Love in Action

The act of love is not convenient by any means. It requires sacrifice in times of suffering and patience to endure our struggles. A love with the aim of pleasing oneself will soon fade away to nothing. To love another above yourself is the very love Jesus Christ portrayed over two thousand years ago when he sacrificed Himself for the benefit of humanity.

What manner of love would give way to such a sacrifice? Christianity is a worldview in which a deity took up in a very personal way the suffering of humanity. Some people believe that penance through actions is a way to earn our way to a better life. My own actions are not an attempt to earn my way because I don’t believe that we can. Any act of love portrayed through me is because God first loved me. My desire is only to be useful in His hands. I believe that Jesus is the way. Not because my parents believe it, nor because of my blind acceptance of the unknown. Years of study and personal observation have led me to this conclusion. Any good that comes out of my life is from Christ living within me. When you see me fail, it is because my will was done, not His.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees the flawed ways in which we secretly hide our sins from others. But ultimately no sin is hidden from God, who knows our innermost being, the one many of us would be ashamed to reveal to others. Jesus warned us that if we even conceived something in our heart it is the same as if we had already gone through with it. It’s like he knows the outcome of our actions before they ever happen.

History is filled with tyranny and injustices committed against human beings. At the very core of some of these atrocities is the wickedness of the human heart. When a person at any moment devalues a human life, they are violating something which is sacred, beyond human comprehension – pure love.

Much of humanity’s love is impure and stems from selfish reasons. We love another because of what they do for us or how they make us feel. Its transactional love and when the transactions cease, then so does the love. Like the picture above, when a strong enough wave comes, the love washes away, leaving no trace that love was even there.

If we are honest with ourselves, most of us get stuck in a rut. On one side, we love those who care for us. On the other side, is loving those who do not or cannot love us back. For me, I’m at a place in life where I still try to refrain from praying down fire from the heavens to consume my enemies, similar to two of the disciples at the end of Luke 9 in the New Testament. All kidding aside, God is always working on me, chiseling down the edges and smoothing out the rough spots. When I look at the spec in others’ eyes, he reveals to me the log that is in my own.

The process is unwelcome because it is often painful. But I’ve come to believe it is because God sees a better version of me, the one that reminds Him of His son Jesus. When my actions are in line with His, His love becomes my love because my love is transformed. It now goes beyond exclusivity for those good to me. Christ’s love compels me to extend beyond my comfort zone and a personal world that revolves around me. We are instructed to love each other. In doing so, we must take whatever list of restrictions we have for who we will love and throw them out the window; preferably into a recycling container or at least a trash can. A new earth may be coming but let’s not destroy this one in the mean time. Let’s not limit loving our neighbor to the person next door. Let it be anyone around you. Regardless of what color their skin is, what they are wearing, what their beliefs are… love them. Sometimes a kind word is all that is needed to brighten a person’s day. Sometimes words are not enough and further action is required to demonstrate love. But by all means, find a way to genuinely love somebody today. Make a decision to love them and then take appropriate action to show it.

Beauty of My Scars

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One day while crawling up a branch, I looked down and saw the most beautiful of butterflies, perched on another branch. In that moment, my Creator showed me a vision of what I could become. However, doubt filled my heart. How could something like me become something like that? Unsure of what to make of it all, I continued to crawl my way up. Was this to be my fate? Was I to spend the rest of my life crawling on my belly?

The wind stirred and blew against the branches below. The butterfly flapped its wings and flew up into the bright sunny sky. Its magnificent colors contrasted with the deep blue skies behind it. If only, I thought to myself. Yet the promise of what I could become remained at the forefront of my mind. If I were to give up my life as it was, in total surrender, I could be transformed into something new. Do I risk foregoing this change by remaining who I am today? Dare I not give myself to the Almighty?

Other questions filled my mind also. How long will it take? How painful will the process be? Yet no answers were given to me. I had to be willing to trust in Him, no matter what happened, and endure until the end. If I left at any point in the process, my future would be highly uncertain. All I knew was that I no longer wanted to be a caterpillar. I had potential to become something more and longed for the freedom to become it. I was given the first step; to spin myself into a silky cocoon. All other steps were promised to follow sequentially after each step was taken. Had I known all the steps beforehand, I likely would not have taken that first step. But in my ignorance, I stepped out in faith for the first step.

