I have this theory that becomes more of a certainty to me every day and it’s this: The ultimate longing of every human is to be seen, known and loved.
That’s it. That’s what we want and what we need. We need to know that there is someone out there who knows the real us, understands why we are the way we are and remains inexplicably crazy about us.
Take a sec right now if you would, close your eyes and answer this one question (we’ll do this a lot during our time in 139): Who in my life has ever made me feel seen, known and unconditionally loved? (The answer might be “no one” and if it is, I’m so sorry – but I’m also excited for you to find the love you’re looking for in the only place it can be found.)
Throughout my life, I’ve scraped and clawed for that kind of love from good and bad sources – but honestly, even the “good” sources – like the most incredible parents in the universe or two amazing husband – are not able to pull it off completely. There remains a supernatural longing that can only be filled by a supernatural source.
Enter…Psalm 139:1. David’s awe-filled anthem about the height, depth and breadth of the love of God. It is stunning right out of the gate:
Lord, you know everything there is to know about me. (Passion Translation)
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. (NIV)
O Lord, You have examined my heart and know everything about me. (NLT)
O Eternal One, You have explored my heart and know exactly who I am. (The Voice)
Up until now, my first reaction to the idea of Him seeing and knowing me has not typically been joy…it’s been fear. The idea of anyone knowing everything about me makes me a little queasy. And that queasy feeling? It’s a huge obstacle to experiencing His love fully and freely. Honestly, it’s one of the biggest obstacles we’ll face in this journey.
Story time: In my early career as a *bookkeeper, the company I worked for was **audited. The tax guy came (I’ll always remember he wore a slightly purple suit because the 80’s were pretty awesome like that) and sat at a makeshift desk behind my desk and sifted through receipts and ledgers for three full days. Even though he never found anything wrong, the tension in the office was palpable every second of his visit, and I don’t think it was just the color of his suit that was unsettling. We knew he was examining us with the intent of finding mistakes.
One year later, our first child was born. My husband and I laid together in my hospital bed, holding that little blonde bundle and looking at every perfect detail on her entirely perfect face. We counted fingers and toes, we smelled her little head, we cried and marveled and vowed that never, no, NEVER shall any boy be good enough for this princess of a girl.
My point is: David is not extolling the praise of God-our-Tax-Examiner. He is in awe of God-our-good-good-Father. Our Father who sees and knows us, who marvels over our faces our gifts and our beauty. I get that it’s hard to believe – we’ve been our own tax auditors for so long, it’s hard to imagine someone looking in love at all the mess we see. But, that one truth is fundamental to believing anything else at all about the love of God. We must be willing to die to the lie that God is out to catch us and come alive to the truth that He is crazy in love with us. Will His love sometimes bring correction? Sure. But the truth in first position is always: Love. He sees us and knows us and loves us – even when He wants more for us than we want for ourselves.
That’s enough for today. But we’re not done with this verse yet. There’s so much more to discover in 139:1. (If you pulled out that old notebook and want to scribble down some thoughts about this – I’ve included a journal prompt at the end.) Next up: How to fight the lie that puts God out of reach. It’s gonna be so good.
Journal prompt: What is your first reaction to the idea that God sees every part of you, knows the heart of you and loves the entirety of you? Is this reaction built on truth or a lie?
*I know, shocking, right? I also cannot believe anyone let me go near numbers.
**The company was not audited because of my poor bookkeeping skills, however.
This is my year.
I’m big on setting goals and dreaming dreams and making plans, but as we left behind the ignominious 2020, I knew that my focus would be different for 2021. This, my friends, is the year that I want to finally and fully nail down what it means to be loved by God. Listen, I know that I should already know this. Maybe you know you should know it, too. But finding myself so shaken by circumstances and social media and politics this year, I realized: I haven’t yet scratched the surface of His deep and UNshakable love for me.
