I recently traveled back to my hometown to visit a cousin. She was staying with a longtime friend.
When I got to the door, her friend welcomed me with a smile.
But I knew that she didn’t immediately recognize me.
When I was introduced as “Gordie’s daughter,” she made the connection.
She knew my father personally and her regard for him was evident in the way she spoke about him.
She shared stories about my father : times when he came into her restaurant and how he conducted business at the plant.
How lovely it was to sit and share stories about him, especially with someone who had felt his kindness.
It made me feel closer to him.
I love sharing stories about my father.
I remember I was in college, feeling kind of grown up and away from home for the first time.
I became sick and it was determined that at the age of 19, my tonsils needed to come out.
Because of some issues, I needed to stay in the hospital overnight.
I assured my father that I would be fine and did not need him to be there.
I am an adult now after all, I thought to myself.
But when I woke up in pain in that hospital bed, I knew that the little girl inside still wanted her father.
And there he was sitting by my side.
He knew what I needed even if I did not.
There was another time where my father took me shopping at a strip mall the next town over.
I think I might have been around 11.
Murphy’s. Fashion Bug, Thom McCann and a pizza place.
Trust me when I tell you this was a big deal back then,
We stopped for some pizza and when he made a trip to the bathroom when we were done,
I made a beeline for the Ms Pac Man machine in the back. Positioned at the machine, I did not
notice him leaving. He must have thought I left to go back to one of the stores. The next 10
minutes were some of the worst moments my father used to say of his life. He searched
frantically for me, up and down the strip mall, fearing that I had gotten lost or worse. It wasn’t
until he saw the orange sleeve of my jacket peeking out from behind the arcade machine that he
realized where I was. He was so relieved to see me, he didn’t get mad that I had wandered off.
I knew he would always find me.
We lived through some wonderful memories and some that were not so wonderful.
I remember my father walking me down the aisle on my wedding day.
I also remember the day we were both having radiation treatments at the cancer center, both
fighting two different types of cancer at the same time.
My father was there in good times and in hard times.
He was always there when I needed him.
That could be in part because my parents lived with me. I got to experience him as a father and
a friend in my adult life. I also witnessed him as a grandfather to my sons, Jon and Dan.
My favorite images are my father with his arms wide open and Dan running into them after he
got off the school bus.
He always welcomed us with open arms.
There is another image in my mind of my father that always leaves me filled with a bit of regret.
As I sat on the couch one day doing paperwork, he came in and sat down.
He smiled at me.
I knew that he was just waiting to engage in conversation, but I was too busy trying to get my paperwork done.
He just sat there quietly waiting for me to turn my face to him.
He just wanted to be in my presence.
I wish I would have unbusied myself more.
The older I get, the more I understand the importance of this.
I was blessed to be called his daughter.
While I love sharing stories about my father, I know that none of you reading this here will ever experience his love the same way that I did.
How could you? You didn’t know him.
And I know that there are some reading this who do not have the same relationship with their father that I did.
Maybe sharing stories about your father is hard.
But friends, we can all have a relationship with our heavenly Father.
” What marvelous love the Father has extended to us!
Just look at it—we’re called children of God!
That’s who we really are.
But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us
or take us seriously, because it has no idea
who He is or what He’s up to.” 1 John 3 : 1 MSG
The world will have no idea who our Father is unless we share His stories.
I also love sharing stories about Him.
Let me tell you about our Father.
He knows our needs before we do.
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:8 MSG
Just like my earthly father knew I needed him to show up at the hospital, our heavenly Father knows our every need.
Sometimes it is a word of encouragement, the counsel of a friend.
It could be a prayer, a meal, or someone showing up when you need a helping hand.
Our heavenly Father knows our needs.
I can tell you that as I was preparing this message to share at church a friend texted me that
she was praying for me as I was praying for me.
Her timing was God’s timing.
He knew I needed that encouragement.
He will find you wherever we are.
“For the Lord God says: “I will search and find my sheep.” Ezekiel 34 :11
I knew that my earthly father would find me when he thought I was lost.
But to think of the God of the universe cares for me in this way?
Think of the number of children our heavenly Father has, and yet will still search even just one who is lost.
Maybe you are feeling lost today,
I promise you your heavenly Father will find you wherever you are.
In good times and in hard times, He is with us always.
My father was always there when I needed him.
Our heavenly Father has always been there for me as well.
There is nowhere I can go that He is not.
That gives me such peace.
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139 : 7-12
Did you know that there is nowhere we can go that He isn’t there?
He wants to be a part of every aspect of our lives, good and bad.
He is all in.
He always welcomes us with open arms.
“All whom My Father has given to Me will come to Me.
I will never turn away anyone who comes to Me.”
