True Love

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

God, in His perfection, does not change. He is, however, interested in our change. We are in the sanctification process because we need change! And despite this great need, perhaps even because of it, He gives good gifts to us.

I’m a huge fan of Christmas and birthdays. One reason for this grand affection is the presence of presents. I thoroughly enjoy giving a “good” gift to others. I also find it deeply satisfying when someone puts equal effort into a gift for me. To my heart, this translates as genuine love. Sure, the verbal expression of love has great value, but when action accompanies those words, I more easily accept them as true.

I’ve come to realize that I doubt people more often than I believe them. I’m still getting to the bottom of this skepticism, but I wonder if this is because of the comparison I make between our efforts. Since my effort feels grander, my love for them must be grander than theirs for me, right? This theory fails more than it succeeds, but that doesn’t stop me from dwelling in its doubt.

Whether or not my silly heart theories have merit, the reality is God’s good gifts come to me from His hand of true and perfect love. I cannot measure His boundless love, therefore I cannot doubt it. His sacrifice will always outweigh my puny efforts. Every single time my human expectations are unmet, He reminds me that my every expectation is met and exceeded in Christ.

The Father’s perfect good gift of His Son settles my heart wonderings. Why search for satisfaction in human gifts or affection? Why try to prove the value of my love for others or theirs for me? The spiritual and physical gifts He bestows on me every day are not merely enough for me; they are all to me. I am cherished, adored, even owned by the King of True Love. And His good gifts are not only offered to me, they are fully mine.

A Rhyme for the Grieving (Gotta Retrain the Brain)

Sandra Sue Swindell
(September 12, 1942 – July 27, 2021)

If I think too hard, I’m sad
If I think really hard, I’m mad
If I don’t think hard enough, I’m numb
If I don’t think at all, I’m dumb
So how does one have a regular thought?
Retrain the brain not to seek what was sought
It’s the only way to think differently
Put on new thoughts, try new activity
But then those things should include her too
So I’m back to the old, out with the new
I guess what I need to do with each new day
Is do the next right thing and include her in some way
She’s here in memory, she’s here in heart
Yes, that’s what I’ll do, keep her in part
Knowing she’s whole and wouldn’t trade
Her Savior’s presence for this world He’s made
So Father, hold her there and we’ll gently hold on here
That way we keep what we once held near

Liliana Gabriel

My Lillie is flying to New York today. She’s off on a week-long, grand adventure with two close friends. This trip was a surprise for her fourteenth birthday. I know I have only four short years till she starts her real-life grand adventure. That one won’t last a mere week. I already deeply dread it.

I remember when my parents dropped me off at college. I was ready to face the giants, but I still felt the sting of their goodbye. It’s a launch into adulthood that almost seems cruel. “Okay, you’re 18, time to go flap your wings!” I realize many people don’t start flying on their own at this young age, but I’m sure my Lillie will.

Moments after she was born, my mother held her and commented, “She’s already smarter than I am.” She did seem like an old soul: wise, calm, and already able to fly. I don’t know what the Lord will do with this daughter of mine. I just know whatever it is, it will be very special.

Sometimes I wish she were still a toddler, carefree and light. And yet I wouldn’t trade these teen years for anything. They’re the grappling, grasping, growing guts of life. Four years. That’s it. Sigh. Thankfully, this time is saturated in God’s goodness and grace. And that kind of saturation will mean more than mere flying for Lillie; she will soar.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he grows older he will not abandon it. Proverbs 22:6 

Limelight, My Companion

All I’ve known is the limelight. This word originates from a type of stage lighting popular in the 19th century, but it is used metaphorically to refer to the focus of public attention. For many, the limelight is a desired place to be. Starry-eyed hopefuls venture to Hollywood seeking fame and attention, but how does the limelight affect one’s life?

I was born into the limelight. After three sons and multiple miscarriages, a daughter had finally arrived. The golden child with a musical mind was quickly ushered into the limelight. Every family gathering. Every school function. Every talent show. Every church event. Every social circle. Every party. Every sports match. Every. Every. Every. There was no place the limelight didn’t shine on me, including my solitude, because even in the quiet, my mind was busy. It never stopped rehearsing the roles I was to play for everyone else. 

