it would be very difficult to make friends in the class because surely they’d all be much different from me.

Honestly, I am ashamed at this thought. Sure, a lot of them are quite different from me. However, I’m sure I could find some similarities if I looked. But it’s not about similarities. It’s about having differences and bridging those gaps. It’s about showing love to someone you wouldn’t normally love.

So I tried a different attitude last class. I had never been rude, but I decided to be better than polite that night. I walked in with a smile and talked pleasantly with the instructor for a minute. I asked the girl next to me how she was. I noticed we had the same flats — not so different after all. I tried to smile at the others as they came in. I made conversation with a girl after class and asked another if she wanted us to wait while her parents came. Not much, but it was a little. You may not be able to hand out Bibles and convert everyone in a driving class, but it is still a mission field. Everywhere you go is. And like always, it matters who you were.

I’m going to university a week from Saturday. I’ll be there for the next four years of my life, but I don’t want a bad start. No one knows me there. There are no embarrassing stories, odd memories, or insecurities that people might have in their fore front. It’s like a fresh start. I can be anyone I want to be.

I want to go and represent Christ, however hard that may and will be. I know it won’t be any easier there than it has been in the past. But I’m going to try harder and get up faster when I fall. Because it matters who you are, so I want the image of Christ to be who I am.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…

Philippians 2:5

Fresh Start

This week, I came to terms with my ugly self and the terrible desires of my heart. I learned that I’m not as good at forgiveness as I thought. I realized that I have a lot more to learn about love before I could ever say I’ve fulfilled my calling. In it all, I came to see that sometimes I need to erase the past and start fresh.

There is this hurt that I have. I’m not going to say exactly what it was or who hurt me, but it was very painful. Over a year ago, I struggled with this incident and thought that I had become free. After all, I could laugh about the person and the hurt that he had caused. I seriously thought that I had forgiven him. But then I realized that even though I could laugh, the hurt was still eating at my current relationships, the way I view myself and that person, and what I think of certain people because I hadn’t really ended it and started fresh.

Recently, God has been convicting me that I am not loving enough. I hold grudges and refuse to allow people the privilage of a fresh start in my heart. The worst thing is that I rarely recognize this flaw at all.

The other day, I was extremely mad. I got angry at a lot of people who had nothing to do with the situation as well as the person who hurt me. None of it was necessary though. Nothing new had transpired. I was only drowning in the anger of an unforgiving heart. I hadn’t truly ended what I needed to end.

God calls us to a life of love. The two greatest commandments are to love Him and to love others. If we do these two things, we are fulfilling the rest of the law. Forgiveness is a part of that love. Starting fresh is part of that, too. The world tells us that revenge is satisfying, but God tells us that vengeance is His. Our hearts tell us that we should hate, but God calls us to live a life of love. He pulls us away from all bitterness, brawling, anger, and slander, as much as our humanity tells us to give in. God desires that we overcome evil with good, instead of repaying evil with evil. If we truly want to love God and love others, we need to give second chances and start fresh everyday.

But anger is still alive and well. I have no solution to erase it completely. The only healthy thing to do with anger is to accept it. That’s what I did. I wrote a letter and told that person how mad I was at him. But then, I destroyed it and started fresh with a letter of love.

I’ll be the last person to tell you that all of this was easy. On the contrary, true love is a battlefield, real forgiveness is like forgetting a grudge from a war, and sincere friendship can be a constant torture of the two. It was hard to forgive. It’s almost impossible to erase the past and start from the beginning.

But with God, anything is possible. He makes all things good. Yes, friendship is difficult, but it is also wonderful. Love is hard, but we reap the greatest rewards through true love. Forgiving someone is like fighting a war, but just like a real battle, there is freedom when you finish. And because of Christ, starting fresh is an option.

Today, I’m going back to square one and starting fresh. It definitely isn’t easy, but I’ve never felt better. Forgiveness is freedom. Love is beauty. Friendship is peace. I’ve overcome evil with good and it is amazing.

The Dreams That You Used To Dream

I have a dream. Well, don’t we all? Actually, I have many dreams. Some of them from childhood, others from yesterday or today, and still there are more that I’m sure will come tomorrow. I want so much out of life. So much.

There is this one dream, in particular, that I have always, always wanted. A lot of my dreams come and go, but this one has always remained. Except one day, I decided that I couldn’t have it. My dream died. I stashed it away in a corner somewhere and decided not to think about it because dreams don’t always come true so there is no use getting your hopes up.

