Getting to Know a Father’s Heart

During my first pregnancy, I learned something surprising: Many daughters have difficult relationships with with their mothers. Having enjoyed a close relationship with my own mom, I needed time to process this. What I’ve since concluded: mothers either drive us crazy or keep us sane, but, regardless, most of us do have some sort of powerful bond with them. 

I suspect this is part of the reason Mother’s Day became an official holiday in 1914, whereas Father’s Day — though unofficially observed much earlier — didn’t make it on to the calendar until 1972. There’s something about that emotional bond — whether it’s “Thank you, Mom, for being my best friend” or “Mom, even though it’s been rough between us, I’ve always known you’re there for me” — that makes us empty the flower shops and fill The Cheesecake Factory to overflowing every year in the beginning of May.

Father’s Day, on the other hand, often stops us in our tracks. We know Dad doesn’t really need another tie, and eating out isn’t that big of a deal for somebody who doesn’t cook,* and golf is expensive, so…how do we show our appreciation? For that matter, who is this guy, anyway?

*I realize this is just one of many sweeping generalizations I’m making here. Truthfully, I don’t know many men who cook regularly if their wives are home. Bear with me.


I confess that, for quite a while, I felt closest to my mom. The same is true for many of my friends. Even those who had difficult mother-daughter relationships end up calling mom when adulthood has become overwhelming and they just crave a heart-to-heart talk. We instinctively sense that Mom knows how to listen.

Fatherhood, I begin to suspect, can be very isolating.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve learned a lot about my own dad. Almost everything I’ve learned has always been true; I just didn’t realize that the lines of communication — the emotional connection that made it possible for me to know his heart — had always been there. He just had a different way of showing it.

My mom is a gusher. It’s awesome. She makes me (and everybody who knows her) feel so good about themselves…and she really is being genuine, too.

My dad . . . is not a gusher. He doesn’t waste words, and is very honest, though never cruelly so. In my younger years, what I didn’t see was that, when my dad did offer words of encouragement and admiration, it came from deep down, where he really, truly saw something exceptional and felt moved to express it out loud.

When my dad compliments my writing, it buoys me up for weeks afterward, because he has read extensively and written excellently, and if he thinks I’m good, I must have some business trying to be a writer.

When he describes me as a good musician, I have to believe him, at least partly, because he is one of the most gifted and dedicated musicians I know…so maybe I wasn’t wasting my time as a music teacher.

When he says he’s proud of the person I’ve become…I feel like going on. Because he must see some good in me that I can’t see when I feel like I’ve failed at almost everything. Because of who my father is, words of encouragement from him are among my most precious treasures.

It’s easy to think of Mom as the nurturer, the sympathetic listener, the one whose heart breaks when her kids are hurting. With my mother, all these things hold beautifully true. Something I’ve discovered, though — the thing that blows me away — is this:

My father feels my joy and my sorrow even more deeply than I do.

When I’m in pain, it hurts my dad, and I know he fervently lifts me up in prayer with more passion and persistence than I do. When I rejoice, he rejoices along with me, thanking God that his girl is happy. I know that whatever I confide to him, he will tuck away in his heart and guard carefully.

Not everybody is fortunate enough to have a father who so wonderfully reflects God’s love for us. Some are deprived of even having a father who is present. As long as the world is fallen, broken relationships will exist, and it will be harder for many to believe that God really loves them.

He does, though, and a father who truly loves God with all his heart will embody that love, giving his children a glimpse of what God’s love looks like.

I am so thankful that I have a dad like that.





The Hidden Beauty of Hope

What aspect of agape love do you find the most challenging?

In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul presents a beautiful, detailed, rigorous list of qualities that reflect the love God shows us and that we, in turn, are to show others. Most of us, when we’re honest, admit that we fall far short in more than one area. I, for one, cringe particularly when asking myself: “Am always patient? Do I seek my own? Am I easily provoked?” Ouch, ouch, and ouch.

Nestled in the middle of the chapter, however, is a phrase I’ve somehow neglected to contemplate; one that I have, in fact, been skimming over for years.

Love…hopes all things.

I’ve read it, obviously. I know it’s there. It sounds pretty rolling off the tongue: “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” But once upon a time —  a short, short time ago — I finally stopped and wondered: “Do I hope all things?”

The answer, of course, is “no.”

One can easily see the merits of being patient, kind, free of jealousy and arrogance, and so forth. Those close to us can easily see (and point out for us!) the characteristics Paul mentions in verses 4-5, and those same people will feel more or less loved according to how well we manifest these more visible aspects of love. Accordingly, we tend to work — with varying consistency — at adopting these virtues.


