When you feel Shame

Ch. 4 from Amber O’Brien’s book Love.Always.Wins.

Sometimes an earthly example —such as that of a criminal before
a judge— might help explain one of the most overwhelmingly,
incredible, and mind-blowing spiritual truths.
Imagine that you are about to go before a Great Judge. You have been
apprehended, and you must give an account for any wrongs committed
during your lifetime.
In private, you meet with your attorney and you confess all that you have
At the scheduled time, your attorney, who acts as your most important
advocate, appears before the judge, and states your case: “Your Honor…
yes, I agree, she is guilty as charged.”
Your mouth drops open, and your eyes widen with fear. You stand shocked,
feeling betrayed. “What?!! I thought that you were here to defend me?” You
scream, turn red, and fall on the floor, “Why don’t you help me?!!”
If the illustration stopped here, then we would all be without hope, but…
What if we caught hold of the heavenly picture given to us in God’s Word?
Now imagine that you are sitting with your advocate, Jesus, before the Great
Judge, God, whose role is to make sure that Heaven remains holy and perfect
with no sin, sickness, or sadness.
“Your Honor… yes, I agree. If she came to our heavenly home, then her sin
would ruin it. I concur with you that she deserves the death penalty, and
that she should spend eternity in Hell. She is guilty as charged, and justice
demands that she die as a consequence.”As this spiritual court holds greater authority than any earthly court, you
crumble under the hopelessness of the crushing verdict. Plummeting to the
ground, you sob, and cover your tear-stained face.
But finally, when you manage to look up, you realize what you could have
never expected. Pure, hot holiness flows from your advocate’s eyes, and blinds
you with an indescribable love. He stands and declares boldly, “I have taken
your death sentence for you. I love you, and I want you to spend eternity in
Heaven with Me where there is no sin.”
Then He asks, “Will you let Love stand in your place?”
Overcome with joy and tears all at once, you cry, “Thank you… Oh, Jesus!
Thank you so much! I will! I do! Yes! I believe You.”
In an instant, you notice that the handcuffs and shackles of all your past
wrong-doing falls from your arms and your legs. You are free!
Jesus kneels to embrace you. He calls you a child of God, a family member, a
He lifts you up and renames you ‘princess.’ Now, you are a flawless, beautiful,
and restored daughter of the King of Kings.
Hand in hand, you and your heavenly advocate dance out of the courtroom
as you hear the judge in the distance pronounce:
“Not Guilty.”

The Garden of Paradise
~~Sometimes Love Means Losing Count~~
While no one would describe me as having a green thumb, I do know some
gardening basics:
Water the plants early in the morning before the hot sun comes out,
Prune dead branches to let the sunshine in, and
Pull a few weeds every morning so that your beautiful flowers are not
Gardening requires daily, steadfast attention, as is necessary for any relationship. In a similar way, God invites us to co-garden our hearts with Him
personally, every day.
Living in community might give us a glimpse into someone else’s garden. It
can get complicated if we peek over the hedge and jump to judgments about
what should be done about someone’s plant (or, a weed) that we notice.
I carried a regret for years when I reacted too quickly to a situation where I
did not have all of the facts.
It all began when I overheard talk of a friend’s major life choice that I quickly
labeled as a huge mistake. Instead of taking the time to call her, and to listen,
my quick assumption added to her painful stress. It had been a tough time in
her life, and she’d had to make monumental decisions. I lacked information,
and did not understand her whys.
The situation grew even worse when I left her a passionate voicemail pleading
with her to change her mind. Instead of coming alongside her to understand,
to hold her hand, to comfort her, or to assist her in any practical way, I stood
at a distance and drew conclusions.
Our friendship died.
Weeks later, continuing to think about her, I decided to send a quick apology.
I hoped that she would hear my perspective. But still, I had not heard hers.
Mother Teresa wisely said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love
For a couple of years, this corner of my garden lay barren, wrapped up with
the weeds of my own self-righteousness, pride, and regret. This small area
lay neglected because I did not invite Jesus into it during our gardening dates
in the cool of each morning.
It was only after much time had passed since my insensitive responses that I
wrote a true letter of apology. With more life experience, I realized my wrong.
I felt truly sorry, and told her so. This time I made no excuses.
Then, I waited. And waited. And waited. For a reply. Two weeks seemed like
an eternity.
The day finally came that I opened up the mailbox and saw the pink envelope
with her name in the return address. “I received your kind words, Amber.
I just want you to know that I forgive you, and I love you. God knows
everything about it, and He loves us both,” I read.
Collapsing into a nearby chair, I soaked in the refreshing, life-giving words.
Grateful tears began to flow down my cheeks as I thanked God for helping
us… He enabled me to write a sincere apology, and then He helped my friend
to gracefully forgive me.
How can I describe the relief which I felt when I saw these generous words?
Like a fresh rain in springtime, they watered the dry garden of my heart.
These actions pulled up the weeds of regret leaving holes in the dirt that
God could now cover with His liquid love. What could be a sweeter gift
than a friend’s undeserved forgiveness? What is more beautiful than a freshly
weeded and watered garden?
The result encouraged me about the importance to never stop weeding, and
watering, and nurturing the garden in my heart.

