Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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questions while sitting in the fog

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Questions fill my days, looming like a murky and stubborn fog, without sudden breakthroughs. I don’t know that they’re good questions. They’re just …. questions, those uncertainties which accompany me when I don’t see the next step ahead. Clarity is quite appealing, I think. I mean, the questions, good or not, are keeping me awake at night. A direct answer would make a nice pillow after all. Then, when I rise to a bright and clear morning, I’ll do what God tells me to do.

All I’m looking for is a “yes” or a “no.”

This morning, after another night of wondering, of wrestling, a memory came to mind. (I knew it was a thought not my own, seeing that I was pre-caffeinated.) I remembered how, just days before, in a training session on small group leadership, I described the skill of asking good questions, the kind which are open-ended, which can’t be answered with the simple “yes” or “no.”

Good questions are those which invite group members to process and think and reflect, even to struggle a bit, if that’s what it takes to move information from the head to the heart. As Jim Branch says, “A good question creates dialogue and interaction and life … A good question invites us to go inward, to the very core of our being, and seek something deep within ourselves.”

As a mom of a teenager, one question in particular haunts me: Who am I going to be when she leaves?

It’s not a question that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” Perhaps more than any question I’ve ever asked, it’s this one that invites me to go inward.

Jesus wants the core of my being. And He is so committed to developing faith in me that He might not give pat answers, for those answers make trust unnecessary. Instead, He leads me to the open-ends, which usually means waiting and mystery and longing. The open-ends create space for grace where I slowly learn that the way of faith is not something I achieve. The Way of faith is a Person I receive.

This kind of faith transforms my questions.  I am prone to pray, “What do You want me to do?” But the Holy Spirit leads me to pray, “Who do You want me to become?”

It’s a tremendous shift, one that says “yes” to relationship, which involves more than simply following directives. It invites the Spirit to do tough, tender transformation within my soul. It is the work of grace and not the work of works. It is open-handedness, requiring all of me, nothing closed off, everything made plain to see, all surrendered.

“Who do You want me to become?” is a question that acknowledges that life is not a linear experience from one simple task to another. Rather, it’s a layered story, with subplots and loose ends and mystery. And I might be tempted to think my story is all about me, but God is writing the pages, crafting each chapter in due season. It’s His story.

It’s not that I have an answer for “Who I am going to be when she leaves?” as much as I have an Author who will guide me through that chapter when it comes.  And in the fog, faith says that’s all I need to see for now.

What questions are you asking today?

Of course, we all know, don’t we, that there are other kinds of questions. These are cries of a heart that is broken and grieving. Maybe we aren’t necessary looking for answers, for sometimes an explanation for “Why?” can’t change the situation anyway.

King David expressed this kind of heart’s cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1–2)

In our small group training, we discussed the value of silence. Anyone who’s led a small group knows the awkwardness of asking a question that’s met with silence. And we are tempted to fill that uncomfortable void with our voices, perhaps cutting off the opportunity for deeper reflection and movement from head to heart. As an introvert, I need time and quietness to process my thoughts inwardly before jumping to quick answers. But when the Lord seems to reply with silence, I feel frustrated, confused, even rejected. Obviously, my pain hasn’t caught Him off-guard, as if He needs time to formulate solutions.

God is never truly silent; the truth is that He speaks all the time in creation and in His Word. But sometimes we perceive His silence in ways that seem almost palpable, like a wilderness where we hunger and thirst without relief. But could it be that, only in the ways of God, silence is still a conversation, deeply inward? It can be a space where we learn to trust His promises and not our perceptions, where we come to discover Him in ways we missed when we walked by sight, where we seek Him not for the fixing but for His face.

Here, perhaps once again, the good question isn’t “what?” or even “why?” but “Who?” When we haven’t received the answers, when we can’t perceive His voice, let us lean in to knowing Him more, the Author who knows all mysteries and holds grace in their midst.

A Prayer for Those Sitting in the Fog ~

We confess our love of cloudless days, bright mornings, clearly marked pathways. We confess our discomfort in the fog but recognize a longing we discover there too. Even as we confess our desire for answers, may we learn to walk humbly with questions. Help us to find your company beside us as we crouch in the darkness and wait for the first light of dawn. Help us to know Your presence in ways we may have overlooked if not for our inability to see.  Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday.