At some point in our lives, we will all encounter somebody who is difficult to love. Our capacity for patience will be stretched; we may battle jealousy more strenuously than usual; it might require all our willpower to resist keeping a record of wrongs. The circumstances will not involve a one-time event from which we can recover and move on, but instead will be an ongoing situation demanding that we continually take up our cross so as to live in a manner that reflects our Savior.

Through determination…with reliance on the Holy Spirit…by giving ourselves time to recharge emotionally…we may succeed in showing love as well as the situation allows. Inwardly, though, the story may be very different. We may, in fact, have given up.


* * * * * * * * *



It sounds almost frivolous.

Muscle through…put one foot in front of the other…mind over matter. It seems like the only way to survive. Clinging to hope? Sounds like a perfect way to set yourself up for disappointment, and more heartbreak. We are not promised that the circumstances will improve, so — isn’t hope just a pointless indulgence?

I’ve certainly felt it to be so. But…

If Paul told us that love hope all things, there must be a reason. An example. Something more solid than a cheery smile and a “Don’t lose hope, dearie, I’m sure everything’s gonna turn out just great.”

It might not surprise you that, for these things, we need look no farther than Jesus…and His relationship with wonderful, flawed, oh-so-human Peter.

On more than one occasion, Peter messed things up badly. None of his foibles, however, came close to what happened after Jesus was arrested. Three times that night, Peter was given a chance to stand up for his Friend…and three times, he failed. At the time when Jesus was the most alone, when the loyalty of friends would have been most meaningful, Peter let Him down. If Luke 22:61 had reported that, after the third denial, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter, shook His head sorrowfully, and forsook all hope for this wayward disciple,” we could hardly blame Him.


* * * * * * * *


The next time we see Him interact with Peter, Jesus has died, risen again, and appeared to His disciples several times. After breakfasting with the disciples, Jesus asks if Peter loves Him — not once, but three times. He certainly has plenty of evidence to the contrary; plenty of reasons to give Peter the cold shoulder. Instead, He looks at Peter with love…and hope.

Hope that there’s more to Peter than bumbling brashness and latent cowardice.

Hope that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, things can look different for Peter.

Hope that Peter will fulfill the words Jesus spoke to him in Matthew 16:18: “I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

I don’t think it’s wild speculation to imagine that, if Jesus had lost hope for Peter — if He had concluded, after the denials, that this disciple wasn’t worth fighting for — Peter’s ministry would have died before seeing the light of day. Peter would have sensed Jesus’ hopelessness, reflected on the choices that caused it, and concluded that he was, indeed, beyond hope.

Praise the Lord that it didn’t end this way!

If we lose hope for the people we are trying to love, we will quit fighting. Or maybe we’ll keep fighting, but our hearts won’t be in it. And those who have disappointed us…hurt us…failed us…they will realize, sooner or later, that we consider them a burden to be endured rather than a soul worth striving for. And then?

Then, hope truly will be lost.

Love hopes all things.

Jesus showed us the kind of love that pursues; believes; trusts in the redemptive power of a God who can turn darkness to light and give beauty for ashes. He showed us what it means to have hope for somebody who doesn’t deserve it. He showed us that hope just might be the underlying current driving the tenacious love that will enable us to hang on.

This kind of hope isn’t easy; in fact, it might be the hardest part of 1 Corinthians 13. It carries no promises regarding specific situations. And yet, even if our hopeful love never makes a difference in those who have let us down…it will make a difference in us.

If you’re running on empty, perhaps hope is the thing you’ve lost that you didn’t know you needed.


The Visited Planet

There was once a time — though we rarely remember it now — when most scientists envisioned a universe in which Earth lay at the very center. Not until the sixteenth century, when Nicolaus Copernicus challenged this geocentric model — and Johannes Kepler further explored and propounded a heliocentric view — did scientists begin to accept the idea that not only was Earth part of a system that actually revolved around the Sun, but this “solar system” was one of an uncountable number of galaxies in an immeasurably vast universe. Earth was, in fact, comparatively tiny…and, in a cosmic sense, insignificant.

Reading Psalm 8, one senses that David, writing thousands of years ago, recognized this apparent insignificance:


As I flash forward several thousand years to an era of satellites and space shuttles and the Hubble Telescope, all of which allow us glimpses of the breathtakingly beautiful universe out there, I find myself wondering the same thing.

If size indicated importance, we would be right to consider ourselves, along with our earthly home, inconsequential. Our planet is not the biggest, and we have only one moon. We don’t even live in the center of our own galaxy, let alone the universe.

