The Love Story of love stories

Perfection loved the sinful.

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

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6, NIV)

He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. (Romans 4:25, NLT)

My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,

like a root in dry ground.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,

nothing to attract us to him.

He was despised and rejected—

a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,

a punishment for his own sins!

But he was pierced for our rebellion,

crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.

We have left God’s paths to follow our own.

Yet the Lord laid on him

the sins of us all. (Isaiah 53:2-6, NLT)

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. (1 John 3:16a, HCSB)

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Valentine’s Day, dishwater love, and does my love prove to the world that I am His disciple?

I clicked on my daily email verse and–to no surprise since this is Valentine’s Day–the theme was love.

A lot of the time with daily Scripture verses, I peruse them quickly, click back out, and keep browsing my email.  I find my real listening to God in devoted devotion time, not in 15-second glances of verses.  But tonight, when I started to semi-speed-read through the verse, I found the words much too heavy to toss aside.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (Jesus, quoted in John 13:34-35, NLT)

Does my love prove to the world that I am Jesus’ disciple?

Wow.  Gulp.  Squirm.

For the past two and (still counting) weeks, I’ve had a cold.  I haven’t felt much good.  There’ll be times I feel like I’m getting over it, and then I feel all dragged down again.  I’ve felt discouraged, weary, and deary (discouraged and weary both at once).

Something nearly always invariably happens when I get sick anymore.  I start thinking about what God really wants me to do in this life.  I have more heart-to-hearts.  I pray more.  And I get more serious about recognizing my days are numbered.

Love—love is a hard thing for me.  There are so many ideas orbiting my head about love—I bet you have a lot, too.

I think about the ups and downs of love.  I have always been a “love surfer”, I think—quick to love when the tide is up and everything is great, and way gone when the tide is down and conflict or messes appear.

And I think about how love is like chocolate chip cookies to me.  I can’t get it out of my head.  When I want to show someone I love them, I either praise them or buy something for them or hug them.  Love is so abstract that I try to paint it into a concrete present.  As if, somehow, I can show the full meaning of love by buying someone ice cream or liking something they said on facebook.

The quick turn of love to hate.  I can be moody.  Really moody.  It doesn’t take much for me to change my mind temporarily about someone—and even though it is temporary, a great deal of damage can ravage in the wake.

The difficulty of love.  Love just seems plain hard sometimes.  Lots of work.  Effort.  Maybe even drudgery.

The forgivingness of love.  Forgiveness is like the nectar of love here on this earth.  We are fallen, broken, messed-up–and to love anyone else down here, you have to find some way to get past the bad things they’ve done.  This seems hard enough for us—we’ve got plenty of talk shows to try to cope with it—so it just seems like it would be just impossible for God.  After all, God doesn’t have this problem.  He is perfect.  He is not fallen, broken, or messed up.  It seems impossible that He would even want to bond with us.  We’re dangerous, volatile, untrustworthy.  Look at what we did to God when He gave us the opportunity: we crucified Him.  How could that God want friendship with us?

And I think about love, and I try to sort love out in my own head—but, no, that’s not really true.  Really, I know what love is.  As confusing and distracting as all the theories and memories orbiting in my mind, I do know what love is: it’s Jesus stretching His arms out on a cross to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually trapped for the sins of the world.

Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (John 13:34b)

How can that be, Lord?

I know the kind of love I am capable of.  I can hand out brownies.  I can bake cakes in my oven.  I can reach out and touch a friend’s hand.  I can get up when I’m tired and do the dishwasher.  I can smile when I don’t feel like it.  I can write a friend when I want to go to bed.

I can look like I’m loving.  I can feel like I’m loving.

But is any of that really love?

And even if it is, is it anywhere on the love level of Christ?

I know that instantly.  It is absolutely not.

My “love” is mostly made up of me looking good, doing things to arrange for conditions I want, building beneficial relationships, quieting conflicts.  In other words, my love is really mostly about social advancements.

