Tag Archives: God’s love

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“What do you see?”  If you read through the prophets, you find God asking the prophets this question many times.  I think it is still an important question today, one we need to ask God.  “Father, what do you see?  Jesus, what do you see?  Holy Spirit, what do you see?  What do you see when you look at me?”

I think that for many of us, our own sinfulness fills our vision, and we are pretty sure it fills God's vision also (or would if we dared go into His presence).  Like the Israelites, we'd rather not hear His voice or come too near Him, because we think it pretty likely there would be some yelling and hitting if we did.  We hope we're not so bad that we would be killed, but our hungry hearts, which long for the love of the Father and Lover and Counselor, are so filled with a sense of shame that we dare not risk entering His presence.

Several years ago, I had an exchange with God regarding the Father's image of us.  At the time, I was having one of those 1:00 a.m. experiences when you are exhausted and irritable and still have a lot of work in front of you.  I found myself very angry with Joshua about something.  I don't even remember what it was.  I was trying hard to keep from yelling at him, but my anger was building.  Suddenly, I remembered the passage about temptation, where God promises to provide a way out.  With desperate hope, I prayed for God to provide the way out so I wouldn't yell at Joshua.  Then, I found myself yelling at him anyway.

I was crushed.  I had tried as hard as I could.  I had asked for help.  Yet I had still failed.  I turned back to God and prayed again, “Where was the way out?  I couldn't find it.”  Instantly, I had a picture of God with His back to me.   I felt hurt and asked, “Why would you turn your back to me when I needed you?”  Immediately, I received two things:  an understanding and a worded answer.  The understanding was that my Father was choosing not to see something that would tarnish His image of me.  God knows who I am, and He knows that it is no longer I who sin, but sin which is at work in me.  He chooses to see me as I am, not as I do.  The words were “I can't take away your sin yet, because the reason you don't want to sin is that you are afraid of me.  I can't take away your sin until you understand my grace.”  Both the words and the understanding came with a sense of deep love and tenderness that I can't replicate in writing.

“The reason you don't want to sin is because you are afraid of me.”  As soon as He said it, I knew it was true.  I was afraid of God's anger.  I was afraid of what God might do in His anger.  I clearly deserved and needed punishment.  How else could I learn to be good?  About a year later, God would ask me whether punishment was working, and I had to answer that, no, I was so terrified of punishment that I couldn't move.  He then asked why I insisted that He punish me.  I thought that was a strange response.  However, at this point, I couldn't see that punishment wasn't working, and I couldn't think of any method except punishment to get me to obey.

“I can't take away your sin until you understand my grace.”  In my mind, grace meant another chance, specifically, another chance to run the gauntlet.  I had to try to get through the tests without falling down, but if I did, I could try again.  Unfortunately, each successive attempt found me starting with greater injuries than the time before, so I fell sooner.  To be honest, I didn't find grace a very hopeful concept.  I knew that a second chance at running the gauntlet shouldn't be the definition of grace, but grace didn't seem very powerful and motivating.  I felt pretty sure I could prove that even before the just judge:  those times I wasn't punished and did the same thing again, those people who weren't punished and kept doing wrong, those times I let wrongs go and was hurt again by the same people.  In my mind, grace needed force and punishment to help it achieve its intended purpose, yet God indicated that my perspective on grace was wrong.

I longed to be perfect and sinless, but God said that couldn't happen until I understood His grace.  So I prayed again, “Then, please, teach me your grace!”  I also began to meditate on this exchange.  The understanding that God cherishes His vision of me as a beautiful image was comforting and life-giving.  I had a pretty poor image of myself.  His statement about my being afraid of Him led me to confess to Him a few months later that I didn't really love Him but was serving Him out of fear.  It was troubling that I wasn't fulfilling the most important command, but was only trying to act as if I were.  His statement that He couldn't take away my sin until I understood His grace kept me seeking to understand grace.  Nearly four years later, I have come to understand that at least part of what God was trying to teach me is that grace is not removal, grace is supply.   Fear has to do with punishment and removes strength from us, but grace has to do with love and gives to us strength, power, and even authority.  We need strength to fight the battle, so we must put aside fear, guilt, worry.  I have also come to see that what Christ did on the cross was bigger and more powerful than anything I imagined.

