TO THE MOON AND BACK

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen. [1 Corinthians 13:7-8a (PHILLIPS)]

rabbit“I love you,” said my grandson to his mother; “I love you more,” was her quick reply. They went back and forth, each claiming to love the other most, until one said, “I love you to the moon and back!” Of course, they’re echoing the sentiments found in Sam McBratney’s delightful book Guess How Much I Love You. In it, every time Little Nutbrown Hare tells his father how much he loves him, Big Nutbrown Hare responds with an even larger amount of love. As he’s being tucked into his bed of leaves, the sleepy youngster thinks he’s finally out-distanced his dad when he says he loves him all the way to the moon. His father kisses him goodnight and, with a smile, whispers, “I love you right up to the moon—and back!” Since the moon’s distance varies with its orbit, the distance to the moon and back varies from around 443,362 to 505,244 miles. Even that measurement, however, isn’t correct; we can no more quantify a father’s love for his son than we can our Heavenly Father’s love for His children.

While we have only one word for love in English, the Greeks had four: eros, storge, philia and agape. Because of its similarity to the word erotic, we think of eros in terms of sex and lust but it also includes romantic love and passion, like the love we find in Solomon’s sensual Song of Songs. Storge describes the natural affection (and obligation) between family members, such as Ruth’s love for Naomi. The Greek word philia is associated with deep friendship, like that between Paul and Silas or the Apostles. In Romans 12:10, Paul uses another word for love: philostorgos. A compound word made from storge and philia, it’s best defined as loving a friend as deeply as if he were a family member, such as the love Jonathon and David had for one another. Finally, we have agape: God’s immeasurable, consummate, unconditional, sacrificial love for His children.

Our infinite God has an unlimited amount of love for his children. Just as we can’t measure God’s love for us, I don’t think any word, even agape, can truly describe the kind of love He has for us. Not one of us is like another and, with our individual personalities, God loves each one of us in a way specifically designed for us. Love knows no bounds and, just as God has an infinite amount of love, He has an infinite number of ways to express that love. We can’t quantify, evaluate, assess, or delineate that love because something infinite can’t be weighed, measured, or catalogued.

The Population Reference Bureau estimates that over 108 billion people have lived on earth since the beginning of man and it would seem that God has found at least 108 billion ways to love them. While that’s not infinity, it’s way more than to the moon and back and God is not yet finished. His infinite love is eternal!

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. [Saint Augustine]

God is love, and the man whose life is lived in love does, in fact, live in God, and God does, in fact, live in him. [1 John 4:16b (PHILLIPS)]

And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ—and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself! [Ephesians 3:18-19 (PHILLIPS)]

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JUST STUFF

“Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes.” [Luke 9:3 (NLT)]

While packing for our move, I considered Sarah and Abraham; they always seemed to be moving from one place to another. After starting in Ur of the Chaldees, Scripture mentions seventeen places through which they passed, sometimes more than once, including Haran, Bethel, Egypt, Dan, Salem, Gerar, and Beersheba before finally settling in Hebron. They did it all without cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, U-Hauls, pods, moving companies, pack-and-ship, or car transports. Of course, they didn’t have things like food processors, business files, Christmas decorations, picture albums, waffle irons, books, or electric toothbrushes! In all of Sarah’s 127 years, she probably never had as many sandals as I have shoes in my closet and, in all of Abraham’s 175 years, I’m sure he never had as many robes as there are tee-shirts in my husband’s. Because they were nomads, if it wasn’t necessary and easily transported, they didn’t have it.

Having recently cleaned out my mother-in-law’s home after her death, my husband and I are acutely aware of how little our stuff means to anyone else. Load after load of Mom’s clothing, furniture, and household goods went to charity resale shops and more bags than I could count went directly into the dumpster. Now, it’s our possessions that need disposal. While our children have taken some things, they have more than enough stuff of their own and don’t want more!

Every day, we make the rounds of resale shops. As I carried several boxes of clothing and household items into the Bethesda Communities’ store, I felt remorseful. Granted, my discarded items would benefit a faith-based organization serving people with disabilities but I wondered how much more Bethesda and other charities could have done with all the money I’d spent on that frivolous stuff in the first place! When people were going hungry, homeless, or in need of health care and support services, had I really needed another tablecloth or handbag, fashion boots, decorative pillows, and Christmas mugs?

When I remember Jesus’s words to the disciples to take nothing for their journey, I must admit to taking far more than I ever needed or could possibly use for mine. I’m not advocating an ascetic lifestyle but there is much in our lives that is unimportant and truly unnecessary. Abraham and Sarah weren’t encumbered by excessive stuff simply out of necessity. It is out of obedience to God that we should not become encumbered (or possessed) by our stuff. God, however, did give us the ability to enjoy our possessions and enjoy them we did!

The bright side to the move is finding the right home for our surplus things. It’s not just more blessed to give than receive; it’s more fun! A single mom received the dollhouse and play kitchen for her little girls, Gigi’s Playhouse (serving those with Down Syndrome) got the Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, a new grandma appreciated the crib, Habitat got our tools, the church has my books and music, some of our art work will be auctioned off for a scholarship fund, and a woman going through a divorce has our glassware, vacuum and kitchen appliances. One friend asked for the spinning wheel while another needed luggage for her children going off to college; a green-thumbed neighbor has our decorative pots and an avid sportsman received the fishing gear. We’re happy that someone else now will be enjoying our stuff!