What was this dream? To get married. Yes, get  married. I’ve always, always wanted that. A home, a husband, a family. I’ve wanted many other things and I still do want them, but not as much as this. Except, somewhere along the lines I decided that I wasn’t good enough…or rather, God wasn’t good enough.

When I was eleven, I told myself that I shouldn’t expect too much out of life. That way, when things didn’t work out, I wouldn’t be too disappointed. And when they did, I would be even happier. Years later, I realized how wrong this mindset was and I changed it. Well, I changed it in every area except for this dream. Because it felt like the day I hoped, my heart was crushed. Something happened that made me think I couldn’t really marry that man after all. It was silly perhaps, but it was crushing all the same.

Hurt hurts. It really does. And the situation that turned me against my dream hurt me a lot. Looking back, it wasn’t so much that I thought that no one would want to marry me. It was more that I didn’t know if I wanted to risk getting hurt again. Because that gnawing feeling I felt on the night I knew was something that I never, ever wanted to feel again. So the dream stopped. Or, I tried to stop it. My heart kept a little secret spot for it though.

A few weekends ago, I went to this amazing Relationships conference. As I listened to their stories, advice, and encouragement, I realized that I didn’t think I’d ever actually use it. Why is that? I wondered.

I went to talk to my youth pastor after. When he told me that I was a wonderful person and that I wouldn’t have any trouble getting married if I wanted to, I could have jumped. It was weird. I knew that I was valued as my own person already. I had no major insecurities left. Except for the insecurity of that dream. His words were like a new idea to me even though I’d wanted them for so long.

You see, when “The Incident” happened, something inside of me died. The hurt killed my dream. My passion left. Hope shriveled up. Because it’s easier to live life without losing even if it means you don’t love, right?

No, I was wrong actually. Loving is always better. Dreaming is still good. And God can fully heal our wounds and make us new again. He also has the power to do whatever is in His will. He isn’t as weak as hurt or my unfaithful dreams.

So I’ve decided to dream the dream that I used to dream again. I’m not saying that it will come true or that it will happen in the exact way that I want. But I’m also not saying that it won’t. I’m not going to sell myself short anymore. My God is greater than that and He has made me for better thoughts than disbelief. He wants me to dream the dreams that I used to dream as He fulfills the best dreams that He has for me.

Likewise, I encourage you to dream those dreams that you used to dream. Come on, we all have some! It doesn’t matter what they are! I doubt they are the same as mine. Maybe your buried dream is to travel, learn a second language, become a Doctor, or go to university. It could be anything. Whatever it is, I encourage you to trust God with your dream. There is nothing wrong with it or hoping for what you want. He may give you it, or He many not. Rest assured that you will get the dreams that He has dreamed for you and that they are best.

The Most Excellent Way

The room was dark, but over fifty candles lighted it with a great brilliance. Then, we all started to sing, and the excellent beauty of it caught me by surprise. I wanted to cry and laugh and sing and jump. Instead, I just stood there, mesmerized by the feeling I was given, when the boy I’d called my “secret friend” for the last three weeks of acting school walked up to me.

“Thank you,” He said, with a strong smile on his face. We embraced, and I would have cried if I could have.

“You’re welcome,” I murmured.

“You were a great secret friend,” He spoke sincerely and looked straight into my eyes. “You don’t know how encouraging those everyday verses were.”

Now I smiled. “I’m glad,” I said. “I really enjoyed being your secret friend. You are a wonderful person.”

Every word that I said was true. Right from the start of our “secret friendship,” this boy had been a great object on my mind. I don’t know what it was about the concept but it excited me so much that I started planning for it the first night, even before we’d drawn names. The next day, I remember staring at his name, then just a title to me, and wondering how I could encourage this stranger. But apparently, I did…

Through Smarties and verses, a notebook he needed and a poem I wrote, I wooed him. I sat beside him at lunch and tried to transfer every fibre of his being to my mind. In acting and dance and leadership, I encouraged him. I walked through Wal-Mart, staring at books and cookies and garden rakes, wondering what he would like. I listened intently when he talked. Every morning or evening, I stealthily handed his gifts to other people. I stayed up late reading my bible for the perfect verse, and prayed for him every morning. I smiled when he wore my necklace and carried my jaguar stuffy. I sacrificed, gave, and loved and the feeling it gave me was so beautifully excellent.

I went to bed with him on my heart. It was strange, but I missed being his secret friend. I wanted him back to encourage and buy gifts for. What has happened to me? I asked God in desperation.