We need to know that God chooses not to see the sin at work in us, but has placed it behind His back on Christ's shoulders at the cross.  When He looks at us, He does not see failures and sinners, but rather, He sees favored, beloved, pleasing sons and daughters.  In John Jesus says that God the Father loves us even as He loves Jesus, not less than, not differently from, but just as.  We also need to ask God to give us a true understanding of grace and the immensity of its power and authority and effectiveness.

Now, I need to tell you, shortly after I had this experience, I was sharing with a woman I highly respected, and she told me she didn't think that the experience was from God.  I've been reluctant to share this story on the blog for fear of the same thing happening, but this past week, two things happened that have nudged me to share.  Firstly, my oldest daughter, Alitzah, drew a two-sided picture based on a conversation she had had with God.  On one side of the paper, she drew God smiling down at people enjoying creation; on the other, she drew God with His back to someone sinning. Secondly, I ran across a verse.  In Isaiah 38:17, Hezekiah says, "for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back."   I felt it was time to share.

God smiles Alitzah-24Feb-2014-God_turns_his_back

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Over the years since I began conversing with God, I have had many doubts.  Are these conversations real?  Is God really talking with me?  Am I crazy?  One thought which could not take hold was that I was talking with evil spirits.  The voice I was hearing was a voice of love, and my heart responded to that love.  My love language is communication.  A God who both listens and talks with me won my heart.

This past summer, I stopped hearing God.  I do not say God stopped speaking, but I stopped hearing.  It was devastating.  Just as a tree grows in response to light, I had grown amazingly in response to God's love and His giving of Himself to me in communication.  Though I wasn't hearing His voice, I had the understanding that God was allowing my fears to grow so I could see them for the lies they were and reject them.  I knew I had been holding onto both faith and doubt.  I had to make a decision.  The picture I had was of a garden with small weeds continuing to steal nutrition from the true vegetables.  With God's help, I was plucking up the weeds before they could grow big, but they always snapped off and left the roots behind.  God wanted to remove the roots.

A few years back, God asked me what doubt is.  I didn't know.  Was doubt the same as unbelief?  With the help of my husband and BibleWorks software, I hunted for the answer.  I learned something interesting.  The Greek word for doubt basically means to sit in judgment listening to the evidence on both sides of an argument.  It means you haven't decided yet which is true.  You're considering.  The writer George MacDonald considered doubt an important part of our Spiritual development.  Without the process of doubt, we could never reach the truth.  Jesus brought doubt with Him.  Can the law really save you?  You say you keep the law, but if you break it in your heart, you are breaking the law.  If you break just one bit of the law you are breaking the whole of the law.  Can the law really save you?  If no one had doubted and considered Jesus' questions, no one could have come to faith in Him.

Doubt is important to our Spiritual development, but the purpose of doubt must be accomplished.  We must make a decision.  What do we believe?  We cannot keep endlessly listening to arguments.  We must make a decision, a firm decision.  God told me, we have to shut the door behind us and begin to walk down the path we've chosen.  He assured me, even if I made the wrong decision, He could lead me to a turn around place.  I thought about how often when driving we have to go the wrong direction for a time in order to get to the right place.  God told me to start walking, and He would go with me.  So I decided to walk down the path with God and talk with Him.  While we walked, He invited me to ask Him any questions and tell Him why I continued to doubt.

We walked and talked together for two years.  God more than answered every objection I had for Him.  Then He rested His case.  It was time for me to make a decision.  I had to choose whether I would believe what He said or what I had always understood in the past.  I knew what I wanted to chose.  God's words and His presence are beautiful.  What I couldn't figure out was what to do with the doubt I still had.  I tried to wrestle with it and make it go away.  It wouldn't go.  I agonized.  I waited.  I accused God of not helping me.