 

 

 

 


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Simply curious and curiously simple

When summer began, I didn’t think about simplicity and curiosity like I do now, as summer nears its end. Sure, every time I rummaged deep through my closet, I thought about the need to clean out. But simplicity as an overall priority wasn’t in the summer plans.

And why would I think about curiosity? I guess it crossed my mind occasionally when my daughter was little and asked “Why?” probably a million times, as all curious children do. I suppose that many people think of curiosity as generally nosy and potentially irritating (not to mention dangerous for cats).

But when I consider what I’ve learned this summer, simplicity and curiosity are the recurring themes – which seems odd, given that I conceptualize the two as almost opposites. Simplicity, to me, seems a minimalistic quality, while curiosity is expansive. If simplicity is focused like a microscope, then curiosity is exploratory like a telescope.

Yet, I’ve discovered that these qualities, in tandem, are lenses through which I see more of God.

One of the more important lessons showed up on the summer curriculum when my husband, daughter, and I told our friends how much luggage we were planning to carry around Europe for 2 weeks. My heart sunk when they told us that, basically, we were nuts.

I’ve never traveled lightly. As I pack, my mind creates a plan for every “what if” I can think of.

If only I had been a Boy Scout, I could take the “Be Prepared” motto to a new level. Travel with me, and I’m willing to lug all the snacks, hair gel, Tide-To-Go, first-aid supplies, and ponchos that we could ever need.

Pack lighter, our friends said.

You won’t be able to walk quickly between train, bus, and subway stations.

You need to limit yourselves to a carry-on each.

Quite reluctantly we went home to unpack all the things we wanted and repack only the things we needed. This required a wrestling match between what could go and what must stay home.

During our trip, I discovered a lesson that traveling writer Tsh Oxenreider has known for a while: “There’s a beauty to curating our life’s needs to the basic essentials. There’s a step of faith involved when you decide to leave behind those socks in order to make room for that swimsuit” (In my case, room would be made for snacks). You can read the rest of Tsh’s post on traveling light {here}.

The Febreeze fabric refresher made the cut, thankfully, so I doused my outfits in Linen Fresh every time I wore them (repeatedly). We ate unfamiliar but delicious food, and the packed nibbles weren’t necessary after all. And we managed the buses, trains, and subways while looking as little like tourists as possible (well, that’s not completely accurate but, hey, we tried).

Lesson learned. I really can simplify and survive. I wanted to come home and streamline.

As I considered what to release, I decided that my newly acquired spirit of curiosity was worth keeping. For two weeks, in the midst of Austrian Alps, German rolling hills, and Albanian countryside, I marveled at the Creator’s glorious touch upon the amazing people, stories, and sights we encountered on our journey.

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Before Salzburg, I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in Mozart’s birthplace, his life, or his classical works. But I realized there that Mozart’s musical masterpieces bear witness to the One who composed heavenly melodies before violins and pianos existed.

My awareness of God’s glory was undoubtedly influenced by my surroundings. But could it be that wonder arises less from place and more from perspective?

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I’ve started to think of curiosity as a posture of open-handedness in which we release our grasp on the urgent things in order to freely receive the essential things. Traveling light increases our capacity for exploration, and simplicity creates space for curiosity to fill.  I long to live open-handed, in hopeful expectancy as I release and receive as God wills. Then He stretches my faith in His limitless possibility. Open-handed anticipation seems, to me, the essence of worship.

Even though, years ago, my little girl’s bevy of questions irritated me at times, they endeared me to her childlike spirit. I remember her delight in discovery, her ability to be awed. This is the sort of faith which children of God aren’t meant to outgrow.

We’re born with an innate curiosity that compels us to explore, marvel, and believe there is more to life … I don’t want us to just be curious about God; I want us to be curious for more of Him. I believe that the goodness and wonders of God can amaze us, but it’s our curiosity for more of Him that propels us forward to experience more of His presence in our lives (Logan Wolfram, Curious Faith).

So I have begun to see curiosity as the anticipation of God’s movement. This can happen as I wash dishes at my sink and watch the butterflies dance with the flowers and the hummingbirds hover and dart, jockeying for position at the feeder.

