He calls us by name.

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The following is an edit of the message I gave at our church on Mother’s Day. I’ve just edited it up a bit so it make more sense outside of our church. I hope if you were hurting this past Mother’s Day, or are hurting today, that you find something in it to ease that pain. God loves you.

 

Last year on Mother’s Day, I remember our pastor saying he didn’t like to preach on Mother’s Day. I completely understood right away. And right away I thought, “I’ll do it next year.” And then I said and did nothing about it for about 9 ½ months. Back in February, we got into a conversation that led him to say, “I’d really like a woman to speak at our church sometime.” And I suddenly heard myself respond, “I’ll do Mother’s Day!” Because I am nothing, if not restrained. Then I started kicking myself, because I’ve never written a sermon or message. And Mother’s Day is a big deal to a lot of people. Basically, it sounded like a great idea until I’d actually volunteered for it. But there’s a group of people that have been on my heart for a really, really long time, and I want to talk to them today. While I’m definitely a little more comfortable behind a music stand here at Point, this is a message that’s been on my heart for around 10 years.

What I understood about not liking to preach on Mother’s Day is that it isn’t sunshine and roses for everyone. Mother’s Day can be a beautiful day. It can be full of love and honor. For example, I’m hoping not to cook at all today. *ahem* But Mother’s Day can also be full of hurt. Maybe your mother wasn’t around. Maybe not being around would have been better than the parenting you received. Maybe you lost your mother. Long ago. Recently. Maybe your mother continues to hurt you, whether she means to or not. Then there are mothers who have lost a child. A miscarriage, or as an adult. Maybe it’s just the relationship that’s lost. Step-mothers. Women who want to be a mother, but can’t be. What if you just have no desire to be a mother? Whatever the situation might be, if it doesn’t fit our Hallmark mold of Mother’s Day, it can make the day terribly difficult. And sometimes, when you’re in one of those situations, church is the very last place you want to be. I get that. In 2002 I sat in the back of a church, looking at all the mothers with their corsages. I listened to the praise for everything they do. I looked around as they all stood and we all clapped. And I felt so completely alone in that very full church on that day. I wished I’d stayed home.

Some days when I look at the heaps of toys and socks on the floor and the half-eaten poptarts on the counter, it’s hard to remember that before my three girls showed up I spent what felt like a long time wondering if I would be able to be a mother. Compared to many, my wait was short. I was just starting fertility drugs around that Mother’s Day 10 years ago. Instead of feeling full of hope, I was bracing myself for the worst. It’s certainly not the fault of happy mothers or of churches that I felt so alone that day. But it made me very sensitive that a lot of people will smile and say “Good Morning” while they hold the hurt inside.

On the other hand, I also remember being at a church on Mother’s Day back in college. I wasn’t thinking about being a mother yet, and I wasn’t there with my mother. Even then the day made me feel a little bit like an outsider. I remember them asking all the mothers to stand. And then they asked all the aunts to stand. Sunday School teachers. It went on until every woman was standing. I loved that! Because I truly believe that whether you have a child or not, you can play a mothering role – and you probably do.

It’s been a long time since I had that feeling of being an outsider on a day like today, but I remember it very clearly. Every year, my heart just aches for anyone who might be feeling the same thing or something similar. That time of my life changed me. I’ve always been a talker – a sharer. I will very likely give you my life story after running into you in an aisle at Target. It’s because I’ve always felt like if there’s something I’ve gone through that can help someone else, then I want to help. I know how different it is to talk to someone who’s been down the same road you have. There’s a different level of comfort and understanding there. Besides, if I can help someone else even a little bit through something I’ve experienced, then that brings some good out of it as well.

I’m not going to be telling you how to mother God’s way, or how to be the ideal mom. First off, I wouldn’t consider myself a credible source. Second, I’d like to talk to more than just the moms. So I just want to share a few lessons I’ve learned on the way. A few of my lightbulb moments.

