the one Jesus loved

During a stressful stretch last year I listened to a podcast sermon and one sentence jumped out at me. “Don’t measure God’s love for you by your circumstances or your feelings.”

The speaker went on to list Biblical characters who experienced very difficult times: Job, the apostle Paul, Mary, the mother of Jesus…

And I thought of “the one Jesus loved.”

John—who referred to himself by that title in the gospel of John.

When I was a teen, I thought John’s self-titling was a sign of narcissism (not that I would have used that word). After all, Jesus gave John and his brother, James, the nickname “Sons of Thunder” after they wanted Him to call down fire from heaven on some Samaritans who refused Jesus welcome. Later their mother asked Jesus if her sons could sit in places of special honor in heaven. If he had written his gospel then, as an impetuous, ambitious young man, an accusation of narcissism might be appropriate.

But John was old when he titled himself “the disciple (one) Jesus loved.”

In the years between the events of the gospel and its writing, most of his friends had been executed, and he himself had been imprisoned, beaten, boiled in oil (if the legends are correct), and exiled to Patmos, an island used by the Roman Empire as a place of banishment. “Patmos” means “the killing.” John was surrounded by other banished criminals—certainly a great mission field, but not exactly a place of comfort.

So when he called himself “the one Jesus loved,” that’s almost ironic.

It’s supernatural. MY tendency would be to write from a place of doubt. “Do You really love me, God?” I would wonder. “After all this? Now? In this place?”

Yet when John looked back to those precious days of being with a Christ who could be seen and touched (John 1:14 and I John 1:1-2), his chief memory was of being loved. When he titled himself “the one Jesus loved,” he was making a pronouncement: “Jesus loved me then and He loves me now. This is who I am, one loved by Christ. I have found my identity in being loved by Him.”

Clearly the ambitious young man who felt the need to prove himself, to grasp at accomplishment and glory, was transformed by Jesus’ love. He wasn’t saying Christ loved him more than He loved the other disciples; he was telling his readers that just like him we can find our true identity in Christ.

I, too, can call myself “the one Jesus loves.”

So can you.


Em took this picture. Love on every page.

Em took this picture. Love on every page.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was about a pig that had a special wallowing hole. The farmer’s wife thought the pig’s mudhole was messy, though, so she cleaned it up (vacuumed it up–I loved that picture), and the pig ran away in search of a new wallowing hole. He hitched a ride on a passing truck and ended up in the city. When he saw some fresh cement, he thought it looked like mud and dove right in. Of course, pretty soon, it hardened, and he was stuck. Being a children’s book, though, the farmer’s wife realized the error of her ways and went looking for the pig. She and the farmer broke him out of the cement and took him home to his restored mudhole.

And the pig lived happily ever after.

I thought of that book today because I was pondering the word “wallow.” In my last post, I confessed that I often wallow in guilt—sometimes shame, other times pride, insecurity, jealousy… We humans wallow in all kinds of things that end up holding us prisoner—like the pig in the cement.

But what if we wallowed in God’s love? It’s big enough. Scripture speaks of it having vast height and depth and width and length. We are told to be rooted deep and grounded in love. God’s love is called great and wonderful and intense (Eph. 2:4 and 3:17-19, Amplified). Whenever I read the verse about the height/depth/width/length, I think of the Olympic-sized swimming pool I took lessons at when I was a kid. I was little, so it seemed HUGE! I could go down, down, down till my ears popped, I could twirl in the water, I could splash and jump. I could float, buoyed by water molecules. I could dive in and not hit bottom. I could try as hard as anything to swim underwater from one end to the other on one breath and not ever succeed (that changed as I grew older).

Wallowing is essential for pigs. They can’t sweat, and the coating of mud keeps them from overheating.

God’s love is not only essential for me, too, but keeps me from “overheating as well.” When I am busy “wallowing” in His love for me, discovering greater depths and breadths of it, “exultingly glorying” in it (that’s from the Amplified version of Romans 5:11), it keeps me from getting “overheated” by stress or anxiety or troubles. It also decreases my desire to “wallow” in anything else.

I wondered if there were any other reasons pigs wallowed, so I Googled the question: “Why do pigs wallow in mud?” Of course, I got multiple answers about their lack of sweating, but some scientists suggest that they do it in part because they enjoy it. It makes them happy!

This is true for us in relation to God’s love: what is GOOD and necessary for us is also enjoyable!

So, applying this to God’s love, I could paraphrase Paul’s words in Ephesians: Dive into the mudbath of God’s love. Let it get all over you, head to toe, soothing any sores. Let it seep into your heart, filling every crack and crevice, every wounded part. Don’t clean it off. Give each other messy hugs, so that your mudbath spreads to someone else—and theirs spreads to you. Roll around in it regularly; don’t let it grow dry and hard. Better yet, stay in it!


I thought a pic of my mud buddies was appropriate for this post!

I thought a pic of my mud buddies was appropriate for this post!

It’s like a fact!

I think he took this picture himself using my computer. All I know is that I opened my computer the other day to find this picture as my background–compliments of his older sister, I’m sure! Love it!

