Monday, September 5, 2016

Heaven's Arsenal - Part 6

Heaven's Arsenal: "The Power of Love" (continued)

 The Fruits of the Holy Spirit - LOVE

As I mentioned in my prior blog (part 4 & 5 of the Heaven's Arsenal series), Heavenly Love is powerful against darkness, yet its acquisition demonstrates one's attainment of full spiritual maturity - for love is the final rung on Peter's Ladder of Christian Character development (2 Peter 1:5-7). Why is the attainment of Heavenly Love the mark of full Spiritual Maturity? Because God's love is given in spite of the fact that we not only do not deserve it, but also spitefully use Him - even acting as His enemies

"...Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.James 4:4

"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8

Have you ever tried to love your enemy? That's salty stuff! It's easy to say, but very hard to do. 

When God put me in His School to learn to love, His concept of it was far richer, deeper, bigger and much more uncomfortable than mine. Now, don't get me wrong...  Before I even start this story,  I want it to be stated up front that I don't think I have completed God's "Love Course"! I am probably still in "Love" Kindergarten! But, He has been growing me in both my comprehension of what love really is as well as in my ability to do it (by His Grace). 

Heavenly Love is not earned. In fact, it is not given out of any merits on the part of the recipient whatsoever. God is Love. And the kind of love He's working to develop in His children is far beyond what a carnal heart can naturally do. Here are Christ's Words on the subject:

"But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.  But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful."  Matthew 6:27-36 

Okay, that's what God's Love looks like! Now be honest, do you have this kind of love in your life? If so, you are truly a saint! That day on the beach when God told me that He was giving me a baby - and I misinterpreted the message thinking I was pregnant - God was lovingly enrolling me in His School of Love. And He was absolutely right (of course) that this was an area of great need and deficiency in my life. I was good at loving the lovely people. I was skilled at loving those who loved me back in return. But, as HE says in Matthew 6:32-33, loving the easy people isn't what God's Love looks like. Even the worldly people love those who are easy to appreciate.

"For if ye love them which love you, what thanks have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thanks have ye? For sinners also do even the same." Matthew 6:32-33 

So, in this blog, and in the subsequent ones of this sub-series (on love) I will share with you some of the things God taught me about Heavenly love. He began teaching me to not only love the sweet, cute, and cuddly; but also to be empowered to lovingly embrace soul-porcupines as well. Now, we all have the concept of Heavenly Love...  But here's what it looks like in practice - which is where things get really hard!

When I returned home from my Enoch-time, one of the first things I did was take a pregnancy test. The test came back negativeI was stunned - again - and confused. I just couldn't understand! 

I didn't understand until a few weeks later, when I learned that my unmarried son would soon be a father!  

Unbeknownst to my husband and I, our 17-year-old son had secretly begun dating a 19-year-old young woman. Dating is not something our family believes in doing. We are in full agreement with Christian writers like Joshua Harris who wrote the wonderful book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and Eric and Leslie Ludy who wrote When God Writes Your Love Story. Not only are we in full agreement, we raised our children to understand the blessing of purity. So deeply ingrained were these principles in my son, that he had even preached a Week of Prayer on Teen Purity at a Christian High School.

In my mind, there was no possibility that my son, who knew better, could be dating anyone - let alone that the young woman might be carrying his child. But that is exactly what happened. Some of the story (with my son's permission) is in my new Spiritual Warfare book, Escaping From the Dragon's Jaws (which is still being written and is not published yet, at the time of this writing). The following is some of the experience, as it appears in the book (only the names of my family are correct, all other names have been changed):

It was a day I will never forget... I had just returned home from this healing “Enoch time,” when Christopher announced that he had something important to tell us.

“What’s going on?” Mark (my husband) asked him, mildly concerned.

“Well, I’d rather wait to tell you when Brandi and her parents get here.”

“What?” Amazed I gaped at him for a moment. “You mean that there is something that you have to tell your father and me that you can’t say until Brandi and her family is here?”

“Sorry, Mom. I’ll tell you everything. I’d just rather wait until they get here.”

Shocked beyond words, I felt as if I could barely breathe. Brandi and her family were due to arrive within a couple of hours of this announcement, but I was cut to the quick that my son couldn’t talk to me anymore, without help or moral support from someone outside our family! What’s more, Brandi and her family obviously already knew what was going on in our son’s heart – while we did not! It felt like he had emotionally jumped the Manfredine family “ship” and had hired on as part of the crew in Brandi’s house!

Reeling from Christopher’s repeated refusal to give us any further explanation, our hearts bled to see that we had lost touch with our son to such a degree. Adding salt to that wound was the realization that someone else knew him better than we did! Someone else was now his source of moral support. Mark and I had suddenly awakened to the realization that it might not be one of us who first left our home. The first to leave our emotionally sinking ship was our son! There was nothing left to do but wait, bitterly aware of the emotional chasm between us and fearing what our son could possibly have to say that required such a set up.

Brandi and her family finally arrived. Our mutual hugs of greeting were dramatically tempered by the sober tension hanging thickly in the air between us. We each found a place to sit, placing ourselves in a loose circle perched upon the living room furniture. Brandi and her family shared one couch, huddled closely together for mutual comfort and support. Mark and I sat near one another on the second couch. Katy was asked to wait in her bedroom, where she hopefully could not hear what was about to transpire. And Christopher, looking woe-fully isolated, took a solitary seat at the north end of our southerly populated circle.

