Abundant Living: Eat, Drink, & Be Merry

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Happy Easter and Merry Spring! The trees are blooming and patio weather is upon us. The gloom of Lent is passed, and on Easter, we celebrated the risen Christ…a God who is truly pleased when we find deep joy in the gifts He has given us. Yesterday was a HAPPY day, but it doesn’t end there.

Several months ago, I heard a sermon at Christ Church Santa Fe  based on Ecclesiastes 5:18-20.

“This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them…this is a gift of God…”                      (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NIV)

This encouraging scripture reassures us that it is a good thing to find joy in the gifts that God gives us. I find one of God’s absolute greatest gifts to be community…the people in my life. And with them – I love to eat, drink, and be merry.

Forming deep relationships and close community, however, requires intentionality and vulnerability. But the rewards of being merry together are well worth the effort put into our relationships.

As I have made it no secret, my friends and my amazing husband are a gift and a deep joy to me. Renowned scholar, author, and speaker Brené Brown, in her TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability states that connection with other people is the reason we are here. She says that connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives. I agree. In addition to loving God with all our hearts, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-39). It’s pretty hard to fulfill that commandment without connecting regularly with the people around us. In addition, Brown says that the kind of people who have a true sense of worthiness and a strong sense of love and belonging [in community] are those who believe they are worthy of love and belonging. I totally agree.

The verse that inspired this blog, Ephesians 3:17-19 says, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” When we know this deep love of Christ, our sense of worthiness is brought to a whole new level.

Brown says that people who have a true sense of worthiness are ‘whole-hearted’. She says that what these whole-hearted people have in common is a sense of courage. She points out that courage and bravery are not the same. Courage comes from a Latin word and the original definition was ‘to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart’. Brown says that these whole-hearted folks

“have the courage to be imperfect with each other. They have connection as a result of authenticity. They are willing to let go of who they should be in order to be who they [are]. The other thing they have in common: they fully embrace vulnerability. Being vulnerable is the willingness to say ‘I love you’ first…the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…the willingness to invest in relationships that may or may not work out.”

This kind of whole-heartedness, based on courage and vulnerability, is an essential building block for the best of friendships and the tightest of communities.

There are plenty of great examples of holy vulnerability in the Bible. In her article, On Why Being Vulnerable is a Beautiful Thing, based on John 12, Caroline Coleman names a few examples: Mary, as she pours valuable perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. David, with his “desperate honest vulnerable cries for help” in the Psalms. And, of course, Jesus as he cries out to His Abba Father on the cross.  According to Coleman, Jesus encourages all of us towards a life in which we make ourselves vulnerable to God and to others.

“He’s saying that true fulfillment doesn’t come the way we think it does – through our striving, achieving, conquering and acquiring. True joy and fulfillment comes through sacrificing ourselves for others. It comes through being vulnerable even to those who reject us. It comes through pouring out ourselves for others, and trusting God to fill us back up.” Coleman continues, “We can embrace others in love, not needing anything from them, because our hearts are overflowing – our cups runneth over – with the love of God, a love that we find only when everything else in the world fails us. This is abundant living.”

So, as Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 states, let’s embrace the abundant living that God encourages. I find this sweet way of life to be best amongst my community of friends and family. And when I remember that I am always worthy because of the wide and deep love that Christ has for me, I find it a little easier to be vulnerable…to connect with others in a way I can show them my love…to find that whole-hearted courage that brings authenticity to relationships.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 5, Verse 20 says, “God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” So this Spring, find a patio or a table where you can soak up the gift of community with friends and family. With gladness of heart, pour yourselves into each other.

Eat, drink, and be merry.

Get REAL

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I’m the first to admit that most of my writing is simply commentary on other people’s brilliance – sermons, articles, devotionals or other blogs. This piece below was inspired in early August by the Girlfriends in God devotional on August 1 entitled ‘The Velveteen Woman’ by Sharon Jaynes, the Jesus Calling devotional for August 1, and the classic book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Jaynes shared in her devotional about how The Velveteen Rabbit helps us understand the importance of being real, and I’d like to expand on that topic a bit. This post also hits on two of my favorite subjects…love and vulnerability.

I’m starting out with a long excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit. So, sit back, figuratively, in the chair from your childhood nursery or maybe the rocking chair in which you read to your own children and soak in these wise and classic words. You might pick up on a few things you didn’t when you were six years old.

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The classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams reads:

“There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming…

For at least two hours the Boy loved him…For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real…The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn’t know that real rabbits existed…Between them all, the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath…He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.

‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day…’ Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’

‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’…’but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

When we are at our best, according to the ways of the world, we feel really splendid don’t we? Like the Rabbit on his first day in that Christmas stocking. But when we rely on the ‘charming effects’ of superficial means to happiness, it doesn’t take long to get snubbed and realize our efforts are not REAL. As the Rabbit becomes disenchanted with the superior ways of the mechanical toys, he begins to question, ‘What is REAL?’ The wise old Skin Horse shares with the Rabbit that REAL isn’t how you are made. It’s not how you look or who likes you; you are REAL because you are loved.

As I think of this love, I’m not reminded of the love from family or from friends either. You are REAL because you are loved immensely by the Creator of the universe. He REALLY loves you. Again, I am reminded of the verse that the title of my blog is based on – When you can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18), it’s much easier to get REAL, with yourself and with others. It is absolutely freeing.

The Skin Horse is keen to know how one can become REAL. But he really doesn’t tell the Rabbit what REAL is. REAL is being free to be your unique, individual self because you are made in the perfect image of our God. REAL is being vulnerable to God and to others…even if you risk pain or being a wee bit uncomfortable. REAL is being willing to share yourself, fully, without reservation. REAL is telling people how much you love them. REAL is showing grace to your neighbor or even your best friend who needs it too.

And as the truthful Skin Horse points out, even when you are REAL, you can get hurt. The world is broken. Even the people we are closest to can hurt us (and sadly, we hurt them too). But because our Reality is rooted in a loving, forgiving, and merciful Savior, He brings us peace beyond understanding that blunts the pain of this world. God has loved and planned for each of us since the beginning of time; He loves us despite the fact that we are shabby. And He protects us when we are REAL. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us, when we are REAL, we cannot be ugly in God’s eyes. In fact, God thinks the REAL you is beautiful. And as the Skin Horse reminds us, Real lasts for always.

In addition, our friendships are most certainly all the more rewarding when we are REAL, when we let a bit of vulnerability in. There’s just no comparison. In her book, Carry On, Warrior, one of my favorite writers, Glennon Melton writes –

“I started thinking about all the time and effort I’d spent building protective layers between my broken heart and the broken world…I considered the ways I’d distanced myself from other people…I pulled on my secrets and shame like armor and carried my invulnerability like a weapon. There were so many layers of my armor and her armor between us that we couldn’t touch each other…Suddenly this all seemed completely ridiculous…I was lonely and a bit bored. Life without touching other people is boring as hell. It hit me that maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons. That maybe life gets real, good, and interesting when we remove all the layers of protection we’ve built around our hearts and walk out onto the battlefield of life naked.”

I think both Glennon and the Skin Horse are on to something about living life REAL. When we get REAL, we reap incredible blessing from God, from friends, and from ourselves. The effect is really quite charming.

Just this very morning, our pastor, Martin, at Christ Church Santa Fe said, “If its not real, its not worth it.” He reminded us that Jesus is very REAL.  His tender grip on our hearts is REAL. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s REAL. From the August 1 devotional of Jesus Calling – “Let this divine assurance trickle though your mind and into your heart and soul.”  And let’s be REAL together.