Challenge 49: Love as God Commands

Photo courtesy of Sacrosanct Gospel

Photo courtesy of Sacrosanct Gospel

For so long I had my life figured out. I would go to school, study journalism, be a journalist and travel the world as a foreign correspondent. I’ve told you before that I didn’t care if I married or had children. I just wanted to fulfill my career dreams and if that’s all I had, I would be content. Well, none of that, except for going to school, turned out like I thought. I am a sometime journalist, have never traveled the world as a journalist, got married and have three children. My plan for me didn’t work, but God’s plan is what is working. You would think that after my career plans got nixed for God’s plans, I would just allow Him to tell me what will be and simply embrace His plans. But you know that’s not how most of us do. We know what we want, how we want it and when we want it, and this includes just about everything, including who and how we love. But even that, as God has been impressing upon me lately, must be done according to His plan.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently…” (1 Peter 1:22).

“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).

“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you…” (Luke 6:27).

So God tells us to love those who we are connected to and those we are not, those who are in the Kingdom of God and those who are not, those who love us and those who don’t, those whose actions we like and those whose actions we don’t like. This, I believe, includes everyone we encounter. And then God tells us how we are to love them. We are to love

  • As Jesus loved us (John 15:12)
  • With a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22)
  • Fervently (1 Peter 1:22)
  • With forbearance (Ephesians 4:2)
  • As we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39)

We don’t have a choice because all these verses are commands, not suggestions, and they are our guide to love. So when we would rather not deal with someone who is not connected to us, who is not a Christian, whose actions we don’t like or who hates us, we have to love them. We don’t get to plan our escape from those we don’t care for, but we instead must decide how we will love by using the five ways listed above. Our lives belong to Jesus and, as such, Jesus decides what the plans are for our lives, even plans to love others.

Take a Risk Challenge: Choose this week to love someone with a pure heart, fervently, with forbearance and as you love yourself (which all encompass how Jesus loved us). Doing either of these is truly a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

#1241-1250
A warning about coming spiritual warfare
A revelation about the depth of the spiritual warfare
A friend who makes chocolate trip cookies and shares
Time at Woodside Bible Church-Detroit
The Watermans
Kendall’s amazingly hilarious story
Time in the sun with Renee
Talking with Carla
Shoes from Sharon for Justus
Justus saying he wants “to go to Mexico, California, Trader Joe’s and Target”

Challenge 48: Take Inventory

warehouse-inventory

About two weeks ago I finally organized my shoes. The several-years old shoe rack behind my bedroom door and two on my closet floor had been overtaxed with the weight of shoes and little boys testing their strength and finding a new hiding space. But, of course, as I moved the racks to organize the shoes, I had to clean the entire closet by dusting, sweeping and discarding shoes, purses and other items that no longer suited my needs. As I threw out the old I was clearly able to see what I was in need of and developed my list of and action plan to obtain what I lacked. My broken shoe racks caused me to take inventory, not just of my shoes but of other items in my closet. The broken racks helped me see the obvious and hidden issues in my closet. The same should happen in our love life, not just with romantic partners but with everyone, for we are called to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). We need to focus on fixing the broken, those places where we are having a hard time loving others, and see if there are other, hidden, areas of brokenness that we need to address so we are equipped to love others as we are called to do.

For almost a year I have given you specific challenges to love others in a radical way. Today I want to challenge you to take inventory of how you love others. We are more effective in loving others when we examine how well we are doing and what we need to do to change. This week’s challenge has us looking at ourselves through the lens of 1 Corinthians 13 with an assignment my husband and I frequently give married couples that we counsel. But because the wisdom of this passage transcends marriage, this challenge is for everyone.

Take a Risk Challenge: 1) Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 and note every word that describes what love is; 2) Look up each word in a Bible concordance to ensure you have the original meaning of the word; 3) Once you have the meanings, ask yourself how well you are loving others according to each love attribute; and 4) Pray that the Lord will show you, if you don’t already know, a) your areas of brokenness that prevent you from loving others as you should and b) how to love others according to 1 Corinthians 13. We will deal with more of this challenge in upcoming Take a Risk Challenge blog posts. Until then, take inventory to equip yourself to be able to consistently love others in a radical way.