Finally I asked God one more question.  What do I do with the doubt?  Instantly, I was standing in front of my Grandfather's barn.  A vision like this was a new experience for me, but I knew it was God.  Um, why am I here?  "Climb up into the hayloft."  I climbed into the hayloft.  It was filled with golden light and hay and haydust.  I waited a minute; then um, what do I do here?  "Lay down and rest."  I lay down.  I waited a minute; then um, why am I in the hayloft?  I don't get it.  Instantly, I was in front of the barn again.  I saw the barn -- hayloft above, barn floor below.  The hayloft was dusty, but clean.  The barn floor was nasty.  You really want galoshes/gum boots to walk there.  As I looked, I heard, "You stay in the hayloft.  I will deal with the barn floor."  I realized that I had been mucking about on the barn floor of my doubts.  I was trying to rid myself of the filth of my doubts and was only getting more mired.  My place is to dwell on my faith and to nurture it by resting in God's light, in His life-giving presence.  The only decision I need to make is to continue to listen to and to respond to His voice, to continue to walk in His presence, to focus on what is true rather than on all the doubts the world would throw at me.

Over the years as I have conversed with God, I have many times had others say they longed for that kind of communication with God.  I have said that God loves to communicate with His children including them.  Several times, I have been asked, But what if you don't believe He communicates with you?  I haven't known what to answer.  These are people whom I love.  I want them to have what I have.  I'm a woman.  I love community gab sessions.  My conversations tend to be heavily spiked with God talk rather than gossip, but that's because gossip is boring and old hand.  It may be a new person, but the news is old.  The things I'm hearing are NEWS.  I love talking them over with others.  I have longed to answer their question but haven't known how.  The answer is that the question is wrong.  Instead of looking at ourselves and at the sin and unbelief at work within us, we need to look at God, the Good Father, who is love.  Love communicates.  All we can do is think on these things.  If we long to communicate with God, then that longing is something we inherited from Him.  He promised that His sheep hear His voice.  Our longing for Him tells us we are His sheep.  Don't be afraid to listen to the voice of love that is already speaking to you.

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There are times when we are out in the middle of the sea in the midst of a storm.  There are times when we despair of life itself.  There are times when the storm is so strong that all the faith and trust we think we have grown seems to disappear entirely.  There are times when our hearts and our lives resonate the chaos of the storm rather than the peace of Christ.  During those times, we despair of righteousness itself as we watch all the worst comes out of us, just when we thought we were doing better.  During those times, we despair of love itself, "Don't you love us?"  During those times, we remember that it was Christ, himself, who put us on this boat without him, and our hearts cry out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  During those times, as we look at our lives, resonating to the chaos rather than the peace, despair would tell us that He has forsaken us because we aren't good enough.  How thin our single strand of faith seems in the midst of that furious storm!

It was during one of these times that I asked the Father a question.  Paul tells us to continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  Well, I was filled with fear and trembling as I asked God the question I couldn't restrain any longer.  "Oh, God, if I hated sin, ... I know you hate sin.  Please don't be angry with me.  I'm not arguing with you.  I just want to understand. ...  If I hated sin (and I know you do), and I knew certain situations brought out the worst in my children, I wouldn't put them in those situations!  But you do.  You are wise.  You must have a reason.  Why, Father?"

Immediately, I heard a thought, "You are trying to mow.  I want to remove the roots."  But over the next month or so, a parable grew in my mind.  In this story, a gardener had a visitor.  Of course, he did what anyone who loves gardening wants to do – he took his visitor to see the garden.  The visitor looked at the garden, and then he asked the gardener, "Why are there so many weeds?"  The gardener explained, "It's been raining for two weeks, so I haven't been able to get out and weed.  Now the sun has come out, but the ground is still too wet to weed.  The rain and sun have caused the weeds to grow."  At that point, I felt as though God leaned over and asked me a thought,  "Didn't the carrots need the rain and the sun?  The weeds did not grow because of the rain and sun.  They grew because they are planted in the ground."

