Praying for an Understanding Heart.

As a society, it seems that we have become desensitized to cruel acts and hurtful words. We are faced with a live stream of unbearable acts taking place every day, through social media, technology, and personal encounters, to the point that our souls become calloused and accept the hatefulness as a norm. But yet we wake up every morning in a world that screams for acceptance, even louder than the day before, amidst a generation that demands respect.

A few days ago I found myself corralled to the back of an elevator, playing that miserable dance of balancing personal space and just balancing. As we dropped 25+ floors, I gazed around at the individuals who joined me for the ride. There were folks of all ages and genders, their style varying from business casual to “I just traveled a few thousand miles in the clouds and I am ready for a nap.” But we all had one thing in common, we had a place to be. But in those few minutes that we were all forced to stop, and stand side by side in an elevator, there was a whisper of chit chat that took place among the passengers.

We chuckled about general comments regarding the safeness of the elevator from the guy who found himself nose to nose with the door. A male and female in the corner struck up a conversation about what she did for a living, as the group worked together to help shuffle people on and off the elevator. And even in the early morning fog that surrounded my mind, it was astounding to me that for those brief moments, there was nothing but kindness that filled the hearts and minds of those people. They didn’t judge one another, they didn’t discount common courtesy and compassion for their own desires. They simply coexisted with their fellow man, making the most of the situation they were in.

It stirred my heart to experience a moment of just simple kindness. Sure, there was no earth shattering event that took place. And no, it wasn’t a feel-good moment you would hear about on the news. It was the saving grace of being human displayed in its most pure form. So why, if it’s so easy to just be kind to one another, are we living in a world where kindness is treated as a useless human emotion that only exhausts your efforts and gives you nothing in return?

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” Luke 6:35

As servants, God calls us to be kind to one another. He calls us throughout the Bible to put others before ourselves, and even to turn the other cheek to those that strike you. He praises the man who lays down his life for a friend, and pronounces distaste for those soaked in greed and concern only for themselves.

So how does a world that our most High created fall so far from such a simple emotion?

Sometimes it feels like everyone around me is in survival mode. Like they are the way they are because they think that is what it takes to make it in a cynical world. It hurts my heart to see the hatred, the greed, and the total disregard for something so miniscule as kindness that is exhibited by my generation. A hardness that has filtered down from one generation to the next. It seems that with each turn the world makes, we fall farther and farther from God’s example.

There are countless examples of kindness in the Bible, words and parables about how we should act as Christians. But what is sometimes harder to find is how to deal with the hatefulness of our fellow men with grateful and understanding hearts. After all, one can only turn the other cheek so many times before they are covered in bruises and battered beyond recognition.

For me, I look no further than King Solomon to find the inspiration I crave to continue to wade through the darkness and weight of the world we know. While at first glance, there may seem to be no connection to Solomon and the desire to be kind, it is in Solomon’s request that we find what we are searching for. King Solomon came to the Lord in search of something. He didn’t ask for riches, he didn’t crave gold. He sought wisdom, and the desire to do God’s will in his work. When the Lord appeared to Solomon after his sacrifices to his name, he said “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” It was then that Solomon, in all the humility he could muster, placed himself at his Lord’s feet and ask for an understanding heart.

How often do we go to the Lord in prayer, asking for him to help those we love who are sick, praying for peace with a decision we are trying to make. We ask for the promotion at work, or the relationship we crave to come to fruition. But how many times do we sit down, place ourselves at the Lord’s feet and ask him for understanding?

This is a heavy question, and can be a personal journey That is why I invite you to read about Solomon in 1 Kings, Chapter 3, look to his example to find hope and strength in the Lord. For because his request was for that of wisdom and understanding, the Lord blessed him tenfold with riches and the desires of his heart. For he gave him what he did not request, because of what he requested.

“Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” 1 Kings 3:9

But what I really pray that you do today is think. Examine your heart and your mind for understanding. How do you treat others? How do you fight back when the world takes a swing? Do you throw a punch yourself, or do you lay down your desire to smite and instead seek to be the a light in a dark world.

It is easy to find a way to show kindness to a stranger. Sometimes we can even figure out how to forgive transgressions of our friends and foes. But often what proves to be the hardest part of showing kindness as Christians is having an understanding heart. We are so quick to expect the worst of people, to judge those who surround us in protection of our heart, that we often show hatred without even realizing it. Instead, we should be pleading with our Heavenly Father, that in times such as these, that we can see each and every person put in front of us as he sees them, a person he molded from the very dust beneath our feet. An individual that he chose a path and a journey for as he breathed life into their lungs.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that our waiter or waitress is terrible at their job when they forget our drinks, or mess up our order. But next time, make the effort to ask them how their day has been. You may find that they wrestle with demons comparable to your own, and just happen to have to come to work and put on a smile amidst them.

It is easy to assume the person who cut you off was only thinking of themselves or is a selfish driver. But perhaps you should pray for them, they may be struggling to see the road through tears in their eyes. Their world could be shattering as you both drive down the interstate.

It is easy to yell at the person on the phone for not giving you what you think you deserve, or to berate them and tell them they don’t know how to do their job. But who knows if they are sitting on the other end of the phone, second guessing themselves for the hundredth time today because you aren’t the first person to put them down. They may be watching their self-confidence dwindle to a pile of soot every day, soot that stains their every move.

You see, this world tries to show us that there is no beauty in it. It attempts to prove that kindness is gone from this Earth. It will beat us down until we give in, and grapple for hatred and hurt to guard our vulnerable heart. But the Lord calls us to be his children, to fight for kindness, and beauty, and joy. He asks us to be the light in the world. He asks us to forgive, to not judge, just as he doesn’t judge you for a lifetime of sin…but instead gave the most precious thing to him to die so that we could be saved.

Choose kindness; today, tomorrow, and always.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” Colossians 3:12

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Sinking Sand

I wasn’t sure what there would be left to say today. These last two weeks have left me feeling emotionally drained, numb even. Some days it still feels like a dream, like I’m watching it happen to someone else. And other days, the heartache is a raw, nagging pull that leaves me looking for a piece of daddy anywhere I can find it. Some of the hardest moments are those where my mind has tricked itself into forgetting, until a memory, a smell, or something that reminds me of him brings my conscience slamming back to reality.

Grief can teach you a lot about yourself. It is not until your heart and soul experiences overwhelming grief that you realize just how powerful of an emotion it is. If you let it, it can wreck your existence and leave you feeling empty and neglected. If you spend your days dancing around the edge of its cliff, pretending it’s not there, you will eventually suffer a misstep that sends you flailing into the very pits of its darkness. And if you fight back? You’ll win, for a bit. But your energy will dwindle and when you are at your most vulnerable layer, it will strike with a vengeance.

So how do you cope?  This post isn’t a message to those mourning, telling you that you’ll be defeated by your grief. It’s not a post to say that it never gets better and you’ll spend the rest of your days plagued with sadness. I am writing it to tell you that grief is something that you cannot manage by yourself, something that we as human beings do not have the strength alone to handle it. It isn’t something you can just push aside for another day, hoping that time will take the sting out or knock the edge off. It’s sinking sand, and the only way to survive is to keep your head above the sand.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

For me, that wood plank that I am teetering on is made up of grains that represent my relationship and faith in our Lord and Savior, and the love and prayers of the people in my life. I can’t imagine anything more humbling than what I have experienced over the past few weeks, and throughout this journey from those that care about me. The unwavering support, concern, and love has lifted my head off my pillow on the days that I just wanted to give up. It has given me strength to stand on days my feet failed me. And it has held my hand while my Lord and Savior has carried me through these past few weeks.

