Tag Archives: love

She didn’t know He loves her, even though

Last week we had some hard days in the Ballon household. It was an especially hard week for my 16-year-old. And of course for dear old mom and dad.

I’ve written frequently about the joys of raising teenagers, and for the most part, it is a joy. It’s really so much better than people tell you. But then, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the problems feel so enormous and grown-up that it’s hard to reconcile the fact that this is your “baby” facing all of these big feelings, big mistakes, and big choices.

One good thing that came out of all of last week’s hard (and there’s always something good to come out of it) was that I bought a 40 day devotional written for teen girls, to do with my daughter.

Because even though she’s been going to church since she was in diapers,

Even though she’s been in a Christian school most of her days,

Even though she lives in a home where we pray and talk about God, and her parents have told her multiple times how broken we once were, but also how we were saved by the love of Jesus,

Even though she’s served as the hands and feet of Jesus on two different mission trips and I saw it change her,

…even though…

She is still her own person and she is walking her own faith journey, which sometimes takes detours, and looks a little sidewinder-ish.

So I bought this devotional and we are only on day 3, but it has already paid for itself ten-fold. Because last night we read all about grace and how God knows we will fall short and we don’t have to be perfect to win His love. And when I asked my daughter what she thought about it she said, “It’s such a relief. Because sometimes I feel like it’s not true. Sometimes all I hear is everyone telling me I have to be like Jesus and follow the rules to be a good person, and I feel like I have to be perfect. It’s a relief to know that He doesn’t expect perfection. To know that He will love me anyway.”

And my heart broke into a million pieces.

Because how did we get to 16 and she still not know?

How have I failed to make sure that if she knew nothing else — literally nothing else — she knew about grace and the unfailing love of our Father?

How have I forgotten that there is so much pressure on her, so many rules, so many boundaries, and sometimes we talk about those things ad nauseam until grace sounds like a footnote instead of the headline?

How is it that I write a blog called Neither Height Nor Depth that is based on the very verses that confirm that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, and she didn’t know?

So I held her and we both cried and I told her out loud that there is nothing she could ever do that would make God stop loving her. And there was nothing she could ever do that would make me stop loving her.

If that is the only message she takes away from our 40 day study, it will be totally worth it.

So, in case no one has told you recently — or ever. In case you hear more about rules, and being “good”, and not messing up, than you do about love. In case you feel forgotten, unloved, unworthy, or unclean. In case you didn’t know that the price was already paid, and you have a Father that loves you so much He would go to the ends of the earth to find you, here are the words I want you to hear:

For I know that nothing can keep us from the love of God. Death cannot! Life cannot! Angels cannot! Leaders cannot! Any other power cannot! Hard things now or in the future cannot! The world above or the world below cannot! Any other living thing cannot keep us away from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NLV)

Nothing from your past, nothing you are going through today, nothing in the future, nothing you have done, nothing that has been done to you, nothing you can imagine. No. Thing. No hurt, no failure, no mistake, no illness, no fear, no person, can separate you from God's love.

Featured image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

If you’re gonna shout, let love be the cry

There’s a popular Christian song called “Bleed the Same” by Mandisa and Toby Mac that has this line: “If we’re gonna fight, let’s fight for each other. If we’re gonna shout, let love be the cry.”

There’s a lot of shouting and fighting that takes place these days. Oh sure, it’s not usually actual shouting and arguing, person-to-person, although that definitely happens. Instead, it’s shouting in the form of firmly worded Facebook posts painting clear pictures of right and wrong. It’s arguing in heated Twitter exchanges complete with name calling and derogatory insults at individuals and entire groups of people. And the worst part about all of this shouting and fighting I see? It is often coming from fellow Christians.

I’m a firm believer in standing up for what you believe in. After-all what is the point in life if you can’t find something to really believe in? But where I see a problem is the use of verbal absolutes on internet-based platforms that do not lend themselves to real conversation and understanding. When sharing our values in 150 characters or less we draw a line in the sand that says, I’m on this side, if you disagree, you are on the other side.

Me versus you.

Us versus them.

And I’m pretty confident no one ever changed their mind by being called a “them”.

