With Love On Valentines

I’m a sucker for Valentine’s Day. I always have been and I’m pretty sure I always will be. And I’ll shamelessly admit it to anyone who asks or doesn’t ask.

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When I was a kid, Valentine’s cards were the very bestest. Every year, Mom would let us pick out a package we liked and then we’d spend beautiful hours picking the right ones for the right people and writing their names out, usually on February 13th. And then I’d bask in the multitudes of Valentines I’d receive myself. Each one had a special memo and picture, just for me, I felt. Some were even home made. And the more I received, the more affirmed and loved I felt. It was absolutely glorious.

Now I’m a university student and although the idea of making Valentines for treasured friends still appeals to me, I didn’t write a single card this year. Now I’m at the age where friends are either going on dates or complaining over their lack of a love life or ranting on the stupidity such a day. And I received a total of two Valentines cards this year.

I spent the day at school, though I didn’t have classes. Instead, I spent an average day in the life of a theatre major; I shot a promo video for my upcoming play, postered campus for the said production, and I worked on set pieces, for, you gussed it, that show I’m in. I didn’t do anything totally out of the ordinary, for me at least. And to be honest, the fact that it was Valentine’s Day didn’t change a lot of stuff.

But still, it was Valentine’s Day and I spent it with people.

I laughed and did silly stunts and commiserated with friends. We talked of first meetings and became giddy over the silliness of things that were once serious.

I worked with people. We finished tasks and we helped each other and smiled at the fruits of our labour. It was hard work, but the presence of others eased the pain.

A friend and I traveled home together. Both exhausted from fighting terrible bugs and a long week of school, we shared the week’s ‘gossip’ and beauty and giggles.

And I see the people, from my window, running to catch busses or trains or getting in their cars. I see them walking. A man carries flowers as he strolls down the sidewalk. A couple walks a pair of German shepherds who can’t seem to get enough of each other.

There are people. All around us. Walking, working, laughing, learning. Loving.

Tonight I spend an introverted, university-ish night, reading Chekhov and rehearsing lines. But family drifts in and out and I’m reminded of the people and love that comprised my day.

There is love all around. Valentine’s Day is just a glimpse of that. A reminder.

Yesterday, my mom recalled what I’d said to her when I was a disappointed and disillusioned seven-year-old, who didn’t receive as many Valentines as her sister had: “I don’t see what’s so special about Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day isn’t special. I don’t know why people said it was special. There’s no family. There’s no dinner.”

I beg to differ now, with my once disappointed self. Valentine’s Day is special, whether it’s spent with flowers and dinner or as an ordinary school day. It can be special, if we spend it with those around us and choose to see the world with a window of love.

I realize I’m being a bit poetical and aarie-faerie here. I realize also that those kind of words don’t often mean much to all people.

But think on this. The roots of Valentine’s Day are in a man called St. Valentine. He was a martyr to love, specifically the God-designed institute of marriage. He died for what he believed, for a noble cause, for a relationship and heritage that still breathes joy today.

It is a legacy. A passing down. Of joy, family, friendship, love.

We were created in the image of God and made for relationship. Whether we are married or single or love or abhor the sticking tradition of Valentine’s Day, that is the truth.

The day is nearly done now. There’s about three more hours of this day when chocolate is expected and secret admirer notes are acceptable.

Yet I encourage you, to embrace Valentine’s Day, for all it’s worth in the short hours that remain. I beg of you more to take hold  of the attitude of sacrificial love that inspired it. Most of all, I call you to love people and in loving people, you love Him as well.

Love Everybody

My boss says that people like to take out their wrath on the cashier. Wanting to get back at someone or something, customers lash out at the cashier, knowing that she cannot say a rude word back.

Throughout this summer, people have certainly taken out their wrath on me. From their opinions on taxes and prices that I don’t even make to things that are unfair in their life or the way I obviously do my job wrong, in their opinion. I listen to it all, silently, smiling if I can, trying to hold my own anger in.

That makes it hard, as you can imagine, to love everybody.

Yet as a cashier in a Thrift Store, I’ve realized, that I am in a great spot to love others. I see my job not just as the facilitator of Thrift Store purchases, but also as a giver of grace.

