Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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My hope for us in the new year

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Every now and then, when driving, I realize that I’ve traveled a distance without being consciously aware of surrounding sights and sounds. (Does this ever happen to anyone else?) The radio is playing as usual, and my car traverses the intended course, and – as far as I know – I’ve observed all traffic laws.  All of the senses commanding my vehicle, however, are seemingly on auto-pilot.

This time, the real action was going on inside my mind, driving me further down a regretful road of would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves, and a remembrance of all my shortcomings was buckled securely in the passenger seat.

When I “came to,” I heard O Holy Night on the radio and reached to change the station. (Though O Holy Night is a cherished hymn of Christmas ages, I confess it’s not a personal favorite. Who – except those with voices that belong in the heavenly chorus – can hit all those notes?) But my ears – and my heart – heard this, as if for the first time:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

As we welcome a new year, when we typically choose our resolutions or our “one-word,” I want this ‘the soul felt its worth’ – this reason for the incarnation – to inhabit my heart.  This one phrase was a gift to me in the moment, yet my soul needs more than momentary relief. I need to re-open the truths of who I am in Christ every day.

I’ve tended to avoid new year’s resolutions because I fear setting myself up for more failure. But if we think of reviewing the year behind us and resolving for changes in the year ahead through a lens of grace, we might come to see ourselves less as achievers and more as receivers. For what could we possibly accomplish except for the grace of Christ within?

And I think of my daughter and my mother and my family & friends and you, dear readers, and I ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the truth that we can’t achieve life in Christ. For life in Christ is only received. In the year to come, it remains true – our acceptance in Christ doesn’t depend upon our resolve to be better people.  The Father purchased our souls with the priceless, life-giving blood of His Son. 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.

Rather than resolving to fix ourselves, may we fix our eyes on the One who clothes us in His peace and righteousness. I wish for you and for me the kind of release that comes when we live for Christ, not under a yoke of compulsion, but with a heart compelled by love to worship and serve Him. May we always reach to change the station when our inner critics hit the airwaves. Let us rest in the understanding that our worth lies not in what we do but only what He has done, and may each day find us receiving more of His grace-gift.

What’s more, understanding the worth of souls is understanding that Christ died for our neighbors and the sex slaves and the orphans and the refugees and the people of a different color or nationality or faith.  May that truth transform how we see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; weak or strong.

Friends, as beloved children of God, we are the receivers who grow more fully in God’s image when we are also the releasers. When we give bountifully out of our resources and our hearts, we reflect the generous character of Him who gave His Son. As Romans 5 says, God pours His love into our hearts, not only to satisfy us but to spill from us. Think of how different our world might be if our homes and communities were soaked with the overflow of God’s love.

And may worship happen as we live our lives as the image-bearers, offering our souls the space to breathe and receive grace, allowing God to design the canvas, yielding to the vision of the Artist, and ascribing all worth to Him. The weight of maintaining self-worth is more than we are meant to bear, and we will never have true peace or satisfaction until our souls turn to the purest, most-worthy Object of our worship. The beauty of our lives is drawn out of our response to God, and He meets us, not just on Sundays (and not only if our voices hit the high notes).

May our worship – our ascribing worth to God – be deeply drawn and offered from a place of receiving and honoring worth in our and every soul.

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In the end, there are only two ways to live. We can live with either clenched fists or with open hands. You can’t have them both. Clenched fists are a refusal: a refusal to let go, a refusal to trust, a refusal to give up control. And unfortunately, in the spiritual life, clenched fists also keep you from being able to receive anything from God. Only empty hands can receive. Therefore, we must let go for whatever our hands are full of before we can ever expect to receive any of the fullness, or the life, that God wants to give us. Jim Branch, The Blue Book


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Dear younger me (the anorexia years)

I recently heard Dear Younger Me, a new song by Mercy Me and I wondered – if I wrote a letter to my younger self, what would I say and what time of life would I choose? Middle school? High school? College? Those were certainly significant seasons when I made decisions that have shaped who I am today. But undoubtedly I would write to the person I was in the most heart-wrenching and pivotal time of my life – in my mid-twenties when I struggled for 5+ years against anorexia. Many years later, here is what I would say to that young woman –

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Dear younger me,

This is not the end. Night is darkest just before the morning. I’m writing to tell you that there is hope. I know it’s hard to believe now, but you need to know that healing and joy await you. But freedom will come at a cost, and I am years down the road to tell you that your life is worth it.