Not long after, a different situation arose that caused me to realize that
another corner of my garden had a great need of tending. This time, though,
it was me that needed to pull up the bitter root of unforgiveness.
While in front of my computer early one morning, a former trusted friend
messaged me. She requested a meeting, implying that she might want to
reconnect again. I felt conflicted.
Years before, this person and I had separated for good reason. She had
betrayed me, and had left only heartache in her place.
Now she wanted to meet at a local restaurant. How should I reply? I decided
to accept. I missed her, and I truly wanted to hear what she had to say. I
had a tender softness for her because I’d mentored her, and understood her
difficult situation.
However, I continued to wrestle with how this interaction might go. In my
mind, I played out a conversation and determined what I thought should
happen, adding, “God, she had better take responsibility for what she did!
She needs to show how sorry she is!” I thought that certainly she might, at
least, shed some tears.
A portion of scripture pierced my heart as I drove down the highway the next
day: “Love does not keep a record of wrongs.”
Ouch! Immediately, I caught a glimpse of the list I had held in my mind of all
the ways in which she had wronged me. Her selfish choices had been like a
surprising, stinging downpour that caused mulch to scatter everywhere in a
yard after a storm.
I wanted her to feel my pain. I wanted her to grovel. I wanted her to show
me that she “got it.”
It now occurred to me that I was not yet ready to fully forgive. I realized
I needed to pray and ask God to help me more in this process before our
scheduled lunch.
Shifting from my laser focus on her shortcomings, I redirected my thoughts
to how I had mentored her and loved her like a daughter. That is why her
betrayal hurt so much. I focused on all of her beautiful qualities, and on
how helpful she had been in so many tough situations because of her calm
Then I imagined how hard it might be for her to meet with me. She must be so
The story of the prodigal son became my source for instruction. The father
had not waited for his son to fall on his knees in front of him and to show
visible anguish. Instead, the father ran out to greet him, and even had a gift (a
ring) ready for him. The father connected the dots that his son’s decision to
walk toward home showed a change of heart.
With this idea in mind, I picked out a special bracelet to give her, and I grew
eager for our meeting. In the meantime, I prayed for her, and focused on the
positive memories from our past times together.
By the time the actual meeting took place, the need to go into detail about the
reasons we’d parted ways seemed of little importance. Our conversation
flowed, and we caught up on each other’s lives. By the end, she simply
confided, “It’s been hard, but I’ve made a lot of changes over the past couple
of years since I saw you last.”
“I know,” I gently answered.
We returned to our reminiscing, and shared pictures of our families.
That day, a poisonous weed of unforgiveness that had been in my heart had
been pulled up, roots and all. The newly tended soil gave opportunity for
God to restore our relationship in the days to come.
Months later, I received an unexpected card in the mail from her that
contained the words I’d originally hoped to hear. Although her actions
had already spoken them, she shared her precious thoughts in writing. She
communicated how grateful she was to now be a part of my life again, and
also, how forever sorry she is for her past mistakes.
My eyes grew misty as I read this letter of acknowledgment —a letter so
much sweeter now that I did not require it.

Who Will Fill the Hole? Poem by Amber O’Brien

I should have used my ‘big girl voice,’
I should have said, “Will you please fill the hole?” as the family
Packed up their plastic toys and shovels.
For I knew what they did not; for
A hole left open can lead to heartache.
Years before a woman on a nearby shore stumbled in the dark,
And she fell into a neglected hole;
She couldn’t climb out and she soon fell asleep.
Early the next morning a sand-cleaning machine
Pushed the sand over her and
She. Was. Buried. Alive.
The reporter urged the viewers, “to please fill in the holes,”
After scooping sand, and sculpting castles.
But, there are some gaps we cannot fill up,
On. Our. Own.
I thought of my own mistakes:
As a mother. As a friend.
As a sister, a daughter, a wife,
Would my regrets ever end?
So many pits, so many pangs of remorse.
How many people have fallen into the holes that I’ve dug,
With clenched fists of selfish pride and fear?
Or, on the other hand,
How many people have hurt me, and bore huge holes in my own heart?
But I worsened my wounds with unforgiveness and
Allowed the gaping holes to fester with self-pity.
This huge hole left in the sand in front of me
represented all my failures, and
I sat anxiously in my beach chair pondering what to do.
I didn’t have a shovel,
Or the strength…
for I now finally comprehended that,
All these holes together formed a Grand Canyon-sized chasm that separated
me from holy heaven.
Who will fill the hole?
Downhearted and distressed,
I grievously gazed at the ginormous gulf,
Paralyzed with despair.
Who can fill the hole?
Then a lifeguard,
Wearing a blood-red tank top,
With a white cross sealed over his chest,
Climbed down from his high white stand,
Kneeled in the sand, and
With his open, bare hands,
He gently, and carefully, pushed the sand from the rough edges,
And He. Filled. The. Hole.

