It’s been a tough week. One of my toughest in 46 years.
The weather here on our New England farm mirrored my discouragement. After we enjoyed a few days of spring, stretching our legs around the property…
We planted some fence posts, the animals seemed to dance in the fields, and we all dreamed of summer. But then it hit. Snow, hail, and ice blew in from the west.
And last Friday afternoon, standing in my sock feet on the cold pine floor boards of my kitchen, I got the worst phone call I’ve ever received. Like the weather, I felt my life went from one of hope and promise to bitter cold remorse.
But the ducks and hens kept right on laying that day; giving us nourishment to collect in the midst of the storm.
There’s only one label that matters.
Last Thursday–the day before the call–God filled my day with promises. Those promises were pre-nourishment. They were something to cling to when I stood with cold feet and a sinking heart, holding the phone to my ear while my lungs deflated and felt unable to handle the effort of refilling.
My mom has cancer.
Describe us–grandparents, parents, and siblings– as Writer. Mechanic. Professional Storyteller. Bank manager. Church treasurer. Police officer. One-room-school teacher. Farmer.
But I never wanted an immediate family member to have to wear the label “cancer patient.” Especially the sweet lady who bought me my first puppy and taught me how to prevent soggy bread by slathering peanut butter on both slices of my PB&J .
Yet God prepared me for this new identity–“daughter of a cancer patient”–by strengthening my identity in Him the day before and reminding me that only one label matters. I’m “His.”
So I’m paraphrasing and claiming promises.
Yes, I’m a homeschool mom, new homesteader, poop scooper (yeah, synonymous really) writer, daily egg gatherer, editor, dinner planner, photographer, even a professional storyteller. But when I got that call; when the world narrowed in to a pinpoint; when a few simple words made me count the next minute as a blessing, I realized that only one label matters. I can take off all the other name tags: teacher, counselor, neighbor. I can rip all the other badges off my chest: negligent, procrastinating, hesitant. Those labels I wear on my sleeve in shame fall to the ground: neighbor who neglects to stop over at a shut-ins for months at a time; mom who yells in anger over meaningless things; friend who forgets to acknowledge a birthday. Because when my world stopped, my lungs felt they were failing me, and I was faced with the fragility of life, I realized I had truly only one label: I am “His.”
You see, not coincidentally, yet totally unknown to me, Thursday’s Bible study was equipping me for Friday’s phone call. My study was overflowing with promises of God. I even paraphrased them and wrote in my name. I highly recommend you find a quiet morning and take time to do this. Claim a promise as your own by paraphrasing it, filling in your name, and then tattoo it on your heart…
Okay, maybe just magnet it to your fridge. Or masking tape it to your bathroom mirror. Or sandwich it in a plastic sheet protector and hang it in your shower. (Hey, where else can a mom get 5 minutes of quiet?)
One place to start? Dance your eyes along the page in Zephaniah 3. I know, you don’t usually peruse the words of this minor prophet, but trust me on this one. Yes, it starts off a hard read but, oh, does it get better. When you get to the 17th verse, stop and try to imagine his voice, deep, perfect, pure, and true singing over you in quiet joy after he has pronounced you forgiven of all errors you’ve ever made. (And, let’s face it, there have been some doozies.) After he has fought for you, in heated battle, and been victorious, driving away your fearsome foes, he quiets you — with — his — love.
Or read Isaiah 40. Picture the king, his true glory revealed, riding on a white horse, victorious, after just fighting fervently and passionately for you. Victorious, He dismounts and picks you up in his massive, glorious arms as if you are a small tender lamb, and that warrior king speaks softly and gently to you like a shepherd speaking to his treasured sheep.
Or park yourself in John 15 for a few days. Meditate on what it would be like to see yourself as lucky to be a mere servant to a gracious, all-powerful King and then be told that you are not his servant, but his friend. His confidant. Then he reveals to you that you are there with him because he CHOSE you—before you even met him—to be his close friend and whatever you ask of His father, in his name, will be yours.
There are so many promises that we should paraphrase, and fill with our names, and claim as our own. Read Isaiah 43, 49, and 53; John 10; Philippians 1; and Hebrews 13. And that’s just a starting point. The Bible is riddled with God’s promises to us. Promises for our future, a future of hope. Not of fear. Never of fear. For what does the earth have that I desire besides God? (Psalm 73:25) And he, after all, gives us a spirit not of fear but of power. (2 Timothy 1:7)
What does perfect love look like?
Most importantly, remember that all of these promises are true and possible because his love for you is perfect.
John claimed it almost 2,000 years ago. John, with his failed vision and achy bones after a long life, riddled with persecution. John, who had known a lot of fear in his 90 or more years. But John had also known Christ as a friend, as one called “beloved.” And John knew “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18 )
Think about what a perfect love must look like. There are no strings of requirements winding around it to hold it together. There are no conditions shoved under its foundation to level it out. Our actions? Our thoughts? Our failures? All Irrelevant. His perfect love is unconditional on me but 100% conditional on him. On his perfect character. If we can even get a glimpse of this. If we can fathom just a few moments of this. His perfect love will cast a light in every dark corner, every impossible day, every unexpected phone call that shakes our day to rubble.
New vocabulary doesn’t change our identity.
His perfect love will cast its light in every corner of our lives and we will know that nothing happens to us outside of the realm of his perfect love. No new vocabulary that is forced on us and our loved ones overrides our identity as his child whom he loves perfectly.
Am I having trouble focusing this week, unsure of what the next month holds? Absolutely. Am I wishing life could just go back to its pre-cancerous state and this last week be erased? Of course. Am I trying to sort out so many details and “what if” scenarios that I can’t even itemize them? Unfortunately, I am. Am I afraid? Horribly.
But I know that God’s perfect love casts out fear, so I’m trying to sink down in his perfect love. I’m trying to soak in his perfect love. I’m trying to have a vague insight into his perfect love.
I’m trying to view everything through its radiance as I let it shine into every corner of my day.
It’s unblemished, and I should meditate on it when I feel inadequate for any task.
It’s faultless, and I should claim it when I feel defeated.
It’s defectless, and I should soak in it when I feel riddled with shortcomings.
In the end, I’m just his child trying to express my love in whatever feeble way I’m able, whatever the next 24 hours hold. For today, I’m expressing my love to my heavenly father by clinging to his promises, repeating them often in my mind, and paraphrasing them to claim them for myself.
I’m trusting that his love for me, and his love for my earthly parents, is perfect, even–or maybe especially–in the midst of nefarious weather.
“…perfect love casts out fear…” I John 4: 18
(A few weeks after writing this first entry, I shared an update on this post.)