It’s the main reason I shy away from controversial topics on my blog because I know that I cannot enter into meaningful dialog with anyone via WordPress comments or Facebook posts. It’s very hard for me to listen and hear another person’s heart from this side of my computer screen. And if I’m gonna talk about the hard stuff, the ugly, messy stuff, then I want you to hear my heart, and I need to hear yours in return. It’s the only way we will ever take steps toward each other and maybe begin to erase that line.

Interestingly, I find that often the issues that people shout the loudest about are the ones they have never had to struggle with. It’s easy to identify sin that we ourselves have never been tempted by or struggled with. It suddenly gets a lot trickier when it’s something we are battling. I think that’s why so many Christians are able to take a hard stand on issues like abortion and gay rights. Yet, I rarely see Christians picketing outside a divorce attorney’s office or courtroom to let the world know that divorce is a sin. I’ve never seen bumper stickers on cars that say “You can’t be Christian and covet my Mercedes”. And no one I know has said to me, “I’m voting for the candidate that is pro-sabbath.”

Why? Because over 50% of Christians have been divorced, and more of us touched by it in our families. Because I think it’s safe to say ALL of us have desired things that another person has; and find me the person who doesn’t want Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday after church.

We’ve cursed, we’ve refused to forgive, we’ve disrespected our parents, we’ve gossiped, we’ve not observed the Sabbath, and a million other sins every day. It’s a lot easier to have compassion for others struggling with these sins because we have struggled with them.

We live in a day and age where most of us would be outraged if a church refused to allow a divorced person to worship within its doors, and an entire day of rest and spiritual study is a “nice to have”, when the kids don’t have a soccer game and I don’t have to go grocery shopping, that is.

And let me be very clear here, I’m not pointing fingers or judging ANYONE here. Quite frankly, I have enough of my own sin to worry about fixing, I don’t have time to be pointing out other’s.

My point is that we seem to have arrived in a place where there are certain topics it’s OK to take a stand on — publicly, loudly, boldly –with the foundation that as Christians we have a duty to point out sin and fight for Truth. But I think we need to ask ourselves whether we’d be just as willing to publicly, loudly, and boldly take a stand on some of the many other sins listed in the Bible — the ones we struggle with every single day.

Or maybe the better question to ask is, would we better serve God if the only thing we were quick to post on public forums was that we serve a loving God? What if the truth we were loudest about was that none of us are worthy, and yet we have been forgiven? What if the message we shared boldly was that of grace?

What might those statements do for the church? How might they draw people to Jesus instead of turning them away? Would it allow for real dialog and conversation?

I can’t say for certain., but I do know this: Jesus didn’t gain followers by standing on a street corner and shouting his beliefs. He sat next to the people who were different from him and asked questions. He ate with them and visited their homes. He looked them in the eye, saw their pain, and loved them. He invited them to walk with him.

And in the end, his final cry was that of love.

Friends, my plea is that before you decide to share that article that labels others, or condemns someone under the veil of “Christian family values” and sin, ask yourself what sin you are struggling with and whether you are willing to post about it to social media just as boldly. Or perhaps, instead, ask yourself if maybe social media isn’t the right place to be having these conversations at all. And then seek out someone who thinks differently from you, invite them to lunch, and open your heart so that you may hear theirs.

 

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12

Why are you so afraid of my child with special needs?

Several weeks ago, my son came home devastated because one of his close friends told him that his parents didn’t want him to be friends with my son anymore. To the little boy’s credit, he told my son he didn’t care what his parents said, he still wanted to be friends. But the damage was done. My son, who has been diagnosed with OCD and anxiety disorders, could not get it out of his mind that there was an adult out there who thought he was not worthy of friendship with their son. That he was so terrible to be around they preferred their child end a two-year friendship. And he kept saying, “But I don’t understand why.”

Honestly, I don’t either, although I have guesses. My son has had a very rough school year as we have processed new diagnoses, struggled to find the right medication, gone through testing and therapy, and experienced all the joy of pre-teen hormones that seem to throw out any predictability of the aforementioned treatments and wreak total havoc on his emotions. He has had multiple incidents at school which resulted in total meltdowns and fits as he struggled with obsessive worry and anxiety. His poor impulse control has resulted in unacceptable displays of disrespect with teachers and conflict with peers.