People come to the store, broken, disfigured, poor, addicted, angry, upset, ruined, desperate. Others come clean, happy, put together, pouring money from their pockets. But its my job, I feel, to judge each person in the same way. To give grace to every person who walks in the door. Its my job to forget the past of each customer and treat them as if I’ve never seen them before. This is grace in the Thrift Store.

I’ve been reading an eye-opening book called unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. It illustrates what people outside the church think of Christians. And it isn’t pretty. We’re viewed as hypocritical, pushy, sheltered, anti-homosexual, too political, and judgmental. There is barely a scrape of grace or love in us from the “outsiders’” perspectives.

This book has shown me how much we, as Christians, need to be grace givers and lovers of all people.

The store has shown me what it looks like in action. It is a difficult, if not impossible task on some days. People are rude, selfish, uncaring, trashy, quick to make judgments, unthinking. Many people are not receptive, they do not understand or try to understand.

And so I come home from a long couple of days of dealing with the public and I lash out on them in the comfort of my own home, at last. How dare they? Why do they do what they do? If only they could just ____!

But I am not asking the right questions. I am judgmental. I should ask, instead: who are they? and who are they loved by? and who am I to judge?

Because the truth is, the people who hassle me all day long are children loved and created by God. And I am just the same as them. I can be all of those things I said they were and more. I am no judge. But I am loved like they are — we are all loved together — by the same God who made the heavens and the earth.

So I try, again and again and again. For the umpteenth time. I try to remember grace and forgive others and love them for who they are, forgetting what they do.

And the people who are so clean and happy may be just as broken on the inside. Because I know that I am, too. I need grace and I need love just as much as the customers.

So love everybody. That’s what I’ve learned this summer.

Forgive and give grace because we have a God who is the author of that.

Love the world. Offer grace to people, too, even if they don’t accept it.

Because this is what it means to be like Christ.

Compassion

One of my dearest memories from childhood goes like this…

My family was taking care of our good friends’ two children. Their oldest son was practically my best friend at the time. We did everything together.

I was about five-years-old then and I refused to take naps when the others did. So, while my friends and sister got to stay up “late” and have a snack, I was confined to my pajamas and lights out in the bedroom.

I was sad and moping to be sure when my friend crept into the room. He was four-years-old — a year younger than I. He knew I’d wanted some of the snack.

“Here, Liz,” he said, reaching out his little hand. “I brought you some.”

My friend didn’t have to bring me a treat, but  he did. He showed grace for my bad behaviour and risked getting into trouble for me. He was generous and giving of himself. I call it compassion, when I look back on that memory now.

However, compassion can oft be hard to give. Whether it’s an irate customer or a hard-to-work-with-co-worker, a younger sibling or an distanced friend, I deal with a definite choice everyday. Will I roll my eyes or shall I show compassion today?

Because compassion is hard. It isn’t just about “being nice” or making friends. It is much, much more.

It is patient. And gentle.

Compassion is generous, not withheld love.

It is not proud nor does it envy.

Compassion is full of grace. It is about giving second chances and forgiving and remembering the blood of Christ. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs or repay evil for evil.

At its fullest, compassion is unconditional. Agape love. We call God compassionate and so He is. This is the model we live up to.

 

I wonder if my friend still remembers that time when he brought me a treat — probably not. But I sure do. And that compassionate gift made a profound affect on my little soul. Because even today, a five-year-old’s compassion inspires me.

So let us live lives of love. Let’s fill our hearts with compassion for the world. For everyone.

Is God Enough?

I grew up hearing that God was enough, that God always satisfied, and He was all we needed.

I said ‘the prayer’ at the age of four because I believed, as strongly as I could in my little heart, that God was the One and Only.

Years of Sunday school lessons and singing songs and hearing people talk about how God is enough. And God will always be all you need. There’s nothing else that could compare.

Then, the well-meaning friends who went so far as to say that God obviously wasn’t enough for someone if they did such and such. But God should be enough for you if you’re a true Christian. Again, God was supposed to be enough.

Turning from that stream of thought, I kept going in my Christian walk. God was still enough — I just didn’t want to be judgmental about it. God is enough. God is always enough for me. That’s why I prayed every night and went to church several times a week and taught little kids in Sunday school. Because God was enough for me and enough for them too and enough for us all.

And that’s why I stood up on the stage at church, wearing a white dress, next to my youth pastor who held an open book, and answered ‘I do’ to questions on faith and shared my testimony about how God had always been enough.