Ch. 3
Discussion questions for those who want to delve deeper:

  1. Have you ever been to court before? Did your lawyer defend you? Did you
    plead guilty, or not guilty?
  2. Read slowly I John 4:7-21. Where does love come from?
  3. Why is Jesus the perfect mediator? Read 1 John 1:8-10 and 2:1-2. Why is
    being honest about ourselves to God necessary?
  4. Why is it so hard to forgive others? Let us look to Jesus who prayed these
    words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they
    are doing” (Luke 23:34).
  5. Describe the process that you use to forgive. For example, the author
    sometimes finds it helpful to write a letter to someone who has hurt her, and
    then to rip it up. Next, she writes down ten good characteristics about the
    person in order to gain perspective. What helps you to root out unforgiveness?
  6. The poem Who Will Fill the Holes? is a modern twist on Revelation 5:1-10
    which says, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” Why?
  7. Read 1 Peter 4:8. What soothes the wounds that others cause? Is there
    someone who needs you to gently cover them with forgiveness? Or, do you
    need to forgive and show compassion to yourself?

Time for Dessert
Close your eyes, and imagine Jesus earnestly praying for you:
“Father forgive her, she knows not what she does.”
Now picture those wounded hands embracing you tightly
with a warm, long, and strong hug.
And then… the Holy One takes off his pure white robe of righteousness,
and wraps it around you.
How do you respond to Him?

What is Reality?

Ch. 3 from Amber O’Brien’s book, “Love.Always.Wins.”

~~Sometimes Love Means Planning a Retreat~~

Locked in our small powder room, I cling to the phone with my friend
on the other end while my three children knock on the door and call
out, “Mom, she hit me!” and, “Jacob won’t let me use the computer!”
Then my husband chimes in with, “Amber, have you seen my shoes?”
Ignoring the interruptions, I ask my friend on the line, “Have you ever wanted
to just get away to a deserted island?”
This scene is actually the opening of one of the many hilarious videos that
I have submitted to the reality show, Survivor. If you think I am crazy for
wanting to go to a remote location for thirty-nine days to live off the land,
eat bugs, wear no makeup (yikes!) and to put myself in a situation that risks
ridicule and failure, I don’t blame you. I have wondered the same thing, time
and again.
The producers must have wondered about me, too, after seeing the second
part of the video that we submitted. My ‘director husband’ captures me on
camera during a tropical family vacation in which I suddenly emerge from
the sea of blue, sparkling water. After my exaggerated expressions of finding
myself on the beautiful Caribbean beach, I skip toward the shore, beaded
hair flying in the breeze, and full of pure, inexplicable joy —when BOOM!
—Three children (my own!)— run into me, and knock me to the ground. As
soon as I manage to sit up, I shout with laughter, “I meant without the kids!”

Yes, I confess to submitting videos and applications to be on the show more
than once. I imagine that the overtired judges might have put their fingers in
their ears as I belted out the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song, rewritten
in my own words: “Just sit right back, and you’ll hear a tale,… the tale of a
homeschool mom…”
While the words might have been clever, my singing voice has never been one
of my best assets. Nevertheless, creating the videos was always great family
In contrast to the lighthearted videos, the application questions forced me to
dig deeper. One especially caused me to stop and ponder: “Who is your hero,
and why?”
I soon realized that my heroes were not the former winners of Survivor, or
even the idolized actors or athletes on television. Instead, my thoughts turned
to those unrecognized people who serve God every day in the way they take
care of others. My list of heroes grew to include:

  • The couple down the street who care for a special needs child,
  • A woman who allows her personal anger to dissolve into forgiveness,
  • A friend’s husband who turns away from temptation,
  • Another friend who regrets a past decision, but now helps others not to
    make it,
  • The family who says “yes” to an unexpected child,
  • The couple who commits to counseling to reconcile their dying marriage,
  • A teen addict who seeks help,
  • A single parent who plays both the roles of mom and dad,

    The list goes on, and on, and on, including all who face their challenges by
    choosing love.
    These precious people give, and forgive, when no cameras are rolling, and
    when no crew is watching. These “true survivors” endure hardship and
    heartache which last longer than a mere thirty-nine days. No chance of
    winning a million dollars, or of appearing on Good Morning America loom in
    the future to reward them. These are not sexy super-models, but they are the
    ones who ‘model’ for me who I hope to become.
    Despite my family’s support and our best efforts, I never did receive the call
    to come in for an audition. Yet, as time went on, my dream to be on the show
    I tried to rationalize and justify my desires.
    The draw of adding to the diversity in this social experiment appealed to
    me. After all, I reasoned, they needed a Christian homeschooling mom on
    the show! I mean, how many homeschooling moms made it on the set of
    Survivor? Zero! (Of course, it’s questionable if any have actually applied).
    I also wanted justice. I just hated to see someone who lied and cheated get the
    win. Perhaps I could show them that the best strategy is to be truthful and
    trustworthy. Perhaps my mission field would consist of millions of viewers!

