Love me Tender, Love me True…

Another Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and the pressures of romance and society’s view of love can be seen in any local retail shop you walk into.  As soon as you step foot inside even the grocery store you’re surrounded by red heart-shaped cardboard chocolate filled boxes, fuzzy heart holding stuffed animals, flowers and even bottles of fancy wines.  Okay realistically, after you pass the Super Bowl displays of beer, Doritos and guacamole, then you pass the love stuff.  But no matter your relationship status, there’s a real pressure there (or at least a nagging reminder) that this day is approaching where, if you’re in a relationship there’s an expectation to show your love and if you’re single it’s a cruel reminder that you’re not loved (at least to those who believe you have to be in a relationship to “be loved.”)

Can I confess something?  I was one of those people who believed I was only loved when I was in a relationship.  Throughout my life I let my relationship status define who I was.  In fact, I even went so far as to let my partner define who I was.  When I was in a serious relationship, if he loved me-then I defined myself as “loved, loveable and worthy of love.”  But when he stopped loving me-well I defined myself as “unlovable.”  I even convinced myself that because I’ve never been married I must simply not be marriage material.  I believed most women were born with a trait that made men commit to them but clearly I was lacking that trait.

The bulk of my past relationships were conditional.  If I behaved a certain way, I was given “love” but if I “misbehaved” according to my partner’s standards I was withheld their version of love.  This was a cyclical pattern in two very serious relationships.  (My first serious relationship was a matter of both of us being too young to know how to make a relationship work let alone be successful in marriage.)  Although I’ve only been in three serious relationships my whole life and a handful of casual relationships there was clearly a pattern in allowing someone else to define me and defining myself in who they said I was, not who God made me to be.  I’ve been single now for seven years and God has done a major overhaul on my heart and my thought process regarding the lies I’ve believed for so long.

The first thing God did was show me what unconditional love looked like.  Using 1Corinthians 13 (also known as the love chapter) and scripture from Songs of Solomon, God showed me what real love is.  He also showed me that conditional love is not real love and that in those past relationships where I just couldn’t measure up to my partner’s standards, I wasn’t truly loved by them.  If love keeps no record of wrong, how can someone tell you they love you but list everything they find wrong with you right after it?  In their heart I am sure they thought they loved me, maybe even felt very strongly for me at one point but it wasn’t real love.  And I honestly didn’t truly love them-at least not according to 1 Corinthians 13.  I wasn’t always patient or kind to them (especially when they were listing everything that was wrong with me-I kept record of their wrongs too and would fire right back with my own list for them.)

God showed his unconditional love for me best by blessing me when I least expected it and felt the most undeserving.  He even used some of the most unlikely people (people who were at one point someone I had considered an enemy) as tools to bless me.  Every time He did this, He proved his words in Lamentations 3:22, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.” (NLT) I can’t tell you the number of times I was reduced to tears after behaving so horribly or doing something careless but receiving kindness, compassion and blessing in return.  That’s not how our society tends to treat each other and that’s definitely not what I was used to receiving in past relationships.  After all-misbehavior brings punishment right?  Not with God.  Misbehavior may bring correction and discipline but every action we do, good and bad, brings God’s love, mercy and grace poured out over us. In fact, I’m a firm believer that we receive a drowning of His mercy and grace when we are really at our worst.  Why?  Because it’s only then that we can truly understand His unconditional love for us.  It’s those moments of grace that we realize nothing can or will ever separate us from God’s love.

Once I was able to understand His unconditional love for me, God was able to open my heart and eyes to see myself as He sees me-imperfectly perfect.  He did this using friends and family to speak His truth into my and over me repeatedly.  This process has taken the whole seven years of singlehood and to be honest, I’m still going through the process. I am definitely my own worst critic and the cruel words spoken to me from lost loves can still play in my mind from time to time.  Each time I have cut myself down or spoken lies about myself, even to this day, God placed someone in my life to speak His truth over me.  He also used His own words reminding me in Psalms 139 (repeatedly because seriously I am the poster child for stubborn and God has to speak the same message to me over and over again before it finally sinks in.)  My favorite part of this chapter includes these verses:

O Lord, you have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

You know when I sit down or stand up.

You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

You see me when I travel

and when I rest at home.

You know everything I do.

You know what I am going to say

even before I say it, Lord.