My One Thousand Gifts List

#1231-1240
Carla’s cooking
Blissful sleep
My husband’s love
Bible study on Multiply by Francis Chan
Discernment
A visit with Nichole
Nichole’s spicy tortilla soup
Praise in the car before church
My 3 year old reminding me to pray before we drove to church
A faithful, personal God, Jesus, my Savior and Lord

Challenge 45: Love Beyond the Flaw

A few weeks ago I was enraged. The night surprised me because I couldn’t remember the last time I had gotten like that. An interaction with a loved one had my eyes blinking out tears and squinting to see the situation clearly and trying to settle my shaking legs and just not sin. I was hurt, disappointed and made to feel bad about the person helping me after the person had agreed to help me. The conversation ended with the person hanging up on me and me proclaiming that “I am through.”

I thought I had a right to dismiss the person; to me, it didn’t matter that we were close or the person had helped me before or that I knew the person was Godly and always had my best interest at heart. In this moment, my moment of deep disappointment, hurt and shame, my remedy was to not deal with the person on a certain level—to stop doing for them in the way they seemed bothered to help me. I was tired of this person, more often than not, detailing how helping me would be problematic. Tired of this glaring flaw, I said I was through with helping this person. God Himself would have to sit on my lap and tell me to help.

And with my words—my attitude—my chastening began.

Soon after my conversation with the person and fits of rage, I heard the Lord say “give your cloak,” referencing the scriptural passage that gives several commands of how to deal with your enemies. Though this person by far could not be classified as my enemy, I sure felt like they were in that moment. I complained to my husband, but he, like the objective guy he is, didn’t join me in my rage. Instead, he tried to help me be biblical, telling me I still had to help the person “because it’s the right thing to do.” But I didn’t care about right things; I wanted the person to suffer like I was suffering. I wanted them to experience the pain, disappointment, anger and frustration from being treated like I did something wrong after all the “right” I had already done by helping this person out numerous times. I wanted to turn off my love supply, let the person experience a love famine, and maybe the hunger pangs would cause them to not just long for my love but show appreciation for my love. I was in a bad way. I didn’t read the cloak scripture immediately, but as soon as my husband said “because it’s the right thing to do,” I turned to the scripture to get a mega dose of love goodness.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”—Luke 6:27-36 (ESV, emphasis mine)

I heard God that night but didn’t like what He was saying. So as I read the verses, I clucked my teeth, even talked badly about the passage because I have never liked it and really didn’t like it in that moment. It took two days, after praying for the person and for me, for me to receive God’s words. This is when I heard Him say “that is not the total sum of” who they are. “You can’t forget a person for one flaw.” Though I had heard what God was saying in the cliché “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” His words directly to me this night penetrated my heart and made me want to love the person in spite of their glaring flaw. Their flaw was blinding me from seeing all the wonderful aspects about the person and from seeing the love of Jesus in my life that we are commanded to give to others.

[B]ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is what the scriptures in Luke are saying. Do good for people even when they do wrong. Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins while we were in the midst of our wrong. He didn’t say “I’m only going to die for them when they get themselves together.” If He did, He would never have taken on human form to be born to die for us. In order for us to love like Jesus, we must die to our fleshy desire for revenge and love others beyond their flaw. I believe I loved the person in the heat of the moment, not raising my voice, being sarcastic or bringing up irrelevant issues just to “win” the argument, but the words “I am through” took me out of love and into sin. I decided I couldn’t love beyond the flaw. Whenever we do that, and remain in that position, we declare Jesus’ sacrifice not worthy of adulation. But because He commands that we love others as He has loved us, we are duty bound to love sacrificially—beyond the flaw—and we will be the better for it (Luke 6:35). Jesus’ sacrifice and ours are praiseworthy.