The thing is: If His love is meant to be the firm foundation of my life, and if I do not take the time to know and understand it, then I could be building a beautiful home on a pile of packing peanuts (the flimsiest thing I could think of because early-morning analogies are hard.) So many lives look beautiful from the outside but are inherently unstable when the chips are down and that’s a problem in more ways than one. Did you know that earthquakes don’t kill very many people? Falling buildings kill people. Buildings that cannot stand the shaking.
And imagine, if we truly learned to live loved – what might be impacted in our lives? I scratched out a quick list in my trusty notebook:
- My view of myself and my “achievements”
- My approach to conflict
- My marriage (I’m learning so much about this!)
- My parenting
- My goal-setting and task-doing
- My view of His Church
- My need to self-protect
- My relationship with fear and anxiety (such a big one!)
- My relationship with money
- My relationship with food and body image (Ack! This has been huge for me!)
- My view of my enemies
- My relationship with aging
So, this is my year.
I began this pursuit a few weeks ago, diving first into Psalm 139 and sifting through it word-by-word, and I cannot believe what I am discovering as I go. The beauty inside the love of God for me – and for YOU – is beyond telling.
But I’m going to try to tell it. My current plan is to post a couple of times each week (or month, or year…we’ll see how it goes), whether anyone reads it or not. It’s good for me to have a rolling record of how His love unfolds this year. If you want to roll along with me, you can start by reading Psalm 139 in every translation you can find (www.biblegateway.com will give you a handy parallel experience). Maybe grab a new journal or one of your kids’ spiral notebooks that has gone to waste in the era of online learning and scribble out your own thoughts…perhaps you’ll build such a solid case for His love for you that you’ll never question your own value again. Wouldn’t that be a wonder in 2021?
Okay, so this is my little intro. Tomorrow…the beauty that is Psalm 139:1.
Yesterday was a bad, bad day. And it was the most frustrating kind of bad day: the kind where nothing goes wrong so there’s nothing to blame. A bad day needs a bad guy, but this day was totally innocuous – in fact, it contained more good than bad. And yet, at about 4:00 I texted him and said, “I’m feeling so…bleh.” He texted back that he was feeling the very same way and didn’t know why. Also, yes, we text each other inside our own home and I’m not sorry about it. The cloud hovered through dinner and well into bedtime – we just could not shake it loose.
Brief topic swerve: There should be some kind of law against both spouses feeling down on the same day. Or God should have wired in some bad-day safety valve or something so there’s SOMEONE to save the sinking ship. End of swerve.
Cliff prayed for us as we drifted to sleep and asked our good Father to give us peace, but also to give us some insight as to what was making us feel the funk in such a deep way.
This morning, I got up with the sun, seeking coffee and Jesus and answers. I’ve been going verse-by-verse through Colossians (a fully-stocked treasure chest if ever there was one) and ran right into this brilliant beacon of a verse:
Reading this verse was like flipping on a light switch in a dark hallway. I remembered the things we talked about yesterday: News surrounding the pandemic, the rioting in our city (we had a fatal shooting on Saturday), the online arguments of people who annoy us, the upcoming election and the responsibility of the Church in the midst of it all. We also worked to build a solid plan for homeschooling an 8th-grader while staying faithful to our jobs. Turns out, there is a whole universe of worry-stirring things surrounding us, so even though nothing technically “went wrong” in our day, we are feeling the symptoms of soul sickness. The strife and chaos of our world has been building, churning and slowly seeping into the deep places of our humanity, messing with our peace and stealing our joy. Our world is toxic with anger and anxiety right now and those who want to live free of it will need a really good gas mask.
For me, Colossians 1:15-16 was exactly that. It was the filter I needed to 1) reveal my unhealthy dependence on an ordered world and 2) move me back into an utter dependence on the goodness of Jesus. Every seat of power, realm of government, principality and authority – EVERY one exists through Him and for His purpose. I can trust Him with it or I can worry about it, but I can’t do both.
Today, trusting Him looks like trusting Him – but it also looks like:
- Limiting the flow of toxins from the outside world to my interior world.
