O, Love!

art beach beautiful clouds

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

O Love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I owe
That in thy oceans depths its flow
will richer, fuller be…

O Joy that seeks me through the pain
I cannot close my heart to thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be…

O love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I owe
And in they ocean depths its flow
Shall richer, fuller be
That morn shall tearless be —
O love…
O love that will not let me go
O love that will not let me go!
~ “O Love” by Elaine Hagenberg

I sat in the sparsely-filled auditorium as my daughter’s choir filed the risers row by row, filling with white-shirted young men in black bow ties and pants, the girls in simple floor-length black gowns. The songs flowed beautifully from their lips, as though pulled forth masterfully by their beloved conductor.

msa choir

I’ve enjoyed every concert, pulling my little brood to the Senior Chorale concerts in our home school community since long before any of them were old enough to stand on that stage — often in the back where I could set up a blanket with toys and scoop up wailing little ones for a quick retreat if necessary.

So sitting there at the choral competition in a private school I’d never been in before, my last-born nearby, his sister on the stage — I didn’t expect anything but the usual excellence. And of course they didn’t disappoint.

But then this song quietly entered the room, slowly filling the room — and me — to the full with its rich harmonies. But it was so much more than that.

O Love, O Love, O Love that will not let me go…

… that will not let me go

Ah, how that simple phrase sank down, down, till it settled warm and thick, fluid flow gentle ebb and flow in my spirit, my soul. That reassurance that I never fully had before finally found its way so deep down it can’t be drained out again or yanked from my clutching hands, my wailing heart!

gripping hands

I know, finally know beyond knowing, that God’s firm grip on me never loosens.

I was never a once-saved-always-saved Christian. I was more the if-I-screw-up-God’s-gonna-strike-me-down-so-I’d-better-watch-my-step Christian. But even then I fought — oh how I fought! — to let MY will be done, only obeying when I decided. The concept of Jesus being Lord of me was simply beyond my grasp and being a hard-headed (and often hard-hearted) person, I thought (O fool that I was!) that I could be a Christian without really submitting to my Master.

At first God was just plain scary so I avoided Him.
Then He swung to the other end — my buddy… Hey, wassup, Jesus?

Truth was at neither pole, it turns out. But He pursued me, O He would not let me get away with being ignorant. He let me flounder in my foolishness, letting me tell Him No, but feeling the sting of it afterwards. Running back into His arms, asking Him to help me bridge the divide between fear of doing what He wanted me to do (Please, don’t send me to Africa…) and fear of what would happen if I didn’t . And, always right there,  the verse that challenged, frightened, and sobered me:

“If you love Me, keep my commands.”
~ Jesus in John 14:15

Simple but impossible. I was dead set in my disobedient ways, thinking He loved me so it was okay. I could basically live on my own terms. But that’s not how it works.

It never was intended to be a “magic prayer so I can go to Heaven” deal. Jesus didn’t die so I could believe a certain creed, even if it meant committing every verse in His holy Book to memory and doing everything just so (or nearly so). He didn’t leave Heaven so I could live any way I please and expect to enter Heaven when I die because Didn’t I say the prayer? Didn’t I believe? Didn’t I do the right things?

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ~ Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 7:21-23

Wow — yep, this is Jesus’ own words, and they couldn’t be clearer. His love that will not let go doesn’t let me get away with a passive head knowledge, keep-away distorted religious facade.

His love pursues my heart — our hearts! Even when I was plunged into mental illness,  unacknowledged bi-polar ripping my mind, psychosis wielding a knife — when I thought I was lost and in Hell, my cell in Chester County Prison a place of death and hopelessness…

When I cried from the floor, “I give up, I give up…” Love not my own swelled into my heart and even when I couldn’t feel it at all, my head was cradled in His lap and the Jesus I thought had let me go sang sweet songs over me. Sweet songs that pulled me from the depths of that prison cell into light and life and more love than I ever thought possible.

O Love that will not let me go!

woman in stripes holding hands with person wearing bracelets

Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

And when I’m tempted to slide away from Him, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love!”* — I hear a quiet whisper, a whoosh in my spirit, my soul breathing deep and I can’t help but gaze into the eyes on fire for me. I breathe in love and join Him in the dance, this dance we share. I bow, eyes aglow, for He is my King.

woman bowing

He is a consuming fire, but His love consumes all sin in me.
He is not safe, He could crush me with His hand and someday He will purify this present Earth with devastating fire. Those who cling to their sins and refuse to obey — well what can He do? He gives us all the choice and the choice leads to Life — or Death — there is no in-between. He would let me choose death, but not without a fight, a struggle for my soul till I breathe my last.

