My eyelids crack open and the darkness of the early morning draws them back shut and pulls my tired body deeper into the warmth of the bed. Relying on muscle memory I reach in the direction of my phone to silence the alarm.
Intentionally waking up an hour before my family is a new discipline in my life (and discipline seems to be the appropriate word to use here seeing as how there is nothing natural, comfortable, or easy about this). But here I am, surrendered to this conviction that’s been growing over the last several weeks, or maybe if I’m honest, the last several years.
Sometimes it takes the pain of being broken wide open and the discomfort of discipline for goodness and growth to be ushered in. I’m seeing this now in this new journey of brokenness and restoration and of loving myself where I’m emptied and desperate for God’s for transformation in my life.
I have finally surrendered to the fact that I can no longer do the same thing over and over and expect different results. (I believe Albert Einstein defined that type of behavior as insanity – and it is). I’m leaning into God and abiding in Him as I journey down this new path of healing and loving that requires me to seek His wisdom and His ways and do new things and hard things.
I’m ready to spend the first hour of my day nourishing my soul with His Word, filling my heart with His love, laying down my worries and brokenness, praying, meditating to transform and renew my mind, learning to breathe again (literally), and showing my body gentle love through yoga and slow stretching. I’m awakening my body, my mind, my soul, and my heart.
I’m loving myself because He loves me and I want to love others.
Which is why I find myself, at 6am (which is early for this momma), with an inexplicable eagerness to begin my day alone with my Father.
After a few moments in bed listening to the quiet of the house, I sneak down the stairs, avoiding the places where the floorboards creak. The coffee pours into my mug and the aroma is like an alarm clock to my senses. With my coffee in hand I slip into my office, turn on a dim light, and sit down on an old recliner, a hand me down from a friend.
I reach for His Word. My eyes and world growing more awake from the brightly colored artwork on the cover of my study. I inhale deeply and exhale slowly.
Good morning Jesus.
In this moment alone, the world is still, the day is new, life is untainted and the moments seem perfect, even for someone who isn’t by nature a morning person. It’s beautiful.
I go to His Word. Hungry. Thirsty. Hopeful.
I read in the quiet for maybe two minutes before I hear little feet hustling across the floor above me. So we have an early riser this morning.
Several minutes tick by. I continue to read. Above me I can still hear him stirring every so often. Several more minutes tick by. I hear the heavy footsteps of my husband as he tries to carefully descend the stairs unnoticed. I’m losing my focus but keep steering myself back. I finish reading the day’s Word.
I close my eyes, bow my head, drawn to talk to my Father. My soul speaks a few words to Him when I hear my husband’s deep voice call from the bottom of the stairs to the top. My prayers pause. I listen. I hear the pitter patter of feet above me, quicker and louder than before. There’s been a misunderstanding and my little man comes rushing down the stairs, his two stuffed monkeys in hand, wearing the blinding smile of a boy who just received the most exciting gift of being allowed to wake up early.
My early morning routine is interrupted. I’m tempted to return to old patterns. I think of all I haven’t been able to do yet. But I don’t jump to frustration. Instead I’m able to see it as an optional path to take. No. I’m not going there.
The word “love” planted within me blocks the path. I invite him into my space with me. Partially motivated by love, partially because I also don’t want him to see the surprise gifts waiting for him and his brother on the couch just yet.
My thoughts turn toward those gifts for a brief moment and to the decorations I stayed up late putting up just to surprise my boys.
I think about how gift giving and decorating come so naturally to me and are a love language I’m fluent in. And yet, I’m reminded in this moment that none of these things matter if I can’t love when it matters.
How much do those gifts demonstrate love to my little one, if I can’t invite him in and love him in the ordinary everyday moments?
I open my arms to him and wrap them around his tiny little body that’s accentuated by his adorably tight fitting white and red striped jammies. I ask him if he wants to sit on my chair and spend some time with me. He smiles, nods his head, and climbs onto the chair.
I invite him into my space. I invite him onto my yoga mat to stretch together. We count as we stretch. He giggles. I smile. I want to pour love into him.
How often do I miss the moments to love in the name of distraction, inconvenience, frustration, anger, selfishness?
Too often. My mind flashes back to the night before.
The house should have been dark and quiet with little boys tucked snug in their beds and sound asleep. But there’s one little boy, the bigger one, who’s been struggling to sleep lately. I’m eager to put up those few simple decorations and wrap their gifts to surprise them in the morning, but I try to wait until I know he’s asleep so as to not risk ruining the surprise.
Almost an hour passed by and with each minute that ticked by, I seemed to have lost an ounce of patience. He was still awake, but I was tired of waiting. I went to the office, the same room where my little one visits me this morning. I lay out the brand new roll of Hallmark wrapping paper, a beautiful design of dark pink, light pink, navy, and gold stripes. Carefully and meticulously I begin to wrap. As I pull a piece of tape from the dispenser I instinctively glance behind my shoulder and gasp.