I have a house full of girls. Ella is almost 9, Natalie is 7, and Zoey is 20 months. Which means I also have a house full of feelings. If you know anything about little girls, you know there’s on occasion – DRAMA. With the older two being so close in age, they are the best of friends and the worst of enemies. There are often big feelings over something that maybe isn’t that big of a deal in my eyes. It’s huge and life altering to them, but not to me. Their scope is small. I know they’re making more of it than they need to. I can see a bigger picture. I have more experience than them. I’ve been through it before. Sometimes it really hits me – so has God. He is the Alpha and Omega. Beginning and end. Not only was He there at the beginning, then he sent Jesus to live on the earth. God may have seen everything since time began, but he also walked on this earth. He’s lived here, human, just like us.

My kids often think they know what’s best for them. They argue with me. They negotiate. If Ella doesn’t support us in the lifestyle to which we wish to become accustomed with her litigation skills – I will be very surprised. My kids fight what I’ve asked them to do, or more likely, what I’ve told them they can’t do. But like I said, I see a bigger picture. I’m parenting based on my own experiences. It’s about passing on to them the information I’ve collected over time. There are lessons I hope they learn from just my words. The stove is hot, don’t touch it. But sometimes they still do. How often do I do that with God? How often does He tell me what’s best, but I think my way is better for me? Or how often do I think it’s not a big deal if I listen when it really is?

I remember when Ella was really little. She had a box full of markers with the caps on. She kept trying to stack them end to end to touch the ceiling. But about halfway, it would always fall over. The markers weren’t a tight enough fit to stack that high. They weren’t all the same kind. She was getting really frustrated. I told her I didn’t think it was going to work – they were going to fall every time. Markers aren’t made to be stacked to the ceiling – that’s not what they’re for. They’re for drawing. Making beautiful pictures. If she’d listened to me, I could have saved her the heartache. But she kept going until she finally figured it out the hard way. I can be that way, too. How often does God hand me some pieces, and instead of waiting for instructions I run off doing my own thing with them? Determined to make it work by myself? I ignore his nudging. I don’t sit and listen to what he’d wanted. I learn the hard way.

Some of my favorite Bible studies I’ve gone through are by Chip Ingram. They’re full of things that stick in my head, and come back later when I need them. In one of them, he tells a story about a time of life while he was in seminary where he was at the end of his emotional rope. He was spread too thin. Overwhelmed. He said, “If this is what you get when you follow Christ with all your heart, maybe it’s time to check out of the Christian life – at least the ministry part of it.” Then one of his theology professors said, “Students, the wisdom of God tells us that God will bring about the best possible results, by the best possible means, for the most possible people, for the longest possible time.” Those words changed the most important thing for Chip – his perspective. He suddenly understood that if there was a better way, that’s what he’d be going through. But he had to trust that this WAS the best way. I want to say that sentence one more time, slowly, because it has been in the back of my head for years. The wisdom of God tells us that God will bring about the best possible results, by the best possible means, for the most possible people, for the longest possible time.

It says in Romans 11:33-36:  Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.

How great is His wisdom. How great is His knowledge. He is seeing a bigger picture than me. Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? Why do I spend so much time telling God how things should be?

So I’ve learned a lot of lessons while parenting. Those are just a few of them. But I’ve also learned a lot about the nature of God. I’ve learned something about how God must feel about me. I know how precious each one of my kids is to me. I know how much I love them. How I love each one of them differently. How even though I can get upset at something they do, I still love them so much.