I was taught to pray at a very young age. I attended Sunday school, church, vacation bible school, all of which helped ingrain in me a knee jerk reaction to pray in times of strife, and in times of need. Over the years, I have grown in my relationship with Jesus and every day we talk. Sure its praying, but I have evolved to a place in my heart where I talk to God about my worries, my fears, my pain and it’s a place of comfort for me there in conversation with him. But what I now realize is that I have never quite grasped the power of other people’s prayers until these past few weeks. But believe me when I say that I felt every single prayer that was uttered on behalf of daddy, me, and all my family. Those prayers, on their way up the heavens, reached out and touched my heart as they passed by. They provided protection from the grief, a cushion to soften the blow. They were a blast of strength when I needed it most, even if I had no idea where it came from at the time. Coupled with the love that so many people have shown us, it is so humbling to consider the effect that the support of friends, family, and those who loved daddy have had on my life.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

So today, I say thank you to anyone that has prayed for us. For those prayer warriors who have spent hours on their knees praying for God to comfort us. For those who included us on their church’s prayer list and asked complete strangers to pray for our family, and in turn those strangers who felt compelled to prayer on behalf of us. And for those who just simply whispered a prayer when they heard the news. I truly felt every single word you uttered. I could never find the words to say thank you enough.

Sometimes it is hard to find the flower for the weeds, but if anything has come from the loss of daddy, I pray that his life was a testimony to those who may not have the love of Christ in their hearts. I hope the faith and humility with which he paved his journey with cancer speaks to each and every person whose path he crossed. And I truly think it has. I don’t know why God has laid this on my heart, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe for some of those folks who have been praying for us, this is the first time they have talked to God in a while. Maybe they felt so strongly about helping us, that they realized the Lord is there when there is nowhere else to turn, and nothing left you can do. And so now it’s my turn, to pray for all of you.

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

I pray that God continues to touch your soul in a way that only he can do. I pray that if there is anyone out there questioning if they prayed enough, or said the right things, that you know without uncertainty that your prayers worked. For it wasn’t the end result that you were praying for, it was the comfort as God’s will for daddy’s life unfolded exactly in the fashion that he had written for him before he was even born. I pray for comfort for you, as you mourn the loss of a great man in your life, as well as in mine. For I know the impact he had on those he met was great, and that you are grieving with me. But most importantly, I pray a prayer of thanks to the gracious Heavenly Father, who has seen enough favor in me to bless me with each and every one of you. From the bottom of my heart, I love and am thankful for you every single day.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” Ephesians 1:18

The Tapestry We Weave.

If you had to write down your five favorite memories, what would they be? More importantly, who would be in them? Every day amidst the storm that is dad’s cancer, I am learning more and more how truly important the people and blessings in life are. But when the woes of the world are weighing on you, it is sometimes easy to forget how truly blessed you are. I love to stumble across small mementos of the laughs and smiles of days gone by, and I cling to the memories we are making now. With the technology available to us, and the camera we keep tucked away in our pocket at all times, perhaps today more than ever we are able to capture moments that we cherish and hold them close to our heart, both physically and emotionally.

But why does it seem that every time the darkness and ugliness of life threatens to darken our door step do those moments seem so far away?

The truth is, next to God and his love for us, the relationships we build in this life are the closest things we will find to treasures on this earth. And God called us to to find those treasures and cherish them.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14

We see over and over in Psalms and Proverbs instructions on the type of people to yoke ourselves to. God calls us to find those that can hold us up when we stumble, who can help us in our times of needs, and love us always. I can’t even put into words the amazing people who have graced my life. I have some of the best friends I could ever hope to have, including those I grew up with, met in school, or those who I have struck a friendship up with as I have gotten older. But perhaps what is the most stellar thing of all, is the impact that every single person I have encountered in my twenty-six years has had on me and my path.