You are not your eating disorder. I know you feel utterly consumed by shame and fear. You think that little exists of your life other than your obsession with controlling your weight and your calories. You feel, not only in body but also in mind and in soul, a sliver of the person you used to be. But you are still you – lover of all things Disney, gardener, sports fan, bookworm, wife, daughter, sister, friend.

Let me tell you who you are most importantly. You are a beautiful daughter of God, and He has not turned from you. He created you according to His pleasure and His purpose, and that hasn’t changed (Ephesians 1 and 2). You still make Him smile. He still sings songs of love over you (Zephaniah 3:17).

God’s plans for you remain full of promise (Jeremiah 29:11). Your mistakes won’t negate His love for you (Romans 8:38-39; Psalm 103:12). One pound more or one pound less cannot change one ounce of His delight for you. The way you idolize control breaks His heart but it doesn’t break His unfailing acceptance.

You are redeemed and glorious because you bear God’s image, and He sees beyond your destructive behavior into the heart that He fights for.

Do you think that God would uniquely and purposefully create you, provide a way for your eternal peace through the anguish of the Cross, and then weigh you down with the burden of proving your worth? No, He is waiting for you to come to Him and receive the rest of knowing that Jesus is enough.

Younger me, you can overcome. You have not received a spirit that makes you a slave to fear but you have received the Spirit of a child of God (2 Timothy 1:7, Romans 8:15). You believe in the Resurrection. Did you know that the same power lives in you? Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). Because I’ve known you for awhile, I can say that you aren’t brave except for the power that Jesus gives you. And He will give.

Desperately cling to His strength for one decision at a time. Your grip on control is just an illusion, but the older me can tell you that Jesus is victorious, and He will break the chains that have held you captive.  In Christ, the old will pass away and the new will come! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Jesus gave His all to pluck you from the hands of destruction. As you claim Christ, you are not your own; you were bought with a precious price (1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20). Jesus promises neither an easy life nor a culturally prosperous life but He promises that you will find your deepest, most liberating satisfaction in trusting Him (John 10:10). This means that you must open your hands. You must let go. Your freedom will become reality as you yield to the Lord.

To be accepted and to be approved, you have tried too hard for too long. When you say yes to surrender, you will be okay. Jesus will gently guide you to trust your counselors and your nutritionist. I know some people say that you should just pray more, but you really do need your helpers. They are a part of God’s provision for your healing. And at the point of every eating decision, Jesus will make you brave. You may be embarrassed to attend a support group but God will place compassionate people in your path who believe there is a healthy and whole woman inside of you, and they will rejoice as she emerges. Every time you loosen your grip, remember that she is worth it.

Let me tell you why healing is worth every painful choice. The Author of your story has much more to write. He longs to weave redemption into every page. Younger me, Psalm 107 will become for you a word of testimony:

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so … Some wandered in desert wastelands; they were hungry and thirsty and their lives ebbed away.

They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for His love and for His miracles. He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry.

Some sat in gloom and darkness; they were prisoners suffering in chains … they refused to eat anything and drew near the gates of death.

In their misery they cried out to God. He sent forth His word and healed them. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His love and for His miracles.

Let them tell of His works with songs of joy.

Younger me, your people are going to stay. They are God’s gracious gift to you. Your husband will love you persistently. God has made him brave too. One day, together, you will marvel at what God has done (Psalm 126:3). Your marriage will be sweeter and stronger and more precious that you have ever imagined.

Your mama and daddy will have full hearts once again. One day, sooner than you might expect, they will need you, and you will be there. Jesus will make it so.

Some friends will fall away because watching you go through this is too awkward and painful. But I think you already know who the steadfast friends will be. Ahead there will be lighthearted times when you laugh freely with them again.