I do not believe God was saying the gardener planted the weeds.  The Bible tells us that an enemy planted them.  Still, if there weren't weed seeds and weed roots in the ground, weeds would not grow.  The rain only showed us what was already in the ground.  We couldn't see it before because it was hidden underground, but it was there nonetheless, and God wants to remove those hidden roots of sin.  This still isn't a full answer.  This still leaves us asking, "What does it mean?  How do we get rid of the weeds?"  However, as I think about this story, three comforts come from it.

First, the God who sees our hearts saw our sin before it grew out of our hearts into our actions and thus became visible to us and everyone around us.  God saw it, because it was already there.  He saw it, and He loved us.  He loved us when we had this sin hiding in our hearts, and He does not forget that love when the sin grows into action.  He isn't even surprised.

Second, there were carrots in the garden, not only weeds.  Two things are at work in us.  Sin is at work, yes, but the Spirit is at work, as well.  The sin that is at work in us is not us.  It is working against us.  It is only distortion.  It is not creation.  The Spirit who is at work in us is us.  The Spirit is working on our behalf.  We are born of the Spirit.  We are a new creation.  We are being made one with God.  We are of God's kind!  Our us-ness is with God.

Third, God said, "I am trying to remove the roots."  He is at work.  He will accomplish His work.  Someday, we will stand before Him spotless, without any hidden blemish.  He has already credited righteousness to us.  That righteousness will be ours, inside and outside!  The sin which is at work will be completely removed, and what will remain is the righteousness born of the Spirit within us.

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While we were in Nebraska four years ago, I was very concerned about one of our students.  This student had a friendship that seemed very unhealthy and which was affecting her in many areas, including her school work.  She was also struggling with panic attacks.  These were issues I felt were very pressing and needed to be resolved immediately.  As I prayed for her, these issues were in the front of my mind.

When I prayed for each student, I would think of all I knew about the student and lay it before God and then ask God to show me how to pray specifically for that student.  God would bring Scriptures to my mind, and I would pray these Scriptures over the student.  Then I would write the student a card sharing the verses I had prayed for her or him.

For this student, God gave me three Scriptures.  The first was Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3.  Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be rooted and established in love.  The second was from Hosea 2, where Israel's name is changed from "not loved" to "loved".  The third was Zephaniah 3:17, which speaks of God rejoicing over us with singing.

Because I was concerned for the student, and because she had requested prayer regarding the panic attacks, I found myself praying for this student many times.  Each time I would ask God how to pray, He gave me the same three verses, so I would pray them for her.  But, when I would try to pray that God would remove her from the unhealthy friendship and set her free from panic attacks, I would feel God telling me not to pray those things.

At first, I prayed as He told me and let go of my thoughts for her, but after a few times, I remember being very frustrated.  I felt very clearly that God didn't want me to pray regarding the things I felt were vitally urgent, but I didn't know why.  So as I was praying that day, I burst out, "Why won't You let me pray that You remove these things?  They are clearly bad for her, but You won't let me ask that You remove them."  Immediately, I heard, "The wheat and the tares."

The wheat and the tares (weeds) was a parable.  A man had sown wheat in his fields, and an enemy had sown weeds in the same field.  The servants asked their master whether they should remove the weeds, and he said no, that would uproot the wheat.  I saw that God was asking me to pray that her roots would be strengthened so that the weeds might be safely removed.  I remembered then that doctors often delay important surgery until the patient is strong enough for it.

Over the next few days, I came to understand even more.  I was reading through the books of Moses.  I saw how powerful God's holiness is.  It is so strong, people died by encountering it.  I saw that God told His people He wouldn't drive out the former inhabitants of the promised land too quickly, or wild animals would increase too much.  I remembered the passage about the demon who was cast out only to return with seven more.  I came to understand that God was saying He would not remove anything from a person's heart too quickly.  He would not remove anything until the person was strong enough for Him to replace the thing with Himself.  I came to understand that He enters our hearts slowly and gradually as we are strengthened.