The other morning I opened the devotional book Jesus Calling to read it aloud to Dave as he ironed his shirt.

“Oh, I have a hard time believing that most of the time,” I said—before I’d even read the first sentence.

“Believing what?” Dave asked.

“Here’s what it says,” I answered. “’I am pleased with you, My child.’ And listen to this: ‘You don’t have to perform well in order to receive My Love.’ Ouch!”

Forty-five minutes later I was in the middle of my workout when son Jake came down to the basement and did what he always does in the early mornings when none of his other siblings are yet stirring: he went straight to the couch and cuddled with our dog, Chai.

“Oh, Chai,” he said, his voice syrupy sweet. “You’re such a good girl. What a good girl you are!”

Feeling a bit like chopped liver—I hadn’t even rated a “hello”—and in the middle of a huffing, puffing part of my workout, I asked, “What has she done to make her a good girl, Jake? She’s just lying there.”

He looked up, his face surprised. “Mom, I love her. That’s what makes her good!”


I love her. That’s what makes her good.

I am pleased with you, My child.

I guess God really wanted to drive the lesson home.

Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God;”

I like how the Amplified version puts it: “not through your own striving.” Oh, I strive. And I beat myself up and assume that God feels the same as I do when all my efforts come up short or are revealed to be what they are—things done to make me feel good about myself.

At bedtime the other night, Patrick said something hurtful about a group of people. He said it without thought, just to be talking, but I didn’t let it slide. “Do you realize how hurtful those words were? Do you realize what you were saying?”

When I explained, he DID understand.

And he felt awful.

When I went into his room to kiss him goodnight, his cheeks were tear-stained and he wouldn’t look at me.

I rubbed his head, and he turned his face to me and asked, “Mommy, do you still love me after what I said?”

Man, when any of your kids say that—but especially your adopted baby—it stops the heart!

“Oh, sweetheart,” I said—when I could say anything, “nothing’s going to change my love for you. I Love You! It’s like a fact.”

He loves me!

He loves you!

It’s like a fact.

Unraveled but held

My daughter Em told me that I should try to make my pictures fit my blog entries more, so I took this beautiful yarn (which I bought on our 20th anniversary trip to Vermont) and set it on the windowsill and, voila, my amateur attempts at something artistic in the photo realm. Next time, though, the kids. I have some fun shots of them running through the sprinkler this past weekend.

Yesterday on my iPad I found a journal entry I wrote last fall, during a time when I felt unsettled and scattered. Reading old journal entries can sometimes feel like meeting a different version of myself, particularly when I’m no longer in the situation or mood I was in when I wrote. So, even though this is not recent, I’m posting it today as a blog entry, for a couple of reasons:

First, because I find great comfort and value in looking back and seeing, in hindsight, how messy I was (and still am) and yet how faithful, creative, and gracious God was in and through it. Continual reflection of this kind builds my faith, since every backward look reveals more of my messiness AND more of His never-failing faithfulness.

And second, because, though I’m not currently feeling anywhere near as scattered and unsettled, I may be tomorrow or the next day. Or maybe what I was feeling in that time is something someone else reading is feeling right now (if you are, I’d love to hear from you). What I wrote then is still true.

December 2011: This week I got an e-mail from a writing-class friend. He was critiquing a piece I’d read in class the week before. He said that my writing was as “strung tight” as his was “loosey goosey.”

Then today, as Dave and I finally had time to talk on a long car trip, he told me I was full of tension and seemed borderline annoyed much of the time–and that this was a trait I’d displayed for several weeks.  

I’ve reflected on these two comments, and I think they’re both right–and wrong. I’m actually feeling unraveled, ready to fall apart like a loose skein of yarn several times a week–and so I’m holding tight because one snag and I’m nothing more than strands of scattered color on the floor ready to be swept up. So, yeah, I am tense (and my current writing is probably pretty tight, too, technically correct but careful).

A few weeks ago I was driving to school after dropping the kids off, and I found myself catching my breath like it was a floating thread about to get away, like I had to suck it back in or it would be lost. Just then I passed a Thanksgiving greeting tied to a mailbox. “Count your blessings.”

Dutifully, I accepted this reminder and said, “Yes, I have so many blessings.” I was about to start listing some when I heard the Holy Spirit’s “Shush.”

In that moment I suddenly knew I was held–not because of my constant striving to be the good daughter of God–and, consequently, the good mom, the good homemaker, the good wife, the good host mom, the good teacher, the good writer.

Not held because of anything I do or feel.

But held because that is what God’s arms long to do. 

“Oh!” My lungs expanded to take in a full, deep breath, and I let go of my loose strands. I let it all fall apart for a few moments.

“You hold me, You pursue me, You never let go. That is my greatest blessing.” 

Later I read Psalm 27:1b “The Lord is the refuge of my life.” 

It says “stronghold” in the ESV, but a footnote says it can also be “refuge.”  

That’s what I need right now. A place to let go, stop holding on so tight and be held. 

I need a refuge.

And He is one.