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As these miniature wonders capture my attention, the Holy Spirit reminds me that the Heavenly Father is mindful of the tiniest of creatures and He’s promised to be all the more trustworthy for His children. And He never grows weary or irritable with our pursuit of Him.

God’s patience toward our curiosity remains constant even when our childlike faith is obscured with hard questions. Even as I long to travel lightly, I can’t dismiss the heaviness in our world – in my own soul.

I started blogging after my father was diagnosed with cancer. Although I had followed Christ for most of my life, I was never awed in anticipation of Heaven, to be honest. Maybe it’s kinda boring, I thought … Maybe things of this world have more excitement to offer.

But Daddy died, and to have any comfort at all, I started reading and writing about eternity.  I was curious for eternity. And curiosity offered forward movement.

Grief was my companion but powerless to keep me stuck in despair.  As I learn to be awed by the Lord of eternity in the here and now, this moving forward with hope cannot fail.

When I take time to really seek and consider the greatness of our God as He shows Himself on earth, I am increasingly certain that His eternal presence is anything but boring.

In A Hunger for God, John Piper writes: “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

Curiosity, in my mind, is the drinking deeply, and simplicity is the making room for the great. Together, they satisfy a thirsty pilgrim who learns to travel lightly.

May we not stuff our souls, like we stuff suitcases, with so many small things that we become distracted and burdened and miss the great things. Margins built into each day allow us to pause and breathe and seek God in the marvelous and in the mundane. This requires some unpacking of what we want and repacking of what we need (which I suspect is what we want most of all.)

Maybe this means that we unload unnecessary material possessions or a people-pleasing mentality or a tendency toward comparison or a reluctance to forgive.

And we repack a curiosity that turns us toward one another. If we become more genuinely curious about our neighbors and their perspectives, strengths, wounds, and needs, perhaps that curiosity will birth compassion in our souls, rather than competition or criticism. It gives us a lenses through which we see God’s glorious image in His children. May we hunger to observe and to listen and to understand and to love and to experience the manifestation of God’s glory in this way.

God’s table is offered here for all of us, here and now. Let’s meet one another in this spacious place to be simply curious and curiously simple for Him, and our brothers and sisters, together.

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Here are my favorite resources for traveling light and staying curious:

The Art of Simple by Tsh Oxenreider and a community of people who define “simple living” this way: living holistically with your life’s purpose.

Curious Faith: Rediscovering Hope in the God of Possibility by Logan Wolfram ~

“Sometimes we may not be able to fix what’s broken. But we can’t lose the capacity to walk curiously after the Lord just because we can’t make sense of everything that happens in a broken world. Hope and curiosity are still for us. And when we carry heavy things we have to believe that the redemptive work of the cross can and will be redemption enough. In the end, God always ends. He always restores. He always redeems.”

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Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman ~

“What if, instead of thinking we have to choose between our ordinary life and an extraordinary life, we began to realize they’re the same thing?”

“Let me hear Jesus whisper to me the lesson he taught the disciples, the one about praying for this day our daily bread, not bread to last the week. Let me believe him when he tells me the most important work I’ll do today is to receive the love he wants to give and then hand it out to others.”

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Moving from Less-Than to Lovely

It’s ten degrees above average where I am in North Carolina today – which isn’t a big deal, considering that spring has been beautiful here, and we’ve been spared the kind of weather that’s been disastrous in other parts of the country. But April, which is usually my favorite month of the year, has been far from typical where I live – meaning down in my soul.

From my car, I watch as my daughter struggles up the school steps, bent over with a book-bag stuffed with year-end projects on her back. In her, I see myself, burdened by a load of cares and my same-old shortcomings. Somewhat ironically, the places where I feel lacking are the places which pile on my insecurity and disappointment.

I’m writing this post to join Emily’s discussion, Let’s Share What We Learned in April. But I think, at the month’s end, I know less than I did before. And oftentimes I feel less-than-Christian for the ways I struggle.

For everything I don’t know, however, I still know this – Jesus is mine and I am His. On days like these April days, I remind myself that where I am less-than, He is more-than. I have little else to claim but His complete acceptance of me.

