“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV).
Friend To Friend
Anabel Gillham was a woman who loved God, but had trouble accepting that God could love her. Sure, she knew the Bible verses that talked of God’s unconditional love for her, and yet she knew herself, and doubted a God who knew her innermost thoughts would approve or her.
The root of her problem was how she saw God and how she believed God saw her. She knew what kind of God He was. She read, Exodus 34:6, “Then the LORD passed by in front of him [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth…”, but she believed she had to earn that love. She believed she had to be good enough to deserve it. Then God used a very special person to help Annabel understand the depths of God’s love for her – her second child, Mason David Gillham, who was profoundly retarded. Let’s let Anabel tell you her story.
Mace could sing one song with great gusto, just one: “Jesus Loves Me.” He would throw his head back and hold on to the first “Yes” in the chorus just as long as he could, and then he would get tickled and almost fall out of his chair. I can still hear him giggle when I think back on those days that seem so distant and so far away. How poignant that memory is to me. I never doubted for a moment that Jesus loved that profoundly retarded little boy. It didn’t matter that he would never sit with the kids in the back of the church and on a certain special night walk down the aisle, take the pastor by the hand, and invite Jesus into his heart. It was entirely irrelevant that he could not quote a single verse of Scripture, that he would never go to high school, or that he would never be a dad. I knew that Jesus loved Mason. What I could not comprehend, what I could not accept, was that Jesus could love Mason’s mother, Anabel. You see, I believed that in order for a person to accept me, to love me, I had to perform for him. My standard for getting love was performance-based, so I “performed” constantly, perfectly. In fact, I did not allow anyone to see me when I was not performing perfectly. I never had any close friends because I was convinced that if a person ever really got to know me, she wouldn’t like me. I carried this belief into my relationship with God, and as I began to study the Bible, I found, to my horror, that He knew my every thought, let alone everything I said or did (Psalm 139:1-4). I was standing “bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God” (Hebrews 4:13), TLB. What did that mean to me? That meant that He really knew me, that He saw me when I wasn’t performing well. Based on what I perceived as my responsibility to perform in order to receive acceptance, I concluded without a doubt that He could not possibly love me, that He could never like what He saw. Mace could never have performed for our love, or for anyone’s love, but oh, how we loved him.
His condition deteriorated to such a degree – and so rapidly – that we had to institutionalize him when he was very young, so we enrolled him in the Enid State School for Mentally Handicapped Children. We drove regularly the 120 miles to see him, but on this particular weekend, he was at home for a visit. He had been with us since Thursday evening, and it was now Saturday afternoon. As soon as the dinner dishes were done, I would gather his things together and take him back to his house. I had done this many times before – and it was never easy – but today God had something in mind that would change my life forever. As I was washing the dishes, Mason was sitting in his chair watching me, or at least he was looking at me. That’s when it began. My emotions were spinning, my stomach started tumbling, and the familiar sickening thoughts of just a little while, I’m going to start packing Mason’s toys and his clothes, and take him away again. I can’t do that. I simply cannot do it. I stopped washing the dishes and got down on my knees in front of Mace. I took his dirty little hands in mine and tried so desperately to reach him. “Mason, I love you. I love you. If only you could understand how much I love you.” He just stared. He couldn’t understand; he didn’t comprehend. I stood up and started on the dishes again, but that didn’t last long. This sense of urgency – almost a panic – came over me, and once more I dried my hands and knelt in front of my precious little boy. “My dear Mason, if only you could say to me, ‘I love you, Mother.’ I need that, Mace.” Nothing. I stood up to the sink again. More dishes, more washing, more crying – and thoughts, foreign to my way of thinking, began filtering into my conscious awareness. I believe God spoke to me that day, and this is what He said: “Anabel, you don’t look at your son and turn away in disgust because he’s sitting there with saliva drooling out of his mouth; you don’t shake your head, repulsed because he has dinner all over his shirt or because he’s sitting in a dirty, smelly diaper when he ought to be able to take care of himself. Anabel, you don’t reject Mason because all of the dreams you had for him have been destroyed. You don’t reject him because he doesn’t perform for you. You love him, Anabel, just because he is yours. Mason doesn’t willfully reject your love, but you willfully reject Mine. I love you, Anabel, not because you’re neat or attractive, or because you do things well, not because you perform for Me but just because you’re Mine.” (Anabel Gillham, The Confident Woman: Knowing Who Your Are in Christ, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), 26-29)
Hearing Anabel’s story transformed my thinking about God’s love for me. For years, I lived as though I had to be “good enough” for God to love me. I understood that salvation was a gift of grace – a free gift from God that I did not earn – but somewhere I began believing the lie that I had to perform properly to keep the gift. I feared if I was not good enough, He would take it back. But that is a lie.
I am enough…because Jesus lives in me and the Holy Spirit works through me. And friend, so are you.
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You for loving me just the way I am. I thank You that I don’t have to earn Your love, but receive it as a free gift that You lavish on me! And God, I thank You that nothing can separate me from Your love. In Jesus’ Name,
Now It’s Your Turn
Look up the following verses and note what you learn about God’s love for you.
- Psalm 52:8
- Romans 8:38-39
- Ephesians 2:4-5
- 1 John 4:10
- 1 John 4:16
Today’s devotion was taken from Sharon’s book,