Although you think that you’ve damaged your body to that point that pregnancy is impossible, God is able (Ephesians 3:20). One day, this deep desire of your heart will be met in one whose name means “song of joy.”

God has plans for His glory through your healing. You will share your recovery story in magazines, with high school students, and through something called the internet.

Younger me, you will come to the place where you finally forgive yourself. Yes, you’ve lost your career; you’ve been ridiculed and rejected by people who said hurtful things. But one day you will know that God wastes nothing. Somehow, in His plan, He turns ashes into beauty (Isaiah 61:3). You will experience a deeper compassion for yourself and for people battling addictions and shame.  One day you will seek out hurting women and lead support groups; it will not be comfortable, but God will make you comfort-able (2 Corinthians 1:4).

And finally, one day, freedom will taste so good. You will receive gifts, even the ones with calories, with deep joy and gratitude. Your legs will run, without compulsion, but with an appreciation for the ability to exercise a healthy body. You’ll travel across the world to countries where you’ll eat bizarre foods and thrive in the crazy, once unimaginable, adventure of it all. You will embrace celebration and creativity through food as its power over you is submitted daily to the Cross. And as your loved ones gather around the table, it will no longer be a place of angst and concern. You will join them in communion, in thanksgiving, in the fullness of gladness and life.

Girl, you have a lot of life ahead of you. Go and live free. I can’t wait to meet you here.

To God be the glory,

~ Renee, your older me

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Such good words of hope from Holley Gerth:

You are living a story today. A story crafted and told by the Author of heaven. The star-scatterer. The mountain-mover. The water-walker. It is a story of grace. A story of hope. A story of, most of all, love.

Sometimes the plot is confusing. Or strange. Or sad. Sometimes we want to cut a chapter out with sharp scissors. Sometimes we want to be the editors with the red ink. Sometimes we want to skip right to the end just to make sure it says “and they lived happily ever after.”

But this is not our role. It is not for us to say, “This is what happens next” or “I’m changing the ending.” Instead we are to trust, to wait, to be in the middle of the mystery. There is so much we do not know, that we will not know, but we can be certain of this: the Author is good and we are loved … there is a God at work who has always been speaking, always been creating something beautiful in the middle of the broken.

I’m one of many writers who are joining Holley’s link-up today. Together, we are grateful that Jesus holds the pen.

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Speaking Life in the Small

Last week my husband and I received an email we didn’t expect. Our daughter is entering high school next year, and the college placement team reached out to say it is time to meet. I am not prepared for such preparations. What is expected, of course, is to say that just yesterday I was brushing her hair into a Pebbles-style ponytail right on top of her sweet little head. But it’s true.

What seems especially ironic or painful or some emotion I can’t articulate is that all this transition and looking forward for her comes on the cusp of a mid-life birthday for me. Here I am, looking backward and wondering where life veered from what I expected. It’s not necessarily cliché, nor is it crisis; it’s just real-life awareness that I am not really in control of anything.

I can’t stop my girl from growing up, and for all my own attempts to move upward, including a post-grad degree that took 11 years to complete, I’m in a place where I can choose to be disillusioned or to accept that life happens and circumstances sometimes collide with dreams and I feel as small as ever.

The complicating thing is that I have a really beautiful life. My blessings are abundant, and I know that the lines have fallen for me in very pleasant places (Psalm 16:6).

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Here, I am learning that my questions don’t mean that I am ungrateful; they mean that I am human.

Usually when I write, the editor in me gets in the way. Because I am actually employed as a writing editor. It is hard to write without evaluating every.single.word. (Is it grammatically correct to begin a sentence with because? Ugh.) But when I do, I am surprised at what revelation comes out. And so perhaps I need to pay attention to the above paragraph, where I off-the-cuff wrote that I have invested years and money in moving “upward.”

Is upward what I have wanted?

In itself, I see nothing wrong with this. I am for education and hard work and dreaming (and even college placement meetings *sigh*). I want this path for my daughter. My parents and my husband provided every opportunity for me to develop my potential and chase my desires, and how could I not look at this place in her life without dreamy (yet misty) eyes?