  • Mother Teresa’s quote rang in my thoughts: “Don’t look for big things, just
    do small things with great love.” Remembering her words helped to ground
    me, once again, to be content with the everyday roles that God had given me.
    I decided to pray, “Lord, take from me this desire to get away, if it is not of
    Then. It. Happened.
    My desire “to get away” became a reality one weekend when I answered an
    invitation to attend a silent women’s retreat with a friend. So wonderful.
    My private room greeted me with fresh-cut flowers, and handwritten notes
    reminding me that others were praying for me. I felt spoiled by the delicious,
    homemade meals prepared for us, and the well-cared for lawns to walk
    throughout. Together, they refreshed my body and soul. I listened in the
    quiet, and I soaked up the devotions that seemed to be delivered just for me.
    “What is reality?” the priest asked. And then, he answered his own question:
    “Reality is the love Christ has for you,” he said, as his words stunned me
    to attention.
    “You might think that you worked hard to plan this weekend away, —but
    Jesus, for all of eternity, has been planning to spend this special time with
    I believed that God had orchestrated this whole weekend all along. This
    respite (from the busyness of my routine and draining days) restored and
    refreshed me.
    After time to be still and reflect, to know truth, and to allow my heart to be
    changed, I left rejuvenated and clean, just as if coming out of a warm, soapy
    shower. I returned home as a re-energized wife, and a revitalized mother.
    I realized now that I had agreed to come because of those earlier stirrings
    in my heart to get away. It turns out that I didn’t need to flee to a deserted
    island. Instead, I actually needed to step away and be still for the eyes of my
    heart to be opened to the reality of God’s renewing love for me.

A Love to Last the Ages – A poem by Amber O’Brien

Jesus and me have a date today,
Gonna be half past nine,
He’ll tell me I’m beautiful,
I’ll tell Him, forever, He’s mine.

Jesus and me have a date today,
He’s gonna whisper in my ear,
I’ll tell Him all my worries,
He’ll tell me, “Girl, —never fear.”

For I am His,
And He is mine,
A Love to last the ages.
I’ll share with Him my inner thoughts,
He’ll whisper through the Pages.

Jesus and me have a date today,
I know He’ll be on time,
He’s always been faithful,
Lord, help me, to be, ‘in kind,’

For He’s waiting by the seashore,
My coffee table, too.
Every red light is sacred,
Lord, help me, to be as true.

For I am His,
And He is mine,
A Love to last the ages,
I’ll share with Him my inner thoughts,
He’ll whisper through the Pages.

Wrapped Around the Shepherd’s Neck

If you were a lamb, how would you describe yourself? Obedient, or strong-willed? Have you ever wandered off during your life journey? Perhaps
you have not physically wandered away, but perhaps you have become
emotionally distracted with the appeal of another lamb, one who appears
fun and adventurous. Or, perhaps you ran ahead of The Shepherd in your
excitement for a new grassy field in the distance. What if The Shepherd saw
that you were about to fall off a cliff because of a poor choice?
Imagine Him reaching out and using the end of his shepherd’s crook to save
you from yourself. Your life is spared, but your leg is painfully broken. The
Shepherd kneels down and with his strong, firm hands begins to pick you
up, and places you around his warm neck. At first, you just think about your
pain and become jealous of the other lambs that are frolicking down below.
You writhe in discomfort, and question God with, “Why did you allow my
leg to break?”
Sometimes the agonizing hurt keeps you up at night. “Please, just heal me
now!” you plead. But, in time, you realize that now you are close enough to
hear the beating of the kind shepherd’s broken heart. His tears fall on your
face, and you realize He is suffering with you. You are so close that you can
feel His warm embrace and His compassionate kiss. You discover that being
this close to the faithful shepherd, and hearing Him whisper in your ear is
much better than aimlessly playing down below. You delight in your new
names of ‘Chosen’ and ‘Entrusted.’
While still hurting and sorrowing, you start to pray for the lambs who are
making poor choices, and for those who are also suffering in so many different
ways (hunger, sickness, grief, loneliness, depression, and more). Then you
pray for the entire flock, because you sense how His heart breaks for so many
other grieving lambs, especially for the ones who will not let Him hold them
and accept His healing love.