Take a Risk Challenge: Do something kind for a person whose glaring flaw has made you stop helping them. Perhaps, because their flaw may place you in physical danger, you must love them from afar but do so in a tangible way (in addition to prayer), like sending a card. Performing a tangible act in spite of their flaw is indeed a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

#1211-1220
An impromptu visit from Andrina and seeing the boys love on her
Money to download the worship CD “Alone” by Clint Brown that I’ve wanted for months
An outline and some writing on my discipline column
Hearing Lysa TerKeurst on the radio tell her amazing story of adopting two teenage boys from Liberia
All the boys being their own person at London’s birthday party
Talking to my postal worker about the state of Christianity
Marlin at church with her girls
Flynn’s challenging sermon “What Report Do You Give?”
A quiet evening of writing
Technical difficulties with WordPress that allowed God to show me the perspective I should have about blogging (why He has me doing so)

Challenge 44: Be Silent like Jesus

Mouth taped

“…Yea, all [of you] be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time….” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

These verses are quite challenging when we’re trying to love others God’s way instead of our own, but they are definitive in the approach and explicit with the outcome of humility: 1) Be subject to each other; 2) Let humility guide you; and 3) Let God’s power help you walk in humility. if you do, God 1) won’t oppose you for being proud; 2) will exalt the humble in due time; and 3) will give grace to the humble.

We are prone not to help one another out of humility and allowing the power of GOD to help us do so. We can be guilty of helping each other out of pride, constantly reminding others, like I said in the last post, of our great sacrifice to help them. When we do this, we are not operating in God’s strength but out of our own supply and our supply can cause hurt feelings, resentment and even shame. Jesus is our greatest model of humility, and when we look at His life, we find an incredible amount of self-denial for the TOTAL good of others. I say TOTAL good because if he had just died on the cross for our sins, we still would have a way to eternal life. But what good would it have been to us if God constantly reminded us about this great sacrifice that He was making on our behalf?

What if Jesus told all the Jews who demanded His crucifixion and mocked, spat on, beat and ultimately crucified Him, “Do you know who I am? I am God, who left my home in glory, to come down to earth to take on flesh to experience all your human experiences, good and bad. Where I come from is perfect but I gave that up for you. I came to die on the cross so you wouldn’t have to continue to live miserable lives. I’m going to die for you because that’s the only way you will be saved, but it is really hard for me to have to suffer for you.”?

Of course Jesus would NEVER have said that but He would not have been prideful in saying any of it. See, biblical humility means recognizing your pitiful state and your inadequacy and that you need God to help you. That definition could never fit Jesus because He is God. But what if He, in His humanity, had reminded us of the magnitude of His sacrifice? Would His lack of humility in loving us make us feel special? Would we want to show Jesus gratitude for His sacrifice? I don’t think so. I think we would give obeisance to God only out of fear and not loving reverence for a God who loved us so much that “he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8) and never said a word in defense of His innocence (Luke 23:9).

Likewise, I believe our lack of humility in love not only makes people feel bad and not want to show us gratitude but it also makes them less inclined to show us love. So we must remember to walk in humility in relation to our enemies and friends, when we are just showing common courtesies AND when we have to love them intentionally in a huge way. If you don’t, you both may miss the blessing God intends to give to you and them. I am experiencing this mutual blessing. Recently my family extended a huge offer to friends and they accepted it. We were all prayerful about the offer because we knew that we would each have to make major adjustments to our lives that could cause major inconveniences and ultimately negatively impact our relationship. I praise God that we followed God’s leading and have trusted Him for the outcome. Not only were we able to bless our friends but I am experiencing so much joy as we have shown biblical love by having “all things common” (Acts 2:44).

As we seek to love with humility, let’s remember that Jesus, who didn’t have to be humble, did so and walked in subjection to God the Father. And Jesus, as the song writer said, “never said a mumbling word” in His defense. We have the power, because of the Holy Spirit within us, to be silent like Jesus so we can bless others for their TOTAL good.

Take a Risk Challenge: Pray that God will keep a watch over your mouth to prevent you from telling those you are helping just how much you are sacrificing to love them (Psalm 141:3). If you do, you might just receive, as I did with my friends, an unexpected blessing.