I underwent the changes, one by one, in my cozy environment. But over time, it became extremely uncomfortable. I wanted to be free and pressed with all my might against my surroundings. Alas, I was too weak. I tried again repeatedly but my efforts showed no results. With the utmost determination, I continued to work at it, and eventually grew stronger during the struggle to free myself. Suddenly I bursted forth from the cocoon and stretched my splendorous wings outward. The sun’s warm rays shone brightly upon me.

The promise was fulfilled; I was given a new life. With my newfound freedom, I soared the winds of the skies. I could do so much that was once impossible. The thrill of it all captivated me. My powers took me places that I never dreamed I could go. But they also took me to places I should never have gone to. In such places I was badly hurt. Some did not appreciate my beauty and shoved me aside. Others saw it but tricked me with smooth words and empty promises. With wings torn and tattered, I felt devalued and unappreciated by the world. I realized then I was not created for them but for the One who created me. Thus, I returned to my Creator.

My gaping wounds oozed with rot and disease. I yearned to be healed from the wounds and in time I was. Why leave the scars though, I wondered. A brief look into the waters returned my reflection. I saw scars that reminded me of the poor choices I made along the way. I also saw where others hurt me. My last fleeing thought occurred before leaving the water’s edge; I saw a survivor.

When you see me from a distance, you will see the grandeur of my beauty. But get any closer and you will see the beauty of my scars.

Future Self

No matter how dark my hair gets, my blonde roots make an appearance now and then. When I opened my mailbox there was a single letter inside, with no return address. Much to my surprise, the handwriting was my own. I gasped. My future self was writing to me! Perhaps to warn me of something. Seconds later, I thought, you idiot, that is the self-addressed envelope you sent a few weeks ago to the local tax bureau for a receipt.

Leaving this ridiculous moment in the past, a thought often intrigues us after receiving hindsight. That’s because we have made countless mistakes in life, many of which could have been avoided. But unfortunately we do not have the luxury of steering ourselves in that fashion.

What we do have though, alternatively, is an urgent need to steer those who come after us. As “experienced lifers”, we have an obligation to young people, a duty to fulfill to any who will listen. If you were hearing your words instead of speaking them, what would the message be? What message are we sending our young people?

There is a scripture in the Bible, Judges 2:10, that mentions a new generation that came up that did not know the Lord or what He had done for the people of Israel. How does something like that happen? How could an entire generation turn away from God? Perhaps the previous generation spoke more of today’s troubles than yesterday’s victories. Until young people have experiences of their own with God, all they have to rely on is what information they are receiving from others who have had experiences with Him.

There is a weird connotation with some testimonies, not knowing whether they are real or not. But when we come across one that is false, it shakes our faith. A seed of doubt is planted and if given the chance, it will grow. But not all testimonies are false. Some are very real and cannot be dismissed. I don’t believe God changes the way we do, nor that He is a respecter of persons. We can add to our faith by building on the faith of others. Even if there is the smallest chance that God will do it for me too, I would want to know that it was possible.

But what if we are silent, no longer telling the stories of all that God has brought us through? Miracles start out miraculous, but when time elapses, they became less of a deal to the point which we may be tempted to not even tell the tale any more. However, telling the next generation how God worked in our lives accomplishes two things. First, it illustrates to them the possibilities of how God can work in their life too. Second, it brings to remembrance in our own minds what God has done previously for us, which helps reinforce our faith for the challenges we face today.

There are no do-overs. We cannot erase our past. But while this future self isn’t likely to tell us about what will come, it is in our power to do the next best thing. We have a responsibility to help those who come after us. We can tell them the stories of how God brought us through the struggles and challenges we faced along the way. If they are open to hearing our past mistakes, they have the potential to learn from them without having the often painful experience of living them. If they can build on the foundation God has started in us, then think of the heights they can achieve beyond what we did. Progress is made possible by those who continue to strive to do more and become more. If there were a future me out there, I have a feeling what he would tell me.

“Reach higher!”