The limelight is not a sinful place unless we make it one. It becomes an idol when it’s promoted to first place in our heart. Anything that steals our gaze from Christ, including ourselves, is an idol. 

It’s taken me my lifetime to understand this beast called Limelight and the internal war created by its external forces. I will be in this emotional and spiritual fight with Limelight until my final breath, as I ever purpose to keep it from stealing my gaze.

Recently, my father sent me a photo of myself as a little girl singing at the mall at Christmastime. I’ve seen this picture before, but this time I analyzed the audience’s faces. Most look supportive and sweet. Children appear to be in wonder of me. My great aunt and great uncle are expectantly at my feet. No doubt this performance was promoting their Christian school and daycare business. (“No pressure, Amy Jo. You can go play ball when you’re done. And oh, please wear the world’s most hideous skirt too.”)

Standing on the cusp of a new women’s ministry launch, seeing the faces in this photo afresh, I was utterly overwhelmed by Limelight and its powerful presence throughout my life. It has been my constant companion, my friend and my foe, my nemesis, my well of lies, yet my platform for declaring truth. How will I manage it this time?

No one is forcing me to wear ugly skirts anymore. No one is making me pick up the microphone. And yet I feel more desire than ever to hold it. Not because of  Limelight’s familiarity, but because of the journey to this point, and the story of truth to tell. May Christ increase as I decrease. May He be exalted as Amy Jo dies to self over and over again. And may Limelight illuminate its true and only Star, Jesus Christ, the preeminent Lord and King. All glory to Him!

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. Psalm 66:16 

Truth Matters

In this last month of preparation before the launch of Truth Matters, I’m experiencing many emotions: excitement and dread, peace and anxiety, assurance and apprehension, confidence and insecurity, courage and fear. Ugh! How do these feelings go together?

The emotions stemming from security in Christ reflect His power and His presence at work in me. But the negative emotions originate in my flesh. They’re explained in one word: self. Self gets in the way. Self is easily deceived. Self stinks! 

The goal for every believer is less self: less striving and surviving, and more thriving and conquering through our union with Christ. This connection with Him is everything! It’s the truth that matters.

Our union with Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan found throughout the pages of Scripture. It is not a bonus gift to His people; it is THE gift. Why do we hear so little about it, and why do we so easily dismiss this powerful connection?

Our union with Jesus is more than a concept to be understood; it’s a reality to be lived out! Jesus explains, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This implies that with Him, we can do much!

I will fight the usual trepidations that come with attempting a feat like this launch, but the truth of the matter is, He holds every detail firmly in His grip. And His divine power is in me! I shall not fear. 

Please join us for Truth Matters, a curriculum for women who are ready to defeat deception. The kickoff takes place on June 6, 9 AM, at Harbour Shores Church, 8011 East 216th Street, Cicero, Indiana. 

Such a Place

With Patrick on piano and Liliana on violin, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of this modern hymn by performing it together at our communion service. No place on earth has borne love comparable to Calvary’s. Such a place!

In a place without beauty
A hill marred by blood
Crosses stood, two thieves dying
Caught in sin’s raging flood
But between them hung the Son of Glory
Scorned and beaten raw
Righteous Branch now on a tree of suff’ring
Such a place of love

Such a place found in nature
The Father designed
Knowing well He would ransom
Those secured to the Vine
The earth trembled at salvation’s story
Rocks were split in two
The eternal, matchless King of Glory
Came to make things new

In a place where His blood flowed
Redeeming His own
We find hope for the morrow
Knowing He’s on the throne
For that hill where Christ gave up His life
Still beckons sinners come
Calv’ry’s mount will echo love for all time
Calling children home

©2011 Portion Music (ASCAP)

Aim My Life Upward

Facing east, then suddenly southward
Tires bursting, metal bending downward
A semi collision, the shock and screech
Yet peace was never out of reach