But as I grow deeper in relationship with Christ, I’m increasingly moving toward acceptance, even comfort, with a small life.

As an American, I live in a culture where small and upward are seemingly incongruent. But I am firstly a citizen of another Kingdom, where the highest goal is to go small. I think of John the Baptist who, when his followers left to pursue Jesus, said “He must become greater and I must become less” (John 3:30). And of him, Jesus said, “Among those born of women is none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

I also think of the widow who gave the smallest offering, a mere two coins, and Jesus esteemed her offering – all that she possessed – as the greatest (Luke 21:1 – 4).  Even the apostle Paul, who had once relished the utmost in accolades and accomplishment, surrendered everything – counted it as garbage even – in order to move forward with Christ (Philippians 3).

Some of my lifelong goals are yet unrealized. When I set my perspective on God’s grace, sovereignty, wisdom, and the call of discipleship, I’m really okay with this.

I am learning that I never needed those accomplishments to validate me, because who I am in Christ is enough. Perhaps small fits best. (Hey, I always wanted to be a size small).

I should clarify what I mean by “small.” Part of my life mission statement is that I will “speak life.” By this I mean that I want my words and actions to be a voice for the dignity of life, in every stage and status.  I am inspired when I see other people doing this in “big” ways, crusading on platforms for justice and equality. I have sat in forums and movies where I was deeply moved by Christ-followers who have, in large-scale ways, been champions for the outcast. I’ve wanted to do that too.

And as I went to special events and heard the stories of young women who were forced into sex slavery or child marriage, I was inspired by the heroes who rescued them. I’d say, however, that I always had one reaction more urgent than any other. As much as I appreciated the message, I couldn’t wait to bolt from those events and go home and wrap my daughter in my arms. It was an expression of my motherly-gut-level calling to speak life to her.

Most victims of human trafficking are deceived into believing that they aren’t worthy of anything else. But they are created by God to bear His image, and that makes them beautiful and worthy. Every person needs to know this about themselves. My daughter needs to know this about herself, and God has gifted her to me for a season. I am telling her that she is God’s hand-crafted, priceless possession.

My calling may be very small-scale. But I am realizing that it is no less significant.

Perhaps you are like me, living a seemingly small-scale life that feels more ordinary than extraordinary. But Christ-follower, it is significant. This day is one ordained by God to move you into His will and His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). You have a God-given design and purpose to influence your people and your community as no one else can.

You wipe noses and pick up toys all day …

You crunch numbers in a cubicle …

You sit with the lonely …

You spend out of your own salary to supply your classroom …

You write words that you think no one reads …

You stroke the hand of your frail loved one …

You serve in the church nursery …

You take in a child without a home …

You go to your prayer closet where no one sees …

You choose integrity in your job day in and day out …

You are speaking life. You are living your sacred responsibility to help others realize that they are God’s beloved.

So what do I say to my daughter? These years are pivotal, a time for her to dream big.  I want that for her. And I want her to be small too, in the way that Christ is greater and she is lesser, and every ordinary day is ordained by Him and for Him.

I want my child to speak life, whether from a platform or a pick-up game with kids from the other side of town. They may seem big; they may seem small; what matters is that there are God-sized plans awaiting her.

And you too.

Every small way is no small thing in the Kingdom.

The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus. (2)

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Such a good word from Jennifer Dukes Lee:

Could we, artists and writers and mothers and fathers and preachers and teachers and ordinary, everyday pilgrims — could we willingly lay down our lives for a life separated with Christ — a life hid in Christ with God?

And there, we would find the only approval that matters. 

And we would know it with certainty:

that it’s the approval we always had.

Writers are speaking life with Jennifer Dukes Lee and #TellHisStory.

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Connecting with other speakers of life @ Missional Women and Faith Filled Friday.

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Read this insightful post about a Christ-follower’s perspective on ambition at Purposeful Faith with Kelly Balarie.

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I’m having Coffee for Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth

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Linking today with Thought Provoking Thursday @3dlessonsforlife

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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.