- A fresh commitment to gratitude throughout the day.
- Seizing some intentional minutes to meditate and take runaway thoughts captive.
The stuff our world is facing right now is no joke. I believe it’s possible to be healthy in the middle of all the sickness, but it won’t happen accidentally. If you also feel suffocated beneath the weight of it all, I encourage you to pick three things you will do today to care for your soul and safeguard your joy. I promise you’ll be glad you did!
My son was eleven when he found out his father was dying. He absorbed that news with grace and grit as he entered a world of nearly-constant negative changes.
When he was twelve, he and his pack-of-friends received clearance to ride their bikes pretty much anywhere they wanted, as long as a parent knew where they were and when they were coming back. They tore up the streets of our little mountain town. Freedom on wheels. I always knew that Josiah was, at least in part, escaping the sinking sorrow in our house.
When he was fifteen, he went to summer camp and I was so thankful he had that chance to be away from the heartache, from the feeding tubes and suction machines and just live out his actual age. One day in, we called his youth pastor to bring him home immediately, please. He walked in the door just moments after his dad died. He bought his first suit to wear to his father’s funeral. I walked in on his arm and in spite of all the pain of that moment, I remember thinking: There has never been a better son. He helped carry his father’s casket, and stood by me at the graveside, arm tight around my shoulders as we watched the final chapter of Steve Stern’s life-on-earth story.
And then…we worked to build a new life. We went to weddings together and movies together and danced to Elton John in the kitchen together. We read the same books and talked late about philosophy and theology and girls and friendships and 70’s music. We laughed and cried and hoped together. We argued about school together. We made good things happen inside of all the hard.
When Joe was sixteen, he traded in two wheels for four, and he began asking some dads in our church to coffee. He doesn’t drink coffee, he just wanted a bit of their time to ask a question. Just one question. “What does it mean to be a man?” He gathered data and read books and articles. He worked to fill the hole in his eleven-year-old heart. He worked hard to find answers and truth. This strategy was both impressive and heartbreaking, and it revealed the ways that I would never be enough.
When Joe was seventeen, I fell in love with another man. Josiah handled the changes with grace and grit, because that’s what he does. He never questioned my judgement. Never complained about my newly divided focus. Never asked for anything. He and Cliff are equal-but-different kinds of smart. Josiah is Tolstoy and Tolkien and Cliff is business and big tech. I have watched their dance….the dance of learning to know and trust and try to discover who they would be to each other.
Brief aside to say: Josiah is not super easy to know. He is like a whole universe stuck inside a snow globe. You can see all the stars – just right there on the other side of the glass, but you can’t quite get to them. He’s not looking for friends with the cure to the sorrow he carries, he’s looking for friends who will tie a rope around his ankle and wait silently while he explores that sorrow and pull him out when he’s been there too long. This refusal to take cheap or easy exits out of pain is one of my favorite things about him, but it doesn’t make him easy to know. His truest friends understand him and love him this very way. He loves them back in the very same way. The rest of the world could learn a lot from them.
When Joe was nineteen, he gave me away at my wedding. He cut his hair for me, trimmed his beard for me, and walked me down the aisle like the boss that he is. We hugged and cried hard before he handed me over to Cliff, who promised not just to love me, but to love the four kids who came with me into this arrangement. As I stood on that stage, hearing Cliff’s vows to my people, I wondered: What is this moment for Joe? Is this a win or a wound?
Recently, around a late night fire pit conversation about what causes anxiety in our lives, Joe mentioned that his greatest fear is losing me. I felt Cliff hear that. Felt his body shift to accommodate the weight of that information. The next day at lunch with only my husband, I said: “You have to promise me that if anything happens to me….” Before I could finish the sentence, he said, “I got Joe.” He looked me square in the eyes and said it again. “I’ve got him, Bo. I will always, always have him.” And we sat, tears streaming over the weight and depth of the love we feel for the ten and for the one.