My little big man is standing behind me, eyes closed, smiling. Clearly he’s seen something he knows is a surprise and is trying to recover.
I’m slightly unglued at this disruption of my plans, at the inconvenience of him still being awake. I missed pausing to consider the options in front of me, my patience still had not returned, and I sprinted to an unkind knee jerk reaction. I scolded. I yelled. The surprise is ruined. You’re not supposed to see this. What are you doing down here? Why are you still awake?
I shamed him. He cried.
My husband tried to help me catch myself, but my heart had lost its focus. I led my crying child back to bed and shifted to scolding him for the volume at which he started crying because I was convinced he was going to wake his brother. I whisper shouted a cold and frustrated goodnight and returned to taping the present in anger.
I was anything but the image of grace and love.
But love convicted me.
What am I doing? None of this – the gifts, the wrapping paper, the decorations, arranging this surprise – speaks love, if I cannot choose love in these moments.
What does it matter if my little boy wakes up to these things on Valentine’s Day morning when his momma sent him to bed yelling, shaming, scolding, crying? What speaks love to him? Certainly not the words and actions I just let run loose on him.
My mind is back in the present, but still reflecting on this failure to love the night before and on this conviction to love now, in the present.
What does it matter if I immerse myself in God’s Word every day, fill my soul to the brim with Him, act like the good Jesus girl, keep a tidy and clean home for my family when I allow impatient and unkind words spew from my mouth at the ones I love all too frequently?
I’m too easily reminded of how imperfectly I love, of how love is easy when it’s convenient, when it doesn’t require something of me, when it’s earned or deserved.
The words from 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 fill my mind. I turn to them.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.“
Without love, all of these good things and good deeds, even those done in the “name of love,” mean nothing.
In this season I’m reminded that love doesn’t look like the world often tells us it looks and love is harder than the world lets on.
Love looks like grace, a gentle embrace and gentle words that soothe a restless child to sleep in a secure love, not sending him to bed with wet cheeks and allowing words of shame and anger to reverberate in his little mind.
Love looks like open arms, an invitation to spend a sacred time together at the sacrifice of your agenda, not resorting to irritated comments, pushing away, or a grumbling spirit.
Love looks like serving a cup of hot tea on cold day that’s been riddled with pain that offers warmth for the weary body and heart, not serving back hurtful comments or cold shoulders and perpetuating the cycle of hurt.
Love looks like rushing home for dinner in the busyness of your day to be at the table with the ones who love you, not choosing the convenience and company of others.
Love looks like changing diapers and feeding tubes and tired arms day in and day out, not just sweet baby kisses or the professionally photographed, touched up angelic images plastered on walls of homes and social media.
Love looks like showing up, not speaking the perfect words or having all the answers.
Love looks like a hard choice, not a comfortable feeling.
Love looks like an intentional decision, not a pleasurable impulse.
Love looks like grace and forgiveness and patience and gentleness and more for others and myself. And the Spirit leads me to the next verses, 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
The kind of love we desire to be and desire to receive is a love that is real, raw, unexpected, unmerited, unconditional… and downright near impossible apart from God.
The Spirit paints the image of the cross in my mind. Not the shiny gold charm hanging from a necklace chain, but the old, rugged, bloodied cross with my Savior’s body hanging from it. The cross — the unexpected image and perfect demonstration of love.
I’m reminded that because He first loved me, I am able to love (1 John 4:19).
I love imperfectly. I fail at being the image of love to those I love. I do good things in the name of love but sometimes love is still missing. I struggle to show love myself. But because He loves me, His grace covers my failures, and He transforms my heart and mind, I am able to grow in love, for myself and others. Each day, He continues this work in me, and I am grateful.
I started drafting this post on Valentine’s Day. I’ve returned it to over 24 hours later with the tragedy in Florida on my mind, where hate poured out on a day set aside for love. This conviction to “love” pulsates stronger within me as a result.
How different could the world be if we loved ourselves and loved others, and were able to so because we accept and are transformed by God’s perfect love?
How different would my home look today? My marriage? My own life?
Love changes everything.
But it needs to start with me. The only thing I can truly exercise my will over, is me. When I love God and love myself, healing finds the hurting places within me that are tempted to hurt back and His love pours from my lips and fingertips.
My hope and prayer is to see through the darkness in the unexpected pain and find the light that is love.
Let us crawl on our hands and knees, scrape them up, search to find it, and fight our way to being it – for others, and ourselves.
Let me ask you friends, have you taken stock of your heart lately?
How are you doing loving yourself?
Are you opening your heart to receiving and welcoming His love to flood into the depths of who you are?
If you’re in a season where your life feels void of love, can you reflect back on this week and do a little digging to find any unexpected examples of love in your life this past week?
How are you doing loving others? How can change begin with you?
I’d love for you to share any of your reflections or thoughts with me by leaving a comment below.
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