My father always welcomed me with open arms.
Our heavenly Father has never turned me away.
There have been moments in my life where I moved away from Him, and He has always welcomed me back with open arms.
There is a verse in the song, “The Goodness of God” that says “I’ve known you as a Father, I’ve known You as a Friend.”
He has been those things to me and so much more.
Maybe there is something in your past or in your present that makes you question if God will
welcome you with open arms.
Let me tell you about our Father.
He will not turn you away .
He tells us in His word, that He will never turn anyone away who comes to Him.
He wants His children to be with Him for eternity.
Just like my father wanted to spend time in my presence, our heavenly Father wants to spend time with us, too.
All of eternity to be exact.
God wants all of His children to come home someday.
He made a way for that to happen when He sent His Son to die on the cross and take our place.
“For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. ” John 3:16
Friends, He is just waiting for us to turn our face to Him, to unbusy our lives and to have a conversation with Him.
We are all invited to have a relationship with our heavenly Father and to experience His love in a real way,
It is the most important relationship you will ever have.
His love is transforming.
So I encourage you today to share stories about our Father so that others can experience that love as well.
Sharing our stories makes us feel closer to Him.
It’s ok if you read this and don’t know who I am.
But I want you to know who He is.
And if you remember nothing else today, remember this:
Because of our heavenly Father, we have never spent a day of our lives that we were not loved beyond measure.
That kind of love is transforming.
Share His love today.
Christmas Day is cited by many to be their favorite holiday.
But for me, it has always been Christmas Eve.
Hearing the story of Jesus’ birth and the candlelight service are familiar and comforting.
Watching the candles illuminate the room while singing Silent Night is like a balm to my soul.
Peace and hope fill my heart.
Yet despite the familiarity of the service this year, something new caught my eye.
At the end of each row high above the pews, taper candles were lit by the acolyte before the service began.
As I listened to the songs and the scripture, I kept getting distracted by how some of the candles were burning quicker than the others.
The wax from one candle in particular had melted over the side of the pew, leaving only a small flame where a tall candle once stood.
This candle had burned brightly, but was gone even though others seemed to be just getting started.
Sometimes I wonder why these things catch my eye, but in those moments I know God has something to say.
This year some lights have burned out more quickly than others.
The unimaginable death of a young person that leaves a family with pain in their hearts so raw.
The end of a relationship that you thought would last.
The healthy person who now faces a terminal illness.
Words seem to be so inadequate in these moments.
Being present to surround those facing hardships with love, is at times, the most we can do.
And then there is this story.
The one I love to hear every year.
That is like a balm to my soul.
The one that fills my heart with peace and hope.
Because it is about the One who fills me with peace and hope.
“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born; and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in a blanket[a] and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.
That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the landscape shone bright with the glory of the Lord. They were badly frightened, but the angel reassured them.
“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognize him? You will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger!”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang,[d] “and peace on earth for all those pleasing him.” Luke 2: 6-14 TLB
Friends, I don’t know what makes your heart ache today.
But the light of our Savior is one that will never go out.
May His story fill you with peace and hope today and in the New Year.
As I drove through Delaware Water Gap, a sea of green flashed through the passenger window.
The tree line along the river was a familiar sight.
On this particular day though, a small patch of burnt orange and gold broke up the landscape.
A new season was on the horizon.
I love how God always speaks through His beautiful creation.
This last season has been a particularly hard one.
The loss of a loved one in our family has been devastating.
Some moments feeling helpless, others feeling sad.
Moments feeling more comfortable sitting in silence than absorbing the noise swirling around me.
And while there was laughter and meaningful conversations amidst the tears that I am so grateful for, I would be lying if I said that I have not felt weary.
Holding onto hope can feel almost impossible in the hard seasons.
A relative told me during this most recent journey that she believed death was easier for me because of my faith.
This statement is something that I have reflected on over the past few months..
Even with faith, there is nothing about death that is easy.
When I am weary, I know who holds me up and is by my side.
My hope has a name.
He is my bridge over troubled water.
The one I turn to for comfort.
The one whose presence puts my anxious thoughts at ease.
God tells us in His word that our despair will not go on forever.
The people of Israel had been through many dark seasons.
But they held on because they knew hope was coming.
A new season was on the horizon.
A season of light.
“ For unto us a child is born;
unto us a Son is given;
and the government shall be upon His shoulder.
These will be His royal titles:
“The Mighty God,”
“The Everlasting Father,”
“The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 TLB
We all experience many seasons in our lives.
Our heavenly Father tells us there is a time for everything.