It is rarely the kind of love that does something regardless of whether anyone sees or whether or not it helps me climb the approval ladder of the world.  It’s mostly about me thinking about myself on video camera, and asking, How do I look to this person I am “loving”?  How do I look to the people who are watching?  What is everybody thinking?  Am I getting my point across?

Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (Jesus, quoted in John 13:34b)

You know, there’s this crazy thing about when you see pure love.  It really stays with you.  And then you realize, it’s not about what was performed, but about what was given.

I had this time in college when my dad was dying and I was a real mess.  I remember talking to a professor and—I can’t remember how it got started—I think maybe I asked if I could have $8 for lunch money and pay him back later.  He gave me the money and absolutely refused to ever receive the money back.  But it wasn’t the $8 that stayed with me.  It was the way the professor gave it to me—freely.  Not like, “I’m doing this so God can see how good I am”, but “I’m doing this because God has done something so spectacular in my life that I think it’s worth giving $8 away to illustrate it.”

That stuck with me.

I had one of those rare moments of love last summer, I think it was.  It’s kinda crazy, because it was so small.  But it has stayed with me, too.

I was at an elderly friend’s house—a woman who has become like a sister to me.  I love her.  I really love her.  I was over at her house and she was eating lunch.

She is old-school, and doesn’t like her dishwasher.  To me, this is sheer madness.  I am pretty obsessive about clean dishes, and in my mind, dishes did not get clean by any amount of scalding water or dishsoap, unless it’s like a flood and bubbles.  I could not possibly get dishes clean enough satisfactorily by my own doing.  I trust the machine to do its job.  Die germs, die.

But I was over at her house, and I was taking away her plate, and I had this urge to wash her dishes for her.  I felt like Jesus was giving me the freedom to wash her dishes.  I know, I know, it probably sounds crazy.  But it’s true.

I do not like dirty dishwater.  Dirty dishwasher is any water in which any plates which have been eaten off of have been laid in for any amount of time.  Dirty dishwater is a festering bed of disease and soggy food (in my mind).  This is yet another reason why I do not wash dishes by hand.

And yet, with this feeling of giddyfying love—even though I was very uncertain God knew what He was doing—I stuck my hands in the dirty dishwasher and went ahead and washed her dishes.

It was something I’d wanted to do for her before, and I’d even sort-of done for her before, reluctantly, regretfully.  But this wasn’t like that.  This was joy.

And so, sticking my hands in the lukewarm, dishy sinkwater, I found love.

I remember almost shaking from the after-effects.  It wasn’t about how amazing it was that I’d stuck my hands in dirty dishwater.  I could make myself do that—I am that disciplined.  And it wasn’t about that I wanted to, ‘cause that wasn’t exactly it either.

It was that I loved her while I was doing it.

I rarely love people while I’m doing things for them.  What I am really wanting is for them to approve me, applaud me, or love me (or love me in the way I love them, the “handing out brownies” kinda way).

But when I plunged my hands in the dishwater, I loved.  The crazy thing was, it wasn’t really a love for my friend, as much as I do love her.  It was a love for Jesus.  And in that was a love for her deeper than I’d ever had.

A love that just swamped all my fears and normal adversions to dishwater and how good I’d look doing this and all the other gunk in my usual faux-love -giving world.  Not that I was perfect in any instant—far from it.  But I got a taste of love.

It was that love that literally besieged me to become a Jesus follower.  It was like a barrage on my fortress of panic, doom, and guilt.  And it came totally by surprise, in the middle of a long night of a life.

Now the funny thing is, what I’ve been thinking about—what I think God has been teaching me through this rather dreary little spell of mild sickness—is that when I was saved, I realized Christ’s love for what it was and then I went back and tried to show people His love the way I show “love”.  How in the world does that happen?

Rarely, rarely, have I had dishwater-love moments.  Instead, I’ve tried very hard to show the love of Christ to others in the way I know to show “love”—the kind-of nervous fidgets of a puppy who wants a hug.  That hasn’t been very effective.  It’s made me look just like I’ve always looked—needy.