You go before me and follow me.

You place your hand of blessing on my head…

You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

They cannot be numbered!

I can’t even count them;

they outnumber the grains of sand!

And when I wake up,

you are still with me! (Verses 1-5, 16-18 NLT)

The NIV version of Psalm 139:14 says this, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  The words “fearfully and wonderfully made” have played over in my mind like a skipping record.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Fearfully doesn’t mean we were made to live in fear, it means we are to live in reverent fear of God and that we were made to be feared by our true enemy.  Instead of fearing the enemy and believing his lies, we have the power to combat those lies with God’s truth and ward off the devil every time he tries to defeat us.  In fact, no matter what our circumstances are, we are not defeated.  Please read that again.  We. Are. NOT. Defeated!  That is a huge thing for me to even type let alone confess because I have lived in a defeated state of mind for far too long.

The last thing God has shown me is two-fold.  1.) Marriage and singlehood are both gifts from God to be used for His purpose and glory.  Neither is a defining factor for anyone.  Neither determines our worth in this life.  2.) My past broken relationships were trials to show me what I don’t want or need in a relationship and especially not in a marriage.  And what is it that I don’t want?  Well, I don’t want to feel alone even when my partner is present because I’m last on his priority list.  I don’t want to be compared to ex-lovers and I don’t want to compare my partner to my past relationships either.  I don’t want a partner who just believes in God’s existence.  I don’t want to be cheated on, lied to or verbally abused again. And I don’t want a man who simply shuts down.  I also don’t want to be someone’s “friend with benefits” or “long term girlfriend.”  Make me your forever or leave me alone.

I don’t want to date around either.  In today’s day and age dating is like jumping into a three ring circus as the ring leader feeling underqualified and being assigned to the clown section.  I am confident any single woman reading this right now will seriously get the euphemism there.  It’s a mind-boggling guessing game that’s like a real life version of “What Not to Wear” and “He’s Just Not That into You” combined with putting on something red hoping to get chased by the bull.  And in my season of life right now, I have zero time for it anyway.  Because I have no desire date, I have earned a reputation of being “closed off” which I have come to terms with.  Not that I agree but it doesn’t bother me because it’s someone else’s perception but again, not who God sees me or defines me as.  When it’s God’s time for me to meet my future spouse, He’ll send him to me and orchestrate the whole journey.  If it includes dating, God will open my heart up to it then.

But what do I want?  Well my dream man is the Rock (or his clone) HA! HA! But realistically speaking I want a man of God who’s a fierce warrior and gentle giant combined.  I want my man to lead me and my children with assurance and confidence the way God tells him to lead us.  I want him to be faithful, kind, generous but also disciplined.  He has to love my children as his own.  No matter how old they are when he comes into our lives, that one is not a deal breaker.  I want him to be athletic and health conscious but still enjoy sweet treats and sugary desserts too.  I want him to pray with me and for me every day.  I want him to encourage me and believe in me and elevate me as I do the same for him too.   I want him to lead but still treat me as his partner and include me in all decisions.  And as unrealistic as some readers may think I want my man to be transparent with me.  Even Dr. Phil will tell you, you can’t have a healthy relationship without open communication.  In a nut shell, as Elvis would say, I want him to, “love me tender, love me true…” I’m also settled in my heart to know that if the presenter can’t offer me what I’m looking for, then he’s not the right partner for me.  And if I don’t get what I want, well I’m secure enough to remain single for the rest of my life then.

For those struggling to face Valentine’s Day this year I hope this post blesses you with the realization that you are loved, you are lovable and you are so worthy to be loved, regardless of your relationship status.  I want to encourage you to seek out God’s unconditional love for you but also to look at yourself the way He sees you.  You my friend are imperfectly perfect too.  God bless!

I Need a Heart Transplant, do You too?

“I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit in you.  I will take out your stony stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”  Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT)

I’m a girl with her head in the clouds, figuratively speaking.  I’m not referencing myself as a space cadet or an “air head”.  I’m referring to actual clouds-sky watching. I love sunrises and sets and seeing sunrays beam through the clouds. I love searching the skies for messages from Heaven, God’s wisdom in the shape of a cloud or glowing through a majestic rainbow stretched across the sky.