But this Love that will not let me go will not let me but choose to stay with the God I love.  This Love draws me back into endless embrace, and really what more could I ever want? For in Him is all our hearts long for:

Love
Joy
Peace
Friendship
Contentment…
So much more than a lifetime can tally, so much that eternity will explore the heights, the depths, the burgeoning sea of this Love. It’s a daily choice to sink into Him, letting my own agenda melt into His. It’s a Good morning, Jesus, I love You — what shall we do today? It’s walking into every day acknowledging You are the Lord and I’m just me — but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me — so let’s take on today!

O Love, O Love, O Love that will not let me go!

Now, sweet reader, think on these things. What is keeping you from running into His arms, from crowning Jesus Christ King of your heart, your life? Today is the day to choose to embrace this never-ending Love. It’s time to die to that old, dead life that is destined to rot, decay, and fall into endless Hell. It’s time to enter with Jesus into death and rise into new life, a rebirth that springs forth endless life, endless Love with the One you were made for.

It’s time, dear one.

shallow focus of clear hourglass

Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

 

*”Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson

O, Love!

art beach beautiful clouds

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

O Love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I owe
That in thy oceans depths its flow
will richer, fuller be…

O Joy that seeks me through the pain
I cannot close my heart to thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be…

O love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I owe
And in they ocean depths its flow
Shall richer, fuller be
That morn shall tearless be —
O love…
O love that will not let me go
O love that will not let me go!
~ “O Love” by Elaine Hagenberg

I sat in the sparsely-filled auditorium as my daughter’s choir filed the risers row by row, filling with white-shirted young men in black bow ties and pants, the girls in simple floor-length black gowns. The songs flowed beautifully from their lips, as though pulled forth masterfully by their beloved conductor.

msa choir

I’ve enjoyed every concert, pulling my little brood to the Senior Chorale concerts in our home school community since long before any of them were old enough to stand on that stage — often in the back where I could set up a blanket with toys and scoop up wailing little ones for a quick retreat if necessary.

So sitting there at the choral competition in a private school I’d never been in before, my last-born nearby, his sister on the stage — I didn’t expect anything but the usual excellence. And of course they didn’t disappoint.

But then this song quietly entered the room, slowly filling the room — and me — to the full with its rich harmonies. But it was so much more than that.

O Love, O Love, O Love that will not let me go…

… that will not let me go

Ah, how that simple phrase sank down, down, till it settled warm and thick, fluid flow gentle ebb and flow in my spirit, my soul. That reassurance that I never fully had before finally found its way so deep down it can’t be drained out again or yanked from my clutching hands, my wailing heart!

gripping hands

I know, finally know beyond knowing, that God’s firm grip on me never loosens.

I was never a once-saved-always-saved Christian. I was more the if-I-screw-up-God’s-gonna-strike-me-down-so-I’d-better-watch-my-step Christian. But even then I fought — oh how I fought! — to let MY will be done, only obeying when I decided. The concept of Jesus being Lord of me was simply beyond my grasp and being a hard-headed (and often hard-hearted) person, I thought (O fool that I was!) that I could be a Christian without really submitting to my Master.

At first God was just plain scary so I avoided Him.
Then He swung to the other end — my buddy… Hey, wassup, Jesus?

Truth was at neither pole, it turns out. But He pursued me, O He would not let me get away with being ignorant. He let me flounder in my foolishness, letting me tell Him No, but feeling the sting of it afterwards. Running back into His arms, asking Him to help me bridge the divide between fear of doing what He wanted me to do (Please, don’t send me to Africa…) and fear of what would happen if I didn’t . And, always right there,  the verse that challenged, frightened, and sobered me:

“If you love Me, keep my commands.”
~ Jesus in John 14:15

Simple but impossible. I was dead set in my disobedient ways, thinking He loved me so it was okay. I could basically live on my own terms. But that’s not how it works.

It never was intended to be a “magic prayer so I can go to Heaven” deal. Jesus didn’t die so I could believe a certain creed, even if it meant committing every verse in His holy Book to memory and doing everything just so (or nearly so). He didn’t leave Heaven so I could live any way I please and expect to enter Heaven when I die because Didn’t I say the prayer? Didn’t I believe? Didn’t I do the right things?

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ~ Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 7:21-23

Wow — yep, this is Jesus’ own words, and they couldn’t be clearer. His love that will not let go doesn’t let me get away with a passive head knowledge, keep-away distorted religious facade.