My One Thousand Gifts List

#1201-1210
Flynn voluntarily cooking
Not cooking a full meal in four days
A midday rendezvous
Clothes shopping with the family and getting a lot for a little
Justus clinging to me on the porch while Nate played in the sprinkler
Not having to cook a full meal in six days
Flynn saying he enjoyed our family outing to the clothing store, a place he usually dreads going to with the entire family
A surprisingly content-rich blog post regarding organic products
Words of advice for Tabitha when I knew I didn’t have any
Flynn taking the boys to get haircuts and shopping, giving me much needed alone time

Challenge 41: Vacate for Others’ Sake

One of the best ways you can empower yourself to radically love others is by taking a break. I’m on vacation for two weeks and looking forward to being refreshed to be my best. I plan to return here in two weeks.

Take a Risk Challenge: Take whatever break you need–coffee break; snack break; an evening walk break; a movie break–this week and next so that you can be empowered to show others radical love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

#1171-1180
Talking to Flynn in the wee hours of the morning
Justus’ repetitive ‘Daddy’ and his dancing upon Flynn’s return
Sleeping in and the boys sleeping and even later
A leisure day of cleaning
Painting my toe nails and liking my mint green
The Yarbroughs coming to dinner
Salmon grilled and seasoned to perfection
Playing Dominoes with Flynn and Vince
Alabaster Ministries Bible study “I am Powerful”
Getting a prime parking space at church

Challenge 39: Find the Good in the Bad

heartbroken
Audience appreciation and speech appreciation are what speakers and listeners must consider when they are in a speech context. My teachers drilled this into me in school and I drilled this into my students. Speakers must appreciate their audience and tailor their speech to fit that audience. Listeners, on the other hand, should seek to find something they appreciate about the speaker’s message, even when the speaker didn’t tailor the speech to fit the audience. This is training listeners to be objective, to examine more than one aspect of the speech presentation, to sometimes just look for the one good in a bad speech.

Recently I thought about my training as the Lord has challenged me not to dwell on the negative but instead focus on the positive: “… whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things [are] honest, whatsoever things [are] just, whatsoever things [are] pure, whatsoever things [are] lovely, whatsoever things [are] of good report; if [there be] any virtue, and if [there be] any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8-KJV).

After making sure I knew what each of these words meant in the original biblical language, I literally listed aspects in my life that fit under each of these areas. I frequently read these to help me stay positive if I find myself prone to dwelling on circumstances that will make me blue. Some of the points I dwell on are the good that came out of a very challenging change in my life.

I had been in deep fellowship with a sister and over some time we had become close. We shared family struggles, ministry challenges, hopes and fears. We encouraged and rebuked each other, prayed for one another, studied the Bible together and couldn’t wait until the next time we talked. We had begun to work together on some ministry projects. One day we had a disagreement based on something I initially said. She decided we could not go on with a ministry assignment, and I was crushed. We had become extremely close. I wondered how she could misunderstand what I had said. How could she not understand my heart? I accepted the change in our ministry relationship and ultimately our friendship. Was it hard for me to move on? Certainly it was, but what has kept me moving forward is remembering God’s word and dwelling on the fullness of it:

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose” (Romans 8:28-KJV).

This classic verse isn’t one that we should just quote to soothe others or ourselves right after a deep conflict but one that we should fully embrace for its amazing restorative powers. This verse speaks to God’s will for our lives, what He has allowed or what He initiated. If His Holy Spirit didn’t direct us away from a conflict knowing the tough outcome awaiting us, God had a plan for us as a result of that conflict. Remember, God is good so whatever we face will ultimately lead to good for us. This is what the Apostle Paul means when he says “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose.” When we, who are the ones called to fulfill God’s Kingdom on earth, love God He promises we will bring forth fruit (John 15:7-10, 16). So when bad happens in our life—in my case the change of a friendship and ministry assignment—we must continue to love God by loving others, even those who hurt us, thus allowing God’s word to abide in us. We can love the one who hurt us by seeing how the tough situation might work for our good. I was able to see how I had allowed my friendship to become an idol in my life. Now with the shift in my relationship, I focus more on God and less on the blessings that He gives me. Had she remained in my life then, I would have looked to her more for direction than I would have to God. I would not have seen that I was heading down a path of depending on man more than depending on God. I now know that God prompted me to write the email the way I did because He knew what her reaction would be; He knew that our relationship wouldn’t change apart from an act of God. Though our split split my heart, I was able to examine her message and appreciate how it was from God and for my good.

