For You My Child: You Are Loved

Life presents us with question after question on our journey. One question that comes up again and again, but is hardly ever asked, is the question of, “Am I loved?” If that’s your question, the answer is an emphatic, “Yes!

But is that enough? I knew that I was loved, but it wasn’t always by words. I knew that I was loved by the sacrifices my family made for me. I knew that I was loved by the way that they cared for me and supported me. But, in spite of all the evidence in front of me, I still had doubts. You see, I had convinced myself that I was loved because of what I did. That’s a dangerous line of thinking, and it’s not love at all. I watched those around me and also how people responded to me, especially when I made mistakes. Sometimes I convinced myself that I was loved – as long as I didn’t make mistakes.

When I became a parent, I began to love in a way that I had not known before. I had known romantic love and I had known familial love, but becoming a parent was my first encounter with indescribable love. It’s that kind of love that you really can’t explain to someone unless they have experienced it themselves. As a parent you find yourself telling expectant parents things like, “It changes you,” and, “It turns your whole world upside-down.” I believe that, in many ways (but not the only way), it allows people to experience a bit of how God feels toward us. When a parent looks on their child, they see themselves – their image. But they also see hope and possibility when they see their child, they see the best that is yet to come. And the child is loved. You are loved.

One of the greatest challenges that I have faced as a parent is to express love without also reinforcing the thought that my love is conditional. Yes, I want to train you in ways that are good. Yes, I want to correct you and teach you what I have learned. Yes, sometimes I cringe when things don’t go well. But never, in all of those attempts at guidance, does my love change. You are loved.

Why am I telling you this now? Well, quite simply, because I know how Christmas can be interpreted. I never had a Christmas without gifts. I’ve never had a Christmas without family. But, now that I am older, I’ve seen that many children do experience Christmas without gifts and without family. That’s the type of information that’s hard to ignore. It has always been true, but when those children have names and faces and stories, it is impossible to ignore. It’s hard to explain, really, but I don’t know that I have to – you’ve seen it. You have watched those names and faces come and stay in our home. You have learned their stories and – I’ve seen it – you care for them in your own way. Your cousin stays with us now but, as I watch you, I see you interacting with him as a brother. No matter what you do or where you go for the rest of your days, I could not be any more proud of you or love you any more.

I have discovered that the way I show love – my language for giving – is through acts of service. This has been modeled in my parents since day one, and it’s how I could always trust that I was loved. I didn’t always have the best understanding of how to show my love through these gifts. There were times when I thought that acts of service could be used as a way to earn love. That’s a dangerous road, it’s a road with no end. Today I better understand that giving or doing something for someone can be an act of love that doesn’t have a price tag.

Today, as I mentioned, you will face an awkward question or two. Your friends may already be asking you, “Hey, what did you get?” You may try out the answers of, “Nothing yet,” or, “I don’t know.” Listen, I get it. Christmas arrives once a year and I have helped reinforce the idea that you should have gifts wrapped and under the tree when you wake up. I told you that that is not the case this year. You said that it’s fine, and I believe you. I believe you because I know you. You are incredible, and that is what makes my heart both delighted and heavy. You deserve it all and more, as far as I’m concerned. But I don’t have it – not now.

I don’t expect that a new pair of boots or headphones or a hoodie would have brought you lasting happiness. You know that, too. But as a person who gives as a way to show love, this may be harder on me than on you. So I’m giving you this, my words, because it’s far easier for me to write through tears than to leave the words unsaid – you are loved.

There are people who had a meal this week instead of me buying you new cologne. There are people who replaced stolen presents this week instead of you having new boots. The hoodie and the art supplies will have to wait so that we could bless someone who lost their mother. There’s no iTunes gift card in the stocking but we helped someone get to work this week. When we hold these things up in comparison, it almost seems silly. And yet, at the same time, I know that it’s not. You’ll feel a little disappointment and you’ll have some awkward chats with some friends who got an arm full of things they asked for this year. But what I really want you to know is that you will never have to awkwardly answer the question, “Are you loved?” Yes, yes you are.

If you want to know what truly makes my heart swell, it’s watching you use what you have to be able to give and to bless others. That’s so beautiful and such a reflection of why we celebrate this day. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,” and his name is Jesus. I also want you to know, and I believe you will continue to see, that people are worthy of love regardless of how they come into your life. You won’t have to give anything to earn love, and their response toward you will not change their worth.

I’m sitting here next to a lovely dead tree. We decorated it nicely and it looks as if it’s still living – but it’s not. There are so many handmade ornaments from the years of Sunday school and classroom projects. But, whether we leave the tree in here or place it outside, it has been cut off from its roots. Please don’t be like this tree. Don’t pretend to have it all together. Don’t pretend that the shine on you makes a difference. Stay rooted. Be the life that you were meant to be.

And be loved, because you are.

