How to Measure Love

I woke at 1:05am, nearly a half hour before my alarm was set to rouse me. I’d been asleep for only two hours. Trying not to wake my hostess, I made a pour-over in the dark. I layered on (nearly) all the clothes in my suitcase, and topped that off with a borrowed hoodie before hailing a cab.

“Rockefeller,” I said, beaming.

“Ahh, trying to be on the TODAY Show! In this weather?” he asked, his wipers screeching across the windshield.

“Well, sort of? Coldplay is on the show in the morning. All the passes for the Plaza are already gone, so my only hope is to sleep on the sidewalk and try to get a spot in the back.”

The previous day, when I mentioned on Facebook that I was considering sleeping on the sidewalk, I expected people to reply with,”You’re crazy!” But to my surprise, every one of my friends encouraged me to do it. In fact, one friend replied, “I’ll be really disappointed if you don’t.”  Even my mom “liked” the post … about me sleeping on a New York City sidewalk in the rain.

My friends know I love Coldplay’s music. Something in them wanted me — and even expected me — to prove it, even if that meant suffering to see them.

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My spot in line at 2am.

I believe love can be measured by your willingness to inconvenience yourself. It may not be the truest measure or the only measure, but it’s certainly an obvious one.

I should acknowledge that there can be all kinds of unhealthy, codependent, idolatrous, or abusive scenarios that unfold from this notion, so it shouldn’t go unchecked. But in general, if you refuse to suffer for something, you probably don’t love it. If your schedule doesn’t somehow shift to accommodate that thing, it likely isn’t love. You might like it or enjoy it, but if your life isn’t somehow bent toward it, it’s unfair to call it love.

We’re just talking about music here, I know — not a person or a cause — but I don’t think that diminishes the point. Whatever brings you pleasure creates a willingness to suffer for that pleasure. This weekend I also saw people standing in line down the block, enduring a 4.5 hour wait in the cold, for a milkshake. Pleasure and love and passion move us to action.

I was explaining all this to my cab driver with a great deal of enthusiasm when a strange sentence came out of my mouth. “My friend said something really profound once: ‘the greatest love you can have for someone is to lay down your life for them.’” (In paraphrasing John 15:13, I’m not sure why I decided to refer to Jesus as “my friend” but it just happened.)

“I like that,” my driver said.

“Yeah, and then He did it. He actually did what He said.” The GOSPEL. He proved His love.

And He continues to. Even beyond His death and resurrection, evidence of His love saturates my days:

– My friend Lindsey woke early to drive me to the airport for my trip to NYC.
– My friend Caroline gave up a room in her home to let me stay there.
– My friend Jonathan stayed up all night to come stand in line with me at Coldplay so I didn’t have to wait alone.

All these little signs of their love are also signs of The Father’s love. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17)

I am drenched in God’s love for me. The question that logically follows is: Do I love Him? Where do I inconvenience myself for Him? Where do I bend my schedule to fit Him and His priorities into it? Where do I sacrifice or suffer? What am I willing to give up for the sake of the Gospel?

It’s an important question for me to ask, but the answer will likely be difficult to determine. Because even in the measuring, the beauty of the truth, surely, is this: When you love something, the bending and yielding often doesn’t feel like sacrifice. It feels a lot like joy.

“… for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross ….” – Hebrews 12:2

He’s where the joy is. All of it. “In Your presence there is fullness of joy….” (Psalm 16:11). Coldplay, without even trying, points me to it and to Him. They are near the top of the list of “things that stir my affections for God.” And I love how the Father used this experience of me chasing joy in Christ to make me love Christ all the more. How beautiful.

In case you’re wondering, it’s worth missing sleep for. 

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I took this shot just as they came out on the stage.

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Postlude: If you’re curious what happened after the cab driver dropped me off …

I lined up behind a dozen others who were already there, our backs to the steel barricade. I unfolded my New York Times and laid it out to be my sleeping mat. Within seconds, the rain soaked through it, black ink smearing across the pages. I shivered and drank my coffee.

Around 3am, I asked a stranger for directions to a restroom, and he pointed me to a 24-hour deli two blocks away. On my way back, I stopped to thank him and he struck up a conversation with me. His name was Mark and he worked with Coldplay. He’d been with them nearly 10 years. We talked for another hour as he introduced me to some new friends and we talked about music and I got to check out their guitars. OVERJOYED.

Then I went back to my spot in line as the rain intensified and the temperature dropped. An hour later, when the 1,000+ people with fan passes piled into the plaza, I managed to find a spot at the back, but a sea of umbrellas filled my view.

Then, right before they took the stage, my phone rang. It was Mark. “Look to your right,” he said. Past the people and the barricades, he motioned for me. He pulled me from the back of the crowd, moved the barricades, pushed past the security, then positioned me right on the edge of the stage. WHAT?

It may sound like a small thing to you, especially if you don’t love Coldplay, but it kept giving me eyes for something far beyond Coldplay. I stood there thinking about the Gospel: He chases down those of low position, pulls them from the midst of their nothingness, and escorts them to the King’s table.

“For you I’d bleed myself dry … ” Chris Martin sang.

And he sang of love, but he sang of Christ, who did, literally. There we were, face to face, covered in rain and tears of joy. Only The Lord.