I also saw that truly, this student was not ready for Him to remove the panic attacks and the friendship.  To her, they were supplying a need.  She did not know, except in theory, God's love for her, His deep valuing of her.  If God removed the friend, who seemed to value her, and the panic attacks, which seemed part of who she was, she would be left with nothing, and that would be devastating.  But as God's love for her became tangible to her, that love would drive out panic and right her friendships.

What amazes me most about this revelation is God's love.  He ignores what we would address – the lifestyle and emotional changes.  Instead, He focuses on communicating His love for us.  He wants His love to so saturate us that it reaches the deepest places of our hearts.  Where we would say, "Change.  Change.  Change."  or "God loves you. Change.  Change."  He says, "I love you.  I love you.  I love you."   And it is that love which is transforming.

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Sibling rivalry.  Sharing.  As soon as child number two is on the way, these are the issues parents begin to ponder.  How will baby number one deal with baby number two?  Mom and Dad work hard to make sure both children feel loved, to make sure baby number one doesn't feel pushed aside by baby number two.  Then comes baby number three, four, five.  Each family with a different number.

Two children is fairly simple in theory.  One for each side of mom when reading a story.  One for each parent when on an outing.  After two, things are less simple.  You have to be creative at storytime.  Someone drapes along the top of the couch, someone sits on your lap, and you have to peer around a head to read the book.  You change seats in the middle of storytime.  On outings the youngest children hold your hands, the older children walk in front where you can see them.  Family dynamics shift with each new member.  Big families seem overwhelming.  How do they do it?

You also have the issue of sibling friendships.  Who favors whom?  Who plays with whom, and who doesn't get along with whom?  The dynamics can shift from day to day, but they can also be fairly consistent.  My husband and I enjoy watching the interplay of siblings as the context shifts.

Peter and Andrew and John and James loved their big brother Jesus.  They wanted to be his favorites.   Say you love me best.  Say I can sit next to you in Heaven.  Of course, Jesus gets to sit next to God in Heaven, so he really only has one side left, but the two sets of brothers are thinking of Jesus' two sides and wanting those seats for themselves.  They quarrel over this issue frequently.  And as frequently, Jesus reprimands them.

I, being a younger sibling, got to watch this from afar, from Scripture reading.  And I learned from it.  Don't want to be close to God.  That is selfish.  Be happy to be far away from Him.  Be happy because at least you are part of the family.  So you're not someone special!   If you were close to God, someone else would have to be far away.  Know your place.  It's to be nothing special, but at least you're still family.

It wasn't just the disciples with Jesus.  I saw it in the Israelites.  Judah gets to be near the temple.  Reuben and the others across the Jordan chose to be far away, so maybe that's okay.  But what about the others, like Ephraim?  And the new Israel prophesied seemed worse.  It's not going to be a patchwork anymore.  It's going to be nice and equitable, except for proximity to Jerusalem and the temple.  Two are close.  The rest get farther and farther away.  I saw the priests with their special closeness to God, then the Levites, then the rest of the Israelites, then us.

To be honest with you, I wanted to be close to God.  I was selfish.  I felt resentful of my place of distance from Him.  But, desiring to be good, I wrestled with those feelings.  I tried to reason with myself and get rid of my selfish feelings.  For years, I wrestled.  But it didn't work.  I still felt resentful, and I still wished I could be one of the ones close to God.

One day, three years ago, as I was sitting on my bed wrestling again with my selfishness, God leaned over me, and with a smile, He whispered something in my ear, "I am not two-sided."  I knew instantly what He meant.  He has a side just for me.  I am one of those chosen to be close to Him.  I remembered Paul saying that God's wisdom is many sided, like a diamond, and I understood.

I understood something else.  I understood that I might be wrong in my definitions of right and wrong.  I heard God again, "If you are trying to remove something from your heart, and it won't move, it may just be because I put it there.  You can't remove what I put in your heart."  I needed to reconsider my definitions of righteousness.  I needed to ask God for His definition.  There might be other areas where I am wrong.  That is surprisingly very freeing.