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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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Sacred September (because you are an artist and your art matters)

“We’re in a lull right now,” and I knew what the radio announcer meant — it’s the in-between of seasons. School & football have started and daylight is waning but I’m not ready for raking leaves and buying pumpkin-everything.

I’m wearing long-sleeves & jeans while my daughter is in shorts because we can’t figure out what to wear. Sandals or boots today?

Seems to early to plant pansies, but my flower beds that bloomed heartily in the heart of summer are tired and done.

September lulls me back into a reluctant place of fixing lunches and checking homework and making lists and running errands. The beginning of September, like a second January of sorts, was filled with newness and expectancy, but now our days feel stalled in the “in-between.”

Flickr - mcamcamca. CC2.0

Photo credit, mcamcamca. CC2.0

Gone are the carefree days of summer and yet to come are the cozy comforts of fall. It’s just an ordinary day.

These are the days when my creativity is as drained as my flowers, or so I think. I’d like to be inspired by the autumn reds, yellows, and oranges but those colors have yet to burst on the scene. Maybe I could compose inspirational words about Thanksgiving but it’s not the giving-thanks season.

Hmm.

Perhaps you feel this way? Could you be in an in-between place too? Life feels kind of uninspiring, maybe small. There’s nothing especially spectacular about you or your world at the moment. Maybe a season of productivity has wilted like tired flowers. Do you have anything to offer? You wonder if God is able to use you in this place, this lull.

But even if you don’t claim “art” as a profession or hobby, you’re an artist. Did you know that?  Every day you’re given opportunities to tell a story, weave words into conversation, create environments for your professional and personal relationships, and reflect the image of our creative and caring God.

God can use you in the lull. This ordinary place can be a meaningful offering, and perhaps an eye-opener to the million little ways that God is showing up in your life, ready to be expressed in your world.

I believe this because I’m reading A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman.

“When we resist living within our ordinary days, we are in danger of losing a sense of ourselves. We don’t need to walk away from our routines and daily rhythms to find something more interesting. More often we need to wake up to them” (page 118).

Sacred happens between the church aisles, but may God give us eyes to see Him in the grocery aisle, the hallways of home, the neighborhood sidewalks, and all the ordinary, ordained paths that make up life.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Kate Ter Haar. CC2.0

Flickr, Kate Ter Haar. CC2.0

I recently traveled a painful journey through sickness and loss, with crisis moments along the way. And just months ago, I experienced the kind of poverty that wrecked my insulated, North American existence.

Why, why, why would I feel dulled by ordinary days?

Perhaps in managing life, I’m missing life being beautiful.

To me, this ordinary day finds me not at the hospital or responding to an emergency or wondering where my child’s next meal will come from. In my context, ordinary is quite a gift. But I’m not entitled to ordinary. I never know when life will bottom out or go roller-coaster on me again, so each ordinary moment offers me a choice about my perspective. Will boredom or blessing set the tone of this day?

Ordinary days – September days – consist of life-giving moments. Instead of waiting for the next big thing, I want to settle into the small beauty of packing lunches and checking homework (except math).  Little moments of intimacy can matter for eternity while grandiose moments of importance might last as long as the wood, hay, and stubble.

My soul craves a giving-thanks day every day. A lull can be a holy space to simply breathe and receive grace; to stop controlling and allow Him to design the canvas; to step back and be yielded to the vision of the Artist; to pause and behold what He calls beautiful.

Ordinary is where our most God-glorifying art comes from. As we search for God’s purpose for our lives, He’s beckoning us to just pay attention to where He is working.

The beauty of our lives is drawn out of our response to God, and He meets us, not just on Sundays, but in the seeking heart.

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Friend, your ordinary matters.

“Ministering in everyday opportunities that surround us does not mean that we select our own surroundings— it means being God’s very special choice to be available for use in any of the seemingly random surroundings which He has engineered for us. The very character we exhibit in our present surroundings is an indication of what we will be like in other surroundings.

The things Jesus did were the most menial of everyday tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did? Towels, dishes, sandals, and all the other ordinary things in our lives reveal what we are made of more quickly than anything else. It takes God Almighty Incarnate in us to do the most menial duty as it ought to be done.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, entry for September 11.