His love pursues my heart — our hearts! Even when I was plunged into mental illness,  unacknowledged bi-polar ripping my mind, psychosis wielding a knife — when I thought I was lost and in Hell, my cell in Chester County Prison a place of death and hopelessness…

When I cried from the floor, “I give up, I give up…” Love not my own swelled into my heart and even when I couldn’t feel it at all, my head was cradled in His lap and the Jesus I thought had let me go sang sweet songs over me. Sweet songs that pulled me from the depths of that prison cell into light and life and more love than I ever thought possible.

O Love that will not let me go!

woman in stripes holding hands with person wearing bracelets

Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

And when I’m tempted to slide away from Him, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love!”* — I hear a quiet whisper, a whoosh in my spirit, my soul breathing deep and I can’t help but gaze into the eyes on fire for me. I breathe in love and join Him in the dance, this dance we share. I bow, eyes aglow, for He is my King.

woman bowing

He is a consuming fire, but His love consumes all sin in me.
He is not safe, He could crush me with His hand and someday He will purify this present Earth with devastating fire. Those who cling to their sins and refuse to obey — well what can He do? He gives us all the choice and the choice leads to Life — or Death — there is no in-between. He would let me choose death, but not without a fight, a struggle for my soul till I breathe my last.

But this Love that will not let me go will not let me but choose to stay with the God I love.  This Love draws me back into endless embrace, and really what more could I ever want? For in Him is all our hearts long for:

Love
Joy
Peace
Friendship
Contentment…
So much more than a lifetime can tally, so much that eternity will explore the heights, the depths, the burgeoning sea of this Love. It’s a daily choice to sink into Him, letting my own agenda melt into His. It’s a Good morning, Jesus, I love You — what shall we do today? It’s walking into every day acknowledging You are the Lord and I’m just me — but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me — so let’s take on today!

O Love, O Love, O Love that will not let me go!

Now, sweet reader, think on these things. What is keeping you from running into His arms, from crowning Jesus Christ King of your heart, your life? Today is the day to choose to embrace this never-ending Love. It’s time to die to that old, dead life that is destined to rot, decay, and fall into endless Hell. It’s time to enter with Jesus into death and rise into new life, a rebirth that springs forth endless life, endless Love with the One you were made for.

It’s time, dear one.

shallow focus of clear hourglass

Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

 

*”Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson

Friendship in the Trenches

heart shaped red neon signage

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“What does love look like?… Arms wide open, a heart exposed.”~ Misty Edwards

I was tempted to do it again the other day.

I sat next to Ka’en in church, minding my own business, when my mouth decided to make a cutting remark. I had a cold but thought she was overly concerned about my being contagious, so I said something like, “I don’t care about people being contagious, I just strengthen my immune system.”

Just like that her face fell and I didn’t even realize at first what I had done.

I should have been home, actually. I was sick with some sort of cold virus-y thing, but wanted to be in church to give her a little gift I’d bought.  I pushed myself to be there and at first so far, so good.

Then out came the zinger. Now it wasn’t a big thing but enough to hurt her, the last thing I wanted to do to my best friend. But I basically told her she was wrong and that I was better than her. As I realized what I had done, my first reaction wasn’t to apologize.

It was to retreat. To hide. To self-condemn. I slid a little away from her and folded myself into a little self-protected box, mere inches from her but pulling away more and more.

Immediately after the service she confronted me about what I had said. As I acknowledged what she said was true, I was wrong, I suddenly just wanted to leave.

What the heck?

At home I immediately lay down, exhausted from overdoing it, from going out while still sick. But mostly hiding. I thought, What would happen if we stopped being friends? I began playing the scenarios in my mind, killing the best friendship a person could want by neglect. By hardening my heart toward her I could simply pull away…

I felt sick inside suddenly, more than from any virus, so much more.

Why would I want to throw away this gift? Why would I go back to the way things used to be where as soon as a friend got too close, it got too hard, I’d run away? I never had to change, to grow that way. As soon as things got beyond surface level and she saw who I really was under the facade, I’d withdraw. I’d be too busy to get together, making excuses till she stopped trying and the so-called friendship starved. Died.

Oh, I’d gotten quite good at it and I though I was okay. But one day I heard someone ask, “Who, besides a family member, could you call in the middle of the night if you were in trouble or just needed to talk?” I reviewed my puddle-deep friendship list and found — no one.

Why did it matter? I could call family, right? I had a best friend growing up, the best friend a person could ever want. But life pulled us apart and I hadn’t had that kind of friend since. I did have a few sort of close friends. Wasn’t that enough?

No, not if you want to be like Jesus. Jesus opened his heart to those who opened their hearts to Him. He made himself available to those who wanted to be close and let them in. All the way in. Even Judas. When Judas approached him to kiss him as a close friend, signaling to the mob that this was the man they wanted, Jesus said, “Do what you came for, friend.” Friend? He had just predicted Judas’ betrayal around the supper table with the disciples a few hours before, with Judas sitting right there. Jesus wasn’t fooled. But He kept His heart open even then.