While I don’t know of any incidents that personally involve this boy (and I’m pretty certain I would since my son’s school is very good at communicating these things), I can only imagine this friend has gone home and relayed stories of my son’s outbursts and meltdowns to his parents and that was enough for them to decide he was not the kind of kid they wanted their son to associate with.

And that certainly is their choice. While my initial reaction when my son told me was heartache mixed with a healthy dose of anger, time has softened my heart and I am left with just sadness. Sadness that my son has so much he is struggling to overcome and how aware he is that he is different from the other kids. Sadness that he feels ashamed of his differences and worries what other people think of him. Gut-wrenching sadness that in the hardest moments he has cried out to us and to God saying he wished he was no longer here on this earth. It’s really more than a mother’s heart can bear some days.

The full article is posted at Her View From Home. Click here to read the rest.

The slippery slope to bigotry and hatred

This past week’s events in Charlottesville have hit a little too close to home. We live just 100 miles, or less than 2 hours away. It’s a town I’ve been to many times. A quiet college town nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Not a place I would expect to see as the location for hate-fueled violence and death.

But it did happen. And it’s a wake-up call for me that there is no place immune to the dark nothingness of bigotry and hatred that infects our world, our country.

I realize that my generation is not the first to witness the fear-mongering and anger that leads to racism and division. But we are the first to see how technology and social media have become a new kind of fuel with the power to fan the flames of hate, causing them to spread further, faster. And as absolutely terrifying as the ones who stand on street corners, boldly shouting their hate-filled rhetoric, or drive their cars into crowds of people for no reason other than they disagree, it’s the people who sit on the other side of their computer and phone screens shouting and cursing and bullying that scare me even more.

Emboldened by the perception of a thin veil of anonymity Twitter and Facebook become a playground of lines drawn in the sand where groups gather on one side or the other and loudly condemn anyone who thinks differently from them.  Everyone is put into a group. We are an “us” or a “them”. You are with us or against us. And if you are a “them”, oh boy you are everything that is wrong with this world. You are stupid, blind, naive, evil, a bleeding-heart liberal, a crack-pot conservative, just plain wrong. You are worthy of every curse-word in the book.

And the war cries go out in 130 characters or less, and the troops rally. Friendships are ended at the click of the “unfriend” button. There is no room for respectful debate or common ground. This is where it begins. It is the slippery slope toward bigotry and hatred.

Because as soon as we, any one of us, are able to look down on our neighbor and elevate ourselves — as smarter, freer, better, more enlightened, shrewd, or reasonable — we have placed a foot over the line of intolerance; taken a step closer to fanaticism.

The only thing worthy of our intolerance is hate.

While we absolutely should and must speak out against hate, we also have to guard our hearts and tongues lest we allow the dark nothingness to seep into our words and relationships. None of us are immune to the shadows of hatred, or a heart hardened by anger.

“…Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters…Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:14b-18, NIV)

What happened in Charlottesville this past weekend is horrifying and unacceptable. That level of hate and anger can only come from those who belong to the evil one (1 John 3:12). If we declare that we belong, instead, to the Almighty Father then we must reside in love. Therefore, let us speak only truth and love, being cautious of what we say, post, tweet, or comment, but let us protect our hearts from the enemy by refusing to judge, discriminate, or look down on others. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, not try to elevate ourselves above them.

But most of all let us love with our actions. If you are appalled by the hatred and violence happening across this country; if you are worried about the future legacy we are leaving for our children; if you are concerned about the quality of people in leadership positions, get up and do something to spread love. Write your elected officials, volunteer at a local hospital or first-response unit, donate to the Virginia State Police Association Emergency Relief Fund in memory of the fallen officers, pray for the families of those who were killed, speak to your children about acceptance, tolerance, and love.

Close your laptop, and power-off your phone. Sit face-to-face with someone who thinks differently from you. Buy them a cup of coffee and have a real conversation. Stop trying to decide who is an “us” or a “them” and instead let it be we who come together to trample condemnation, judgement, anger, and fear.

Love like your life depends on it.