There is a right time for everything:
A time to be born;
A time to die;
A time to plant;
A time to harvest;
A time to kill;
A time to heal;
A time to destroy;
A time to rebuild;
A time to cry;
A time to laugh;
A time to grieve;
A time to dance;
A time for scattering stones;
A time for gathering stones;
A time to hug;
A time not to hug;
A time to find;
A time to lose;
A time for keeping;
A time for throwing away;
A time to tear;
A time to repair;
A time to be quiet;
A time to speak up;
A time for loving;
A time for hating;
A time for war;
A time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 TLB
Friends, I don’t know what season you are in right now.
But I know this.
Jesus will be with you.
He is the hope we can hold onto in every season.
And that is something to give thanks for this holiday.
Holding on and letting go.
Finding the balance in this crazy life feels harder some days than others.
Maybe it is holding onto a relationship, a job or even a place.
Maybe it is letting go of someone you love.
As parents, our roles morph over time.
In what feels like a nanosecond, we work to protect and care for our children.
Then in the blink of an eye, everything shifts.
We are to send them out into wide open spaces where we can no longer offer protection.
A place where they will spread their wings, make mistakes and grow.
It’s the stuff that country songs are made of.
So as I sat with my long-time friend and our sons last night at the Chicks concert, the words to the song Wide Open Spaces seemed to reflect that moment of holding on and letting go.
*Insert lump in throat here.
Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone
Many precede and many will follow
A young girl’s dream no longer hollow
It takes the shape of a place out West
But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed
She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the highest stakes.
Sending a child to preschool for the first time with new faces.
Sleepovers and overnight camps.
Moving into their first apartment.
Regardless of how old our children become, we always want to protect them from the hurts and challenges we know they inevitably will encounter.
We want to hold on just a little longer.
Letting go doesn’t mean our children will be alone.
As His children, our heavenly Father promises to be with us in this world.
Even those wide open spaces.
He brought me out into a wide open place;
He delivered me because He was pleased with me.” Psalm 18:19 NET
Before I would send the boys to school when they were little, I would hug them and ask them, “ do you have enough love for today?”
Even when I could not be with them in the wide open spaces, I wanted them to know my love was with them.
More importantly, I want them to know that their heavenly Father’s love is always with them.
Regardless of how far they go or the mistakes they will make along the way.
The wide open spaces do not feel so overwhelming when I remind myself how wide and deep God’s love is for my children.
And for you and me.
“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:14-19 NLT
Friends, I do not know the wide open spaces that you and your loved ones may face.
It may not be an overnight camp or new apartment.
Maybe it is a rehab or a prison.
Maybe it is not a place at all, but an abusive relationship or an illness.
My prayer is that wherever those places your loved one is, that you rest in knowing that His love is so vast it can find them anywhere.
Even the wide open spaces.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20 NLT
We are all looking for love.
A place where we feel welcomed with open arms.
Somewhere we feel seen.
Some of us are fortunate to find it with our families.
Others may look to their friends.
But there are those who cross our paths daily who do not feel any of these things.
We may walk right past them without ever noticing.
Maybe we are consumed with what is happening in our own world or too busy to look up from our phones.
Whatever the case may be , we are all called to love.
To stop and care for all who cross our paths.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa:
“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
No one does this better than my friend, Nikki.
If you ask our tribe, we will all tell you that she has the biggest and most generous heart.
But it is not because of the love she shows to her friends.
It is the love she shows to everyone who walks through the doors of her restaurant on Main Street in the ’Burg.
She notices everyone who walks in the door.
All are welcomed with open arms or greeted with a hug.
Kindness shines through Nikki’s eyes and her smile.
She listens to understand, not respond.
She will tell you about the student she is so proud of who is working so hard or share a kind word with someone who needs a smile.
And while she may be gifted in making the best eggplant parmesan and barbeque chicken pizza, this is not what brings her joy.
It is being that safe place for others to land.
People leave with a full stomach and a full heart.
They leave better than when they walked in the door.
They are seen.
My friend loves with all her heart, because she knows she is loved.
Her faith tells her she is always welcomed with open arms.
That she is seen.
Let’s all be a living expression of that love today.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4: 7-21
The clarity was remarkable.
What had been blurry for so long was now in focus.
I was looking at the world through a new lens.
Two days after my cataract surgery, I was able to read a line that previously would have resembled a fuzzy caterpillar.
Not being able to see without the aid of glasses or contacts since the 5th grade, the awe of this new gift remains.
Things in the distance were clearer than they had ever been.
Reflecting on this experience, it seems almost parallel with how we walk in this world.
Knowing God helps us to see ourselves and our circumstances with remarkable clarity.
Some days we may feel unseen and unvalued.
But our Creator knows us intimately and know our worth.
“Before I shaped you in the womb,
I knew all about you.
Before you saw the light of day,
I had holy plans for you: Jeremiah 1:5 MSG
“What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” Luke 6-7 MSG
There are days we may feel unloved and unworthy.