But, really, I am not needy.  When Christ’s love crumbled the walls of my old life, I lost that neediness.  That needing others to think this of me, or do this for me, or give me a thumbs up.  But I am still so confused about how to show the love I’ve seen raining down in big boulders of forgiveness and grace, that I think I’ve pretty much tried to pick up the broken stones of my old, pathetic wall and rebuild.

This Valentine’s Day, I have a new goal.  Not to figure out who I’m going to marry or multiply my facebook friends, but to have more moments of dishwater love.

Dishwater love is when I don’t try to translate Jesus’ love through my barricade of false knowledge and my wall of past experience and my obstacle course of common sense.   Jesus isn’t going to let me try to give His love away when I distort it through the lens of my way of seeing things, anyway.  He’s going to wait for me to give the love I actually receive.

–I don’t know how to give the love I receive.  The love of Christ is so awesome.  It’s pure.  It’s divine.  It’s miraculous.  It’s unmissable.  And it’s seen as the most ridiculous thing in the world to those who don’t want it.  The love of Christ is in the vulnerability of God becoming man.  Of the Holy healing the unholy.  Of the Unbreakable breaking for the broken.  Of the Hero dying for the rebel.  Of the Physician crushing Himself to be the medicine for the uncurably sick.

But then I realize—my love can’t be that.  That is why Jesus is only Jesus.  But what my love can be—what my love can be, what my love must be is “as He has loved”.

Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (Jesus, quoted in John 13:34b)

“As He has loved”, a professor got $8 out of his wallet to pay for a college kid’s lunch.

“As He has loved”, I stuck my hands in dirty dishwasher to wash a plate and fork.

Not the depth.  Never the depth.  Not the breadth.  Never the breadth.  Not the expanse.  Never the expanse.  Not the infinitesy.  Never the infinitesy.

But as Jesus loved, I can love, I will love.

He has shown me how.  God’s Valentine’s Day came about 2,000 years ago on a wretched hillside from an abandoned man gasping out His last hours on a cross.

That’s the love that proves everything the world has ever needed to know about God’s love.

And that’s the love that can prove, even in a life so historically loveless as mine, that God’s love is real.

I have been eternally changed by the love of the Lord Jesus.

I want to live my life proving it.

Valentine’s Day—every day.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35, NLT)

Chocolate, candy, flowers, and true love.

Red roses.  Teddy bears.  Jewelry.   Why does Valentine’s Day come only once a year?

Of course, I am really not in any danger of being drowned in too many red roses, or smothered by too many teddy bears, or decked out in too much bling.  For one thing, I don’t have a boyfriend or husband.  My dad, who was my red-rose, puppy-dog-with-the-heart-over-its-left-eye, velvet-box-jewelry-giver died over 7 years ago.

The funny thing–no, the amazing thing–is that, this Valentine’s Day, I’m not bitter.  I wouldn’t even exactly say I feel sad.  Sure, I want to be married–I think.  But there’s not this incredibly lonely longing for a man to ring my doorbell tomorrow, bouquet of flowers in one arm, teddy bear in the other, one hand holding out a box of chocolates, the other a velvet box.

Nah.

I want to be married someday, but, to be honest, if I ever do get married, he’s going to have to realize he just can’t compete with the competition.  You see, I already have been swept off my feet.

Diamond rings, well, even the most beautiful diamond ring is going to sit on my rotting finger one day when I die (if the ring is even left on my finger!).

–And chocolate–well, let’s face it, girls, chocolate is, at times, a more appealing gift than a jewelry store on wheels (is this why I’ve been single for so long?).

Candy, candy is tasty–but forgettable.  Thinking about it, I can’t really say after I eat a chocolate that I spend the rest of my life thinking about how unforgettable it was.  To confess, I had a box of candies yesterday that I wasn’t going to eat because they had modified food in them, and I *try* not to eat modified food.  I did very good, and put them in the pantry to be given to someone else.