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This is one of my favorite shots I took during the show. This was during “Clocks.” After their set ended, they started playing this one, and NBC stopped them and told them not to play it, because they were already over their time. “No, we’re just going to play it for the fans,” Chris said. “They’ve been out here all night in the rain and the cold. You don’t have to record it, but we’re going to play it.”

 

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Under Every Hero’s Cape

In the past 7 years, I’ve lived in 5 homes across 3 states — from a shared 250 square foot apartment in Manhattan’s East Village to a sprawling 5 bedroom ranch house in suburban Texas. I’ve gone from blonde haired and blue eyed back to brown haired and brown eyed. And while I once spent 300 days a year on tour, I now spend most of my days doing the deep ministry of day-to-day discipleship through D-Group. My life has shifted in ways I never imagined.

Of all the changes, the one that changed me most wasn’t dramatic. It didn’t involve a moving truck or four hours in the stylist’s chair. It was subtle and life altering all at once: I learned how to read the Bible. (I say that with a great deal of pause, because I certainly don’t know all I’ll someday know, and I’ll never know all there is to know, but I do know more than I once knew.)

For most of my life, I looked for myself in the Scriptures. I wanted to know what verses would encourage me, shape me, give me rules to live by. Which texts were most frequently quoted? Which ones should I highlight in my Bible? Surely those were the very best ones to help me figure out God’s will for my life.

I treated the Bible like it was a book about me. It was like insisting my boyfriend always wear mirrored aviator sunglasses — denying myself the opportunity to look deep into his eyes or learn the nuances of his expressions, because I preferred staring at my own reflection. 

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Justin Timberlake pegged my perspective when he sang: “You reflect me, I love that about you….” (although he somehow managed to make that sound romantic instead of arrogant).  I used God to feed my narcissism and called it the pursuit of holiness. It wasn’t until I stopped looking for me in the Bible and started looking for Jesus that I actually grew in relationship with Him. Because I started seeing Him EVERYWHERE.

Here’s a brief example from Luke 10:25-37, illustrating the difference in what I used to read and what I read now:

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The Good Samaritan: ME VERSION
Content:
This is a story about a person who helps others, even if that person is their enemy.

Theme:
I should help people, even if they are my enemies. I can be like the hero of this story. (I focused mainly on the last verse, “You go, and do likewise.”)

The Good Samaritan: GOD VERSION
Content:
The Samaritan, who was despised by the Jews, rejected for being a “half breed” of impure lineage, sounds a lot like Jesus.
v.31-32 – The Samaritan did the opposite of the religious officials. Jesus did this too. He was known for exposing the piety of the religious rulers of His day. (Matt 23:27)
v.33 – The Samaritan had compassion. This trait was one of the defining marks of Jesus. (Matt 9:36, Matt 14:14, Mark 6:34, Luke 7:13)
v.34 – The Samaritan went to the wounded man. Jesus pursues the wounded. (Mark 2:17, Luke 19:10) 
v.34 – The Samaritan bound up his wounds. Jesus does that too! (Psalm 147:3, Isaiah 61:1)
v.34 – The Samaritan poured out oil and wine on the man. In Scripture, oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and wine is symbolic of Christ’s blood. These are things Christ made possible for us. (John 15:26, Luke 22:20)
v.35 – The Samaritan put him on his own animal. This sounds like Christ carrying us through the burden of what He took on in His own flesh. (1 Peter 2:24)
v.35 – The Samaritan took him to an inn and cared for him. Historians record that, for early believers, an “inn” was a symbol of the church, open to all for care.
v.35 – The next day, the Samaritan took out 2 denarii (2 days’ wages) and gave them to the innkeeper. The one day of his own sacrifice plus the 2 days of wages =  3 days of provision for the wounded traveler. Sound familiar? The cross, the tomb …
v.35 – The Samaritan said, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Christ promises full provision for our care (1 Peter 5:7). And He promises to return (John 14:3).

Theme:
Before Jesus ever tells us what to “do” in verse 37, He has shown us who He is. HE is the hero of this story. I can’t do anything good in my own strength. But I find hope in fixing my eyes on Christ and the beauty of who He is, knowing He has already accomplished this. I am both challenged and strengthened to meet whatever challenges of love and compassion I face.

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Under every cape of everything we long to be and will certainly fall short of, CHRIST IS. (Luke 24:27) Knowing God does inform how I live, but when I treat Scripture as a handbook to prop up my own self worth and glory, I deny the beauty and joy of relationship with the real hero. It becomes nothing more than a self-help book.

I feel the distinction in my bones. It’s the difference between asking Siri to give me directions to my destination OR getting in the passenger’s seat to ride there with a friend who knows the way. If my goal is just a destination, either option seems to work fine. But if my goal is relationship, only one option suffices. (Phil 3:10)

One thing that has helped me read Scripture is asking these questions as I read:

– What does this passage reveal about God’s character?
– What does He love?
– What does He hate?
– What motivates Him to do what He does?

Yes, there’s a time for application; we can’t be just “hearers of the Word” and not doers of the Word. (James 1:22) But in order to do well, we must see it as done(John 19:30) 

I want to spend my life getting to know Him, because as John Piper says, “I will become what I behold.” (2 Cor 3:18) And if I know anything about our Hero, I know this: He’s where the JOY is! (John 15:11)

What things have helped you in getting to know Him better or learning how to read Scripture?