“My child,” He said. “You have learned the most excellent way…to love.”

And indeed I had.

Seems Like Yesterday

Dear Mexico,

Its been a year since I left you. I can’t believe it has been so long. It seems like just yesterday when I was kissing you good-bye as the van kicked up dust, and we wheeled away, far, far away from beautiful you…

I remember when I first arrived, a bit nervous, feeling sick, but still bright, and passionate to meet you and sure that I would make a difference. It seems like just yesterday that I believed in myself and the myth that you were poor and the fairy tale that I could bring you through. How wrong I was, and how quickly you changed my view.

I can recall that pain that I felt the first day. The utter sadness that surrounded me, and how I wanted to escape. I loved you though and I think that is part of what held me through. I’ll never forget Joshua 1:9 and the feeling that God gave me through it. It seems like just yesterday that I learned to be strong and courageous no matter what the strife.

I still get flashbacks of that day of many firsts spent under your hot sun, and in your beautiful mountainside. I remember the sweat against my back as I picked up garbage, my first conversation in full Spanish, my sudden out-going nature, and the wonderful friends that I made. I can still see those girls and their mothers crowding around me for something as simple as hair elastics. I can feel the pressure, the tension, and the heat. Some would say that it was the first time I saw poverty but I call it the first time that I saw true love. It may sound strange to others, but I know that you understand. There was something so beautiful about that moment and the whole day, that I cannot call it poor. It seems like just yesterday that I learned about love.

I can’t forget Cadira or those other beautiful children that we met on our second outing. I can still feel their little bodies on my back, and their sweet voices clamouring in Spanish for a piggy back ride. I remember what it felt like to be really, truly exhausted…but still happier than ever before. I can still see their little faces, fading in the dust and feel the tears creep back into my eyes. It seems like just yesterday that I fell in love.

And I remember the afternoon spent in the market, haggling with people and laughing at my own foolishness. They were some of the hardest business people ever but the nicest ones, too. And I can still taste my first, real Mexican taco and see the beauty of your city from the mountainside where we sang and talked. It seems like just yesterday that I learned that people are people wherever you go.

No one can ever take away my memory of Jorje and his family and the build. I can still recall the nervousness, the hard work, and the love of those two days of sweat and labour. I’ll never forget Coolio’s words, “I love you Elizabeth.” He showed me that love is not a foreign language. I can still see Besenta’s strong but caring face as she painted alongside of me, and bound my wound. She taught me that sometimes, there is no need for words though love can still be felt. And Jorje runs into my mind daily, with his beautiful, brilliant smile and flashlight shining against your yellow sun. He showed me that indeed you are not poor. It seems like just yesterday that I was a fool learning all of these things…

This year has been a long one, full of grief and disappointment though not without its rewards. It seems strange to me that you still feel so close and near after one whole year but I guess that is what happens when you are in love. And do you know that I never got over you, no matter what anyone did or said? I always stood up for your beauty, despite what others thought and tried to make me agree with. I wept for you, Mexico. I love you and I am coming back. Just wait for me, keep waiting. Tell Jorje and Cadira and the others that I love them. I’m coming for you again. This time I know that I’m here to bless and be blessed, to love and be loved.

I wish it were tomorrow that I were coming to you but I’ll just hold on to yesterday to see me through…

Love,

Elizabeth

Binded By Brokeness

I have scars…I’ve been dissapointed, I’ve scattered my heart accross a city two countries away, I have grieved a loved one and have seen others grieve, and I have felt like my heart was shattered. I am broken.

But so is she…that woman over there, laughing and joking as if nothing was wrong. She too is broken. She has been abused and used, heartbroken and dissapointed. She has loved and she has lost. She is broken, too.

And so are they…the three in the corner, giggling over pizza. They have lost loved ones. They’ve been dumped by boyfriends and been bullied by so-called-friends. They have loved and lost. They are broken, too.

And so is he…the friend that lives far away. He’s been hurt by relationships. He has experienced dissapointment. He has been depressed. He has loved and lost. He is broken, too.

But Jesus is not…the one standing beside me and you, the one in my heart, and the one that is no longer on the cross. He is whole and he has the power to make us so. Yes, he binds us together again by our broken pasts and people whose hearts are just as shattered. Because through each hardship we connect, relate and understand. We realize that we are all just people under one God. We are binded by brokeness, and loved by Him. And because of Him, it is good.