Thursday, December 29, 2016

What is love?

Love. 

We use this word freely when we speak. Statements like, "oh I just LOVE going to the movies." Or, "I am so in love with this delicious Thai food." So, I guess it could be the word to use when you really, REALLY like something since, well, love > like, right? But, what is love? How do you define it? Can you even define it? 

Two teenagers with their whole lives ahead of them spend hours each week together and are always in contact when they are apart (thanks to today's technology). They talk about the future, they talk about their hopes, their dreams, the family they one day want to have. They talk about getting married and how their life together would be -- how they would do things differently than their parents. They argue and fight as hormonal teenagers do, then they make up. He was her first kiss. They hold hands in the movies and he buys her a rose each week. Is it love? 

A dad is lying in his bed in the nursing home while his daughter reads to him. He never knows she is there, but she goes anyways. She reads his favorite books aloud to him and she decorates his room for every holiday. She kisses him when she arrives and again each time she leaves. Does he feel it? She believes so. She bought him new bright, fuzzy socks for Christmas last week. He opened them, smiled, and said he loved them. Then he asked her who she was. Fighting back her tears, she says, "Oh, dad, it's me -- your only daughter." He doesn't believe her. He never does. She faithfully comes back every day to visit, despite the pain in her heart. Is it love? 

A man is trying to provide for his family. He messed up really bad in his past which has made finding work one of the most difficult things he has ever had to do. He has recently enrolled in night classes to earn a degree. He hopes that his degree will somehow override his past mistakes. His family cant wait, though. So he gets up every morning before the sun and he goes to wait in front of the local Home Depot. He knows this is the spot where foremen come looking for day laborers. If he gets there early enough, he will get a spot on the truck -- which means his family will have food and shelter for another day. With all of his time away from them, he worries his kids are not going to know him like he knew his father. Is it love? 

A homeless man collects cans to recycle. He carries a large, clear garbage bag every day and scours the streets for aluminum. He doesn't have a place to live and he doesn't know where his next meal is coming from, but he knows he needs to keep collecting the cans so he pushes on. It is important. When his bag is full, he begins the 6 mile trek to the recycling center where he turns in his cans and receive his compensation. Today he made $16.48. He then walks the 6 mile trek back to his neighborhood. When he gets there, he rounds up other homeless people from all walks of life and they slowly make their way to Burger King. With today's funds, each person is blessed with two hamburgers and a small coffee. With tomorrows funds, he will buy several pairs of socks from the Dollar Tree. Sure, he could keep the money for himself, but how could that benefit anyone else? Is it love? 

Love takes on many forms. Its the love between a daughter and her father, the love between two teenagers with so much more to learn in life, it is a man trying to give a better life to his family, and it is a broken stranger taking care of other broken souls. 

Love is a hug. A look. A packed lunch on a rushed morning. Love is a beautiful word. Love is a good intention. Love is protection. Love is a smile. Love can take your breath away. Love can make you cry. Love can be unspoken. Love can be physical. Love can be a song.

Love is devotion. However you define love, it is amplified a thousand times greater by God. His love goes beyond love for your spouse, your parents, your siblings -- and even your love of Thai food. God's love is unconditional and it is for everyone. It is a love that surpasses any type of human love. God's love is so great that it is almost undefinable. 

So -- what is love?

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV).

"...God is love." - 1 John 4:8 (NIV)

LOVE... 4 little letters, immense meaning. 

Seek God. Seek Love. Fill your heart with a light of unconditional love 
and sweet devotion. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas perfection

Over the last few years, it seems like I have struggled every year around this time. Internally, I fight between what I have always known Christmas to be (and what the world tells me it is) and what my heart feels Christmas truly is. I get caught up in all of the commercialism, all of the gift-buying, all of the secret shopping and time away from loved ones. The constant search for Christmas perfection.


And then I fight within myself -- why am I doing this? Why can't I just stay home, bask in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, watch movies or play games with loved ones? Or why don't I spend my shopping time giving back, rather than buying for those who already have so much in comparison? Why do I spend money trying to make Christmas huge and magical when the actual idea of Christmas is already huge and magical?! I strive for Christmas perfection, but Christmas is perfect just the way it is. 

Our world is filled with sinners, including myself. We focus on our desires, rather than what is important. We want the biggest TV to watch the football game on, rather than just enjoying the time with family and friends -- while watching that football game. When we clean out our closet, we let others have first dibs on the best clothes, then take the leftovers to those in need. We go into the store and spend $279.00 on presents, then drop just a few remaining coins in the salvation army tin outside. 

Why do we do this? 

I shouldn't have to fight within myself. I know what is right, but I still can't help myself -- I still get swept away in the commercialism of today's Christmas. I am sure there are others out there that feel this way, too. 

I often imagine a simple Christmas. One filled with love and fellowship and celebration of the birth of Jesus. I'd like a Christmas where we forget all the hustle and bustle and just be. I find this hard to do because we all grow at different times and in different ways. We have all been taught all our lives what Christmas looks like -- so it is not an easy thing to change. Have you ever seen the Hallmark movie, Christmas in Canaan? It is one of my favorites to watch this time of year. In Canaan, they feel that everyone "deserves a little Christmas," even though they cannot afford to buy gifts. So they wrap up a picture cut out of a magazine, showing what they would give for Christmas if they could afford it. It is the thought and the story behind the picture that actually means more than the real item ever could. 

Jesus wasn't born anywhere fancy -- he came to us in a manger. Humble and simple. And all the while we strive for perfection -- the perfect tree, perfect gift, perfect feast, even the perfect ugly sweater! When the truth is, God made us perfect WITH our imperfections. We are perfect just the way we are and Christmas is perfect just as it is. We do not need to spend so much time, money, and energy striving for perfection. "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" - Matthew 5:48 (NIV)

We need to learn to just love -- it is the greatest gift -- and let everything else go. Besides, something tells me that if Jesus were standing here, he would shake his head at us for all of the hoopla over his birthday. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" - Mark 10:45 (NIV)

I leave you with a new song I discovered this season, I Need a Silent Night by Amy Grant. 
"...December comes then disappears
Faster and faster every year
Did my own mother keep this pace
Or was the world a different place?
Where people stayed home wishing for snow
Watching three channels on their TV
Look at us now rushing around
Trying to buy Christmas peace..."