Monthly Archives: March 2016

You Belong

DSC_0992 2By Judy Villanueva

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)

“Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” (Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved) 

“Shall we sit here, Nana?” I inquired as we came upon an ancient Oak whose branches stretched out over our heads offering a canopy of shade we couldn’t resist.  I pushed her wheelchair until it rested next to an iron bench and took a seat next to her.  It was our favorite tree and our favorite spot on the grounds of this quiet place that was now her home. She was ninety-eight years old and the matriarch of our family, not to mention one of my dearest friends.  Maybe it was because we had become friends over the years that I felt the freedom to tease her with a particular question that always brought a smile to her face.  “Nana, am I your favorite?  You can tell me.  I promise I won’t tell anyone!” J 

I don’t think I’m unique in wanting to be “the favorite”, am I?  It seems to be a need that bubbles up from the core of the human heart.  I notice it in children when they hunt for assurances that they are the fastest, the cutest, or the “best” at something.  I see it in the smile that erupts when a friend calls a friend her “bff” or when a husband whispers to his wife “You are my one and only.”  It is about belonging and being wanted.  It has to do with, what I believe is, a God given desire to be special.  I was reading the story of the last supper this week and came upon verse 13:23 where John refers to himself as “the disciple who Jesus loved” and I heard a familiar echo.  “Am I your favorite?”   

Can you hear the Voice that calls you from above and from within with whispers and loud declarations?  “You are Mine!”

It is staggering that the One who made the heavens and the earth summons us by name!  He keeps track of our thoughts and knows the sound of our voices when we pray.  He understands our need to be someone’s favorite and longs for us to feel His heart that spills over with joy for us.  When my soul cries out to belong, especially on days when I can’t feel that I’m wanted, I return to Gethsemane and kneel next to Jesus.  There, I experience His unfailing kindness.  And, as I watch Him pray with His face to the ground, I remember the length that Everlasting Love went to make me His beloved child. We belong.  We are wanted.  We are His!  

“Thank you, Father, for making me yours and calling me beloved. That your love is “everlasting” and your kindness, “unfailing” touches my heart with gladness!  I love being one of your favorites!  Amen.”

What about you?

Where do you best hear and feel God’s love? 

Has your heart been touched by God’s unfailing kindness?  

What does it mean to you that God has summoned you by name and called you beloved?

You are special to God. He loves you with an everlasting love!

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Remember Me

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By Judy Villanueva

Luke 23:32-34, 39-43

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots…

…One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Today would be his last. He knew he was guilty and deserved what was coming, but that didn’t stop his stomach from wrenching. He was a thief and today justice would be served on the same dusty hill where he’d seen countless others hanged for their crimes. Part of him was resigned to the inevitable and part of him ached for a second chance at life. The guards were coming! He could hear their footsteps approaching and almost without thought he murmured a desperate prayer. The iron gate screeched open and before he knew it, he was grabbed and thrown face down in the dirt. Far beyond anything he could imagine, this would be a day of cosmic reckoning!

Hanging with his arms tethered to horizontal beams and his legs roped to a post, he is roused by a jeering voice and suddenly realizes he is not alone on Golgotha.  The sneers and taunts emanate from a despicable thief with whom he must apparently share his last hours.  Sighing in disgust, he starts to turn away and notices another cross…the object of his neighbor’s ridicule.  “Is it Him,” he wonders, “the One he has heard about?” As he scrutinizes the face covered in blood and shrouded beneath a thorny crown, the man’s eyes lift! A holy power rushes toward him and, in readiness and gratitude, he hears himself utter, “Lord, remember me.” It all happens in an instant…an awakening, a reckoning, and a heart made whole!

The placement of Jesus’ cross between two thieves is an astounding and graphic picture of God’s tenacious love!  It is no accident that on one side hangs a man full of pride, living and dying for himself, and on the other, a humble and broken thief pleading for mercy.  And, there at the center is Jesus comforting a lost soul…even as He dies.

Knowingly or unknowingly, we live on either side of Jesus each day.

We see Him or we don’t.  We live full of pride and self-sufficiency, or ask to be remembered. We curse what cannot control or surrender in faith to a holy God.  We breathe each breath disgruntled or full of gratitude. And finally, a day arrives when we either reject the greatest gift ever offered us or follow Jesus to paradise!

“Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me.  When I slow down and witness what you went through for me on the cross, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  I want to be like the thief who humbled himself and asked to be remembered, not just in my final hour of life but always.  Amen.”

What about you?

Have you ever ached for a second chance at life?

Do you feel your need for Jesus?

Which thief are you? In other words, are you trusting in yourself for your life or trusting God?

Have you said “yes” to the gift Jesus gave at Calvary? Have you received the gift of being found, forgiven and made whole?

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