Then to your surprise, the shepherd declares that your leg is healed and you
are now free to be released and play with the other lambs.
What would you do?

Ode of the Crippled Lamb (poem by Amber O’Brien)

Dancing down the dry and dusty hills,
They plead for me to come down and play,
The leaping lambs bound past the Shepherd,
Wrapped ‘round His shoulders, I long to stay.

This crippled lamb clings to you, Shepherd,
So close I hear you whisper my name,
I am stilled by surrendered suffering,
Your kiss gives me purpose, midst the pain.

Once I followed the flock far from Him,
To a steep cliff, death valley beneath,
A shepherd staff reached down to save me,
My leg crippled in Love’s saving reach.

Sweet love kneels down to bandage my wounds,
He gently pulls me close to His chest,
Limping along, love weeps for my loss,
Healing me with His hot, Holy breath.

They plead for me to come down and play,
Wrapped ‘round His shoulders, I long to stay.

Discussion questions for those that want to delve deeper:

  1. When have you known that you needed to get away from the routine of
    your life?
    Where did you go?
    Do you need to plan for one in your near future?
  2. The author thought that a spot on a reality show would fill her desire. Have
    you ever thought that fame or fortune would bring you fulfillment?
  3. Who is your hero?
    Who do you respect for their generous Love?
  4. In the poem, A Love to Last the Ages, the author finds time throughout the
    day to chat with Jesus. How can you experience similar “mini-getaways”?
  5. Read the Song of Songs, chapter 2. Take out your journal, and ponder with
    your pen. In this love poem in the Bible, God is believed to represent the male
    lover, while we, His Bride, symbolize, “His beloved.” He says He wants you
    to, “Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me,” (v.10). Write
    down the terms of endearment (the adjectives) that He uses for you.
  6. Look up John 14:1-7, and write it out. How do we know The Truth?
  7. In addition, look up Revelation 3:14-21. Who is knocking? Who must
    open the door?
    During the author’s weekend retreat, the Lord works in her heart to help her
    reevaluate her desires, wants, and needs. When you go on your ‘date with Jesus,’
    perhaps, ask Him if there is anything that needs changing in your heart. Write it
    down, and ask for help and strength to be transformed.

Time for Dessert
Set a time to meet with Jesus tomorrow morning, and schedule the date on
your calendar. Grab your Bible, a journal, and a favorite pen. Choose a special
spot to meet.
A handy acronym, that I use, is ACTS.
A = Adoration
Pick an adjective to describe God’s character
and express worship for Who He Is.
C = Contrition
Ask God to shine His light in your heart to reveal any actions or attitudes
that might be harmful. Have honest conversation with Him.
T = Thanksgiving
Write down three good gifts in your life,
and thank God for them out loud.
S = Supplication
List people you care about, and problems that you face today.
Ask God for specific help.
Linger and listen and look to the Word of God for direction, courage, and
comfort. Write down a takeaway from your time such as a Bible verse, a
keyword, or an important thought to remember

Whispers from the Grand Canyon

Ch. 2 of Amber O’Brien’s book

~~Sometimes love is too large for words~~

I took refuge in the bathroom of the hotel room, laboring with my pen and paper, and tried to give birth to a poem. My family played National Park Monopoly outside my makeshift office as I sought to describe, in written words, one of the most amazing, natural wonders of the world. The overwhelmingly gigantic gulf, composed of pastel layers of crumbling stone, contrasted against a desert blue sky. It spoke to me of God’s beauty, power, and timelessness.

Though hours had passed since my first encounter, I remained captivated by recalling the vastness of this immense abyss —so huge that the human eye can only take in twenty percent at a time. The ranger had explained earlier at the park that even a camera from an airplane could not take a photo of the entire range, but a satellite from the heavens is needed.

My oldest daughter, age 12, said over dinner, “The Grand Canyon makes me feel like an ant.” When I asked my younger two children why they thought God created the Grand Canyon, my son declared, “Because He loves us,” and his sister Katie chimed in, “To show us how Big He is… and how Old!”

Early the next morning we hit the trails again. But, in contrast to the feast of spiritual revelation and gratitude that I felt for the experience of the Grand Canyon National Park, my children grumbled. “My foot is stuck in the mud,” one complained as they walked the trails. “I’m too hot,” said another, just as the youngest bemoaned, “I’m too tired!” I noticed them looking downward at their aching feet while all around them the God of the universe whispered a Love Song.

Whispers from the Grand Canyon

She beckons the weary eyes of the world,

Canyon after canyon of crumbling curls,

Layers of sand, suntanned and hand-swirled,

Bronzed desert beauty queen among girls.

Come sweet mysterious beauty sublime,

Whisper of ancient secrets now buried,

Who poured out each towering layer of time?

Can a bridge to cover this gap be carried?