At first, no one spoke. Our eyes turned to Christopher as we waited with our hearts in our throats.

His shoulders slumped and his head downcast Christopher cleared his throat, “Mom and Dad… There’s no good way to say this. So I’ll just say it. Brandi’s pregnant and I’m the father.”

My hands flew to my head as if to stop the dreadful words from penetrating my ears. “Oh, God… No!” My world reeled and spun. This couldn’t be happening!

My husband and I TAUGHT teen seminars on moral purity. Christopher knew the content of those seminars well enough to teach them himself! He not only knew the principles for godly courtship and marriage, he had personally embraced them!

I remembered once overhearing a girl introduce Christopher into a group of teens. She had half-jokingly half-admiringly said, “This is Christopher Manfredine… Oh and ladies, don’t get any ideas – he’s waiting for Ms. Right and the big Wedding Day!” 

The proud memory of observing that surprising announcement proclaimed over my son by one of his peers blasted from my mind, sharply splintering apart like the shards of shattering glass as I forced my gaze to fix upon my son and the now-pregnant girl...

My own heart broke as my mind flashed down the possible tracks of what the future would now hold for them. Adoption? Choosing that option would bring the teen parents a lifetime of loss, hopefully laced with the bittersweet awareness that the child was in a better home than teenagers could provide. Marriage? How grievous was the thought that a “shotgun wedding” was the future for which God had brought Christopher into the world! I truly didn’t believe Brandi loved Christopher, nor ever could! And frankly, although he thought himself to be “in love”, Christopher didn’t fully love Brandi either, or he would have waited and kept the lid of self-control on his lustful urges! What sort of marriage could they enjoy if it were based upon lust, seduction and unrestrained hormones?

What if they took the option to not get married and split the raising of the child? As this possibility hung briefly in my consideration, I recalled the heartache from countless couples raising children in divorced; or divorce-like, single-parent homes. Characterized by parenting-style clashes, embittered emotions, constant conflicts and one parent (or both) vilifying the other to the child; such parenting arrangements simply did not yield a happy life for either parent or the child.

Sadly, I looked at my son and the teen mother of his unborn child. I could see that they were scared – miserable even. But I also saw in them the blind optimism which often leads young people to think: “Maybe those statistical results would happen to everyone else in such a circumstance. But I’m different! I’m unique! I may do all the same things others did to place them in those unhappy situations, but the consequences they have faced won’t happen to me.”

How could I break it to them that they were wrong? I couldn’t! I knew that they could not accept the reality that there was simply no wonderful outcome from any response to this teen pregnancy. From here on in, the best any of us could do was try to make lemonade from the sourest of lemons. To me, it was one of those terrible moments where you realize you are facing the “worst-case scenario.”

“How could this have happened?” My mind screamed in the tense silence of the room. Obviously, mechanically I knew about the “birds” and the “bees”. But my question went to the heart of the deeper issue. I couldn’t comprehend how my son, who had been such a strong spiritual leader – a model of virtue, who had even influenced other teens to choose a life of purity – could have fallen so far from his family’s moral teachings and his own former beliefs. How could my son have rebelled against the principles that he knew were God’s Will?

These thoughts flashed through my mind in the few minutes it took to have this conversation. But with the cries of my aching heart, I also mingled prayers. They were prayers for understanding, prayers for mercy for these reckless children, prayers for our families to survive, even prayers for help for the innocent little one soon to be born into such a cheated life.

Of all the many cries of my soul, the deepest and most urgent were the cries of a mother’s heart. I cried out to God to somehow save my son. His whole life seemed to flash before my eyes in mere minutes. I remembered the indescribable pride and joy I felt as I held him for the first time. I pictured him as a toddler playing his adorable, clumsy version of soccer with his beach ball. I recalled how my heart had ached every time he became injured – how I wished I could take away his pain and bear it all for him. I thought of the hope and the bright dreams for his future, which now all seemed snatched away in a mere matter of earth-shattering seconds.

I sucked in my breath and willed myself back into composure. I was needed. Christopher needed me to be there for him. Brandi and her family looked at me, expecting support. And my husband, whom I felt closer to, now than I had in a long time, also needed me to be a rock of strength amidst the sea of emotions. I did my best to say the things that needed to be said. We tried to encourage the expectant parents, tempering our honest, pain-filled reactions. We tried to be supportive.

After what seemed like one of the longest hours of my life, Brandi and her family left. We were finally able to begin licking our emotional wounds in private. After a further discussion with our son, I was alone with God and my own thoughts.
“Oh God!” I prayed, “Please, I know You didn’t give Christopher to us for THIS! This wasn’t supposed to be what happened to his life! O Father…” I wept bitter tears, my heart aching to a degree that felt almost as if my son had died. “How could this have happened to him?”
It was a dramatic initiation into God's School of Love. And yet, the shock of it all was so great that it drove all thoughts of the beach or God's Message from my consciousness. All that I could think of was this terrible sadness...  Sadness for what Christopher would now face, sadness for my family and my friends (for we were close friends with Brandi's family) and sadness for the poor little unborn one - who didn't deserve such a cheated start on life.

But as big as it all was, in my soul, it was just the first morning "bell" calling School into session...   There was so much more ahead...

(to be continued in the next blog - Heaven's Arsenal - Part 7).