And yet…

God, who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together, is mindful of the fragile, temporal beings who tread the surface of this little planet, dancing behind Mercury and Venus around a sun thousands of times bigger than itself. So much so, in fact, that some two thousand years ago, while innumerable stars, moons, and planets whirled in the heavens, God Himself quietly visited our humble, tiny home…in the humblest, tiniest form possible.

“God, who knows no before or after, entered time and space,” writes Philip Yancey. “God, who knows no boundaries, took on the shocking confines of a baby’s skin, the ominous restraints of mortality…Could it be true, this Bethlehem story of a Creator descending to be born on one small planet? If so, it is a story like no other. Never again need we wonder whether what happens on this dirty little tennis ball of a planet matters to the rest of the universe.”

Astronomers are continually learning more about the cosmos, and their discoveries teach us just how immense –and how stunningly beautiful — space truly is. As we contemplate it, we can let ourselves feel dwarfed by the vastness of it all…or we can ponder anew just how significant we must be in the eyes of our Creator. James Lovell, Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 8 Space Mission in 1968, touched on the nature of this significance when he reflected on viewing Earth from orbit around the Moon:

It was just another body, really, about four times bigger than the moon. But it held all the hope and all the life and all the things that the crew of the Apollo 8 knew and loved. It was the most beautiful thing there was to see in all the heavens.

It doesn’t matter that Earth is not the physical center of the universe. What matters is that God, who spoke into being galaxies and oceans, who created beauty and gave us hearts and minds to perceive it, loves us so much that, some two thousand years ago, He showed how highly He valued us…by clothing Himself in human flesh and walking the surface of this little planet along with us.

Immanuel…God with us.

As we celebrate the Incarnation, may we discover fresh awe in contemplating that tumbledown stable in which Heaven and Earth met. May we, with David, marvel at the glorious truth that He does care for us. And when we look at the stars, may we realize, not how small we are, but how big God is…and sing for joy at the wondrous mystery of it all.

What True Love Looks Like

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? …Incline your ear, and come to me; Hear, that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:2,3)

Parents these days, so the narrative goes, are increasingly willing to indulge their children’s every whim in order to avoid even the briefest moments of unhappiness or discomfort. Observation bears this out…mostly.

One can still observe, however, that even the most lenient, discipline-shy parent recognizes at least a few areas in which children must trust their elders, regardless of whether or not their young minds have grasped the reasoning for certain restrictions. Among parents who claim to love their children, I have never witnessed a child allowed to:

  • Eat nothing but M&Ms for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Wander unaccompanied through a crowded amusement park.
  • Play in traffic.

Extreme examples, of course, but here’s the bottom line: even the most permissive adults realize that children, left to themselves, will not always make decisions that are in their best interests. Love does not equate to the desire that its object be happy at all times; rather, it means wanting what is best for the beloved.

We see this in other relationships as well. One friend may counsel another against a romantic relationship that seems exciting, yet shows signs of being destructive or dangerous. In marriage, an elderly husband or wife will urge an ailing spouse to take a daily walk — despite resistance, grumbling, and even insults — in order to maintain what remains of the loved one’s health.

Real love, in other words, can be tough to receive…and to give it, therefore, requires courage. For those who have watched loved ones choose destructive paths in the pursuit of fulfillment and “following one’s heart,” it can be heartbreaking to see that love rejected — even scorned.

God, the Creator of the earth, whose love exceeds our comprehension, knows well the rejection of seeing wayward children despise His instruction and seek satisfaction apart from His perfect will. Indeed, that lack of trust is what prompted Adam and Eve to spurn His fatherly love, choosing instead to indulge their pride and the sudden discontent that the serpent had planted in their hearts.

‘Does God really love you?’ the serpent whispered. ‘If He does, why won’t He let you eat the nice, juicy, delicious fruit? Poor you, perhaps God doesn’t want you to be happy.’

…And a terrible lie came into the world. It would never leave. It would live on in every human heart, whispering to every one of God’s children: ‘God doesn’t love me.’ *

Today, the lie persists. It whispers into the hearts of believers wrestling with doubt, and to non-believers who consider it just one more reason to reject Christianity. “If God really loves me, then why doesn’t He let me do whatever I want?” is the plaintive cry.

Ah, but it is just because He loves us that He has given us limits. We resist these limits and cry “unfair,” but our heavenly Father knows that, when one of His children pursues desires outside of His perfect design, heartache will eventually come. We may feel fulfilled and happy at first, but — sooner or later — we will realize that satisfaction apart from God is hollow and fleeting.

