There are many things in life that bring me joy, and last night as I sat at the dinner table with my family, I had a flash back to a time about 9 years ago when God used a great meal, a messy kid and church meeting to teach me what unconditional love is all about.
I got home from work last night just like any night and was welcomed by the amazing aroma of one of my favorite dishes of all time…Beef Stew! My wife had prepared it just like I like it, tender roast beef, succulent potatoes, melt in your mouth carrots, onions and celery all held together by a savory sauce. It was piping hot and the whole house was filled with the mouth watering scent of stewnaciousness (not a word, but it should be).
Anyway, it was a rainy, wet and dismal night outside and the thought of being treated to such a delectable dinner got me very excited (when there’s food involved, it doesn’t take much).
The dishes were filled, we prayed and without a seconds hesitation we all dug in to our feast. As usual it was so good, and wouldn’t you know it, I was not only filled with food, I was filled with joy!
You see, as I was enjoying my meal, and my family, my mind went back to a time about 9 years ago when my daughter was just a little tike sitting in her high chair. She’s 9 and a half right now, and I had one of those “Bob Carlisle, Butterfly Kisses” moments as I thought of how fast she is growing and much of an incredible young lady she has become.
In so many ways she’s just like her mom. She’s spiritually sensitive, loves God’s word, has a passion for her friends to know Jesus, and tears up every time I talk about my ministry with Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child.
Comments like, “daddy, did you see how happy those kids were when they received their gift?”, “They don’t have any thing and I have so much”, and “what else can I do to help kids know about Jesus?” are words I hear from her quite often.
I’m so blessed to have such an awesome family, and as I sat there basking in the moment, I remembered another time when I came face to face with what unconditional love is all about.
Here’s how it went down…
I got home from a busy day at church where I served as Student Ministries Pastor. My wife and I were privileged to have a little baby girl, and every day I would rush home to play with my little bundle of joy.
One particular day I came home and was greeted with a welcoming smile and a hearty scent of bone warming beef stew, so I was doubly excited!
It had been a long day, and unfortunately it was going to be a quick dinner because I had to be back at church for a meeting.
Well, we sat down, prayed together and dug in to dinner, and as usual it was very, very good. In the back of my mind though I was thinking about all I had to do to get ready for the meeting, you know make copies, set up chairs, hand out pens and a few other “top priority” tasks that seemed to always take precedent in my life those days.
Looking back on it, it doesn’t seem that important now, especially when I think of how my little girl has gone from toddler to young lady right before my eyes.
Hmmm, that might be the topic of another article some time…priorities…but back to this topic.
One of the things that my wife and I tried to do with my daughter (and now with my son as well) is create some traditions or things that they would look forward to, to help create stability in their lives. One of the things I did with my daughter before bed time was to sing her a lullaby, do butterfly kisses with our eyelashes, rub noses, give her a hug and a kiss before I put her in her bed, or before I left the house.
So, the meal was great, the time with my family was great and as I looked at my watch I saw that I was late for my “very important” meeting. I got up, thanked my wife, grabbed my keys and started to head out the door.
I didn’t even get through the doorway when I heard these words coming from my little girl, “Dadda, ekimo…buuffly?”
I stopped dead in my tracks. With those two little mispronounced words, I was nailed with a huge reality, and an even bigger choice to make. A choice that would send a message loud and clear to my daughter, no matter what I chose.
You see in essence what she was saying to me was, “daddy, every time you leave or put me to sleep you sing me a lullaby, do butterfly kisses with our eyelashes, rub noses, give me a hug and a kiss. It’s what we do; now you’re rushing out of here for your “all important” meeting which is telling me that work is a higher priority to you, than our relationship. Is it because you’re too busy, or is it because I’m covered from head to high chair with beef, potatoes, carrots, onions and broth?”
I forgot to mention that while I enjoyed eating the beef stew, she enjoyed playing in it and by the end of the meal she was absolutely covered in stickiness’…she was a mess!
So, as I stood there thinking all these things in my head, and looking at my beautifully messy little girl, I began thinking about how much God loves me, and accepts me just as I am.
I mean think about it, from God’s perspective we’re just like my daughter. We’re covered in our junk, our issues, our baggage. It’s all over us!
Many times we operate from the assumption that we have to clean up before God will accept us, but God says “come to Me as you are.” Unconditional Love.
I had a choice to make, (I’m making it much more dramatic than it really was), and as soon as I heard those words “Dadda, ekimo…buuffly?” I turned around, looked right at my beef stew covered daughter, walked right over gave a huge hug, big kiss, Eskimos and butterflies and even added a new twist to our routine as I picked her up out of her high chair, held her tight and spun around a while.
Needless to say I was now also covered in beef stew from head to waist, my shirt was dirty, my hair was matted, my face was sticky and I was now LATE for my “very important meeting!”
Oh well, looking back on it, I have no idea what the meeting was about, but every time I eat beef stew I’m reminded of how at least one time in my life I made the right choice to not just talk the talk but walk the walk with my daughter.
In that simple act of showing love regardless of the mess she was in, I was reminded again at how much God loves us and accepts us as we are, and for that I am eternally grateful!
You know what else I learned in that moment?
I learned that another key part of unconditional love is the part that sometimes we forget or skip over. It’s the whole “cleaning up afterwards” part.
My daughter was filthy, and we still loved her anyway, but what kind of parent would I have been if I went to my meeting, and came home to find my daughter still sticky and now crusty? A terrible one right?
What if, I was sitting there at the table 9 and a half years later right next to my daughter who was still covered in beef stew? What kind of love would I have shown to her then? It’s hard to even fathom that kind of disregard isn’t it?
That’s the part of unconditional love that we sometimes forget about. See God loves me just as I am, that’s true, but He also loves too much to let me stay that way!
I love that about God, and I love the fact that He sent His only Son to engage with the likes of me!
He loves me just as I am, but because of His incredibly indescribable plan, He loves me and you too much to let us remain in our current state!
That’s Unconditional Love!