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We often think of ourselves as God's adopted children.  This got me all tangled up.  In my heart, I believed that Jesus Christ, God's only begotten son and our adoptive brother, was Daddy's favorite.  He deserves to be.  He is truly that good, but I felt very insecure as a second-class sibling.  I believed I belonged biologically to the Father of lies, but that God was willing to adopt me into His family when I agreed to reject my biological family and its ways.  I became part of God's family, but I was always fearful, because I wasn't doing a good job of giving up my old ways.  I remembered what Paul said about the natural branches versus the grafted branches.  Was I going to find myself rejected by my adoptive Father because I didn't really fit the family?

When I was in high school, my family was friends with another family.  This other family was a blended family, with biological, adoptive, and long term foster children.  The biological daughter was sweet and obliging and cheerful and, well, spoiled.  She was Daddy's girl, and she knew it.  The adoptive daughter had been a juvenile delinquent, she seemed secure in herself alone, rather tough.  The foster children had been abused.  They were very shy and fearful.

That family haunted me for years.  While I have seen some good examples of adoption, this was not.  I saw how the parents treated the children, and it wasn't the same.  The parents were very strict with the adoptive and foster children.  They seemed to have good reason.  The children hadn't been taught good behavior.  They had a habit of lying if it might keep them out of trouble.  One daughter had a history of theft.  The parents wanted to teach righteousness, and they felt that strictness was the way to teach it, but that didn't explain why the children were treated differently with regards grades.  Why would they be so gracious to the one when her grades were low and so stern with the others when their grades were middling?  It wasn't ability.  It was something else.  She had favor with her family.

One day three years ago, as I was walking down our steep narrow staircase in Narok, Kenya, God brought John 17:23 to my heart.  In His last prayer, Jesus prayed for us to know that God loves us, even as He loves Jesus.  I had never noticed that "even as" before.  Suddenly, I saw that we are not just tacked on at the end, as if God loves His favorite, Jesus, and He loves us too with a secondary kind of love.  No, He loves us even as He loves Jesus.  Jesus doesn't get special favorite son privileges that are withheld from us.  We've got all the same privileges.  We're God's beloved children, with whom He is well pleased.

I realized something else about that time.  I am not an adoptive child.  Please understand that I am not saying that adoptive children cannot truly belong to our adoptive families.  My brother and his wife have shown me that.  Their children, both biological and adoptive, declare that they have inherited their traits from their parents.  What I am saying is that adoptive children often carry a deep sense of unbelonging in their hearts, and God doesn't want us to carry that.  I am the biological child of God who was kidnapped out of my true family but who has finally been found.  I am being folded back into the arms of the one who gave me birth.  And my True Father, who knows the abuse I suffered under my kidnapper, is especially tender in all His dealings with me.

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There is a phrase, "There are none so blind as those who will not see." Well, there are none so enslaved as those who think they deserve slavery.  I thought I was only fit to be a slave, so I saw the Gospel message as a list of assignments.  Jesus said, "if you love me you will keep my commands."  I didn't realize that Jesus was telling us to focus on getting to know Him and learning to love Him.  I thought He was focusing on behavior.  I searched Scripture to discern what behaviors God liked and pushed myself to do them: thankfulness, worship, service, evangelism, prayer, Bible reading, meditation, discipline, accountability, compassion, confession, giving, tithing, .... My duties expanded, and the weight of my shackles had me plodding more and more slowly.

I was troubled because I could see that my good actions were not coming from my heart. They were coming from obligation, not love.  Phillis Wheatley, the poet who lived much of her life as a slave, wrote, "In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance."  I could see this longing in my heart, but I tried to tell myself I was already free. My heart knew the truth. I was making myself a slave.