Your situation may be one where someone was just pure evil toward you and we know that didn’t come from God, but the scripture doesn’t lie. Whatever your situation of use or abuse, it will work with other circumstances in your life for your good. Once we see how the tough interaction can work for our good, we can know the person who hurt us may not remain in our lives but the interaction will help us grow in an area for the glory of God. And knowing this can help us treat that person with the love of God.

Take a Risk Challenge: Examine how you have benefited from someone who has hurt you. Show them radical love by sending them a note, calling or visiting them. If interacting with them is dangerous for you, show them radical love by praying for them. Those who have done the most egregious acts are in desperate need of a healed soul and God’s love would have you to even pray for them.

My One Thousand Gifts List

#1151-1160
Flynn playing tennis consecutive days
Not being stressed out caring for the boys solo
Tabitha and Tanina coming to assist me with housework and the boys
Joshua saying, “Mom, I love you” unsolicited
Joshua asking me to sleep with him “just because”
A yearning to spend time with God despite my being sleepy
Making three types of lasagna and they all turned out good
A rich conversation with Carla where we rejoiced about God’s prophecy manifesting and His opening ministry doors for her
Nichole and Asha visiting and having dinner
Justus purring when I hold him

Challenge 38: View Humans Correctly, Part 3

My new sister Jodie of Liberia and I at the World of Women Praying Convocation

My new sister Jodie of Liberia and me at the World of Women Praying Convocation

XENOPHOBIA AMONG CHRISTIANS
She has a name for everyone and a stereotype for some, this woman, a Christian I know. I challenge her when she refers to Koreans and Arabs in a derogatory way or stereotypes the way Caucasians and Asians drive. She’s only beginning to see something wrong with her views and speech, having historically held her positions because some of her observations seem to be true. Unfortunately she is not the only Christian who has these views. We know of all types of horrendous acts Christians have done to other humans and have even tried to justify them in the name of Christianity. We may not realize this, but when we attack others based on their race, nationality or ethnicity, we have gone beyond xenophobia (an intense fear or dislike of foreign people, their customs and culture, or foreign things) and into Jesus hate. But when you remember that an attack on another human being for any reason, especially based on intrinsic factors like skin color, ethnicity or nationality, is an attack on the Lord Jesus Christ, you should quickly seek to lay aside your opinions and dreadful actions and seek to really be like Christ.

I know my calling some of you Jesus haters may seem harsh, but consider some of my favorite scriptures: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; (n)either is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. . . .” (Acts 17:24-26).

GOD HAS A WOMAN ALL OVER THE WORLD
When we focus on God 1) made all things in the world; 2) gives all life; 3) gives all breath; 4) gives all things to all; 5) made all people from the blood of one man; 6) determined when we would be born; and 7) determined where we would be born, we see that any attack on another is an attack on people God intentionally created. They breathe the same as we do and want the things we want. My sister Jodie from Liberia wants to impart self-esteem in the young girls she works with; my sister Passion from Zimbabwe wants equity for the small churches in her area; my sister Elna wants social justice for all races in South Africa; another sister wants adequate funding for schools in Kenya; a sister from Canada wants to go deeper with the Lord; and a mother from India wants her daughter free from sexual oppression. These are just some of the women I experienced this past weekend at the World of Women Praying Convocation (WOWPC) with sisters from just about every continent, every skin color and every age all loving Jesus. “God has a woman all over the world,” declared WOWPC Founder and Organizer Rev. Dr. Cecilia Williams Bryant to highlight the diversity of Christian women from around the world who love Jesus. And when you love Jesus you love who and what Jesus loves. These women exemplified that by coming together with others who didn’t all look like they looked but all had Jesus in common. They set aside whatever xenophobia they may have had to connect in the spirit to effect change in the natural among nations.

Whether we come into contact with people of other races and nationalities who love Jesus or don’t love Jesus, our mission has to be the same: for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. This can be done when we view all humans—Jesus loving ones and non-Jesus loving ones—in the light of Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We, too, must love the world, not willing that they be eternally separated from Jesus. One way we can do that is to change our views about others not like us and think like Christ and our xenophobic talk will fade away. When our thoughts become thoughts of love, our talk becomes talk of love, and actions to bring others to Christ will follow.