This time of year, where I live, sunrises and sets are few and far between with days filled with a fog of gray.  Trees are merely blackened sticks barren of their leaves covered in a dusting of snow.  People who don’t believe in seeing life in black and white should experience winter in North America because most days are just that-black and white coloring every.  Winter brings cold, ice and more darkness than daylight.  It’s the time of year I can fall into seasonal depression, becoming overly tired, cranky and just craving warmer temps with opportunities to soak up sunshine.

Earlier this week I took a quick trip into town to pick up my son from a friend’s house.  The day was your typical December gray day.  Temp was cold, and snow covered the ground and roads making travel slower than usual.  Out of habit, I searched the skies fully thinking I wouldn’t find anything beautiful or eye catching amidst the dullness.  But that day, right above me slightly to the left of my view was a stone colored heart shaped cloud.  I blinked a few times to make sure I saw it clearly but each time I saw the same thing-a stone colored heart.  The cynical side of my immediately thought; “How typical to see a stony colored heart on a cold winter’s day.”  But then Ezekiel 36:26 ran through my mind and I immediately thought about what it means to have a stony, stubborn heart and how God transform it into a heart of flesh.

I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on that verse and thinking of how it applies to me specifically.  I felt God heavily speaking me showing me reflections of this past year and how I handled different situations.  I finally realized He was showing me that I have a stubborn stony heart.  People closest to me may disagree.  I have many people in my life who tell me regularly how beautiful my heart is.  When I really blow it or make a big mistake they are the ones who remind that God sees my heart.  They’re right, He does.  I used to think He saw a solid black heart because when I’m angry and hurt I can have some pretty hateful thoughts. But I believe He was showing me my heart is gray, the color of stone because that’s what I have built around it to protect myself.  He also gently reminded me that He wants to remove the stone and give me a heart of flesh.  But I have to be let go of certain things in order for Him to pluck the stone out of me.  He’s been chiseling away at the stone for years but He knows I’m more bullheaded than a mule and short of zapping me with a bolt of lightning to knock me off my stubborn keister or throw me into the belly of whale, He lets me repeat the same mistakes over and over again like a wandering Israelite lost in the desert for 40 years.

Tomorrow is a New Year and I believe God has been telling me there are things I need to lay down and leave in 2016.  They don’t belong in the 2017 that He has planned for me.  Instead of partying hardy to ring in the New Year, I will be spending this evening home reflecting on the things I need to leave behind to make room for God to transform my heart into one of flesh that can receive His love and all He has planned for me.  I don’t know everything He wants me to lay down but three things have been tugging deep within me already this week.