Today, Josiah is packing up his whole world and moving to another city in the middle of a dumb pandemic. He and his best friend, Ethan, have turned their bikes in for a U-haul and if that isn’t adulting, I don’t even know what is. Yesterday he called to tell me they would like to stay with us tonight. I said of course! and then asked, “How’s your heart, bud?” After a pause, he answered softly: “Good. Anxious, but good.” And all the years of Josiah and every brave moment he’s ever had came swooshing back to me in one gush of pride and fear and longing for everything, everything, everything to be made whole and right for him.
I mentioned the moment to Cliff on my way out the door. After hours of meetings, I returned home to find my husband working from a laptop on the kitchen counter while a huge pot of red sauce bubbled on the stove. He juggled calls from employees while cooking an Italian feast for my son – something he knew Joe would like because he had texted him to find out exactly what he wanted for dinner. I watched him ladle that sauce into a gigantic, gooey pan of lasagna and save the rest of it to make ziti which will be packed into Tupperware and sent with him to his new place. A home cooked meal in his first home. I watched Cliff fuss over that sauce, tasting and fixing and tasting and fixing and – one might go as far as to say – obsessing over it, and I knew: This is Cliff, stepping softly onto one corner of the sacred dad ground. This is StepCliff, sending food into the snow globe. I wished with all my heart that Josiah could see this father-with-five-other-sons, fussing over only him – just Joe – and I wished Steve Stern could see this brilliant backup father, caring so well for the son he never wanted to leave behind. Is it possible that in this divine dad relay race, the handoff baton is a sauce ladle? I don’t know, but I do know that Steve would tell you the prayers he prayed from his wheelchair day after day over that 11-and 12 and 15-year-old boy have been at least partially answered in the man who is willing to cook lasagna and Venmo money and write resumes and just generally love and lay his life down for the kids he inherited when he fell in love with me.
And so, on the day of my son’s transition into his first apartment, first move, first truly grownup venture, I want to say: Congratulations on becoming a man. You’ve done it without much of a map, but you have done it. And in all of this, I see the hand of God – leading, providing and giving you grace on grace on grace, which you will no doubt pour out on your world. Because that’s who you are. And that’s what a real man does.
I love you beyond telling.
I don’t know what to do today. I mean, it feels like any other day. The sun is shining, facebook is alive with noise and TGIF’s and You Will Not Believe What This Kitten Did Next. It’s like every other Friday.
Except it’s not.
It’s Good Friday and it seems like that should require something of me. The holy events of this beautiful, terrible day should somehow move out of the square on the calendar and into the tender places in my heart; places that were once dead and are now alive. I know we should live in gratitude for the work of the cross every day, but Good Friday isn’t every day. This is the day; the day it happened. The day flesh-torn-from-bone filled the aching void in me. The day the blood of Jesus watered seeds of hope, buried in the dry wasteland of an endless eternity. The day my spiritual diagnosis moved from terminal to triumphant, from hospice to healed. This is big. So I’m torn between sinking into the depths of quiet contemplation or shouting from the rooftops of social media.
I really don’t know what to do. But I do know this: I’m not going to let it pass without stopping to look, really look, at a sacrifice so sacred and scandalous it can only be called Grace. I want to let His words and wounds be my singular sound byte, drowning out the clamoring chatter and endless debates over louder, less-worthy issues in the Church. The fights and fringes that seem so important on any other Friday, must reverently and fearfully step into the shadows to let this Friday – and all that was accomplished – occupy every inch of the stage. Perhaps our silent attention and unyielding affection for the work of the cross will cause a change so great that we’ll never want to move back to the insignificant edges. Perhaps as we stand and stare at Love Poured Out, we’ll be willing to do the same with our words and opinions and work and dreams. As we realize, fresh and deep, that we were the joy set before Him, maybe we’ll see one another in the very same way.
Wouldn’t that just be a resurrection miracle?
Thank God it’s Friday,
PS: We have a Good Friday meditation track on Soulspace today and I really love it. Take five minutes and move up close to the cross. I think you’ll be glad you did.