A dear friend once described it to me as a quilt and how each person and experience we have with them is like a thread that is being woven into this wonderful tapestry that we call life. It’s a beautiful picture to paint, thinking of each person I have had the opportunity to know and make memories with, and what color thread they would be. Of course there are those thick stitches, the very fruit of your existence like your parents, siblings and immediate family. But as you branch out from that dominating pattern, you see these smaller threads start to take shape. Friends you met in school, past relationships, co-workers, mentors. Their vibrant colors bring life to the quilt. But even those occurrences and encounters that left you feeling a little broken, they are there too. Maybe they are a bit darker thread, maybe a little tattered. But all the same, they still are a very important part of your story.

There are so many amazing accounts of relationships and friendships in the Bible, but perhaps one of my favorite ones can be found in the book of Ruth. I invite you to turn to the brief book and read the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi is a woman who suffers great loss in her life, she has to bury both her husband and two sons. She is also living in a time of great famine. But what we see is a beautiful relationship develop for her from an unlikely place. See, after Naomi’s sons had died, her and her two daughters-in-law set out to return to the land of Judah, as God was providing for his people there during this time. But Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their home land, praying for kindness and a good life for them, as they had shown her sons. But both women wept when they were told to leave her and told her they would travel with her. But Naomi insisted that they return to their own homes, that the Lord’s hand had turned against her and all that was left was a life of bitterness for her. She wanted more for her daughters-in-law.

So one of the women finally said goodbye and started her journey home, but Ruth, the other daughter-in-law, refused. She clung to Naomi and uttered one of the most prominent verses in the Bible…

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me,” Ruth 1:16-17

Take a moment and reread that verse. What a powerful testament of dedication and loyalty from a person who wasn’t even a blood relative to Naomi. But her devotion to her friend did not stop there, Ruth even went on to provide for Naomi, who eventually called herself Mara, by gleaning behind the harvesters in the field. But what happens next is part of the magic of this book that warms my heart to the very core, from Ruth’s kindness to Naomi, she receives kindness herself. Boaz, the owner of the field that Ruth visits, reaches out to Ruth, offering her water to drink and a place with the women who work for him.

While humbled, Ruth wonders why she has found favor with Boaz, for as a foreigner in this time, it was uncommon. But what Boaz tells her is what makes this lesson all the worthwhile; he tells her that he has heard about the kindness Ruth has shown Naomi, how she left her parents and homeland to come to a foreign land to take care of her mother-in-law when she had no one else. I read this and I smile because it truly speaks to the kind of life we all should strive to live, and how kindness is always repaid, perhaps when you need it most.

As you continue your journey through Ruth, you will see how the story only gets better and ends with what we would call a happy ending. But above all else, it is the friendship between Naomi and Ruth that truly tells a story.

I encourage you, no matter what season of life you may be in, to remember those who mean the most. Cherish every second you have with the ones you care about and hold them close to your heart. Train your eyes to seek goodness in every person you meet, and be cognitive of how every single experience in your day, good or bad, is shaping your life. Things you brush off as just another encounter, those moments that seem so small, one day will come full circle and make more sense than you ever thought possible.

And those people in your life, they are weaving threads that will bind you to who you are for the rest of your days. Those lessons your dad teaches you, that will be your guiding light. The fight you had with your best friend, how you overcome will teach you things about yourself that will bond you to them for life. And even those times that it feels like your heart is breaking, those moments when it feels like your world is slipping away, those too are melting a color into your tapestry that will complete the scene one of these days.

Trust me, I know its hard to see now, but every single day of your life is coloring a world for you that you have yet to fathom. And every person that is in your life, is there for a reason. Open your eyes to the blessings you have and cling to them, they are your treasures here on Earth.

Living Life with No Filter.

As humans, it is our nature to hide our flaws and cover ourselves to prevent our vulnerability. And as we live in a world of technology, we now have the guise of a computer to hide behind as we project the image of ourselves we want others to see through social media. But what if you stepped away from the computer, striped yourself of the coverings, and stood in the presence of others as you are, with no filters…what would they see?