Your art is made of whatever opportunity you have to sanctify life and glorify God. Whatever your art is – your parenting, your listening, your befriending, your mastery with numbers, your teaching, your writing, your praying, your building, your homemaking, your giving – it matters.

You are God’s workmanship, and any given day holds holy, if unexpected, moments in which He can orchestrate experiences where His glory blows your blinders off.

Fellow artist, let’s show up to the page.  Let’s be who we are and offer our ordinary without concerning ourselves with the outcomes. Sacred things happen in September.

*******

The meaning of our lives is not dependent upon what we make of it but of what he is making of us … What makes us come alive goes deeper that what we choose to do in our professions and our free time. What makes us come alive is life, and this life is Jesus. Painting, cooking, parenting, calculating, and conversation all have the potential to hold within them a mystery and an expression of our life in Christ.  Emily Freeman, A Million Little Ways, page 30.

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God – but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people – and this is not learned in five minutes.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

“The discovery of God lies in the daily and the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic. If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find Him at all.” Richard Foster, Prayer.

I found the Oswald Chambers and Richard Foster quotes in Emily Freeman’s Simply Tuesday, her latest book on the grace & beauty of small-moment living.


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Five Minute Friday :: Yes

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As I lifted the rear door of our SUV, my mother’s decorative table tumbled out and fell to the driveway before I could catch it. I turned it back onto its (now) wobbly legs and ran my hands over the fresh scratches and dents. I had promised Mom that I would bring her prized table to the new apartment, and feeling heavy-laden with dozens of other boxes and possessions to transport, I had become careless and hurried. My friend, who watched me load the car, cautioned me to secure the little table, but I brushed off her advice and went on my rushed way.

And so I stood, feeling foolish and failed, over the damage. For a second, I wondered if the neighbor – seen from the corner of my eye – was watching. Then all the feelings of fatigue and frustration came over me, and I didn’t care who knew that I messed up again. I whimpered aloud a familiar & exasperated question – one that I’ve asked myself as a student, a wife, daughter, mom, Christ-follower ….

WHY do I try so hard?

All my life I’ve been a try-hard girl. I used to blame it on my dad, as if his work ethic had been transmitted into my genes. But no, the truth is that my identity has most often been found in my ability to achieve and to please and to satisfy my own ego and other people. And so I push and strive, and my life is pulled along by compulsion instead of joy and fulfillment.

I’m tired.

I know there’s a better way, and I can choose it, if only I would.

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Ironically, I guess, I close my eyes and imagine a table. And Jesus has made a place for me. A table is an invitation to pause, to sit, to have conversation, and to receive. When I meet Jesus here, I leave behind my identity of an achiever. With Jesus, there is never obligation. Simply invitation.

Jesus invites me to say yes to His offer of freedom from other’s opinions, from my own striving. I gave my Savior my most significant “yes” many years ago, as a child. And since then, He’s invited me to countless sacred “yeses” – to agree with Him that abundant life isn’t found in obligation but in opportunity. And the opportunities that He offers are never burdensome. Instead, they are life-giving, grace-filled, and ripple into eternity.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” ~ Jesus’ invitation, Matthew 11:28 – 29 (The Message).

** Lord Jesus, You invite me to grace and You compel me with love. I never have to fear Your displeasure, and my life doesn’t have to be motivated by “should-to” and “ought-to.” Instead, I get to say Yes to who I am in Christ and to participate in Your sacred, life-giving, eternal purposes. Please help me to discern the difference between obligation and invitation and to freely offer You my best yes **

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Five Minute Friday” is a weekly opportunity for writers to write for five minutes on the same topic. Stop by Kate’s place @ katemotaung.com to read what other bloggers are writing about the word “yes.”

Photo credits –

http://bossfight.co/old-room-random-stuff-furniture/

http://bossfight.co/woman-sitting-table/

Boss Fight – Completely Free (do whatever you want) High Resolution Stock Images & Photos, Daily

Loving this book, Your Sacred Yes by Susie Larson, and highly recommend it –

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