Perhaps I’ve learned a few other things from April. It makes sense to expect that being generally weary and downcast would decrease one’s capacity to see things clearly. On the contrary, this season of struggle has sharpened my ability to notice and appreciate, to listen and observe. I like how Annie Downs expresses this dynamic:

My ability to feel the depths of something good was strengthened by my choice to feel the depths of pain. I don’t know exactly how this works. I just know the more I hang on and feel, the more I am able to feel; and each time more balm gets rubbed into the wounds of my soul …Looking for lovely is not about pretending everything is beautiful and nothing is ugly and you have no questions or doubts and picking out the beautiful in your everyday is going to protect you from anything hurting ever …. there is beauty in choosing to feel that pain, in calling hurt what it is, and not pretending everything is okay (Looking for Lovely, pages 75 – 76).

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In the past 2 weeks, I’ve been looking-for-lovely and I’ve filled my phone, and even my “real” camera, with photos as spring unfolds herself. It’s humbling to see that I don’t have it all together but even more humbling to grasp that the Creator does. The word “humility,” after all, comes from the root humus, meaning “earth.” Pausing to appreciate His hand in this loveliness gives me perspective.

Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds.  You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it. Matthew 6: 26 – 27

The spirit of humility which God desires for us is never accusatory, like the less-than thoughts I struggle with. It’s being absorbed with His majesty and mercy. Every “less” in my life is swallowed up in unstoppable, lovely (saturated-with-love) grace.

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As I find solace in the works of God’s hands, I’m learning how restoring it is to set my own hands to creativity.  Every day we go about our lives maintaining things – our possessions, our bodies, our jobs. All this maintenance is necessary; it’s a fulfilling of God’s commandment to steward the earth. But creativity can be spiritual practice as well, a reflection of God who makes things new. When we cook a fresh meal or move furniture around to find a new look or write words or bake cookies or put a plant in the ground or play a few chords, the process can be inspiring and lovely and freeing in itself (no matter what the product looks like).

Unlike God, of course, the outcomes of my creativity are often imperfect or incomplete. It may look “less-than” to me, but every effort makes me intentional, unique, and more alive as an image-bearer of the Creator.

Perhaps I am moving from a “less-than” state of mind toward a recognition of the loveliness within, because of Jesus.

As I learn to regard myself humbly and kindly and patiently, I soak in these wise words from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

By cultivating a spirit that is more inclined toward delight and less toward duty, I’m treating others more kindly as well. By releasing demands on myself and my people, I let go of those measuring sticks that would keep us living less-than freely, authentically, and abundantly in Christ. The love of our Redeemer is more than we could ever ask or imagine.

I’m ready. Are you? Let’s come alive together.

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There is a correlation, I’m finding, between beauty and perseverance. It feels like beauty might be knots in the rope you are climbing, gas stations along the cross-country journey, the water stations set up strategically on a racecourse. Beauty is what makes it possible to keep going … I needed to find beautiful if I was going to hang in there. I have spent significant time over the last few years looking for lovely because I do love beautiful things. But mostly because I just don’t want to quit anymore (Annie Downs, Looking for Lovely, page 50).

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Even as we accept our own frailty, help us not to despise ourselves for it. Instead, may our weakness be a reminder of your strength within us. Embolden us to speak even if we misspeak. Enliven us to move even if we fall down. Encourage us to embrace even if we get hurt … As we face those places in our souls that are frozen, may the hard spots begin to thaw in the presence of Christ. May we not try to mop up the water that comes from the melting but offer it somehow to quench the thirst of someone else (Emily P. Freeman, a prayer in Simply Tuesday, pages 199- 200.)

I’m joining the “Let’s Share What We Learned in April” discussion at Emily’s site today.

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What’s True No Matter What We Hear or How We Feel

A saleslady followed me as I hurried through her tiny shop in the Albanian airport. With a few English phrases and a heavy accent, she attempted to peak my interest in various trinkets. But I didn’t see anything that appeared authentically eastern European.

I picked up a jewelry box.  Pleased by my attention to something, finally, the saleslady leaned in and whispered,

It’s handmade in Korea.”