  1. Pride-Pride is something I have wrestled with most of my life.  I grew up in very humble means and chose to pursue a college education believing that degree would bring me a salary where I could live comfortably and never know financial struggles, never need anyone’s help.  I couldn’t have been MORE wrong.  My college degree has led to me to the career I have but it also afforded me a large almost unpayable debt and the paycheck of a social worker is far from lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Being a single parent means being the sole bread winner.  Short of working myself to death and never sleeping or seeing my children, my income is limited to what my salary brings.  Money is tight and there have been many times I could not make ends meet.  Pride kept me from asking for help when I really needed it and getting buried in such financial dishevel that asking for help became my only  With a broken spirit and in utter embarrassment I would sob words of failure to my family and friends who graciously have helped me throughout the years.  Just tonight God blessed me with an unexpected offer of help (and answered a prayer to pay off a debt I have been battling with for a few years.)  The first sentence spoken to me before the offer was made was, “Put your pride in your pocket.”  Thankfully I prayed ahead of time asking God to help me swallow my pride before meeting with the couple who blessed me tonight.  I left their home with a check in my pocket and utter awe in my heart for how God uses everyone in our lives, even people we would least expect consider the role they play in our lives, to help us in time of need.
  2. Selfishness-I am a very “me” centered person. I grew up feeling invisible and looked over, viewed only as average or ordinary.  The only time I was noticed was if I was acting out, being loud and obnoxious or simply to be the butt of someone’s ridicule.  Add a few neglectful relationships in there and suddenly I took on this whole new defensive persona that felt no one would fight for me so I had to fight for myself.  I busted my backside living down the lies people spoke about me and lies I believed in myself.  I did it in my own strength.  If someone didn’t notice good in me, I made sure to point it out to them.  I was very much a “Look at me-I’m worth noticing.  I matter too.” person.  I refused any type of constructive criticism and immediately reacted with accusations and attacks to my critic’s character.  I was very much a “Who are you to talk to me that way?” thinker.  In a nut shell, I lived for me.  Even my prayer life was selfish.  Oh I prayed-I prayed daily. I made myself get out of bed at 4am every day to get on my knees and pray.  I was even faithful in fasting.   Why?  Because I wanted God to give me what I wanted.  I didn’t pray seeking what God wanted.  I prayed for Him to selfishly grant me my desires-like a genie in a lamp granting me three wishes.  When He told me no I believed the lie that fasting was futile and my prayers didn’t travel any farther than my living room ceiling. I couldn’t admit that I was praying wrong and with selfish motives.  James 4 is very clear when in verse 3 he says, “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong-you want only what will give you pleasure.”  That was me.  I wanted what I wanted and didn’t consider what God would want.  Mostly because I feared God wanted the exact opposite of what I wanted and I couldn’t accept that. Which leads me to the third thing God wants me to leave behind in 2016.
  3. Fear-Fear is probably my biggest stronghold. I have missed out on amazing opportunities because of fear.  As a child, I wanted to be a Disney animator, work as a marine biologist for Sea World and perform on Star Search.  I believed I wasn’t good enough in drawing or smart enough in science nor talented enough as a singer to pursue any of those dreams.  In high school, I studied performing arts for three years, performed in talent shows and school plays.  I dreamed of studying at Juilliard in New York and star on Broadway.  Fear of rejection and being told I wasn’t good enough kept me from even applying.  In college, fear kept me from doing a study abroad in France for five weeks.  I feared losing my job, losing the relationship I was in ad flying overseas in an airplane.  Fear kept me from taking a lot of risks and trying many things for many years.

Fear has been a factoring role in many of my relationships also.  In college I would fight with my boyfriend if he wanted to have a drink or go to a party because I was afraid he would drink and drive and cause an accident (my step-dad died in a drunk driving accident when I was 8.)  I stayed in a very destructive relationship for many years because I feared being a single parent and having to raise two children on my own.  I held onto the hope of another dead end relationship out of fear of being alone.  And I settled into a “this is as good as it’s going to get” mentality career wise for years because I was afraid to pursue something new and fail again.

Fear of rejection and fear of failure are my two biggest controllers in life.  Fear of failure has shaken me from a deep sleep in the middle of the night and kept me away for hours just tossing and turning worrying about failing.  It’s kept me from speaking up when I should and saying the wrong thing when I should’ve remained silent.  Fear of rejection has kept me from chasing my dreams time and time again.  Fear is the most crippling baggage I need to let go of and probably the hardest one for me to separate from.

Pride, selfishness and fear. Three controllers I will be eliminating from my life TODAY so God can strip all the stone from my heart and transplant into me a heart of flesh filled with the Holy Spirit.  Thankfully God’s word has some pretty specific thoughts on all three of these areas to help me let go of them.  For pride God says; “Pride ends humiliation, while humility brings honor.” (Proverbs 29:23), “And when they cry out, God does not answer because of their pride.” (Job 35:12) and “He shows them the reason; He shows them their sins of pride.” (Job 36:9.)

For selfishness, God specifically says, “For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom.  Such things are earthly, unspiritual and demonic.” (James 3:15), “And even now in your holy festivals aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves?” (Zechariah 7:6) and “For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.” (James 3:16.)

God’s word speaks even more about fear.  Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not worry (fear) about anything, instead pray about everything.  Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done.”  In 2 Timothy 1:7 we read, “for God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”And Deuteronomy 31:6 specifically tells us to “be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them.  For the Lord Your God will personally go ahead of you.  He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Today I will leave these three in 2016 and refuse to carry them with me tomorrow as day 1 of 2017 begins.  But because old habits die hard, I won’t be doing this on my own strength.  I am finally at a point in my life of surrender to God and His will for me making it easy for Him to do as He has promised-remove my stony stubborn heart and give me a spirit filled heart of flesh.  Today-I will be undergoing a heart transplant by the best Heart Surgeon no money can ever afford.  As you begin a new year, I invite you to reflect and see if you too need a heart transplant.  What better time to gain a spirit filled heart of flesh than at the beginning of a new year?