But what about when God isn’t enough for us?

When I’d rather read a novel than the Bible. When I lie awake, thinking of other things and loves instead of praying. When I felt so alone and thought I could never do anything in Mexico. When I plunged into relationships, school, or theatre, hoping they would fill the void. I didn’t know it then, but I’d stopped believing that God was truly enough.

But the other day, as I lay in bed, I heard Him whisper in my ear that He is enough for me. And for the last quiet moments of the night He was that.

I realized then that God hasn’t always been enough. And he won’t always be enough for me or anyone. God can’t be enough for us all the time.

God wants to be enough and He is enough, but in this life at least, I believe, our sinfulness precludes us from truly loving Him in this way.

So please, let’s stop pretending and saying that God is always enough. Let’s not force friends and family members into that place when they aren’t ready. Because that just isn’t how it is.

God is enough. But we can’t always see Him that way. And that is OK.

The Greatest Of These

His words caught me off guard. I love you, Elizabeth. Maybe because he didn’t speak English. Maybe because I’d just met him. Or perhaps because we just don’t say those three words enough. Regardless, the moment when my Mexico amigo said I love you is a memory that I won’t soon forget.

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In our human imperfection, we often forget how much we are loved. I know that I need to be reminded and re-convinced of it every so often. Sure, we can hear the words a million times, but sometimes it takes much more to truly believe it. This week, I learned that I shut myself off from relationships without evening thinking about it. In doing so, I ostracize friendship, love, and God; I lose the freedom to live in love.

Today I learned how to find that freedom again. Suddenly, the world became unmasked and I began to see the love all around me. I remembered that I am not alone and that brokenness is real but not what we were created for. I recalled that the greatest of all is love.

The most important commandment… to love the Lord your God.

And the second…to love your neighbour as yourself.

And we love because He first loved us.

This is one of the days where I’d say that God does have the perfect timing — its Valentines Day and I feel extremely blessed for the love in my life.

Happy 14th of February! Remember, always, that you are loved.

The Broken Road

This morning it rained over our fresh snow. I heard its soft pattering on the roof and watched the grass begin to peek out from the snow. It was an ugly mess.

I went to church this evening. The pastor talked about the guilty, wounded, and troubled heart. I know that I suffer from all of those feelings. And I sin–oh yes, I sin. Everyday, I make mistakes and wreck relationships and try to pick up the pieces again. I put off prayer because I don’t want to confront my maker with the same old problems. I don’t feel worthy of His love.

But isn’t that the reason for Christmas? Isn’t that how we know Jesus? If we were pure, there would be no use for a Saviour. But our sinful nature needs a Saving Grace. Life’s broken road is the path that leads us to the greatest Christmas gift of all.

Sometimes, its hard to accept ourselves because of sin. Sometimes, its difficult to just move on. Sometimes, we don’t even know where to begin. But the beauty is that we don’t have to do it on our own. As Psalm 147 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

We have Jesus. It’s remarkably easy to pass Him by, especially with the hub-bub of the holidays. But without Him we would be nothing. Without Him, our sin would stain us forevermore and there wouldn’t be any second chances. He is the reason for Christmas, joy, and life.

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With whatever trial you’re facing today, remember the joy that Jesus offers!

You Can’t Buy Grace

The other day, my acting prof broke into this mini-sermon on grace. He was talking about our scenes which are due next week and how to give and receive proper criticsm. But it was much more than that for me.

Cross & Clouds

Cross & Clouds (Photo credit: John H Wright Photo)

He talked about grace and how it is free to us through the blood of Jesus. And how we should live our lives with grace, as Jesus did. But how we so often don’t. And even though grace is free, we always forget about it. Because we’re steeped in the law instead of overwhelmed with grace. We don’t take the gift that is offered so generously by Jesus.

On Friday, I left chapel early. Some things that were said in my previous class, Spanish grammar that I’m just not getting, and guilt were flowing around in my mind. I couldn’t sing anymore. When I walked out into the fresh air, alone at last, it was the guilt which haunted me the most. I could brush off every other worry, but it was my guilt that I could not handle.

“God, I made a mistake,” I whispered as I walked along. I’m probably known for “talking to myself” around campus anyway, being a Theatre major with lines to memorize. “I wish I hadn’t made it, but now I have. How do I fix it?”