Amused, I returned the jewelry box to its shelf and rushed off to the gate with nothing except a story about Albanian souvenirs made in Korea. I found this experience hilarious and even wrote a blog post about authenticity, based on the jewelry box from Korea.

Eight months later I returned to Albania and traveled to Kruja, a town known for its quaint shops of handmade goods. And there, I realized that “Kruja” sounded like “KreeYA” (or “Korea” to my foreign ears). I had misheard the saleslady, and the jewelry box was authentically Albanian after all.

My story had a punch line, and the joke was on me!

But truth be told, the ears of my soul have experienced hearing problems too. Perhaps you can relate with where I am most susceptible: somewhere deep inside my soul, I hear that my worth is based on my performance or tangible measures like job status or blog stats or “likes” on social media.

I falsely believe that I am accepted because of what I do rather than what Jesus has already done.

Of course, this deep-down whisper that I need to have it all together to be worthy is a lie from the enemy, a falsehood that deserves to be placed back on the shelf. But I tend to cradle it for a while.

Sometimes it sounds like this:

I wish I were more like that person.

What I have to offer is too small.

I am invisible.

Even as I struggle with insecurity in my writing/blogging (should I give up? is it worth it?) I enjoy the opportunity to review books occasionally. A few weeks ago, I signed up to read and review Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing Life Growth Guide. I confess it wasn’t a “oh-I-really-need-to-learn-from-this” as much as it was a “okay-I-like-free-stuff-send-me-the-book” decision.

God is so good and He knows what we need before the realization ever crosses our minds. And so, Session Two: What’s True No Matter How We Feel was written for me. The book review invitation was sent just to me. And the postal carrier smiled knowingly when she came to my door.

(I’m kidding, of course, but isn’t it sweet to be reminded of how God knows us and speaks to us in such creative, personal, and affirming ways?)

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In Session Two, Holley encourages me to hold to what’s true, no matter how I feel. She writes that the enemy wants to make us like anyone but Jesus. Deception, insecurity, comparison, and discouragement are his strategies. Often, he utilizes a subtle, familiar question:

Did God really say ….? (to Eve, in Genesis 3:1)

In Holley’s words, it’s here – Genesis 3:1 – where insecurity makes its debut, and the question takes on various versions:

Did God really say you’re loved?

Did God really say you’re accepted?

Did God really say you’re chosen?

Did God really say you’re forgiven?

What if Eve had paused for a moment, considered the truth of what God had said, and refused to receive the enemy’s seed of doubt? Of course we won’t know the answer to that question, but we have moments of decision too.

God wants us to understand who He created us to be so that we can fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. And He has told us in His Word. It’s clear and authentic. When we hear the Truth, we don’t have to wonder where it came from.

Yes, God really did say that He loves me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

Yes, God really did say that I am adopted into His family (Romans 8:14 – 17).

Yes, God really did say that I am His workmanship, chosen and created specifically and uniquely by Him (Ephesians 2:10).

Yes, God really did say that He has removed my sins from me, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

In the Life Growth Guide, Holley offers tools to help readers tune in to these life-changing truths. By walking through the guide, I’ve become attentive to what I’m hearing, mindful of what God says about me in Scripture, and equipped to replace lies with the Truth:

When the enemy tells me that I am a failure, I trust that I am more than a conqueror through Christ who loves me (Romans 8:37).

When the enemy tells me that the past is a source of shame, I claim the promise that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

When the enemy says that that my struggles will drive me to despair, I consider my trials as joy because their result is maturity and perseverance (James 1: 2- 4).

Psalm 33:4 says that “The word of the Lord is right and true.” As we sit with God’s written Word and seek His Spirit, our spiritual ears are increasingly tuned to His voice. If accusation comes from within, we can discern it as a sour note and replace it with the truth. When we need correction, God’s Word convicts but never condemns. His Word, in Scripture and through the Holy Spirit, is always consistent with His true and trustworthy character.

Our hands are incapable of containing the whole of God’s voice, of course, but imagine with me the joy of wrapping fingers around such an authentic treasure and never, ever returning it, with disinterest, to a shelf.

Let’s open our Bibles and start there.