Love older than the stones that crumble,

Love tender bridged the immense abyss,

Love beyond measure became humble,

Sealed with a Kiss,

Bliss, sweet bliss, filled the abyss,

Sealed with a kiss, bliss, sweet bliss.

She draws suitors with wild desert flowers,

Crashing lightning echoes down from the sky,

An hourglass poured from Love and power,

A canyon too grand for the human eye.

Love older than the stones that crumble,

Love tender bridged the immense abyss,

Love beyond measure became humble,

Sealed with a Kiss,

Sweet Jesus bridged the immense abyss,

Sealed with a kiss, bliss, sweet bliss.

* * *

In a famous interview of actor, Katharine Hepburn, by Barbara Walters, Katharine states that she is “like a tree.”

Barbara follows up with, “What type of tree would you be?”

Katharine responds, “Well I think most people would like to be an oak tree, as it is strong and pretty.”

Well, personally, I would like to be as a weeping Willow tree, whose deep roots reach down below the surface, to drink from the streams of living water.

The Weeping Willow Tree

A delicate cascade of greenery flows in the wind.

Translucent and serene, the willowy veil provides shade and refuge.

Tenderly she weeps and allows each tear to freely flow.

A strong, thick trunk supports the lush drapery.

Stable and strong, the root foundations of the willow reach deep in the ground.

No squall or tempest will uproot her,

Though the relentless winds often rage and blast.

Oh, may I be as the weeping willow tree.

May my tears flow as freely

When the defenseless innocents play around my trunk.

May my supple branches act as a shield

To the aged man who has come to drink from my shade.

May my thick trunk teach the widowed woman

As she hears the joyful rush of my leaves whisper,

“Don’t give up, stand as firm and free, as I.”

* * *

Discussion questions for those that want to delve deeper:

  1. Where is your favorite nature place to go to relax and refresh? The forest? By the seashore? Or a nearby pond or lake?
  • What does this natural place reveal to you about your Creator?
  • What do you think God is speaking to you when you linger, listen, and soak up the beauty all around you?
  • What did the author perceive about her Creator when she stood in awe at the edge of the Grand Canyon? What does the canyon symbolize? What does the bridge symbolize?
  • Look up Psalm 19:1-4. List what the psalmist views in nature that causes him to want to give glory to God.
  • When have you been like one of the three children who complained and bickered as the God of the universe surrounded them so powerfully?
  • Look up Romans 1:20-23. Why are we without an excuse ?

Think about this: Is it easier to worship the creation, instead of our Creator?

Love . Always. Wins.

* * *

Time for Dessert

Read Psalm 103.

Underline the word “love” as you read this awesome psalm of praise.

Stop Panicking, Keep Stirring

Ch. 1 from Amber O’Brien’s Book, Love. Always. Wins.

~~Sometimes love knows exactly what we need~~

The pulsing, whirling sounds of helicopter propellers vibrated above my head while my panicked legs pumped in the chilly preseason Atlantic Ocean and my shivering arms held onto my capsized

elliptical paddle board.

Burrrroooom, ticka-ticka-ticka! Burrrooom, burrrooom, ticka-ticka-ticka!

“Lord, I don’t need a helicopter,” I screeched into the wind. “Just send me a motorboat. I don’t need a helicopter.”

The bright red Coast Guard rescue vehicle circled overhead, and I waved back at the pilot.

The loud motor and choppy propeller, ticka-ticka-ticka, sound WAS NOT music to my ears because of my dread of having to awkwardly climb aboard a hanging ladder —especially in front of a crowd of people. Weariness zapped almost all my strength and I couldn’t imagine holding on, so I continued to plead against the helicopter.

Glancing at the shore, I noticed numerous rescue vehicles, including an ambulance, a police car, and even a fire truck. A crowd of people gathered about them, and I knew they had the same thought that I did: What in the world is that crazy woman doing out there in the ocean by herself?

Just an hour before, I had arrived at the beach with my husband and oldest daughter before the lifeguards took their posts. For a special birthday present, Dave had bought me a new toy—a novel paddleboard with handlebars for state-of-the-art steering and stair-stepper like pedals for advanced control. What we didn’t know at the time was that, in our excitement, we had tightened an important screw and dismantled the steering mechanism. (Ok. I know what you are thinking. Duh!)

I remember suggesting that we try out this new watercraft on the quieter bay nearby first (I should have gone with my gut), but when we both peered at the ocean earlier that morning, it appeared to be unusually calm and inviting.

Excited to try out the new gift, Dave pushed me towards the horizon on my virgin voyage, out past the breaking waves. I stood upright and vertical, pedaling the board forward –straight out into the vast sea. After several yards, I squeezed the right handle and expected to veer right.

Nothing happened.

Instructions in the box had warned that I would need to pedal faster for the steering to engage and so I pumped my legs even faster, and squeezed the handle with all my might trying to turn so I would not continue to be going straight out to sea.