Sometimes your child does something you asked them not to do. Sometimes they do something they know is probably wrong, but you never specifically said not to do it. A few days ago on a warm day, one of the girls asked if she could put on a swimsuit and get in the neighbor’s kiddie pool. It was almost time to get ready for dinner, so I said no. She went back outside. A few minutes later she came back in. “Is it ok if we’re putting our feet in the water?” Huh. Meaning you did already, and you’d like to know if that was wrong? It’s easy to get hung up on details and forget the point. The point was stay out of the water. Me just saying no swimsuits, not feet is a detail. This is how I’ve come to feel about when the Pharisees asked Jesus about the greatest commandment. Matthew 22: 34-40, “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The point is, love God first with everything you are, and then love your neighbor. I think sometimes we get too hung up on details. If we were truly living our lives with God at the center, I feel like everything else would fall into place. We wouldn’t worry about technicalities of whether the Bible implies something or says it specifically, because the Lord would be at the heart of everything we did and thought. I’m not saying the rest of the Bible is irrelevant – far from it. If we take it as a whole, it helps us understand the nature of God. But everything hangs on the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.

I’ve also learned what it’s like to watch my child hurt, and how it makes me feel. When one of my girls is truly hurting, there isn’t a worse feeling. I may want to fix whatever it is – but sometimes that isn’t for the best. Sometimes it’s something that can’t be fixed. Sometimes the only thing I can do is hold them, and whisper something reassuring while my own heart hurts for them.

That’s not something we grow out of. We all experience hurt. Lost jobs. Broken relationships. Sickness and disease. Bills we can’t pay. Feeling trapped in sin. Misunderstandings. All kinds of hurts. Even as – I hope – a semi-decent mother – I’m not always there for my child. I don’t always make the right choice. I do the best I can, and I love my kids like crazy – but God loves them more. God is a better parent than any parent you have ever known. Maybe in your experience that isn’t saying much – so I’ll reword it this way: God is the perfect parent. I believe God holds us if we let him. I believe he whispers words of comfort. David wrote in Psalm 56, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll— are they not in your record? Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help. By this I will know that God is for me.”

God is for you. He has taken note of every tear. If you’ve genuinely asked, he’s forgiven you. Jeremiah 31 says “I will forgive their wickedness, I will remember their sins no more.” He forgives, and he forgets. I forgive my children all the time, but as humans, it’s difficult to forget. Our God is for you. In Psalm 30:5 it says, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” I love that verse. Whatever hurt I experience is temporary. Joy WILL come. Maybe not when I want it to, or the way I want it to, but it WILL come. There will be joy.

It may be hard to tell I had a point in all of this rambling. But it’s a pretty basic one. God loves you. No matter what you’re feeling today, God loves you. You are his child. He loves you more than anyone has ever loved you, and more than any person ever could. I want to end with the first half of John chapter 10. Because it holds the truth I want you to take from here today. It’s the parable of the Good Shepherd and his sheep. This is Jesus talking.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.  They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”
Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.  Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.  The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,  just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

I love how Jesus says he knows his own sheep. That he calls them by name. Sometimes I need a reminder that my relationship with Jesus is personal. It’s not just some contractual agreement that I will do my best to follow his commands, and in turn I will be saved from hell. It’s personal. God knows me. He knows my heart. He knows my hurts. He cares for me. Just like I love the uniqueness of each of my girls – God loves me in a unique way.

Sheep are pretty easily led astray. They need guidance. I’ve gotten an even better glimpse of this lately with my toddler. Everyday feels like a series of close calls. I let her walk, but she needs to hold my hand. I want to guide her in the right direction, and keep her out of the street. She doesn’t know what it is, but I do.   

We are God’s sheep. We are his children. God gave up his only son for us. For you. Sometimes I get stuck thinking of it in terms of Jesus dying for the sins of the world. That’s true. But we can also say that he gave his life for yours. Your life -my life – was more important to him than his own. God’s wisdom meant that the sacrifice of Jesus brings about the best possible results, by the best possible means, for the most possible people, for the longest possible time. Forever. Eternal life. For you and for me. He calls his sheep by name. He called me by name. He called you by name. When you wander off he misses you – he calls you by name. He wants to bring you safely back to the sheepfold. God is for you. No matter what you might be going through today, no matter what hurts you might have. He is for you. He holds you close. He offers joy in the morning. He knows you. And he loves you.

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