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I encourage you to check out the resources which accompany You’re Already Amazing: Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be. Visit www.HolleyGerth.com/amazing.

There are several ways to use the Life Growth Guide in conjunction with Scripture. The six sessions are designed to be utilized individually or with pairs/groups – in person or online.

  1. Who God Created Us to Be
  2. What’s True No Matter How We Feel
  3. Our Amazing Journey with Jesus
  4. God’s Plan for Our Relationships
  5. God’s Purpose for Our Lives
  6. How We Can Thrive for a Lifetime

I’m currently participating in the You’re Already Amazing Life Growth book club. Each week I receive an email reminder and I watch the corresponding video at HolleyGerth.com/amazing. (There is a free online video for each of the six sessions). The videos are also available on DVD. As a bonus, Holley has created some goodies to go along with the You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide. Go to her website to print, pin, or share these pieces of word art to remind you of what’s true!

I received a copy of the Life Growth Guide from Revell in exchange for my review. The expressed opinions are purely my own.

 


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Listening to Winter

When we look back upon 2016, we’ll remember the ones we collectively lost – those whose artistry is etched into culture as we know it.

Looking back, perhaps we’ll recall the stock market’s wild ride when seemingly every day brought news of another plunge in investments.

We’ll think of how unsettled we felt when snow and ice storms suspended our regular and convenient ways of life.

We’ll recall the resolutions that stuck. And those that didn’t.

Perhaps we’ll remember our bewilderment as pundits interpreted every little shift in political polls. We’ll grow weary of the bickering and posturing as disillusionment creeps ever wider over the state of the union.

Maybe we’ll laugh at the Powerball hysteria when long lines wrapped around convenience stores and clutched people in a slim promise of instant windfall.

Memories from 2016. As I write, it’s only January.

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These first 4 weeks of 2016 are marked with loss, uncertainty, regret, and disappointment.

Isn’t January hard enough as it is?

Looking out my kitchen window, I see outlines of houses on neighboring streets. I can’t see these homes in the prime of summer when the trees are clothed with leaves.  But January, in its stark barrenness, helps me to observe what I didn’t notice before. I find it beautiful in a surprising sort of way.

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But as a southern girl, I could do without winter, except for the week of Christmas. And metaphorically speaking, I was once not terribly fond of winter in the soul either, when loss strips life of love and abundance.

Although we generally know what to expect from January, most of us have lived enough to realize that while the cycles of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of life are sometimes not so. Even if the calendar says May, the soul may be experiencing the starkness of winter.

Each soul-season arrives by way of the inevitable passages of time, losses or gains, or circumstances that can’t be predicted or controlled. We tend to think of “new” as bright and shiny, like a streak-free, stainless steel refrigerator. But new doesn’t always arrive in a pretty package or with a party at midnight. The recent divorcee, widow, empty nester, or anyone with an unexpected diagnosis understands this. Either way, whether change causes rejoicing or sorrow, all of us must navigate the stresses and uncertainties of seasons where life looks different than it has before. I find this impossible without faith to anchor the soul.

It was almost winter when my father died, and the change of seasons reflected my grieving heart. As the shock and immediacy of crisis faded, I settled into winter, and almost welcomed it as a contemplative, comforting friend. My faith that Daddy was freed from suffering and the hope that I will see him again allowed me to stay in the season. Winter of the soul can be stark yet sweet. Everything can be stripped away but as Jesus remains, we find that He has always been enough. I finally understood the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3 which begins: “For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” It was the first time I saw winter in a new way, when I saw everything in new way.

In The Listening Life, Adam McHugh describes the Creator’s wisdom behind the inward and outward cycles of life:

“The seasons relieve us from the pressure to put on the same face and act the same way all year round. It’s not always summer, and we don’t need to live like it is. Just as our wardrobe changes for the seasons, so do our emotional and spiritual lives. We can cycle through our own seasons of dormancy and new life, activity and quietness, celebration and sadness, blossom and harvest, openness and being closed, austerity and abundance.”

And so, if January helps us to observe things we haven’t perceived before, we have a response to make. We can choose to grow numb. We can clinch our fists. Or we can listen to what January 2016 has to say. Is this all there is? In a world where the exemplars of earthly strength, security, and success are lost before our eyes, there has to be more.