My husband yelled from the shore, “Turn! Turn!” but I moved out further away from him and my daughter on the shore.

“I AM! I AM TRYING To TURN! ” I bellowed back.

At this point, I panicked, my adrenaline increased, and my muscles tensed up. I kept thinking “What am I doing wrong?”(Remember that I didn’t know that the steering didn’t work) Thus, in my frantic panic to correct what I thought was my mistake, I moved forward faster and faster. Before I knew it, I found myself one-fourth of a mile into the deep waters of the ocean. By leaning my body weight all the way to the right, my direction turned 90 degrees so that I now became parallel with the shore. This was better than going straight out to sea, but I needed to turn 90 degrees more so I could ride back to the shore.

The current and the wind worked against me as I kept compressing the handlebars. It took all of my effort and energy just to stay upright. For ten beach blocks, my tiny board and I managed to travel parallel to the beach as my husband and my daughter, Mary, dashed along the sand as fast as they could, trying to keep up.

My heart quickened. Anxiety so overwhelmed me that instead of stopping to regroup, I scampered faster like a nervous, squeaking gerbil on a metal running wheel. Over and over, I squeezed the handlebars with all my might, “Help! Lord Jesus! Help me! Help Me!” I squealed out desperately as I pedaled on without considering a new plan.

In one final desperate attempt, I leaned my body all the way over toward the shore and then I heard a giant splash (KER-SPLOOSH!), as the board turned sideways, and flung me into the cold, dark ocean. Shocked that I was now capsized and in the freezing water, I wrapped my arms around the bobbing, overturned board, saltwater wading into my mouth, nostrils, and eyes. (I was tied with a rope around my wrist to the board so that I had no choice but to stay put).

After a minute, I kicked furiously with my feet to see if I could move myself forward and toward the shore. However, the wind was against me and the overturned board had a long handlebar underneath that was causing a drag.

Can they see me? I wondered. I worried not just for myself, but also for my husband and daughter back on the beach. I shivered, and my legs felt numb… Oh, I hope they are getting help,I pleaded. The exhaustion from traveling a panicked half-mile caused my heart to continue to race as fast as my legs were trying to kick toward the shore.

That is when I heard welcome music to my ears: Sirens. Loud, echoing sirens that called out to all the volunteers on Seven Mile Island. I knew help would be arriving soon, and while I was a little embarrassed to have caused such a hullabaloo, I felt relieved that help was on the way.

Maybe a motorboat might come to my rescue, I thought.

I waited in the water and held on tight and hoped they would hurry. Finally I started to calm down enough to stop my frantic pleadings and so I could begin to finally listen.

First, my new found ears heard the burrrooom ticka-ticka-ticka, burrrrooom, and looked up to see the alarming crimson helicopter carefully making a wide circle above me. Like a hovering, rumbling, rotund mosquito that was “tsk-tsk-ing” me for my panicking and capsizing, it buzzed overhead.

To my great chagrin, I then proceeded to tell the God of the Universe exactly how He should rescue me. “Not a helicopter, Lord. Just send me a motorboat. I don’t need a helicopter.”

I then heard a calm and authoritative voice deep inside me say, “I know what you need.”

I stopped kicking and surrendered to God. A peaceful hope replaced my panic as I decided to trust that God would provide a way out and that I didn’t need to give Him suggestions. Now that I had stopped struggling, I waited with calm expectancy, curious to see what would happen next.

It must have been at least ten minutes that I clutched the board while I faced the shore, attempting to spot my husband and daughter among the spectators lining the water’s edge.

To my great delight, I suddenly heard the vroom-Vroom-VROOM sound of a powerful race car engine. Like a strong and swift eagle flying over the waves, two energetic lifeguards swooped to my rescue upon a sleek and speedy jet ski. The zippy watercraft bounced upon the waves while water spouted up and behind to form a halo of spray around the lifeguards’ athletic frames. The bright sun shone behind their calm, yet compassionate, beautiful faces and once they arrived within earshot I called out to them, “Oh thank you! You are my angels!”

Greeting me, they assessed my situation, and both men lifted me up under each of my arms until I lay face down on the back paddle of the waverunner. I noticed handlebars available for a passenger to hold onto, but to my immense relief, they seemed to recognize my weariness and that I wouldn’t be able to hold on by myself for the trip back to shore. As a result, one of the kind lifeguards accompanied me on the back of the jet ski.

Soon I heard the revving up of the engine and the vroom-Vroom-VROOM as we rose up and glided over the ocean waves like a mother eagle who carries her young on her back and lifts them away from danger.

Each time we bounded over a wave, we slid, but the lifeguard recentered me and I giggled at each unexpected rescue. His warm and strong body secured me to the back paddle, and I smiled as giant splashes of salty water rained down and we raced to safety.

We soared over the finish line and landed at the edge of the shore.