I was in some kind of protective bubble
The highway covered in twisted rubble
I didn’t scream, I didn’t even pray
Smoke rising in the middle of day

Embarrassed but not bruised
Cut open but not scratched
Shaken but not stirred
Silent but totally heard

Surreal yet real
Lightning yet lightening
Devastating yet liberating
Meant to be, ordained for me

To taste death is to appreciate life
The sun shines brighter
The air feels lighter
I squeeze my people tighter

There is nothing to lose
And no time to waste
Completely unhindered
To proclaim His grace

But years pass by and the fire smolders
Where is the passion that rested on my shoulders?
The wreck is now a calendar date
Something to merely contemplate

I thought I’d never change
But my zeal has waned
My bravery has lessened
Lord, help me regain

Motivation to share Your story
Affection for Your glory
Remind me that You spared me
Molded and prepared me

Don’t let them be for naught
All the lessons taught
Facing east, then suddenly southward
Father, aim my life upward

True-Blue

One of us enjoys her wine
One of us says diet pop is fine

One of us packs some heat
One of us is quick on her feet

One of us enters political debate
One of us keeps that off her plate

One of us eats sushi rolls
One of us has other palate goals

One of us is mother of the bride
One of us is miles from taking that ride

One of us is a granny already
One of us needs parenting strategy

Her dog is black, mine is white
Just like our nails, dark and light

Tall and short, hair curly and straight
Opposites make the best muck mates

So stop looking for someone just like you
And find one with heart and nails of true-blue

A friend loves at all times… Proverbs 17:17

Never to Return

When Sabrina was barely three years old, I explained to her that thumb sucking was harmful to her teeth. She earnestly listened and simply decided to quit. I couldn’t believe it! The next few nights were sorrowful, however. She’d fight tears and explain in her sweet little voice that she still desperately wanted her thumb. 

One night, she came to us and handed over her beloved pillow, saying that it made her want to suck her thumb. The pillow and the thumb apparently went together! Bless her little heart. She was not only losing a beloved habit, but a treasured possession as well. To her credit, she never returned to either.

My daughter is ten and a half now. She remains tiny but mighty. I am often impressed with her grit and determination for the things she desires and believes in. I pray the Lord uses these traits for the growth and good of His kingdom as she learns to serve Him and Him alone.

This morning I found this picture of my little thumb sucker. All the memories of her fortitude came rushing back. Recalling her resolve, I became convicted about my own. I resolve to lay aside the “thumb-sucking” habits that are detrimental to my life. I desire to let go of the “pillows” that entice me to the wrong things. I’m not sure I have the same grit as my three-year-old, but that’s okay, because I have the Lord of all creation working in me for His good and perfect will. He will bolster my resolve and convict me never to return to folly. 

To what or whom should you never return?

Gold Fence

Our Christmas tree looks different this year. It has a gold fence around it, standing guard against a very curious puppy. The tree limbs, the ornaments, the lights, the tree skirt, and the nativity scene are all shielded from harm. Of course, the puppy is protected, too. We’d hate for a massive blue spruce to land on him! 

This fence represents freedom for both the tree and the dog, despite that it’s a wall, a boundary, something meant to take away freedom. I’ve thought a lot about freedom this past year, how people value it, admire it, desire it, and even demand it. Our world is operating in chaos and borders, and yet believers continue to enjoy freedom in its purest form: in Christ.

My freedom in Him comes through my union to Him. He brings me freedom from my past, freedom from sin and its shackles, freedom from the control of evil, and freedom to rest in all that He has prepared for me. There’s an internal calm that comes from knowing He is my guard, my gold fence.

Christ’s death removed my shackles and placed them on the enemy instead. Satan is not a being that possesses equal power to God. He cannot be everywhere at once. He cannot predict the future. He has no authority over my life. He is not allowed past my gold fence.

I am in Christ. I am secure. I am safe. I am free. 

This Christmas, as we sit in the glow of tree lights, may we relish the freedom that is truly ours, the freedom that matters most: our freedom in Christ.