While the revolution that is technology has reached a climax in our current day and age that has produced incredible advancements in fields such as medicine, it has also brought with it the likes of social media. There are refreshing aspects to our time online, like keeping up with friends and sharing our lives with those who may be far away from us, but it also brings with it a devastating mindfulness of our flaws. By having the ability to broadcast every second of our lives to those whose opinion we value, we enable ourselves to find a filter to put on our life that projects perhaps a happier picture of ourselves, a healthier picture, or a more acceptable picture. It allows us to pick and choose who we are to others.

This can be absolutely devastating to our spiritual lives as that mindset tells us, I can hide the things I don’t want others to see. I can cover up the bruises and imperfections and no one will know what I hide. But the truth is, your Heavenly Father knows your heart, your mind and every hair on your head. There is nothing you can hide from him.

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” Psalm 139:1-5

I am currently diving into a study by one of my favorite Christian authors, Angela Thomas-Pharr, entitled “Redeemed.” In one of her sessions, she was talking about selfies and social media and she said something that struck a chord with me, “living life without a filter.” As I worked through the rest of the lesson, I circled back to that phrase and sat on it for a bit. What did that mean to me? As a professional in the world of marketing and public relations, social media is a part of what I do. I am continuously learning and soaking up any knowledge I can about a piece of technology that is ever-changing. I am always strategizing, calculating each move I make on Facebook, Twitter and the likes as to how it will represent the brands I am a part of. And then I looked at how much time is spent by myself and others each day, creating just the right post to capture the attention of the people we follow. How much time is spent picking out just the right photo filter on Instagram to mask imperfections in our photos, from our photography to the glimmer of chaos that is caught in the frame. But what would happen if those filters suddenly disappeared, and we were left with just the raw film of what is taking place in front of us. Would our world look differently to those who see it through social media?

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2

I wonder if sometimes we get so caught up in building this brand for ourselves online, that we forget who we are on the inside. That we allow our desire to please mankind to separate us from our Heavenly Father. In truth, the opinion of man will give us nothing but a belief in God, and striving for his kind of perfection will give us eternal life.

As humans, vulnerability is naturally a scary thing. We are inclined to protect ourselves and hide our hearts from the rejection or distaste of those here on Earth, a desire that came to us from our ancestors of the Garden of Eden. If you visit Genesis 3 in your Bible, you will read the account of Adam and Eve and how their disobedience to God led them to the knowledge that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves and their shame, and even hid from God. Our sinful nature is reflected in that of the first man and first woman put on Earth. God being a gracious ruler gave us free will, he gave us the power to choose to love him or choose to sin against him. That is why Adam and Eve were able to disobey him and because of it, were forced out of the paradise of the Garden of Eden. And today, we still struggle with the same temptations that they did. We are surrounded by influences that force us to judge our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and others. We are constantly gaging how we measure up to others and completely ignoring the glaring reminder that God gives us that we were made in his image. Rest on that a moment.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

The Lord of Lords, the God of ALL creation took his time and made you specifically in the image of himself. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God created any other living, breathing thing in his image. Only male and female.

How special are you that the Creator of Earth wanted you to be like him, the very definition of perfection?

And yet we struggle to accept ourselves, to accept others. We spend time staging just the right look, just the right pose, in just the right setting to fit the brand we want for ourselves that we think is pleasing to our fellow man. But what happens if you strip away those filters, and you are left with the raw film of your life. What does it look like? Are you happy with the stripped down version of yourself?

If you were forced to take a candid picture with no filters, and write a true, honest caption that represented your life, what would it say?

Maybe you are reading this today and you say, you know what? I am happy with my life. I have a great family, I have wonderful blessings in my job and home. I am happy right where I am and would show anyone that life in a moment’s notice. My question to you then would be, what if Jesus was at your door? In the midst of the chaos you don’t post on line, when you have had it with the day before you, you feel defeated and are at your absolute worst, the Lord and Savior shows up at your door. What would he find? Would you find a servant living their life as best they can for him? A Christian praying for peace and guidance in an upside down world? Or would he find a human that has strayed from their Heavenly Father, just trying to make sense of things and keep up a façade that makes everyone believe you’re ok, because you’re supposed to be ok?