*If you are someone who has generously given to us, you may wonder how it is that there are no gifts this Christmas. It’s simple, really. We have a roof and lights and food and clothes on our back. Not everyone does. If I had told people of our financial circumstances, they would not have let me help them. Trust me, I know. I have placed an inherently foolish (only to the world) amount of trust in God and His provision because I’ve seen it – time and time and time again. I’ve been on a unique journey for a while and I have learned that if God gives me five portions of manna, I am bound to encounter four people who have none. The next day is new all over again. There’s an expression regarding bills and finances that I use fairly often, “You gotta keep the wolf away.” Well, when you walk with the Great Shepherd, sometimes you just learn to let the wolves howl and snarl while you take the time to feed His sheep. Merry Christmas. ❤️

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When Lightning Strikes: Seek Cover

Take 4…

God is good. The End. That’s the final sentence of this piece. Everything else that I share is an exposure of my scar, but it is also a testimony to the truth that God is good. I am also going to invite you to cover me with prayer, support, and money. Seriously. I don’t want to, but I would be foolish to pretend that I am thriving.

When lightning strikes a tree, it leaves a mark. When lightning strikes a life, the scar is just as evident. I am exposing my scar here on behalf of all the people who have shared their scars with me. Let me share with you about people that I know with some hidden scars. They are people who, like me, can go through their day with a pretty good cover, but when the weight falls too heavily on them it feels as if they might break. As I share, remember that God is good.

I know someone who is just out of jail after eight months and has no consistent bed, food, or income. He cannot travel out of the county to see his family because of the terms of his probation. He has been sleeping where he can, even if it’s outside.

I know someone who texted me to apologize for what they were about to do in order to have some money. They work full-time and have only $1.53 in their account until next Thursday. All that they have ever wanted for Christmas is to be surrounded by people who love them, but that’s never really happened.

I know someone who received an eviction notice while battling chronic health problems. They are a single parent and their health has placed them in a very helpless situation.

I know someone who was fired from their job one week ago and is trying to provide for their children in any way they can.

I know someone who needs reliable transportation to bring their child back and forth to school. At the same time as this need, their hours have been cut at work.

I know someone who found out that their check had an error – an error that will not be corrected until after Christmas, putting their hopes for Christmas for their children in jeopardy.

I know a couple who just had their first child. Both of them lack consistent family support and they are doing their best just to keep their footing.

I know someone who lost their mother and their unborn child around the very same time this year.

I know someone who just had their home burglarized yesterday, and is now wondering what type of Christmas they will provide for their children.

Listen, I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts. I get it. And I am not writing any of this to evoke guilt or with any particular expectation. I have purchased zero gifts. My car is on a flat tire that is stuck on the rim, and I could pay one bill and look at all zeroes in my bank account. Even still, God is good.

In 2017 alone, I have seen God’s goodness in ways I never would have imagined. I was diagnosed with dysthymia (chronic depression) and ADD, was given one day of notice before being laid off, I have had every utility turned off at least once, my house was 15 hours from a sheriff’s auction, attended three funerals within a month (my aunt, my father-in-law, and one of my best friends), my room or my couch has been a place to sleep for someone else for nearly seven months now, I have been ordered to pay child support even though the boys have lived nowhere else but here for the past two years, and I have not a clue where my next source of income will come from. And you know what? God is good.

I’m kind of hoping for a Wonderful Life type of Christmas, but I think that only happens in movies. I don’t want gifts for myself and my sons are fine. They are without need. One of the reasons I have not purchased any gifts is because I have found myself in a truly humbling position of being able to hear other people’s scars. I don’t know what I ever did to be entrusted with such precious information. All I know is that I would rather make sure my friend has a place to sleep, food to eat, and a way to work more than I want my son to have a new hoodie.

This year has been…crazy. Unscripted. And altogether wonderful. I have found myself operating almost-exclusively as a single parent, and at the same time we have been able to provide a place to stay for four different adults, several children, and presently, a fourth high schooler. Throughout this craziness of not knowing who will walk through the door on any given day, I have told my sons that they can play their trump card at any point in time. If all of this becomes too much, all they have to do is tell me. They haven’t said it, not once. In fact, it was my son who noticed the need for his cousin now staying with us. My son asked me if he could stay here and has surrendered space in his room to make it happen. When I was talking to my son about it, he said, “I got it from you.”

Cue the watery eyes, God is good.

When lightning strikes a tree, it can remain standing, but it will forever be changed. I think that I can best illustrate my testimony to God’s goodness in a few photos.

I’ve nearly deleted the picture on the top left any number of times. I looked miserable in spite of Joshua’s celebration. I looked miserable because I was. The top right is this spring, at Jonathan’s celebration. That’s a genuine smile in spite of being two months into a new season of single parenting. I had been taking antidepressants and my emotional floor was much stronger than it was without them. The bottom photo is the most recent. That’s a fairly normal weekend here, and that’s my sweet spot. God’s goodness cannot be placed in a box and cannot fit under a tree. God’s goodness is His love and faithfulness to us when we are most dependent on Him.

All that I really wanted to do is to get this off my chest so that I can write the next piece. God has allowed me to hear of some significant needs, and I’m learning from those people in my life that when lightning strikes, I should seek cover. You can be our cover. Please cover us in prayer. Please cover us in support of this live ministry taking shape in God’s time and in God’s hands. And, if you can give to our need or anyone else’s, we receive that.

PayPal: douglasjroede@gmail.com

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If you think that I really just need a glass of wine and a hug, I’ll give you my address. And that reminds me, there is an open invitation to be here on Christmas, especially if you don’t know who you will spend it with. If you come, I want you to know two things:

1.

2. God IS good.