Three years ago, my husband and I were reading The Jesus Storybook Bible with the children.  Wonderful book! In the chapter called "The Singer," Sally Lloyd Jones said that Jesus had come to teach us a song we were made to sing:  "God made us.  He loves us.  He is very pleased with us."  Shortly after we read it, I was talking with one of my daughters.  At five years old, her eyes were already haunted with the failure I felt, and it bothered me.  I remembered the song, and I told my daughter, "God is pleased with you."  She answered in a voice of disbelief, "How can that be true?"  Her voice and words were a knife in my heart, but I struggled to answer her, because I didn't believe that God was pleased with me.

(As a side note, at that time, God gave us another name for that daughter – Anastasia, which means resurrection.  He also gave me a new verse to sing her about His love for her.  It has been wonderful to watch her eyes lose their haunted look as God has been healing me.  As I am healed, I am able to be part of God's healing of my children.)

Since them, God has been pouring the thought of His pleasure into my heart.  I don't know how many times He has breathed those words into my heart.  I do remember clearly the last time I heard them vividly.  It was a few months ago.  I was walking with a friend whom I dearly love and rarely see.  We were taking our children to the park.  It was a beautiful spring day.  Everything was glorious except one thing, my heart would not rejoice.

I tried to make my heart rejoice.  I tried to praise God.  I knew when you are discouraged, you are supposed to find something good and praise God for it, yet here I was surrounded by wonder and glory, and my heart would not let me praise.  The harder I tried to praise God for the wonder I could clearly see around me, the more my heart revolted.  I despaired.  My heart just wouldn't cooperate.  If I couldn't make myself praise God about things which were wonderful, there was no hope.  What would I do in hard times?  I was still failing God.

It was at that moment that I heard clearly, "I am pleased with you."  There was a smile in that voice.  I could hear God's pleasure in His tone, and my pressured heart sank into God's embrace.  It wasn't rebellious anymore.  It was dancing!  I could praise God when it came from my heart, and that was enough!  I didn't have to manufacture praise!  Since then, though my heart still rebels at times, I have found praise flowing from my heart more and more.

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Romance stories often have the other suitor, who vies with the true love for the heart of the woman.  In God's wooing of me, the other suitor has always been a distorted view of God.  One suitor looks at me, and His eyes are full of love.  The other looks at what I do, and his eyes are full of anger, and I am afraid of him.  Yet the love in the eyes of the One is slowly gaining my trust and my love, and overcoming my fear of the other.

Often, when I would pray, I would sense a stern and angry face looking down at me.  No matter how hard I would try to remind myself of God's love and forgiveness, this image would glare down at me.  I thought God was angry with me.  He saw my deeds, and He saw that my bad deeds outweighed my good deeds.  He wanted to punish me, so I cowered before Him.  When I went to pray, I felt as though I were suffocating.

Again, it wasn't that I hadn't heard the truth of God's love.  I knew about it and tried to believe it.  I would quote Scripture to myself and pray it aloud, but doubt gnawed away at me.  I remember once when I was praying, I cried, "I hate you, God, but I know it's not You I hate.  I know it's this image I can't stop seeing.  I know You are love, but I can't stop feeling that you are angry with me, and I hate you.  Please help me to see You and to love You."  I was desperate.  I knew that God is love, and love gives birth to love, not hate.  Therefore, when I feel hate, something must be wrong with my perspective.

That's hard to confess.  I've spent a ridiculous amount of time staring at the screen, remembering how awful that tangle was.  I was tired of fighting my heart to make it behave properly.  I kept remembering all God's promises regarding a renewed heart.  The prayer "unite my heart to fear your name" resonated deeply with me.  I didn't want to keep fighting my own heart.  I praise God for His love.  He is truly greater than our feelings.  He doesn't flinch away from honesty but meets it with love and healing and freedom.

Sometime after that, I was in my kitchen washing dishes.  Our daughter, Hannah Gail, had dropped her china saucer, and it had broken.  My husband had scoured the floor to find the pieces and then had painstakingly puzzled them back together.  My heart ached to know whether a broken heart could be healed.  Suddenly, while I worked on dishes, I saw very clearly an image of a Father bending over His work, fitting the broken pieces together.  I knew that Father was the true suitor.