For some reason, we struggle to accept this. Even as we strive to teach our own children, and grieve when they resist what we know to be best, we turn right around and tell God that He’s not the boss of us and He can’t tell us how to live our lives. We fool ourselves into thinking that love — at least, Heavenly love — means allowing us to do whatever we feel will bring us happiness.

My own heart aches when I see people rejecting God because His ways seem unloving and His restrictions seem burdensome. It aches, too, when I see the same tendency in myself. God’s way is not a path of unalloyed pleasure and constant gratification, but His way is the only one that brings true joy. If only we would take to heart the words of Jesus, spoken so long ago:



*from The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Wondrous Love: Being a Child of God

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One of my favorite pasttimes is eavesdropping on my children.

Of course, opportunities to do so arise rarely. I’m usually in close contact with my kids, and when I’m not, it’s because I’m trying to fend them off so I can accomplish something productive (or eat chocolate in secret). Every so often, though, I manage to observe them undetected. I peek through the windows of their Sunday School rooms; listen outside the door while they’re playing nicely together at home (did I mention that this happens rarely?); or sneak into their bedrooms after dark to marvel, once again, at how beautiful they are when they sleep.

On one of these occasions, as I gazed intently at my precious little girl, it suddenly hit me: They really have no idea how much I love them. 

In fact, they probably suspect, sometimes, that I don’t love them. Frankly, it’s not always easy. They often resent my interference with their goals; they take much more than they give; when I do something special with them, they complain when it’s over instead of thanking me for a fun time; and, on the whole, they don’t truly believe that I have their best interests in mind.

None of this, however, alters the fact that I am head over heels for these baffling little creatures. Why? Sure, they’re cute — and sometimes they’re fun — but factoring in both the good and the bad, I can’t say they’ve earned it. The truth is: I love them because they are mine.

Only as adults will they truly begin to grasp this. I know, because the same is true for me. Although young adulthood taught me to appreciate my parents more and more, I had yet to recognize the depth and self-sacrificial nature of their love for me…to realize that this love didn’t reflect how lovable and charming I was, but how faithful and selfless they were.

Who else displays this depth of devotion — this boundless love, undeserved yet freely bestowed? Only one Person — and I, like a child, am not only undeserving of His love, but am wholly incapable of grasping its immensity. When I think on the vast difference between my children’s love and mine, it stuns me to consider the immeasurably greater difference between my love and God’s.


In truth, my confidence in God’s love sometimes wavers. I occasionally question His plans. I act out of selfishness and pride instead of gratitude and trust. In fact — let me be perfectly honest — I can be a real ingrate. And yet He loves me with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), not because of my character…but because of His. This assurance quells my fears and puts my doubts to rest…and the longer I know Him, the more deeply I experience and believe in His love for me.

Whether you have children or not…whether your relationship with your own parents brings joy or frustration…you can be assured that our Father’s love is perfect. He is the Parent in whose image every parent was created; we are the children who bear that same image, and with whom He desires an intimate relationship…whom He pursues passionately, even when, like the prodigal son, we stray far from home in search of our own foolish desires. As time passes, I marvel more and more at the awesome truth expressed in 1 John 3:1:

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”


Somebody Who Understands

For about eight months now, I’ve been dabbling in some amateur psychoanalysis – an unexpected, but fascinating perk of keeping a blog. For subjects, I have my readers (comprising, admittedly, a miniscule cross-section of the general blog-reading public) and for statistics, I have data indicating the number of “views” for each post.

Of all the topics I’ve addressed – music, technology, grammar, travel tips, motherhood, and more – I’ve found that the most widely-read posts have been the ones about seemingly commonplace experiences. Like changing after you’ve had children. Or being told that your problems are insignificant. Or feeling inadequate next to everybody around you.

Why do we – I include myself here because I am similarly drawn to such articles – feel so strongly compelled to read about experiences we’ve already had? We could be reading the news, or learning about an unfamiliar subject, or debating politics with strangers. Yet what draws many of us is what we already know.

I think – speaking, remember, as an unlicensed amateur psychologist – that what we want, more than almost anything, is to be understood. To know that our feelings are valid. To believe that somebody out there knows what it’s like to be us. Even if that somebody is a blogger, or author, we may never meet. We crave that reassurance: yes, it’s hard to be human. It’s okay. You’re not alone.

Want to know something awesome?

That’s exactly what Jesus does for us.