But I didn’t hear anything at all. No answers. No comfort.

My mistake wasn’t “big” in the eyes of others. It was simply a thought I had that I knew I shouldn’t have had. Perhaps I sound extreme, but at that moment the guilt from it was enough to ruin my morning.

“How are you?” my friend asked after joining me in the cafeteria, a few minutes later.

“I’m okay. How are you?”

Of course, I shouldn’t have said that. I ended up telling him that I felt guilty about something. A thought I’d had.

Or maybe I should have said that, because then he reiterated what our Acting prof had said the other day. There is grace. Always grace. You’re nothing without it, but never unworthy with it. You can’t buy it, but you just have to take it. Because God loves me and God loves you so very, very much.

I chose to take grace that day. And as we left the cafeteria later on, bound for our next class, I felt a weight lifted off of me. It was an indescribable feeling, but a feeling it was. The heavyness went away and I felt light. The exhaustion which had not allowed me to sing previously disappeared as a new energy revived me. I saw the sun outside and the flowers in the gardens and the smiles on the faces of other students. I saw my next three hour class as a time to smile and be with my friends and the homework I have as “something to get through.” But most of all, I saw grace for all of my transgressions.

Dear Friend // Lessons In Love

Dear Extra-Special, Lovely, Sweet, Beautiful, Longest Friend I’ve Ever Had:

Guess what? Today is your eighteenth birthday! YAY! :D

I know what you’re saying now. I can see your eyes roll and lips form a slight smile. “Liz, of course I know that! It is my birthday!”

“Oh yeah,” I reply and we both chuckle a bit. That’s the kind of friends we are — we like to share a lot of laughs.

But guess what else, Friend? Next month I’ll be eighteen, too. And you know what that means, right? Yup. We’ll officially turn eighteen in our friendship.

It’s not just a number, though I would say it is a pretty impressive one. You’re the only person I’ve known for eighteen years except maybe my parents and older relatives. And no offense, since you’re now eighteen and I’m still seventeen, but eighteen seems really old right now. So, it’s been a while.

The point is that knowing someone for eighteen years on your eighteenth birthday means you’ve spent a lot of time together. Even though we live a few hours away, we’ve definitely done quite a bit throughout our lives. We lay side by side in baby carseats and fought over a teething toy at my baptism. I remember brushing our teeth together at two-years-old — I was jealous because your mom dressed you in a frilly, flower nightgown and I only got to wear my diaper. Soon, siblings came along and it wasn’t just the two of us, but I think we had even more fun. At five, we liked playing train and baby dolls and having water tea parties. By age ten, our visits with each other were turning ridiculous on account of me — tying up chickens, almost accidentally suffocating the sheep, playing silly war games in the backyard, and going on a grand parade with all of the animals — but thankfully, I had you to keep all of us from going completely crazy. Wow, that’s a lot of beautiful memories right there, isn’t it?

As we grew to be teenagers, our friendship and lives changed from simple tea parties and chicken/sheep parades. Although we’d both accepted Jesus at young ages, we came to know Him better and see faith and morality in a new light. We were both convicted of matters and began to feel strongly about them. But our new morals and values weren’t all the same and at thirteen, that was pretty shocking to both of us.

At sixteen, something earth-shattering happened. Okay, it wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, but we thought so, didn’t we, Kale? I’m not going to explain the situation here, but you know as well as I do what happened. We disagreed. And we were both very stubborn. Looking back, I think we would have gone our seperate ways if God hadn’t intervened and just plain old taken the thing we disagreed about away.

But we got past that, among other things. We learned to “agree to disagree” and reconciled. And I felt closer to you after that. Our friendship was strengthened and I hope you’ll agree that we became the better for it.

 I love you, Kale. I’ve learned so much from loving you, my Friend. We still don’t see eye to eye on things and our paths for the future look very different. But I’m glad. Because I don’t like cookie-cutter friendships. I want a relationship that is real and growing — and that is what I have with you. I’ve learned to love someone not because they are the same as I am, but because they can look past differences and remain in friendship.  And so even though we’re different, I have a feeling that we’ll really be friends forever as we used to say in all those letters.

Wouldn’t it be fun if we have kids at the same time? Just think… in eighteen years, we could both have daughters writing letters and learning from each other as we did.

Have a wonderful birthday, Kale!

Love,

Your forever friend,

Elizabeth