the power of presence


I used to think I had to “do” the right things if I wanted to keep relationships.  And whenever I loved people, it was always clouded over by the fear that it wasn’t enough.

A few years ago, I realized I couldn’t keep up with it all.  Maybe it’s because I loved so many people in so many places.  Or maybe it’s that life got so full, I didn’t have the space or time to attend every event, to remember every birthday, to make phone calls to those I loved.  I guess since I wanted to be wholehearted in every relationship — and I knew I couldn’t — I just sort of gave up.

In the silence of that season, I feared the worst.  For me, I always worry that people will think I don’t care, when I care so very, very much.  And I worried that the things I couldn’t give were the very things that kept those people in my life.

Yet, strangely enough, nothing really changed.  In fact, I think most people didn’t even notice that I was “giving less.”  And when all was said and done, I didn’t feel less loved.  I felt more loved.  I felt loved enough to just be.

I realized that, sure, people may love the gifts I give, or the things my personality can offer, but most of all…people who love me, love my presence.  Somehow, just knowing that someone you love is present in your life, is enough.

So as I write this, with so many goodbyes fresh on my heart, I know what I miss most.  I miss knowing those faraway people are there.  I miss knowing I could see them or call them in any moment.  I miss their presence in my life.  But with that, I have to say, I know what I love most too right now.  I love that I can just say my brother’s name, and he’ll hear me from the other room.  I love that I can fall asleep to the murmur of voices or late-night TV shows, little reminders that my family is here and so am I.

When I think about the power of presence, it gives me chills to remember what God has to say about all of that.  How He tells us that even in the heavens, and even in the depths, even in the darkness or across the farthest seas, He’s there.  How it’s His presence that gives us the fullest joy, and how just being, just resting in His presence is better than a thousand days anywhere else.

And just like with all those we love, there is no greater gift He could give, no sweeter thing, than to offer us His presence, forever and always.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. [Psalm 139:7-10]

storing up treasures: saying goodbye to a place I love


I had to say goodbye this week, and it was so much harder than I expected. Because when you really, truly leave a place, you’re not just saying goodbye to people and things (if that weren’t enough), but you’re saying goodbye to an era, to the way those people and things made you feel, to life as you knew it.

I can’t exactly explain what my five years in Bangkok have meant to me. People try to tell me it was a “great experience,” and they call it a “wonderful opportunity” I was blessed to have. But to me, it was so much more than that. To me, Thailand wasn’t just a great experience, Thailand was real life. And to me, Thailand wasn’t just a foreign mission field, Thailand was home. My friends in Bangkok were not simply fellow comrades on some adventure, or a new connection to another culture, they were the ones who lived everyday life with me, who prayed forward victories beside me, who held me when I wept, who knew me through the good and bad, and loved me still.

Ironically, I can’t say that most of my time in Bangkok was easy or even necessarily happy. Often, I felt disconnected and discouraged. Often, I wondered where I even fit in that big city, and if pouring out my heart was worth it there. But, I think, actually, it was through those things that God showed me the sweetness and the depth of persevering love, and through the trials, He opened my heart to receive love from others when I needed it most.

Now, looking back, I’m so thankful for every season of my Bangkok years, and the sadness I feel today is really rather sweet, and rich, and meaningful. God really does use every little thing to shape us, and change us, and to work in our lives and relationships.

I’ve been reading Matthew 6 a lot lately, the part when Jesus tells us to store up treasures in heaven — the kind that can’t be stolen or destroyed. And I really believe that maybe relationships are some of the precious treasures Jesus speaks of. Invest in others. Love people. It’s always worth it. These are eternal, and in Jesus, relationships are forever.

My dear friend, Gloria, told me this week that God can expand our hearts to fit all the new things and people He places in our lives, in all the places He takes us. It made me feel so happy inside to remember that when we’re talking about love, there is always room for more.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [Mt. 6:19-21]

Love first.


For years now, I’ve been on the hunt, looking for people I can “really” trust with my heart…you know, the people who won’t let me down, the people who are worthy of loving me. And I know it’s surprising, but I still haven’t found them yet.

So I’ve waited. I’ve held back the vulnerable things –the ugly, the sad, the scary — and built up walls to protect myself. It all seemed kind of heroic, like I was sparing people from the “burden” of loving and caring for me in ways that really cost something. Oh, and did I mention godly? It seemed pretty spiritual too, because I was trusting Jesus and only Jesus and keeping my heart clear of any other entanglements.

But all the while, I’ve been longing to be known, truly known, and longing to be loved once the real me finally stepped out.

And in the space — that scary unknown — between the people I love and the real me hiding in the shadows, God spoke. Love first, He said. Love first.

Because, the truth is, we’re never gonna know for sure. We’re never gonna know if the people we love most will be able to give us what we need or want. We’re never gonna know if acceptance waits around the corner, or if rejection does. And every step closer — in any relationship — is always going to be a risk. No matter how much trust we’ve built with others, the bottom line is, we’re all broken and if we’re holding out for the “ones” who are “good enough” to love and be loved, not one of us is going to make the cut.

Love first. Invest before you know it’s worth it. Ask before you’re sure of the answer. Give before you know they’ll take it. Be yourself before you know they’ll accept you. To those hardened by grief, the embittered, the skeptical, this sounds like utter foolishness. But to the one who knows intimately the power of the Gospel, it’s simply the way of our God.

For while we were sinners, Christ died for us. And before He knew we’d follow, He called us each by name. And even though many reject it, He pours out His love, His life, His gifts…freely and abundantly. In fact, all of this, the Bible says, defines love.

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us….We love because He first loved us.
-1 John 4:9-12, 19 (HCSB)

He loved first. And by the redemptive power now alive in us, He asks us to do the same.