Quick! Who is one of the most Spirit-filled people you know? Now, who is one of the most loving? For many at Ventura Missionary Church, preschool teacher, Anita Miller’s name comes to mind as an answer to both of these questions. Anita is known for delivering enchiladas, lasagna, and brownies to families almost every weekend.
Agape love is unconditional, sacrificial, others-focused, and service-oriented. It’s loving even when it’s inconvenient or when others don’t or can’t love us back. It’s the kind of love Jesus taught and demonstrated through His life and death on the cross.
In our series on the fruit of the Spirit entitled, Freshly Squeezed: What Comes Out When We’re Squeezed by Life’s Circumstances?, we’re learning that we cannot manufacture our own fruit. Only the Holy Spirit can produce a love as radical and counter-cultural as agape love, one of the facets of the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23.
We caught up with Anita to learn more about how she abides in God, staying so close and connected to Him, that love overflows out of her and into the lives of others. Anita said, “Well, I have to be honest, the struggle is real. I try very hard to live my daily life walking with Jesus. And then I see a squirrel. And I am off chasing that squirrel. The most important thing is that I come right back. I know I can’t do this life without Jesus. I am thankful that the Holy Spirit reigns me in.”
Anita, like everyone else, has been squeezed by the COVID-19 crisis. She describes the experience as “squeezed, punched and then kicked when I was down… This has been a rollercoaster of emotions, and I hate rollercoasters. I have had to fight my way out of the dark pit. My weapon of choice is worship.”
For a lot of us, losing our routine has been one of the hardest parts of the COVID crisis. Anita expressed, “I find comfort and peace in my routine. When this ‘isolate at home’ mandate first happened, I was a mess. My whole daily routine changed, and I had to figure out how to teach my preschool kiddos online. I was getting caught up in the madness first thing in the morning. I pushed my Bible and prayer aside for later. It didn’t take me more than a day to realize that the anxiety and stress was overwhelming me because I was not giving God the first part of my day. On Easter Sunday, I decided to take communion every morning so I can get my mind and my heart focused on Jesus."
This isn’t Anita’s first time being squeezed by life’s circumstances. She said, “A little over two years ago our lives were drastically changed. We lost our home in the Thomas Fire. I had a choice, either go down the road of depression or follow Jesus. I chose to walk with Jesus, praising our Father in heaven.” We all have that same choice now.
When asked what Anita would say to someone who feels like they aren’t seeing a lot of the Fruit of the Spirit in their own life during this time, she says, “Sit down and read 1 John 4:19, 'We love because He first loved us.' He FIRST loved us! I heard this for the first time 25 years ago when I was at the end of my rope. My friend began telling me about Jesus and how He loved me. I told her He couldn’t love a person like me. She told me that He loved me regardless of what I had done and that even when we were stuck in our sin, He loved us. These truths penetrated my heart. From that moment on, my guilt and shame were erased, and my heart has been a constant flow of thankfulness, gratitude and love. I am blessed to be a blessing. As the Father has done for me, I want to do for others. He did not intend for His love to stop with us. We are supposed to take that seed and give it to others. Plant that seed and it will produce a harvest.”
It's easy to understand why Anita is seen as an example of agape love, but she is not the source of that love. Anita knows that the fruit of connecting with the Spirit of God is love - love received and love expressed.