Emergency responders approached while spectators clapped, smiled, and laughed. The brouhaha ended, and my husband and daughter ran up to

embrace me, along with two of the paramedics. A warm blanket wrapped my shoulders, and the cold numbness began to melt away.

You were right, God, I inwardly reflected. You knew just what I needed.

* * *

Keep Stirring

~~Sometimes love needs time to simmer~~

I almost gave up.

Maybe I didn’t follow the directions correctly. The still hard, grainy arborio rice, the main ingredient of a mushroom risotto dish, only left a stale, bitter taste when I tested it.

Ten more minutes passed after the recipe’s instructions for when it should have been done, and I was still stirring.

The goal for this unique rice would be, “Al Dente,” which means soft on the outside, but firm in the middle. (Think of Goldilocks who had to find the porridge that was, “just right.”)

My arm felt heavy as I continued to stir the mushroom risotto well past the 25 minutes promised in the recipe. The secret was to slowly add the boiling stock one ladle at a time, and to keep stirring. And stirring. And stirring.

If I left it for even a minute, then I might miss the “just right” moment.

My hungry husband entered the kitchen to check on my progress. As the

primary chef of the family, he offered me the relief I’d been hoping for, and took over my position.

In tiny amounts, he added water, gently stirred, and tasted some more. After ten more minutes of, “long-suffering,” the risotto transformed into Al Dente. The desire that I had thought might never, ever happen, finally did.

At dinner, the rice melted soft and creamy on my tongue. It seemed like rich velvety pasta that relaxed in my mouth, like when Goldilocks found just the right bed. At the same time, its tender form had retained its firmness so that it was not mushy. Each morsel, so distinct.

The flavors of mushroom and chicken stock blended together with true perfection.

Worth. The. Wait. Perhaps… some of the important matters in life might take the longest time.

What are you waiting for, sweet one, and where do you need a breakthrough?

Maybe it’s an old friend who has grown distant because of a misunderstanding. Maybe it’s a marriage that has turned cold and silent. Maybe you are experiencing sorrow because of the stony disposition of one of your children.

Oh, Dear Sweet Sister… your loved one’s heart is like the risotto rice kernel that is still in need of warmth, attention, and stirring. Keep standing, and keep adding the liquid of love and kindness. With patience, keep praying.

Ask God for the help you need to not give up. The hard shell of your loved one’s heart will eventually become soft. Remember, God yearns for unity and reconciliation, too. In fact, he loves your family and friends a trillion times more than you do.

Never leave the stove, Dear Sweet Sister, because at any moment you might gain a glimpse at the work that God is doing, —softening, restoring, and reconciling the relationship between them and God, and them and you.

Ask a trusted sister to stir with you. We sisters need each other to help in the kitchen of life.

The first ingredient in the recipe of love is patience. Additional ingredients are listed in I Corinthians 13:4-8, and include these: Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…

Love. Always. Wins.

* * *

Love. Always. Wins.

Oh my sweet friend, True Love Always Wins,

Come to The Well, again and again, Fill up to the brim with all that’s true,

He came to restore, make All things New, Oh my sweet friend, True Love Always Wins.

Oh my sweet friend, True Love Never Fails, Once we sat helpless in death-rows jail, God’s red love lavished to set us free, Long-suffering turns the prison door key,

Oh my sweet friend, True Love Never Fails.


True love is bloody, and sometimes it hurts, True love kneels down, and then takes off His shirt,

Love washes our feet and seeks all to Save, Love always wins, for He conquered the Grave.

Oh my sweet friend, True Love Always Wins, Love covers the ugliest of sins,

Pull out by the root your bitterness, Pay forward God’s undeserved forgiveness,

Oh my sweet friend, True Love ALWAYS Wins.

* * *

Discussion questions for those that want to delve deeper:

  1. Like a panicked hamster, the author kept pedaling. Are you stressed and running frantically, perhaps on a “mental hamster wheel?” What causes your heart and thoughts to race? What do you need rescuing from, or what do you require God’s power to rise above?
  • How can you pause your panicked pedaling? Look up Psalm 46:10. Are you making time to be still and listen to God?
  • Why is the eagle considered the ‘King of the Air?’ Look up Isaiah 40:31. Are you tired and weary? What does it mean to mount up like an eagle? (An eagle can fly up to 10,000 feet above the ground and has incredible eyesight).
  • What is your favorite dish or dessert that takes a long time to prepare?
  • Read out loud I Corinthians 13: 4-8. In God’s recipe of love, what is the first ingredient? Why would this one be first on the list?
  • Read the poem, Love. Always. Wins. What is the goal of love? Why does love sometimes hurt? Why does love always win?
  • While you wait, what can you do to soften your own heart?

* * *

Time for Dessert

Reflect on all the ways that God has been patient with you.

Love softly knocks on our hearts, and never barges in.

Love waits.