Jesus articulated this with a succinct and piercing question: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world and forfeit their soul?

These four short weeks in January teach us that in the barest parts of our beings, our souls know that our outward selves will eventually lose their grip on everything that mortal hands can grab. We need another anchor. It’s as if January, with its disillusionment, regret, and loss, has handed us a lenses through which eternity is unquestionably in focus. I see it as I look out my kitchen window at the houses I once couldn’t see in the heart of summer. I see it as I donate, divide, and discard my father’s earthly possessions. I see it as I read further in Ecclesiastes 3 and land on verse 11:

God has made everything beautiful in its time and has set eternity in the human heart.

The holy-inspired wisdom of Ecclesiastes teaches us that we are ever passing and repassing through seasons. There are times to dance and times to mourn, times to rejoice and times to weep. Yet we are constantly moving through this world, with its continual changes, toward an eternal existence. Now is the time to heed the inner stirring. It’s a sacred invitation to choose Christ who knew and loved and chose you before your first breath. He wants you to be with Him upon your last.

I look out my window, and through the bare trees, my heart sees Home.

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Psalm 90

A prayer of Moses the man of God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

 eternity


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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

There’s no room. More than I want to admit, the innkeeper’s words to Joseph and Mary express my heart attitude in December.

Every year on “box-opening day” (usually the day after Thanksgiving), our family brings the Christmas boxes out of the attic and opens each one with the anticipation of rediscovering our treasures.

A few years ago, on box-opening day, it happened that the first box we came to held all of our daughter’s special Christmas things. Child-like things with sequins and sparkles and puppies in Santa hats.

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While I turned to another box, my giddy little girl turned her attention to the mantle over the fireplace.

“No, no, no….these things don’t belong here,” I stammered as she placed stuffed animals at both ends.

Instantly we were at a standoff. The lion-faced nutcracker was not mantle-worthy.

“This is where we put our pretty candles and our greenery,” I explained.

She didn’t care.

“Mommy always decorates the mantle.”

She pouted.

As guilt and frustration mounted, I pushed her things aside. My actions communicated something to her: “There’s no room.” And while I set candles in place, my daughter disappeared.

I want the mantle to be elegant, the gifts to be perfect, the cards to be beautiful, and the cookies to be spectacular. But such expectations create a barrier to the beauty of real-life experiences. And honestly, serving up my own pride pushes generosity and joy right out of my spirit.

Call a friend? There’s no room in my day for that.

Let the customer with 2 items ahead of me in the grocery line? There’s no room in my heart for that.

Visit a widow? There’s no room in my day for that either.

Take time to be still and pray? Are you kidding?

Eventually mommy-guilt sunk in, and I turned from the Christmas boxes to find my daughter, fully expecting that she would be sulking in her room.

“I’m in here, Mommy.” I discovered my girl sitting at her desk and drawing a picture of a jointly-decorated mantle, her toys mixed with greenery and candles.

“Isn’t it pretty, Mommy? When we work together?”

(Oh. Ouch.)

I’ve had my share of moments as a mom, or human being in general, that won’t make the annual Christmas letter. My suspicion is that your experience might be the same. But friend, receive this truth with me:

Jesus came to earth to find each person where he was, not where he ought to have been. And the same is true today. God reaches into the darkest, dirtiest, most fearful places to correct and restore us into who He meant for us to be.” (Charles Stanley)

Once again I realize that Christmas exists because in God’s eyes, I’m not an achiever. There’s no decorated house or culinary spread that will ever turn me into who He meant for me to be.

If I can’t be an achiever, my only hope then is to become a receiver. I need the dawn of redeeming grace to break into the dim recesses of my heart where pride and perfectionism overshadow my longing to be free. To be giving. To be love.

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Jesus came to release us from the striving and the chaos of achieving. Friend, it doesn’t matter if we over or under-do Christmas. The Father purchased our souls with the priceless, life-giving blood of His Son. That’s the singular purpose of Christmas.

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Once we’ve received this gift, there is no failure, no disappointment, no would-have, could-have, or should-have on our parts that can invalidate it.