I remember something that God said to me between the time I told Him I didn't love Him and the time I told Him I hated Him.  It was shortly before we moved to Nairobi.  I was sitting under the girls' queen-sized loft bed, their only play area.  It was a mess, as always, and I was struggling with anger at always having to clean it up.  I was struggling with anger and guilt at being angry.  I was struggling with the feeling that I didn't love them.  I wanted to be a loving, patient Mom, but I felt that I was failing.  I felt that I was supposed to make them behave properly, and I was failing.  I wasn't disciplining them properly.  I wasn't loving them properly.

All I could see was what they were doing and what they were failing to do.  I felt all God could see was what I was doing, and what I was failing to do.  While I was under the loft, I heard God reprimand me gently but firmly, "My name is I Am, not I do."  This has taken a long time for me to understand.  The distorted god, whose name is I do, looks at our deeds, and he is angry, because he always wants more.  Our God, whose name is I Am, looks at us, and He gazes in love because He sees who we are, and He sees we are very good.

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I've always liked the story of how my grandparents met.  My grandma, a teacher from Michigan, receives an advertisement in the mail about UVA's summer school.  UVA is still an all-boys school, but women are allowed in for summer classes.  Grandma isn't sure how she was put on UVA's mailing list, but she is looking for something to do with her summer, so why not?

After Grandma arrives at UVA, she hears a lot about the red-headed boy working in the library.  When she goes to the library, Grandpa, the red-headed boy, is working behind the stacks.  Grandpa sees Grandma.  He asks her to play a match stick game.  Later, he walks her back to her room.  That night, Grandma tells her roommate she's met the man she's going to marry.

Grandpa is finished at UVA, but after meeting Grandma, he stays a day or two longer.  When he leaves, they write to each other.  A year or so later, they begin their 62 years of marriage together.

For some people, it works that way.  You meet, and somehow you know!  For others it is quite different.  When you meet, you are certain this is not the person for you.

Well, I knew that God was not for me.  God loved the church, yes, but He only loved this rather insignificant, very unfit member of the church in a generic kind of way.  It's just kind of habitual for Him, nothing special.  The focus of this general love for me was what I could contribute to the church.  He "loved me" for my work.  He gave me His forgiveness so that I could try again to do all the good things I'd failed to do before.  However if I didn't perform, I'd be cut from the team.  I spent all my energy trying to please Him so I could stay in His favor.

In spite of my best efforts, I knew that if God really investigated me my failures would outweigh my successes.  God's forgiveness had failed in me.  I wasn't good enough.

Please understand, it wasn't that I hadn't been told about God's love for me.  I could quote Scripture and tell myself that my perspective was wrong.  I tried to believe He loved me.  However, no matter how many times I tried to tell myself the truth, my heart still didn't believe it.  I only knew it with the hearing of the ears.  I needed the seeing of the eyes.  I didn't need knowledge about God's love; I needed experience of God's love.

As I looked at my life and my heart one day three years ago, I told my husband, "I am such a failure."  Then while I sat and nursed my fourth-born and saw all the chaos that was my house, I turned to God and said, "I am such a failure."  God did not wait for me to finish those words.  While I was still praying, a thought interrupted me, "I don't see that."

I was very surprised.  I remember looking around and thinking something along the lines of, "Well, duh!  Just look around You.  You can't miss it."  But since I thought saying  something like that to God was a bit dangerous (Would a bolt of lightning strike me?), I asked, "What DO you see?"  I heard a voice of infinite tenderness say, "Daughter!"

Right then, this was more than I could believe.  I thought, "I must be making this up."  I basically covered my spiritual ears and refused to listen to another word.  But my hungry heart heard and clung to the word He had already spoken, "He doesn't see failure !  He sees Daughter !"

My first objection to a love relationship between God and me was wrong.  He was interested in me, not in my work.  He wasn't even looking at my work or lack thereof.  He was gazing at me!  And His eyes were full of infinite tenderness.