Greetings from over here in the refining fire!  I know it’s cold outside, but it pretty hot in this furnace that I have been dropped into lately.  I used to think that I was a pretty even tempered sort of a person.  I mean, I’ve had my moments, but I never thought that controlling my temper was a really big deal for me.  Sure there were those days that I used to throw remotes at my sister’s heads and that time that I slapped that girl my mom babysat in the face, but hey, those days are long gone and I have grown up…matured even.

Evidently not so much… Just double the whiny fits, the laundry, the amount of food to be prepared and halve the amount of people to carry the workload and Presto! it is the recipe for some really angry Candace.  Put me in the garlic press and I have found that growling, yelling, and clenched fists tend to come oozing out.  And you know what, I HATE this about myself.

You see, it’s okay to have weaknesses as long as they never surface.  I don’t mind that I had a temper… I just don’t want it in my face where I know that I have a temper.  I don’t want to have the awful feeling I get when I know that I have blown my top AGAIN for the 3rd time today.  I don’t want to have to go to the throne for grace AGAIN.  I mean, get it together, Candace, you just asked God to help you 5 minutes ago… there are other people on this planet with much bigger issues.

And in the very midst of this struggle, suddenly God makes it clear what this is really about.  It’s about grace and it’s about love.  Two words that are thrown around in our culture today with barely a thought to the infinite depth of meaning that they hold.

The other night, David and I fought.  It was an ugly fight on both of our ends.  It left me hurt and angry…the kind of angry that streams tears down your face in the dark while you struggle not to make the slightest sniff so your husband won’t have the satisfaction of knowing he made you cry.  As I laid there struggling to breathe (my nose was totally stuffed up and breathing quietly out of your mouth while you try not to make a sound is quite a feat), I prayed.  As I prayed, I just wanted to be angry.  I wanted to hate him.  I wanted to nurse my wounds.  I told God all of the reasons why this was all about me and why David was selfish and mean and would never change.  I tried to rage in my head as only a helpless victim can do.  It’s not fair.  It’s not meant to be this way.  This is not how I want to live the rest of my life.  You know what God kept saying to me.  “Are you loving him?”  But God… “Candace, are you loving him?”  But he… “I didn’t ask about him. I asked you, ‘Are you loving him?'”  God, this is a really inopportune time for me to answer that question.  I mean, why don’t you ever ask him if he’s loving me!  “Candace…Daughter of mine…Child of the King…Representative of my Kingdom, are you loving him?”  No, Lord.  I’m not.  I’m not loving him all day while I stew over his ridiculous work schedule.  I’m not loving him as I make snarky comments to make him feel guilty for things that bother me.  I’m not loving him while I sit here and try my best to hate him.  No, Lord, I’m really sorry. I’m not loving him.  Help me to love him.

So I reached over and I was rebuffed and the fight began again…and the crying all over again… and the “See, Lord.  He’s impossible.  How can I love him when he won’t let me?”  And then I remembered.  I remembered the week before when I had been mean…flat out MEAN to my children and before I even started to feel guilty, the Lord poured grace from heaven and mended my destruction.  I remembered crying out in the car that I was not cut out for this and what in the world was He thinking calling me to be Mom to 5 kids and He sat with me and listened and whispered that I was doing a really good job.  A good job!!  I’m a mess and my Lord was telling me of His love for me and His pleasure in my obedience.  I remembered when Naomi was crying and crying and crying and I couldn’t drum up even the slightest feeling of motherhood toward her and I turned to my God in guilt “Why did you give her to ME?  Lord, the poor child, why didn’t you give her to one of these 50 other women who scoop her up and gush about how precious she is?”  And the Holy Spirit said to me “She needs YOU. This is a specific assignment.  I didn’t mess up.  I promise.”  Oh Jesus, that you could love me so after ALL that I have done.  After who I am inside… After how I’ve treated the people I love the most.

In a moment I realized that true love… GOD’S love does not lessen in moments of weakness.  It does not rage at mistakes.  It does not abandon in times of hurt and pain.  Heard a quote the other day “God’s grace doesn’t make everything beautiful.  God’s grace looks ugly in the eye and says ‘I love you any way.'”  But I also realized that I had been holding this kind of love at arms length.  I had never accepted God’s love for me.  I had never let it past the front door.  I would pay my way.  I would make myself pay.  Because if I accepted that kind of love, I knew that I would have to love like that.  And I was not ready to give up being the victim.  I was not ready to give up my “one up manship”.  I was not ready to love while the wounds are fresh and the tears are still falling.  I was not ready to love the ugliness staring me in the face.

I realized this all in a moment the other night.  One of those furious “light bulb” moments where things just come together in your mind in such a rush that you could not even label them thoughts…And as I laid there crying out to God for the second time that night, I realized that I could either accept this love or I could continue to live like I was living with less than pleasant results.  So when David reached over in the middle of the night with an apology that could have only come from God, instead of the silent treatment he would have usually received, I scooted in to him and said a few of my own.  As you have freely received, freely give.

It’s a hard life lesson, but if we are to be more like Jesus, we must love how Jesus loved.  Messing up a thousand times, yes, but getting back up and trying again.  Forgiving before the apology has been given.  Responding in love when nothing but ugliness is coming from the other person.  Reaching out even when the hurt and pain seem too much to bear.  This is how Jesus loves us.  This is how people will know that we really are who we say we are.  After all, this kind of love is supernatural.  Only those who have been with Jesus can love this way.  It is beyond our reach unless we first receive it.

So I don’t know.  You may have tuned this all out 3 paragraphs up when I admitted my completely imperfect motherly behavior.  You may have lost all visions of me in my snow white clothing kissing away the tears of orphan children as I sing hymns of thanks for all He’s done for me.  But if I am going to share my life with you…the story that the Lord is weaving over here…it is going to be real.  There are no cupcakes and roses in my house right now.  I had to physically leave the room when I burnt my hand and spilled macaroni and cheese all over the floor earlier.  I cringed this morning at Naomi’s screams over the sippy cup that I grabbed from her only because I was trying to help her actually get liquid out of it.  I yelled about something, caught myself and lowered my voice into an apology.  All I’ve got is “thank goodness He uses the weak and foolish things of this world”, because truly sometimes I think He should trade me for a praising rock. I’m not perfect…not even close…even after amazing and life changing revelations.

But somehow, today, I am a little more free…a little more at peace.  I am learning to accept God’s love and His grace and also how to freely offer it to others.  It hasn’t all magically happened overnight, but I am assured that He who starts a good work will be faithful to complete it.  He is giving me strength in the inner man…the kind that sees reactions before they happen and is able to stop a downward spiral before it starts.  It comes with the responsibility of staying really close to Him…like morning, noon, and night, but you know what?  When Someone love you as much as He loves me, that is only a pleasure.  Where else would you want to be, but with the One who love you most?  That kind of security gives you the freedom to say to everyone else around you “I love you any way.”