Or maybe you are reading this today and tears are streaming down your face. Maybe you are sitting there saying, “I’m lost.” You recognize that you have strayed away from your Heavenly Father and have been working for men, not for him. That the happiness you just can’t seem to find is because you’ve been chasing the wrong joy. You’ve been looking for fulfillment in the things this Earth tells you should make you happy instead of filling that God-shaped hole in your heart with prayer and his word.

Whichever category you fall into, it is ok. God loves you regardless and he wants to help you. He doesn’t care about that blemish on your face, or the extra pounds you have gained. He doesn’t care that there is a scar on your body from where you took out your frustration on yourself. He doesn’t care that there are bruises, physical and emotional, on your body and in your heart because of the evil of another person. All he cares is that you love him and you want him to be in your heart.

Now I am going to ask you to do the one of the hardest things you will ever be asked to do. Take just a moment of your today and peel back all those layers. Delete those filters from your life. Scrub away every mask you have painted on in the name of survival. Now look at yourself in the mirror. Who are you? Is that person who you want to be?

I will tell you exactly who you are, you are a child of the Creator of everything. You are loved by God, who is the Alpha and the Omega and he is yearning for you to rest in his love. He is craving your desire to follow him and he is standing right there beside you, just waiting for you to give in to his glory. Let him take you, and make you new. Let him erase the past, and provide you with a future that is brighter than you can ever imagine. I can promise you that when you have a relationship with the Lord and Savior, no human attention or approval will match the tremendous joy that fills your heart, mind and soul. You are perfect in his eyes, let him love you.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Love Without Abandon.

I’m a dog person, it’s no secret. If we are friends on Facebook, fellow Tweeters on Twitter or connected on Instagram, you know that my feeds are full of pictures of my fur children. I have two dogs, one little and one big. They have their own unique personalities but the one thing they have in common is that they love their momma. As I type this blog, my Doddle is literally resting his head on my shoulder.

Being a dog mom has taught me a lot, it’s given me patience and showed me that if I can make it through the puppy years, I can raise a child one day. But the most important thing that my sweet boys have taught me is how to love. It may seem strange to think of an animal that doesn’t speak our language or share our belief system as the perfect symbol of how we should love, but I truly believe that the love a dog shows is the purest love and the closest we will ever get here on Earth to knowing the true immensity of God’s love.

Let me explain.

My pups meet me at the door every time I come home, and their excitement is uncontainable. They are wagging their tails, licking my toes, and doing their very best to get my attention and let me know that they are so happy to see me. Our doodle is one-year old, and Andy my shih-tzu mix is only three. I remember their younger year very vividly. I got frustrated a lot and let’s face it, I still lose my temper with them now and again. But you know what? No matter how loud I yell at them, or how many times I get angry with them, they are always right back at my feet, begging to be loved.

As sad as it is, we see it all the time in the news. Every time a new animal neglect case comes up or animal cruelty pictures surface, those gruesome photos depict the face of a poor dog who loved its owner despite their cruelty and shortcomings. We see a heartbroken, defeated animal learn to trust a human again in such a short time. We see a puppy who gets a second chance with a new family and falls in love with them all over again. It seems that no matter what this world does to these defenseless babies, they bounce right back and learn to love in spite of it all. We could learn something from our furry friends.