1 John 3:18

photo credit: girl/afraid when life shows you signs via photopin (license)

Does he know?

Today marks 17 years married to this guy.

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I’ll be darned if he doesn’t get better looking each year, while I just get older.

 

It’s been nearly 21 years since our fist date…officially together for more of my life than not. It’s crazy to think about. Last week I was thinking about what I wanted to say about 17 years of marriage with the only man I’ve ever loved. I had this nice story I was going to tell about the antique rocking chair he gave me when our first child was born, how it’s been broken and repaired, much like our marriage over the years. A sweet analogy, but I’ll have to save it for another time.

 

Because everything changed for me on Monday when I got the call from my husband that he was on his way to the ER. And then three hours later the text that they were admitting him.

He’d had a stroke.

I was in the middle of teaching a class when I read those words on my phone. To be completely truthful I hadn’t expected it to be anything serious. He’d started experiencing numbness on his left side two days earlier, but since he had absolutely no other symptoms we thought it might be related to a recent surgery on his elbow and didn’t worry too much. Then Monday, when the numbness hadn’t gone, he went to the clinic at his work and his blood pressure was through the roof.

That’s when they sent him to the ER.

Even at that point, while I was starting to get more concerned, I really didn’t think it could be anything too serious. Because until it happens to you, you don’t believe it will.

A stroke.

He’s only 43 and he’d had a stroke. The only person I ever remembered having a stroke was my grandpa but he was sick from before I was born. Strokes only happen to elderly and very sick people, didn’t they?

As I made arrangements with my boss to end my class early and jumped in the car to start the painfully long drive from Centreville to Winchester there was one thought that kept going through my mind: Does he know?

Does he know how much I appreciate everything he did for me the last two weeks?

Does he know how his presence comforts me?

Does he know how much I respect him and admire him for all that he’s overcome?

Does he know how much I need him in my life?

Does he know how much I love him?

Because the thought that plagued me and left a knot in my stomach was that I couldn’t remember if I’d said these things lately.

We’re pretty generous with the “I love you’s”, the hugs and kisses, and even the occasional cheeky text message. But they are scattered among lots of “did you remember to buy the milk?”, “have you seen the scissors?”, and the ever-popular, “what do you want to do for dinner?” So sometimes the other things seem to get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes you say and do those things every day and you wonder if the intent behind them is truly felt. Had I sat him down, looked in his eyes, and said how I really felt about him lately?

I thought about the night before and how we’d had a tense conversation about finances. It wasn’t an argument, but let’s suffice to say that there was frustration felt on both sides. While we hadn’t gone to bed angry, I couldn’t fathom the idea that that would be our last real conversation.

Oh God, please, don’t let that be the last thing we ever talked about.

I’m not going to sit here and tell all of you how important it is to tell the people you love how you feel. To never go to bed or part angry. To set-aside differences, forgive old wounds, and restore relationships before it’s too late. It’s been said a million times by every other person who has faced a medical scare, walked away from a near-death accident, survived cancer, or lost a loved one too soon. So I won’t say it again.

Because the truth I learned this week is that until you are driving like a bat-out-of-hell on the interstate to get to a hospital room; until you are there in that hospital room waiting for test results; until you hear the word stroke, or heart attack, or paralysis, or cancer, or worst of all, “I’m sorry we did everything we could,” the reality that last night’s conversation may have been the last one doesn’t fully settle into your heart, branding itself there forever.

Until that moment we may know intellectually all that is possible, but we don’t truly feel it. We don’t believe it could be us.

I’ve cried a lot of tears this week, taken a lot of deep breaths, and said a lot of words to God. I even laid in a hospital bed next to my sweet husband and told him that if he died and left me to raise our three kids on my own I would kick his a$$ when I got to heaven. Because humor is a coping mechanism for me.

But the heart’s intent behind all of those tears, and deep breaths, and prayers, and joking was simply this: I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I don’t want to do life without you in it.

I’m so very grateful that we get more time. That we are here today, celebrating 17 years of marriage. That today I can make sure he knows. And tomorrow, and the next day.

Because I don’t know which conversation will truly be our last, but God help me, whenever or wherever it is, I will not have to wonder again if my husband knows he is the love of my life.