Take a Risk Challenge: Examine yourself for xenophobic ways, renounce what you find and seek to display at least one act of love to someone culturally different from you.

One Thousand Gifts List

#1141-1150
Being included on a group email though I’m the group newbie
Getting home safely from the movies
Taking the children to the fireworks display
My sister noticing that Caleb was missing and being able to grab him before he walked in the street
The children continuously thanking my sister and me for taking them to see the fireworks display
Avoiding the heavy traffic and big crowds for the fireworks display
Loaning my car for a week to someone in need
Chasing the boys around the house
Flynn and company arriving to Wheaton safely
Flynn enjoying the RZIM conference

Challenge 35: Love Beyond Your Limit

When your days are long and nights even longer it’s hard to do what you have to do and even what you want to do. That was the case for me this weekend with my son’s lemonade-popcorn stand, a graduation open house, my church service, lunch and a youth service at my sister’s church and a special dinner at a spiritual daughter’s house. Though participating in each stretched my physical limit, they each increased my spiritual blessings. You can’t top spending time with the Word and those who love the Word and you. Each brought me great pleasure and I’m glad I chose to show radical acts of love:
Curt and Rhonda at Joshua's 2013 Stand

Joshua and Lemonade Day Crew

Joshua's stand 2013

Minetta and Rhonda at Joshua 2013 stand

Nichole Kim and Rhonda 2013

Take a Risk Challenge: Despite your feeling you’re at your physical limit, hang with that friend, visit that loved one, attend that party, assist with that move. You will be stretched to be physically present to support another, but your stretching is truly a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

#1111-1120
A rain of Catalpa flowers
Tiny worm-like jumping yellow bugs-how God could put life in something so miniscule
Sky-towering trees
Squirrels jumping from limb to limb, trunk to trunk and tree to tree
A perfect weekend
A husband who believes in and supports me to allow me to take a writing trip on Father’s Day weekend
Being at peace
Justus being overjoyed to see me
Still breathing easy from the retreat
A meal lasting for three dinners

Challenge 34: Love In Spite of and Because of

Rebellion tried to rule my home today. My potty-trained 3 year old wet his pants three times, my obstinate 5 year old refused three times to obey my command and my 10 year old essentially called me a liar after insisting that the vacuum cleaner could not have been where I said I got it from because he didn’t see it there. So there was a lot of correcting, redirecting, washing and some spanking in my house. And the boys did a lot of crying and apologizing, and we all did a lot of praying. I needed to be restored, unnerved as a mother, in a place of wanting to give up, abandon my post and run, run, run, to anywhere but there with my kids. In fact they could have all run and I felt I would be perfectly okay if they left me to go anywhere away from me. Feeling justified in my lingering disappointment, frustration and weariness, I walked around giving my boys a half-silent treatment. Then the silence fully broke and I heard “I still show you love when you rebel against me.” And like only God can do, I was made speechless, not withholding words by choice but having no words from conviction. God does and always has shown love to rebels:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8-NIV, emphasis mine).

With my memory restored I stopped my semi-silent treatment and began to engage my boys with joy, joy in my salvation brought on while still deep in my sin and continually grateful that my salvation remains in spite of the times that I sin. And if I get that treatment from the great God of the universe, the omnipotent, all-perfect, all-loving God, surely I can show love to those this God gave to me. My sons are mine to shepherd into godly manhood and that takes peace and patience as I see where they are and what I envision them to be. Loving in spite of what I see and because of what I don’t see truly is a radical act of love.

Take a Risk Challenge: In spite of what you see and because of what you don’t see, love those—children, mentees, colleagues, etc. that you would rather give the silent treatment. You don’t know if your actions and words from a place of peace and patience might usher them right where they need to be.

My One Thousand Gifts List

#1101-1110
Prayer in the garden
A chipmunk scurrying in the garden
Swinging on the deck
Finishing my Breathe essay
Eating Blue Nile
White chocolate chunk cookies
A beautifully warm day
Walking the streets of Ann Arbor
No rain as forecasted
A surprise call from a new friend declaring her connection to me and me as one of her confidantes

Challenge 1: Be Thankful

I’ve lived with bated breath, sat rapt at attention, clinging to my last inhale, waiting for what’s to be. Anticipation has been my oxygen, its unreliable tank shooting spurts of air, giving me just enough to just be. This is a stilted life, never fully being and never fully feeling life.