But what may be the most rewarding thing ever about being a dog owner is their ability to love endlessly without expecting anything in return. Sure they like to be loved on, they are hearty eaters and enjoy the occasional stroll through the park with you. But they demand none of it. They would love you the same if you both sat day in and day out in one spot and never ate again.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

The greatest commandment that God ever gave us in the Bible was to love; to love Him with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And yet as humans, this is often one of the most difficult task for us. We are quick to judge others, we are afraid to expose our hearts and we hide behind walls that prevent us from loving unconditionally. And we are skeptical. We are threatened by anything that presents itself as pure love. We are quick to discount it, and toss it out of our way because it scares us.

Whether it is in a relationship with a significant other, a second chance connection with someone who hurt us or basking in the light of a potential love, we often run and guard ourselves from hurt. I sometimes wonder if it is that exact reason that often times people stray from the church and God’s love because they just don’t quite get how someone as awesome and powerful as God could love them, and forgive them and keep on loving them through all of the bad and the good. But the truth is, he does. Our God is an amazing God that loves us no matter what we do.

Do your reservations about love hold you back in life? Is it holding you back from the relationship with your Lord and Savior that you crave?

The Bible itself tells us to guard our hearts, they truly are important. But for us that typically means hiding our hearts, and containing them from the cruelties of this world. But I encourage you to not let the state of our world, or the hurt you’ve experienced keep you from a true relationship with God. Open your heart to him, only there will you find the peace and comfort you crave. The truth is, each and every one of us have a God-shaped hole in our heart that is yearning to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And if you have been holding God at an arms length, scared of what that love may feel like, you my friend are missing out on one of the greatest things we will ever experience. God’s love can change not only your life, but your eternity.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35

And perhaps what is often times even harder than the immensity of love, is giving something so dear to you to someone who has done you wrong. But even so, God calls us to not only love Him, love ourselves, and love our neighbors, he calls us to love our enemies. If we are so guarded against love from those we care about, it may seem impossible to love someone we despise.

As Christians we have something that no one else has; the perfect role model. God is the very definition of perfection and his love is the purest and most real love you will ever experience in your life. He loved us so much that he sent his only son, Jesus, to be crucified on a cross, ridiculed and beaten, just so that we could have the choice to live free of sin. God himself said it in John 15 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And that is exactly what Jesus did for us. I encourage you as Christians to look to the example of your Heavenly Father to love one another.

How are you holding back from giving your love away to those in your life?

Have you had bad experiences with love in the past? Were you done wrong by someone when you had just opened your heart to vulnerability of truly falling in love? Or maybe you had your love taken advantage of by a family member or friend and you were left feeling scorned and exposed. Whatever the case may be, I encourage you today to not let that experience keep you from experiencing one of the greatest gifts God has ever given to us. There is a hole in our hearts that is perfectly carved out to hold the love that we will carry with us through our lives here on Earth. God intends for us to find fellowship and companionship with our brothers and sisters on Earth through friendship, a church family, a husband or wife or even the joy of a pet. What he didn’t intend for us to do was take a gift so great as love and find a hole in the ground and bury it so we never have to be hurt by it.

So if you are on teetering on the ledge of falling in love, jump in with both feet.

If you are cultivating a new friendship, open your heart and soul to that person.

If you are married to the love of your life, cherish them and tell them how you feel every day.

If you have children, encourage them to love without abandon.

If you have a furry little head resting on your shoulder, give that sweet puppy kisses every day.

But don’t stop there, share your love with others by doing things out of love. Don’t do things because you feel obligated, or because you have to. Do things because in your heart you feel that small tug that says “this is right.” Look for ways to do small acts of kindness for others. And when you experience one yourself, find a way to pay it forward. If there is anything that we can do as Christians in a world so full of hate, it is love. You have no idea the amount of power you have sitting right there in your chest. If we open our hearts and let the love that our Heavenly Father gave us poor out into our everyday life, we can change the world.

I pray that every day you would pick up your Bible and read this verse. Memorize it, put it on a post it in every room of your house and carry it in your hearts. Live this verse, practice this verse and share this verse with the world because nowhere will you find a more perfect definition of how we are called to love one another…except maybe through the eyes of a man’s best friend.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8