This day I celebrate love: I celebrate God and his redemption over my life; I celebrate the love he has given and those I share it with; I celebrate the simple blessing of this holy moment in time- another day to live and love and learn his ways.  On this day as I celebrate I also mourn.  As one who knows the pain of profound loss and brokenness, I see a similar trail of “Hansel and Gretel” crumbs in lives around me.  The piercing pain of separation defined by living on this side of Heaven: sometimes lost within the depths of the forest; trees so huge they threaten to block the brightest light of day.  It’s cold and lonely in that place and finding your way out takes every bit of strength and perseverance you can muster.  The only reason you keep walking, trudging up hills and through thick brush is because you hear the One who is calling to your heart.  He speaks words of love and life so tenderly that although you can’t physically see him, it’s as if he has taken your hand and is gently leading you. His voice, while not heard is felt.  It says, “One more, just take one more, you can do it; you’re going to find me on this side and then you’re going to see me on the other side.”  And although you don’t know exactly what “this side” and the “other side” might mean, you know that you’re not alone anymore and the forest isn’t so scary as long as he stays with you.  Day after day you walk with his gentle voice and touch, knowing that with each step you’re getting closer to freedom- wide open spaces filled with sunlight, a carpet of soft grasses and flowers waiting to envelop your step, warm gentle breezes wrapping arms of love around you.  You have dreamt of this place and so you press forward.  Suddenly you find a clearing where a solitary beam of sunlight shines directly onto the forest floor; birds dance and sing as they fly through, bathing themselves in pure light.  You linger in it for a little while, soaking it in.  “So this is how it feels?” you say to yourself.  “I want to live like this everyday”, and without making a conscious choice your feet start moving, you’re running now, holding nothing back.  You give every last drop of energy to get free from this forest; exhausted but still you run.  It feels like you’re flying, it’s as if your feet aren’t even touching the ground.  As you look down at your feet you are completely stunned- “I am flying, soaring on wings like eagles!” you exclaim.  Your momentary disbelief and confusion fades quickly as you realize that you’re sheltered in His wings.  It’s a peace so complete and overwhelming that you’re helpless within it.  You wouldn’t want to fight anyway.   It’s better than any sleep you’ve ever gotten, cozier than any bed you’ve ever laid upon.  Finally, the complete exhaustion you’ve known is gone.  The wings of love carry you to the most magnificent place you’ve ever known: beautiful trees spread their branches to shelter you, wide open space just like you’ve dreamt.  There is a lake with clear blue water- fish jump out, glistening in the sunlight; they too are beautiful!  Birds fly high overhead and some dance and sing within the branches of trees above.  There is a peace and stillness similar to the one you felt while flying.  It’s amazing here; the colors are more vibrant, scents are deeper, it’s as if you’re really living for the first time!  There’s a joy and life beating out a song inside your heart that you’ve never heard before, but it’s instantaneously identifiable and so you DANCE!  Your body sways and twirls in a rhythm all it’s own, completely set free.  You wonder at the true beauty before your eyes; as though going through the forest is almost “worth it” just to be where you are now…not that you’d have ever wanted to be in that dark, cold place.

***Friends, that’s what it’s like when half of your heart lives out life on earth while the other half lives in heaven.   You’re trudging through the forest knowing that God is speaking, leading you forward, but not exactly seeing him.  The surrounding circumstances seem to almost overwhelm you and choke out His light.  In my journey I’ve made it through that forest, I found my magnificent place; however there are times when simply the memory of the climb takes me back to the sadness of those days for a little while.  It’s good for me to remember, because then I can passionately celebrate the land in which I now live.  It’s the goodness and love of God that has brought me here.  As I survey the lives around me I see many who currently find themselves in that forest and my heart breaks for them today.  A friend who lost his wife, a family missing their daughter…the beautiful ones who now see His face and behold His glory in Heaven.  Hearts that were tightly connected on earth are stretched…sometimes it feels like too much to bear.  I’m sure there are people connected to your life who have “stretched-hearts” as well and I encouraged you to touch their lives today!  Touch them with the healing LOVE of God.  It’s the greatest way to celebrate…giving of yourself for someone else.  Send an email, drop off a card or gift, ask them to dinner; be willing to listen to their stories and cry with them.  There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4)  You just might be the very way God will carry them out of the forest and into their magnificent place!

There are many times in our lives that we find ourselves in a forest (or wilderness of sorts) and there are countless people around us needing the tangible LOVE of God everyday.  Today I’m asking you to focus your attention to those missing a loved one, but don’t forget to look around and be “Jesus with skin on” on a regular basis.  We are all called to be HIS ambassadors.