May we always remember that possessions are temporary; we were empty-handed when we came into the world and we’ll be empty-handed when we leave. U-hauls aren’t part of a funeral procession and there are no storage units in the hereafter. We must learn how to appreciate and enjoy things we don’t own without wanting to own them (or something like them) for ourselves.

Lord, keep us from envy, covetousness, discontent and greed. Give us generous and appreciative hearts. May we always remember that it’s just stuff!

After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. [1 Timothy 6:7 (NLT)]

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WHAT IF HE HADN’T? (Zacchaeus – part 3)

Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. [Psalm 90:12 (TLB)]

climbing asterWhen Jesus stopped in Jericho, He was on His way to Jerusalem; His trial and crucifixion would soon follow. Although our Lord knew He would not pass that way again, no one else did; certainly not Zacchaeus. What if the publican had been too busy collecting taxes that day to go and see Jesus? What if it looked like it might rain or he was just too tired to make the effort? What if Zacchaeus had been discouraged by the large crowd and his inability to get a good viewing spot? Thinking he always could see Jesus the next time He passed through Jericho, what if he hadn’t run ahead and climbed that tree? Zacchaeus would have missed meeting Jesus and accepting His call.

Jesus once told a parable about a rich man so focused on the here and now that he concentrated on amassing earthly wealth rather than developing a rich relationship with God. One night, while planning to build even bigger barns to store his wealth, he died! The rich fool had waited too long to make provision for his soul!

In a different parable, Jesus told of another wealthy and selfish man who died. While suffering in torment, the rich man saw the pitiful beggar he’d callously ignored while alive; the beggar was being comforted in the arms of Abraham at a heavenly banquet. The rich man wanted Abraham to warn his brothers that, unless they changed their greedy ways, they would end up in torment, too. Refusing, Abraham told him they’d already been sufficiently warned. There are no second chances once we’re gone.

One of my husband’s favorite songs is “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce and he once said that he’d like it sung at his Celebration of Life. In this song, Croce wishes he could save time in a bottle “till eternity passes away” just to spend it all with his love. “But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do, once you find them,” he adds regretfully. In response to my husband’s request, I reminded him that we can’t save time in a bottle or wishes in a box; we must make the most of the time we have. When we’re dead and gone, it’s far too late to regret poor choices and missed opportunities.

Let us never make the mistake of being so occupied with the stuff of life or so sure of tomorrow, that we miss the opportunities of today—whether it’s meeting Jesus, showing compassion to those in need, or merely spending time with those we love. Like the rich fool’s brothers, we’ve been warned!

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Etienne De Grellet]

My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you. Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend. And so, Lord, my only hope is in you. [Psalm 39:5-7 (TLB)]

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MODERN LOVE

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. [1 John 3:18 (NLT)]

Canada Geese

Several years ago, we were celebrating Valentine’s Day with a dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. A young couple was seated next to us and, from the way she kept flashing the shiny diamond on her left hand, it appeared they were newly engaged. I thought how sweet it was for us old married folks to sneak a peek into some young love on this traditional night of romance. Instead of holding hands, however, the couple held their phones. Instead of staring into each other’s eyes, they stared down at their phones. Instead of whispering sweet nothings, they texted, tweeted, Facebooked, or Linked in. They did look up long enough for the waiter to take their picture, which was instantly sent off to the cloud somewhere. The only time they touched was when they posed for the requisite selfies. The phones were lowered only when a glass or fork was raised. Unless they were texting one another (which is a distinct possibility), the few times I saw them speak was to share something on their phones.

“What happened to romance?” I wondered. What happened to conversation? What happened to touch, eye contact, or even laughter? When did it become more vital to share our thoughts with the world than with the person beside us? When did it become more important to memorialize an event digitally than to live the event while it is happening? When did it become more imperative to show the world our faces than to show our loved ones our hearts?

Part of me wanted to grab their phones away and warn them that love needs more than on-line posts and a relationship can’t be maintained with 280-character tweets. I’m just an old married lady, but even I know that love requires work and that Google, Alexa, and Siri don’t have all the answers. Love is far more than looking good for the rest of the world; love is being good with and for one another. Being loved and being able to love are gifts from God. Although I said nothing to them, I did pray for them. If I’d had their numbers, I might have texted Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 13 that have guided us in our marriage. Maybe then they would have noticed one another.

Recently, I watched a young family at another restaurant. Both mother and father had their noses in their phones the entire evening and their two children were busy with their individual tablets: one watching a movie and the other playing a game. The only time they looked away from their devices was to speak with the waitress. I couldn’t help but remember that twosome many Valentine’s Days ago. If they’re even still together, is this what their family meals are like?