“Rhonda, why are you always so serious?” my party boy baby brother asked me almost 20 years ago at a family dinner. There was no heated talk, no refusal on my part to walk his walk, but he asked me this. I was just sitting, eating and being. He could see this, right pass my constant cool and from my lack of laughter and emotionless fits. “Why don’t you loosen up?” I was not a debater and pre-salvation would attend the same parties he would. I wanted to see what he saw, why he saw what he saw so he could help me release whatever was holding my breath.

“Serious? What did I do to make you say that?”
“It’s just the way you look.”
“So what do you think I need to do to stop being so serious?”
“I don’t know. You just need to lighten up.”

He was demanding from a point of perception that he couldn’t explain. I was desperate to understand.

People exercise to “release” pent up emotions and stressful weeks, but even in aerobics class the teacher reminds students to breathe. We even go there trying to control our breath like withholding will loosen tightened muscles and get us to move the way we desire. The teacher knows we need to breathe, ensuring our entire body gets oxygenated and moves at full capacity. This is what office workers, floor supervisors, housekeepers, managers and mothers want, to breathe when work is tough, when we can’t erase our children’s hurt, when our husbands give us the flux. We want to breathe fresh air when all is stale and stinky about. But we want to know “How do you breathe?”

For years I’ve struggled to discover what was behind my brother’s questioning, to learn why I lived with bated breath that transformed my face. How could I breathe in seemingly easy places and undisputed hard spaces, to live fully being and fully feeling?

I didn’t know how little oxygen I lived on until the day I felt my nostrils open wide, my chest move easy and I declared, “I’m not holding my breath.” I had released the roller coaster inhale to brace myself for the uphill climbs, downhill rides and twists and turns that every life brings. I was breathing easy like carefree children who know their parents will take care of their every need. I had embraced that child-like security, some months before trying Matthew 11:29-30:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I cut the yoke of perfectionism and other meaningless manacles that wouldn’t let me rest until every task was complete. My daily ‘To Do’ lists turned into weeks and months and the only thing that fell apart was me. I wanted to be oblivious like the children and gracious like my husband so I shortened my daily lists and lengthened the other ones, knowing God’s yoke would guide me to get the priorities done. Wearing wrinkled clothes and eating sandwiches for breakfast never killed nobody! They have helped save me, giving me a new oxygen tank full of grace pumping a life of easy breathing.*

Take a Risk Challenge: Keep a daily gratitude journal, a list of God’s daily graces that you are thankful for. Keeping a gratitude journal is what gave me the desire to embrace Matthew 11:29-30. This helped me focus on God’s daily graces, which became bigger in my sight than my daily struggles. This was a radical act of love toward myself! I challenge you to keep a gratitude journal, a radical act of love for your soul. And tell us here on the blog in the reply section (hit the ‘conversation cloud’ or the ‘Leave a reply’ tag at the bottom of the post to leave a comment) how the journal already this week has begun to impact your life.

(I began posting My One Thousand Gifts List on my blog Musings of a (Recovering) Strong Black Woman in April 2011. The challenge came to me through the blog A Holy Experience, by Ann Voskamp, who took the challenge and wrote a book based on the challenge (the New York Times best seller One Thousand Gifts) that is changing lives around the world.)

*This post originally appeared on the (in)courage blog July 30, 2011.

My One Thousand Gifts List

#771-780
Morrie, being so pleasant when at the EACH Outreach Fair I asked him where a fellow Woodside Bible Church member was
The report of serving more than 1,000 members of our community
Selling 12 books this day
Charyse doing my hair
My husband asking me to ride with him to get water and food and thanking me for coming to keep him company
Another year for my granddad
Posting three posts by noon
An in depth discipleship meeting
A visit from another family to celebrate the wife’s birthday
Tabitha caring for the children, washing my remaining dishes and entertaining my guests while I got dressed