Jesus gave the ultimate definition of friendship when He said, “the greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” (John 15:13). And then He proved it by dying for them and for His enemies alike. My mind can’t take it in, it’s so powerful. But I want that kind of love

Being like Jesus means I am willing to set my own life aside and be there for my friends. To see them as the treasures they are. And even to die for them if necessary.

Being like Jesus means I love wide open, from the heart. And when I do, I experience the love of God Himself. I become a channel of that love, His love ignited by my openness into a depth of compassion I’d never have otherwise. God is love, so to give myself completely to His love and to loving others, I become love. Like Him.

I asked the Lord, Please help me to be a friend like You, to go deep and stay when I want to flee. Be that friend through me and teach me Your way of friendship. One by one friends came in and when my mask fell I gritted my teeth and hung in there. While some friendships were only for a season anyway, most got deeper,  better and better. Closer and closer. Without fear of exposure, for all was known. To know and be known is the most freeing thing I’ve ever experienced.

friends girl blonde portrait

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

To be in a friendship is to choose to love another person. Seems simple, doesn’t it? But what does that look like?  I believe all loving relationships have a friendship component.  I Corinthians 13, the famous Love Chapter, could be rendered using the word Friendship in place of Love…

Friendship is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; 
Friendship is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable;
Friendship does not keep a record of wrongs;
Friendship is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth.
Friendship never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.
Friendship is eternal.

This is the kind of friend I want to be.

And I know it’s not going to be easy. Any time I open to Jesus His work always goes deeper than what I think I need. He wants to uproot old patterns and behaviors by getting at the what and why of them. What has plagued me all my life — a feeling of superiority to cover my deep inferiority around people has created walls between me and them. I can’t be the friend Jesus is to others till He takes me through the process of healing in this area, layer by layer.  He’s so kind to take it step by step, one area at a time. And to continually build from there.

This new area of work began couple of months ago, when I asked God to help me with my mouth. At times I  want to correct those around me (usually friends and family), to set them straight (“help” them) if I think what they’re saying or doing is wrong. It’s like a compulsion, and if I don’t say anything I’m inwardly judging them. They’re not as good as me or they wouldn’t do or say ______________.  I had done this basically all my life, but in the last month or so I’ve started to actually see it for the ugly habit it is. Ugh. I see at last how my words cut, dagger slashes to the heart. It hurts the ones closest to me most of all.

I’m finally sick of it. I want to be free.  For years I’ve wanted to accept everyone as the God-created beings they are. That I’m no better — or worse — than anyone else. I want to live in settled confidence coupled with realistic humility. Now, placing a trembling hand in Dad’s warm, strong hand, I’m willing to do whatever it takes. With sudden clarity I realize I only want one thing:

To love as Jesus does.

And I realized lying on my bed that Sunday afternoon — it was too late. The work I’ve longed for had already begun. I’d never be that person anymore, the one who made and threw friends away like they were disposable. I’ve got a treasure trove of close friends now and am finally becoming the friend I’d want to have. Open. Honest. Loyal. Brave.

Because it takes bravery to stay in it when it gets hard, to seek and find forgiveness. It takes courage to face what is under that cutting remark,  to submit to the training our Heavenly Dad has for us, whatever the cost.  To press past the guilt and get free of the shame. To see as He sees, and to learn how to be an overcomer here, too. Whatever it takes.

When we had some facetime that Sunday afternoon Ka’en encouraged me to go deeper with Dad, to see the how and why and the what of the  superiority/inferiority I struggle with. And to bravely follow the path to healing. She will be there for me.

I will be there for her, too. No matter what. For this war zone we were born into isn’t getting any better, and there are fierce battles ahead. Linking arms with her, with ever-deepening friendships, with others determined to call each other out of darkness into light…

With our Commanding Officer blazing the trail ahead, sword raised — we will persevere. Shouting into battle, his light within us  — together we will overcome the deepest darkness. And laugh, victorious, with our comrades-in-arms afterwards, gazing together at the face of the One who made it all possible. Our great Friend. For true friendship gives us our best life — it’s designed to last into eternity. And it’s worth laying down our lives to gain the kind of love only God can forge in our hearts. Then we truly love like Him — arms wide open, hearts exposed.

israeli women soldiers

Dear friends, what can you do today to make openness and depth in friendship a priority? What is keeping you from being completely open to God’s work in this area? Where is He challenging you to change so you can be the friend He wants you to be? Are you willing?