Have you ever thought about what it meant for Jesus to come as a baby? That when He chose to dwell among us, He didn’t pick the richest parents, the plushest accomodations, the best society? Philippians 2:6-7 describes exactly what it meant:

…although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…

Jesus relinquished His right to exercise His full power and authority because He wanted to know what it was like to be us. He wasn’t a parent, but He knew how it felt to be exhausted and unappreciated. He may not have ever been picked last for the baseball team, but He experienced rejection. He spoke only the truth, but He knew what it was to be misunderstood, to have his words twisted and his motives questioned.

You may not be able to touch Jesus, or hear His voice, but He knows you better than any writer, or even any friend, who has shared your experiences. He loves you so much that He CHOSE to experience those things that make life on this earth so very hard so much of the time. We read in Hebrews 4:15 that “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

God, the Creator of galaxies, came as a helpless, needy baby because He loves us. The thought overwhelms me, takes my breath away. And He didn’t stop there. The next verse in Philippians shows us just how far He was willing to go in order to show His love for us:

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The One who chose to experience rejection, pain, and grief — went on to die for the very people who had rejected Him. Who didn’t believe they even needed Him. And it’s the reason He came in the first place. In one of my favorite books, The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey says this about Christ’s birth, life, and death here on earth:

“During that wrinkle in time known as the Incarnation, God experienced what it is like to be a human being. In thirty-three years on earth God’s Son learned about poverty and about family squabbles and social rejection and verbal abuse and betrayal…God’s Son had to encounter evil personally in a way that perfect deity had never encountered evil. He had to forgive sin by taking on our sin. He had to defeat death by dying. He had to learn sympathy for humans by becoming one…Because of the Incarnation, Hebrews implies, God hears our prayers in a new way, having lived here and having prayed as a weak and vulnerable human being.”

If you’ve ever wondered if somebody out there understands what you’re going through…Somebody does. And He loves you immensely. It’s why we celebrate Christmas. Because Jesus came to be one of us…to die for us…and, three days later, to live forever for all those who will receive Him.

What good news of great joy!


Beyond the Bright Side

I’m a sucker for free e-books. Many of those on my Kindle remain (as yet) unread; others were begun and abandoned because they didn’t grab me; and a select few have become treasures, books I return to again and again.

Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free is one such book. In it, author Tullian Tchividjian takes a refreshing and candid approach to what C. S. Lewis calls “The Problem of Pain.” So often, Tchividjian notes, we try to gain control over our struggles: we try to find the “bright side”; to identify what sins led to our present condition (and how to atone for them, thereby getting happy again); to conquer them as quickly as possible so we can have a good story to tell and so people won’t judge us for not “getting over it” quickly enough. But, as he points out,

“God…intends to free us from ourselves. He even wants to liberate us from our need to find a silver lining in suffering. We see this powerful truth play out in the life of Job…He could not fix what happened to him, much less stop or explain it. In fact, he could barely hold on. Thankfully, the good news of the gospel is not an exhortation from above to ‘hang on at all costs,’ or ‘grin and bear it’ in the midst of hardship. No, the good news is that God is hanging on to you, and in the end, when all is said and done, the power of God will triumph over every pain and loss.”

This isn’t exactly what we’re used to hearing. Whether it’s a motivational speaker, a “prosperity gospel” preacher, or a well-meaning friend, the message from those who would speak to us in our pain is frequently: “Look for the bright side. Find the ‘why.’ Tell me what you’re learning. Tell me something good.” And yet the truth is, sometimes God is the only good to which we can cling amidst a world broken because of sin. To suggest otherwise is to say that we know the reason for our suffering and can therefore control it. (Job’s friends, anyone?)

When we insist on finding the positive – as quickly as possible! – we minimize the reality that pain and sadness are an incurable disease that only the cross could cure, and will end only when Jesus comes again. Moreover, we create an atmosphere of insincerity; one in which people in the midst of a trial, approached with well-meant questions about how they’re holding up, hesitate to respond with the truth – that they’re still hurting, and that just living from one moment to the next requires every ounce of energy.

The good news is that, when we come to God with our pain, we need no carefully-worded platitudes; no pretense that, well, things are tough but we’re hanging in there and we can definitely see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. As David says in Psalm 139:

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me…
You understand my thought from afar…
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.”

God knows our hearts – even better than we do – and we need not hide those thoughts and feelings that seem negative and therefore shameful. Reading through the Psalms, we can see that the authors thereof felt no such compunction. In Psalm 66, David pleads with the Lord:

“Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life…
I have come into deep waters,
and a flood overflows me.
I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.”

Further on, we find Asaph lamenting in Psalm 77:

“In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted…
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.”

In the end, it’s only when we bare our souls to God, acknowledging our brokenness and our inability to handle things on our own, that we can truly focus on Him instead of ourselves…and begin to truly find rest in His everlasting love.