Our Father’s Love

2016-209

Ashley’s family

By Ashley Synowicki

I grew up raised by a single mom. My parents got divorced when I was around the age of 3 or 4. So I’ve basically known life without a strong father figure. The memories I do have of us as a family aren’t happy ones. And, my relationship with God was somewhat similar to my relationship with my earthly father.

I had knowledge and belief about God, but it was very impersonal.

He was up in heaven, I was down on Earth . . . without much connection or interaction. Things have always been awkward between my dad and me.

He was sporadically involved in my life growing up.

Sometimes he came to dance performances or school activities, but sometimes not.

I have memories of him forgetting to pick me up from school, losing his temper and getting violent . . . not good stuff.

Although my relationship with him always left a lot to be desired, as a child, I never felt like I was really missing out. Yes, I wished my dad was different, but overall I didn’t feel like I had a huge lack. I guess I didn’t know anything “more.”

Fast forward a little bit. During my junior year of high school I met a very special boy, and we started dating. Seven years later we were married and moved 5 hours away to Iowa where he attended Chiropractic school for 3 ½ years. It was there I heard the gospel for the first time, accepted Christ, and was baptized. My relationship with God went from a belief and knowledge of him to total surrender and love for Him. That church in Iowa was also the place we had our oldest daughter Ella dedicated.

When we found out our first child was on the way, we were both stunned and then excited!

And then this huge weight of responsibility came upon me.

I began to think about all of the responsibilities of parenthood, especially now that I was saved. I wanted to be the perfect Christian mama. Yet, there were so many opinions on the proper way to do absolutely anything with and for your baby. I felt a lot of pressure from myself and the world in general to do everything correctly. And when we found out we were having a girl, I began feeling intense pressure that I, especially, was her example.  I wanted to be the perfect Christian mom, wife and woman.  Then when Ella was born those feelings got worse. My baby cried in public! She wouldn’t sleep through the night no matter what I tried. So many things made me feel inadequate.

At the same time I was absolutely amazed by her . . . and by my feelings for her. Every single thing she did was a miracle. Every smile, every burp, was perfection. The first time I ever made her laugh I remember I cried like a baby because I felt so much joy.

About a year after Ella was born I became pregnant again and shortly after had a miscarriage. About six months later I became pregnant with our second daughter Hannah. Life with two kiddos was definitely more complicated, but I was so incredibly happy to be their mama. One thing I didn’t really expect about becoming a parent was how much it would influence my relationship with God. For example, He’s really captured my attention as I watch my girls interact with their daddy. There are times when they will be dancing with him in the living room, chasing him around the backyard, sitting on his lap reading a book, or wrestling in the basement—and in those moments I often find myself over-emotional. Partly because it’s awesome to see my girls interact that way with their dad, but also because I have begun to realize all of the things I missed out on. I have a front row seat to all of the things that I deeply desired for myself but I never experienced. And that hurts.

I started talking to God about my feelings and asking Him to heal my heart. I expected Him to just sort of take the pain and sadness away . . . to fix it. But He didn’t do that. Instead He whispered to my heart that the way my husband and I look at our girls is the same way He looks at me . . . even more so.

I began to notice all of the times that God calls Himself Father in the Bible. I thought it was incredible that the God of the universe would call Himself my Father. MY FATHER!

Soon, I would spend time with Him and go to Him in those moments when I was grieving all I’d missed growing up and just allow Him to comfort me. I would go to him (and still do) and sit on His lap, so to speak, and be comforted by my Heavenly Father, who’s the best dad ever.

Also, I came to realize that whatever our understanding of love and grace is, that affects absolutely everything.  The words we use can be incredibly important, whether they are things we say, things we are exposed to, or even just our own personal thoughts. Before, the love God talked about was just on the surface for me.  It was based on the earthly love I’d experienced in my past. He began to teach me about His love–how big and deep and wide it actually is.

And then he opened my eyes and heart to see I’m not only loved by Him, but I’m also accepted. And that changes everything!

To be accepted is so much deeper, and has absolutely no bearing on anything I do.

I realized I was accepted–completely and totally accepted–just as I am, without changing anything. That He’d chosen a lot of the things about me for himself. And as I would be overwhelmed with emotion for my daughters, He constantly reminded me that was, and still is, exactly how He feels towards me.

