Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lessons From Mom

My mother is a very special person. Anyone who knows her will tell you that. Sweet, loving, kind, funny, joyful, supportive, encouraging, and wise are a few words I would use to describe her. I am incredibly thankful for her and her love. In many ways I am who I am because of who she is. It's true that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and in my case that's a good thing!

My mother taught me how to be frugal without being cheap. She doesn't especially enjoy cooking, but her cooking is very enjoyable to eat (except for the Spanish rice and liver and onions--sorry Mom, I never could get used to those two dishes; but you can laugh at me now for having picky eaters too). My mom would be the first to tell you she's not perfect, and she never expected me to be either. She loves God more than anyone else I know, and she loves others unconditionally just like Jesus does. When I was bullied in school, she didn't tell me to fight back or flee; she told me to love my enemies and trust God with the hard things in life. 

I think what makes my mother extraordinary is that she lives what she believes. She believes in love. She believes in family. She believes in God's forgiveness, and she is so thankful for all He has done to bless her life. She believes in the good in others. She believes in the silver lining. She always has hope. She never gives up on anyone. She believes in the truth of God's Word. She believes in prayer. She treats others the way she would want to be treated. These are lessons she didn't teach me so much by what she said; she just lives that way, and I got the message.

My mother is an amazing seamstress. She made almost all of my clothes when I was growing up, even the fashionable things I would see in the store that all my friends were wearing. She would say, 'I can make it for much cheaper,' and she could; and she did. She made my wedding dress just the way I wanted it, including the layers and layers of lace that cascaded down the back and into the long train that everyone 'ooohed and ahhhed' over as I walked down the aisle. I didn't inherit her love for sewing, although she did her best to teach me; but through her talent she taught me to do what I loved, not for money or praise, but for the joy of it and the blessing to others it would be. She was the first and only person to read my first novel, and although I knew it needed serious work and never published it, her praise and encouragement inspired me to keep writing. The first novel I did publish was based on her testimony, and it was so satisfying for me to write because it reflected the values she taught me and the message of God's unconditional love: the cornerstone of her unwavering faith, and mine. 

Thanks, Mom. Thank you for being who you are and never pretending that you're more than who God has made you to be. For never pretending to be perfect. For never letting me forget about God's constant care, His promises, and His forgiveness. Thank you for all the prayers and life-lessons you lived. I am blessed because of them, and I know many others are too. 

Happy 80th Birthday! I love you. Thank you for always loving me. May God continue to bless you. I know He will, and I know you know it too, because you taught me that. You taught me to live-loved. Because we are.

Friday, March 6, 2015

What Are You Worth?

They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. 2 Kings 17:15 (NLT)

Imagine for a moment that you are in the market for a new car. What do you want? Something reliable? Something fancy? One with good gas mileage. or better yet, electric? A classic style, or a new look? Your favorite color, or the safest? A zippy sports car, or the practical minivan? We each have our own tastes and needs, but whatever we get, it will likely be what meets our wish-list the best--or as close as we can get on a limited budget.

Let's say you get exactly what you were looking for. It's nice.  It's something you want to show off. It's worth protecting, and you get full coverage on your auto insurance policy. It's valuable to you. It's worth the money you paid for it, and you feel it will hold its value over time. It won't' be a piece of junk in five years. You might trade it in for an upgrade, but you won't get laughed out of the dealership. You will use it to get something of equal or greater value, and you'll be happy with that purchase too.

Some of you may be nodding your head and saying, 'Yeah, I've been there. I know what you mean.' The rest of you may be thinking, 'That's a nice dream but not my reality.' But we can all agree on the value of having what we need and getting what we want. In many ways our lives revolve around what we have, how valuable those things are to us, and what we're willing to do to gain them. We don't work for nothing. Our toil has a purpose. We reach for greatness. We're not content with life being meaningless and without purpose.

But why? Why are we so driven? What makes life so valuable? What is worth fighting for? What does it matter if I have a fancy car or an old beater? (Besides being able to actually get places)  Why do we want the nice house in a nice neighborhood? Why do we want pretty clothes and shiny jewelry? Why do we furnish our homes with the best we can afford and plant pretty flowers in the window-boxes? Why do we want better things for the poor, the best for our kids, and to help others however we can?

When we were created by God, He gave us the intrinsic value of worth. He made us in His image, and in the very act of making us by His spoken word, the God of the Universe says, 'Here is My very best work. More valuable to Me than anything else in all Creation.' He calls us to worship and value Him, but only because He did it for us first.

In Old Testament Israel, God's chosen people had the Law to guide them, and the first items on the list told them to have no other gods and to worship Him alone. He wanted them to know where their value and worth came from and to know they didn't need anyone else because He would never fail them. He valued them. He loved them. They belonged to Him as His prized possession. But they didn't get that. They worshiped other gods and made idols for themselves because they didn't think He would care for them. They sinned and feared His wrath and ran further away. He still loved them as much as ever and promised them mercy and forgiveness, but they didn't believe it. Why? Because they did not see their value. So, they worshiped worthless idols and became worthless themselves.

But not in God's eyes. He still valued them and no one could take that inherent value out of their hearts, so they tried to fill it with other things: gold and silver idols replaced wooden figures, small idols were replaced with grander ones; their hearts became filled with greed, and anger burned for what was taken from them; their wives were replaced by jewel-laden prostitutes; small victories of plunder led to mass murder for more...and on and on it goes.

Most of our value-seeking in small-town America is more civilized: comfortable cars, pretty homes, honor-student children, well-selected wardrobes, stained-glass church windows; but the principle is the same. We're looking for value. We want things that say we have worth. We want our best qualities to shine and to sweep the messiness under the rug. But in the end, these "valuable" things are only emptiness. Like an elusive treasure we know should be ours, and we're right! But we look in the wrong places.

We must realize that we ourselves are the treasure. God's greatest masterpiece. His workmanship. We don't need to look any further than who He has made us to be, and attaining this greatness takes little more than worshiping Him for who He is. Our value lies in who He says we are, and when we embrace this value He has given us as His dearly loved children, we don't look for value in nice things, our achievements, or what fulfills us, but rather celebrate them because of His goodness to us. We're thankful and content with what we have because He Himself has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)

Jesus told a parable to illustrate the kingdom of God. He said, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Luke 13:45-46)  I believe we can take this two ways, and they are both necessary to living victoriously in His kingdom. We must believe God is our greatest treasure and seek Him all of our days. We may have to leave things behind to do that, but He is not elusive and will be found. Our pursuit of Him will never be in vain and the rewards are plentiful.

But to do this, we must also believe we are like that fine pearl of great value to Him. You are His treasure, and He wants you to see yourself through His eyes: loved, priceless, beautiful, the very best on His wish-list; and He's never letting go.