Let us never mistake simply being there with being present. Love is far more than just the presence of our bodies—it’s our mental and emotional presence, as well! While our cell phones and tablets connect us with the world, that connection must never be at the expense of truly connecting, face to face, with one another! If we ever hope to truly connect, we first must disconnect.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. [Romans 12:9-10 (NLT)]

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TRUE LOVE

Love never gives up. Love never cares more for others than for self. Loves doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first.” Doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel. Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, Never looks back, but keeps going to the end. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (MSG)]

8-19-1967When I married my husband, I was only twenty years old. Although I would never have admitted it then, I had no real concept of what true love actually entailed or the seriousness of the vows I was taking. Standing in front of a minister and 200 guests, I promised to “love him, comfort him, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health” and to forsake all others. I vowed, from that day forward, to “have and to hold…for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,” and to love and cherish him until we parted at death. I said those words without the vaguest understanding of just how bad “for worse” could get or how little money “for poorer” might be. I didn’t consider that sickness would mean much more than a case of the flu or how long it could be until death would separate us. Having known each other for less than a year when we wed, neither of us had any idea how difficult it actually is to cherish someone whose words or actions hurt us or with whom we disagree. I doubt we’re the only ones who entered into marriage so naively.

Today is our anniversary and, in the fifty-two years since our wedding day, we’ve experienced good and not so good times, periods of plenty and sparseness, illness and well-being, tragedy and joy, fullness and emptiness, anger and forgiveness, excitement and tedium, labor and leisure, turmoil and peace, discontent and satisfaction. We know from experience that it’s not always easy to love, comfort, honor, forsake, and cherish.

We used to joke that we only stayed together because of the children (neither of us wanted custody of them) and the grands (neither of us would risk losing them)! But, that isn’t it. Paul’s words about love in 1 Corinthians 13 were read at our wedding and those words have guided us ever since that day. Early in our marriage, we realized that love is more than a feeling; it isn’t something one falls into or out of. Love is a conscious choice and one we choose to make every day. None of us are loveable all of the time; we can, however, choose to be loving all of the time!

Father in heaven, let your love fill our hearts and lives. Thank you for giving us people to love, comfort, honor, and cherish. Thank you also for placing people in our lives who somehow manage to love, comfort, honor and cherish us, as well. Shower your blessings upon them.

O God … look mercifully upon these thy servants, that they may love, honour, and cherish each other, and so live together in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and of peace. [From the Solemnization of Matrimony in “The Book of Common Prayer” (1952)]

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. [1 Corinthians 13:13b (MSG)]

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HEIRLOOMS

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:20-21 (NLT)]

CamillaWe’re selling our northern home and, with limited space in Florida, I must winnow out our 52 years of accumulated possessions. “How can I give them away?” I wondered while looking at the beautiful hand-painted Bavarian dinner and dessert plates that belonged to my mother and her mother before that. My fondness for the plates, however, has less to do with their beauty than with their provenance.

When my mother died, I was only fifteen. I remember sitting with my older brother and sister as my father read her hand-written note to us. He tried to hold back his tears as he spoke her words of farewell that passed along various family heirlooms to each of us children. Mentioning her joy at never having broken a plate in the 23 years she’d used them, my mother gave her mother’s china to me. When I look at what is little more than clay, bone ash, flint, feldspar, glaze, paint, and gold gilding, I don’t see plates—I see my mother’s exquisitely set table, the two of us setting it, our family gathering together for a holiday dinner, and my father reading her farewell words to me.

Later, when sorting through books, I came to some that had been my mother’s. Inside the front covers, she’d carefully written her name and home address. “How can I give away these books that meant so much to her?” I thought. Many of them were written by C.S. Lewis and I suspect my affinity for the author comes from her. She belonged to a women’s guild at our church—sort of the 1950’s version of a small group. The women gathered twice a month for fellowship and service and often met at our house. They would sit around the dining room table and sew something called “cancer pads.” My mother couldn’t even thread a needle and her poor eyesight and clumsiness with a needle probably made her more of a hazard than a help in the women’s work. What she excelled at, however, was reading aloud, analyzing the written word and leading discussions. When the women realized that busy hands didn’t keep their mouths from minding other people’s business, my mother suggested that she read to them while they worked.

As I ran my finger over her name, I decided to save just one of her books. The rest of them will go to the church’s library so they can bring someone else pleasure and knowledge. Then, realizing that I don’t need the china to remember the beautiful woman who gave me life, I decided to keep just one of the dessert plates and give away the rest. Rather than hold onto things, I will hold on to my memory of a woman who, recognizing her limitations, wisely used the gifts God gave her.

While the Old Testament speaks of material inheritance and even gives guidelines to ensure the financial welfare of the family, the New Testament speaks of a spiritual inheritance. Rather than worrying about amassing things here on earth, Jesus told us to store up treasures in heaven. Granted, we want our families cared for once we’re gone but more crucial than passing along possessions is the passing along of good character, love, and faith in God.

The important thing is not to hold on to material possessions but to remember the people we associate with them, the love they offered, and the lessons they taught us. I think of the words of Morrie Schwartz (in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie) who said we continue to live on in the hearts of everyone we’ve touched and nurtured while we were here. “Death ends a life, not a relationship,” said the wise old professor. My children don’t need old china or books to know my mother; they know her through me!

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. [1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT)]

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