And once we are secure in our identities as receivers, something else happens. We become releasers. When we receive love and grace freely, freely we release love and grace to others.  Advent becomes a season of listening for the footsteps of Jesus. We hear His movement in the hush and not the rush.

When our spirits are still, we notice Him in the hurting friend, the customer behind us in the grocery line, the lonely widow, the little girl longing for Christmas joy.

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This December, may we see ourselves as innkeepers. In the midst of the plans and preparations, we have multiple opportunities each day to decide if there is room for Jesus. May we receive and release Him fully in each moment.

By the way, the mantle was especially festive that year.

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Get Into the Game

As a sports fan, there’s not much that’s more exciting for me than to be in the live experience of a NFL game, especially in prime time when my team is winning and the crowd is electric. I went to a game last night – Sunday Night Football on NBC – where the experience was as good as it gets (except for the playoffs) with its energy, hard-hits, noise, and hype.

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That’s why I was puzzled when I left my seat, walked into the concourse for a restroom break and a $6 soda, and discovered that crowds of fans were watching the same game from televisions on the interior of the stadium instead of from their seats.

They paid for those seats and the experience of watching a live game in person. Instead, they choose to experience from a screen what was taking place just yards away. Perhaps they had nosebleed seats or the person sitting behind them was drunk and obnoxious. And I understand that some fans want to watch the game from the best camera angle with replays and commentary. It’s true that you miss a few details from the seats. And then there are others who are mostly interested in socializing and bringing the tailgate inside the stadium once the game begins.

But in my mind, they’re missing the point of the atmosphere, the ambience, the connection with fellow fans and the team. When you’re in the stadium, there’s so much more to watching the game than just watching the game.

If you have access to the experience for yourself, why depend on someone else’s perspective or lens?

But in the concourse, I caught myself, nachos in hand, drawn like a moth to the screen. (The nachos were for my mom, not for me, by the way. Those things are gross).  I watched a few plays before I remembered that I wanted to watch, cheer, and engage in the action myself.

In that moment, I realized that I do this in my relationship with God. I read Christian books instead of the actual words of Christ in the Bible. I depend on pastors and teachers to lead me in spiritual growth. I make excuses for not taking the time and effort to engage with Jesus directly, as is my beautiful birthright as a child of God in which the Holy Spirit lives.

Of course, I am a big fan of Christian authors and pastors and teachers, but when I choose to limit my experience of God to what they offer, I become a second-hand spectator.

The Bible was written for me and for you. It’s not meant to be understood only by the brilliant while baffling the rest of us. We don’t have to satisfy scholarly and spiritual benchmarks before we experience God. Because the Author of this story loves us, He can breathe into us a life-changing passion for His Word. His invitation into a personal relationship is the most engaging, exciting experience we can ever receive.

And I’m learning that when I desire the Word, it begins to shift my perspectives. I don’t want it solely through second-hand knowledge, or even my own cloudy lens. I want to experience the Author and learn from His perspective.

“We are like Moses. The Bible is our burning bush – a faithful declaration of the presence and holiness of God. We ask it to tell our about ourselves, and all the while it is telling us about “I AM.”  ~ Jen Wilkin

As I read Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word, I’m challenged by the realization that I often come to Scripture, asking it to tell me about myself. Who am I? What should I do? (These questions are similar to those that Moses asked when the Lord first called him in Exodus.)

But I’m learning to read the Bible, not looking for myself in the text. I used to subtly seek biblical knowledge with self-serving motives: What does this say about me? How can I know God’s will? How can I be better? How can I have more faith? How can I be comforted?

It’s a shift in perspective to learn to approach the Bible with spiritual ears trained to God’s declaration about Himself: Simply – what does this say about God? Knowing I AM is all I need to know.

As Jen Wilkin says, “The Bible does tell us who we are and what we should do, but it does so through the lens of who God is.” And so, I am learning to approach the Word for the delight and discovery of knowing God.

The Bible is so much more than a guidebook, more than stories and heroes, more than regulations and commands. It’s not a means of information – it’s the way of transformation.

King Jesus invites you and me to experience Him personally, to get into the game, so to speak. He paid a high price for our access, so let’s enter fully and there find our deepest joy. The story is as good as it gets, and He wins.