There are so many intimate things I know about my girls that only I, and God, know. He created each of my girls and planned the unique parts of them. These are the things I cherish the most, the things that make them absolutely extraordinary in my eyes. For example, I could tell you how I love that my oldest has her daddy’s hair even though it’s always a little unruly and out of place, that her eyes are the exact same caramel brown as his, how she has these awesome freckles on her cheeks that I know she got from me and that can only be seen if you’re close enough to hug her. I love knowing that when she’s upset my hugs can somehow help her take a deep breath and begin to calm down.  I could tell you she is a perfectionist and a natural born leader–which means she is her own worst critic and a little bossy but also incredibly confident and friendly. I love that the top of her dresser is always a mess because she has kept every momento from absolutely anyone or anything. I love that she has this really dorky laugh that only comes out when she is laughing super hard; that she loves donuts and Chinese food; is incredibly creative and an amazing artist; that she has a sensitive heart and words really matter to her. I could go on and on about her as well as my other daughters. But, I tell you this to demonstrate a mother’s love–how big and deep and wide and personal it is–and then to tell you God loves each of us even more.

After God demonstrated how big and deep and wide His love for me is, I started to see the world and my own life in a completely new light. I began to realize that I had just been owning, and identifying with, my mistakes.

I had always called myself a sinner, saved by grace. And even though I’d been saved and sanctified, I was still looking at myself and treating myself like I was still a sinner.

I would feel guilty anytime I had a bad thought, made a mistake or lost my temper. I was so sin-conscious all the time. It’s almost like I would go back into  what Bryan [Clark] calls the dark room. The chains were gone, but I hadn’t moved out.

Through me allowing Him to be my Father, He shows me that He never intended this kind of life for me. He brought me to this scripture:

Galatians 2:19-20: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified WITH Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This verse really knocked my socks off. I have already died to the rules. This verse says I was crucified WITH Him . . . which means my old self died WITH Him. He showed me I’m no longer just a sinner saved by grace.

 I’m redeemed,

a daughter of the King,

His beloved child.

My whole identity has changed.

I have come to really understand and finally believe that I am no longer defined by my outward performance. I don’t have to try to be the best mom ever, to look and act a part.

I had been living with should vs. shouldn’t, right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, can vs. can’t. I was trying by my own effort to do and be all that I thought I ought to . . . to make others happy.  I used to rely totally on myself to get through the day, and it was incredibly exhausting and frustrating because I could never quite seem to pull it off.

But God doesn’t love and accept me based on performance. He looks at me the way I look at my girls—as special, unique and amazing! He wants me to live from the Tree of Life where there is grace, freedom, love and generosity, no shame or guilt. There is instead celebration of my unique qualities, not conformity. There is no judgment. He’s taken care of that. Now I no longer have to live in the dark room and be focused on my sin . . . that’s not what He wants for me!  That verse says “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  It’s not my efforts that will get me closer to God, connect me with God. He’s inside me . . . can’t get any closer than that! There are times when I find myself heading back to performance, but the Holy Spirit reminds me of who I am, and I don’t end up staying there very long.

On days when life seems to get crazy, or I am extra emotional, or I am just having a rough day for any reason I come to this verse and remind myself of who He is.

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

There are days that don’t seem easy or light. And then some days are exactly that. I’ve come to learn that it’s not the circumstances that determine whether a day is difficult or easy to get through. It is me.

If I’m trying to work up the strength to love this person or have patience in this situation . . . both will inevitably leave me exhausted and frustrated. But if I allow Jesus to love that person THROUGH me, have patience for that situation THROUGH me . . . this means I have a heart willing for whatever He would have for me.

This doesn’t mean life has no more challenges!  In fact, we’ve added another daughter into the mix. The weight of it, though, is dramatically different this time.

There’s something that Laurie has talked about from time to time in MUMS that I have taken and implemented with my girls. Laurie has told us how she used to tell her girls that they are Jesus Girls. I have done this with my three.

Every day before we take my oldest to school, or sometimes on the way there, I tell my girls that they are Jesus Girls.

If you asked any of them what that means they would probably give you a list of characteristics: smart, kind, honest, brave, strong, and beautiful. It really impacts them – to hear that spoken back to them.

It feels, in some strange way, that I am calling them up to be the girls that Christ created them to be. When we talk about the different characteristics I swear I can see them stand a little taller, their smiles get a little bigger.

The funny thing is,  these things aren’t just true about them . . . they’re also true about me. I am smart, kind, honest, brave, strong, and beautiful.

I am those things because He is those things.

It’s not because of how well I did today, how kind I was, how organized. I am his Jesus Girl, you are His Jesus Girl, and He looks at you with love, admiration, and acceptance.

Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

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