I did very good for one whole day.

Then the next day–and to help you feel extra sorry for me, you might want to know the doctor has given me a mild steroid to help my viral cold I’ve been having (and having), which I’m sure gives me a crazy side effect for artificially flavored chocolates–I ate the whole little box of 6 chocolates.  Even the cherry taffy chocolate one.  I do not like cherry.  Or taffy.  I even ate that one.

The chocolate was, well, pretty forgettable.  Except than when I went to the grocery store today, I saw a bigger box of modified, artificially flavored chocolates.

Now red roses–red roses are even better.  Oh, I love red roses.  I really love red roses.  I love red roses with those beautiful little white spriggy flowers bordering the edges like little breaths of lace.  My father got me red roses when I was 14 or so.  He said he wanted to be the first man in my life to buy them for me.  (Hopefully, Daddy, you are not the last.)

But now let’s talk about stuffed animals.  Anybody who knows me (a.k.a., how childish I am), will know my affinity to stuffed animals over jewelry boxes or chocolates or red roses.  In later years, I’ve become more mature.  I guess that’s something that happens when you start getting close to thirty and stop enjoying the game “Old Maid”.  But still, I love cute stuffed animals.  I used to this was perhaps kiddiesh, until I read enough of The Five Love Languages to realize I am a “gifts of love” person.  (That translates to, I am not childish for hugging my stuffed animals.)

You know what, though?  Not even a truckload of stuffed animals on Valentine’s Day–even really cute ones with plastic teardrops and squishy eyes–would be enough to make me think twice about who I’m committed to loving above all.  In fact, all the rocks and cocoa beans and gardens and teddy bear factories in the world couldn’t change my mind.

It isn’t any man’s fault.  And I don’t want anybody to think I’m demeaning the role of men.  I have known many great men in my life, who have blessed me beyond any amount of candy or jewelry.  My father, for one.  Pastors I’ve had.  Friends.  My grandfather.  And men I’ve dated who are real treasures from Heaven.

But none of them–not even all of them altogether–would have a chance of sweeping me off my feet like my Savior.  This isn’t because of anything they’ve done wrong so much as it is because of everything He’s done that couldn’t even be dreamed up in a fairytale.

Take a beautiful, exquisite, perfect world.  Enter a deceiver, who tricks a woman into giving up the one best thing she ever had: God’s love.

Enter scorn, derision, abuse, confusion, neediness, loneliness, and a heart broken beyond anything a father or husband or friend could ever fix.

A fallen, sinful, broken world.

And go forward a few thousand years.

Now enter a Man, who claims to be God, who stops men from throwing stones at a good-for-nothing, disgusting harlot.

A Man who asks a woman reeling from so many rounds of relationships she can honestly say she’s not just committed to one . . for a drink of water . . . so He can open the conversation to invite her to drink eternal life.

A Man who defends a woman openly, unabashedly, refusing to be ashamed of her just because everyone thinks He should be, that she’s wasted too expensive a gift to pour out on His head.

A Man who protects a woman who has been so utterly forgiven by Him that she finds no fear He will demean her if she wipes His dusty feet with her hair and washes them with her tears.

A Man who, hanging from spikes in His hands and feet, remembers His mother and gives her–gives His mother–to His closest friend to be cared for as his own mother.

A Man who, instead of appearing first to a room of men who would have been reputable witnesses, appears to a person of very little importance, or credibility: a woman.

This is the Jesus I love.  This is the Jesus I’ve fallen in love with.  This is the Jesus who has captured my heart.  This is the Jesus who makes me think about Valentine’s Day, and, with a little smile, say, “Lord, You are my Valentine’s Day.”

“Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, KJV2000)

The earth moves and You find me, alive but unworthy
Broken and empty, but You don’t care
‘Cuz You are my rapture, You are my Savior
When all my hope is gone, I reach for You
You are my rescue
You are my rescue.

— “Rescue”, by Seabird