But when we view ourselves through the lens of His great love, we see He sent His only Son to go to the cross in our place.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in Him is acquitted; John 3 16-18 MSG
Not knowing what lies in the days ahead can often fill us with fear and anxiety.
But when we look through the lens of faith, we can see our heavenly Father clearly in the distance.
“I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
Friends, when we walk in faith it is like viewing the world through a new lens.
What had been blurry comes into focus when we are seeing everything through the lens of His love.
Things in the distance are clear because we can see our Father already there waiting for us.
The awe of this gift remains.
My prayer is that you see the world with this clarity.
It was a roller coaster of emotions.
One minute getting the worst news of losing a friend unexpectedly.
The next minute having something I had been praying about answered so magnificently.
Devastated and joyful in such a short span of time.
One moment life makes sense.
And then it makes no sense at all.
Is that how the disciples felt?
During this Holy Week, I reflected on those last days Jesus spent with His inner circle.
It must have been a roller coaster of emotions.
One moment the crowds are cheering for Jesus and treating Him like royalty.
“Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21: 8-9 ESV
The next they are yelling for Him to be crucified, treating Him like a criminal.
“And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify Him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him.” Mark 15: 12-14 ESV
One moment life makes sense.
And then it makes no sense at all.
Jesus was sitting with His disciples to share a meal, and then gets up to wash their feet.
“ Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” John 13: 1-7 ESV.
It did not make sense to Peter at that moment, the one he called Master washing his feet.
Eventually he would come to understand.
But friends, it is not the washing of the feet that speaks to me in this passage.
It is that Jesus, knowing all that He did: that Judas would betray Him and Peter would deny Him, loved them to the end.
Read that again.
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world,
He loved them to the end. “ John 13:1 ESV
Someone needs to hear this.
Friends, we are His own who are in this world.
Somedays, it might not make sense.
Have you ever asked yourself this: how could He love someone like me, knowing what I have done?
But God’s word reminds us that even if it doesn’t make sense, He loves us until the end.
Even when we deny Him.
Even when we betray Him.
Even when we put other things before Him and follow the crowd.
He loves us to the end.
He went to the cross knowing and gave Himself anyway.
May you know that Jesus loves you to the end, friends.
Two words that begin the unraveling.
What if I didn’t do enough?
What if I had gone sooner?
What if I had not gone at all?
What if I had been a better son or daughter?
Reflection is necessary to help us gain perspective.
But this contemplation was never meant to rob us of our peace or cast shame and guilt our way.
Sometimes it implies that we have more control than we do in this world.
What if can paralyze us from moving forward.
What if it doesn’t work out?
What if I fail?
What if I make the wrong choice?
What if others think less of me?
Two words that can cast a shadow over us.
Many occasions have occurred over the past month that those I hold close to my heart asked this very question.
In a world that feels out of control, where people are suffering from deep hurts and unimaginable losses, peace seems out of reach.
We all search for a light in the darkness of despair.
In those moments I try to shift my focus from what if to what is….
When everything around me feels like it is changing, I fix my eyes on the One who never changes.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 TLB
Doubts may change the way others see us or the way we see ourselves.
But God only sees us through the eyes of love.
He has always had a plan for us..
Read His promise in The Message.
“How blessed is God! And what a blessing He is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in Him. Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love. Long, long ago He decided to adopt us into His family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son.” Ephesians 1:4-6
Friends, He took pleasure in planning this all along!
God was not worried about the what ifs in our lives.
Despite our doubts, we can always be sure of what is:
His unfailing, never ending love for all of His children.
As I ascended the stairs of the apartment, I had only one thing on my mind.
I couldn’t wait to throw my arms around my son.
He turned his face toward mine, and I felt a sense of relief that I had not felt in over a month.
Squeezing him for the first time in 34 days, I may have let my countdown calendar slip.
“Mom, you have really been counting the days?”
Was this really a question?
Of course I had!
As I soaked up his presence, I wanted to know the details of his day to day life.
There was nothing my heart wanted more than to know everything.
Friends, this is how our Heavenly Father feels about us.
He cannot wait for us to turn our face toward Him so He can wrap His arms around us.
In His presence is where He longs for us to be.
Even though our Creator is all knowing, there is nothing His heart wants more than for us to share everything with Him.
God wants to share with the fullness of His love as He makes His home in our hearts.
“May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love, That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it]; [That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!”
Ephesians 3:17-19 AMPC
Standing in the apartment gazing at my child, I wondered if he would ever understand the depth of my love for him.
But more importantly, I want Him to know the depth of the love his Heavenly Father has for him.
My prayer is that you know that same love, too.
He is waiting for you to turn to Him.