Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


2 Comments

My hope for us in the new year

Source

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.

********

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


Leave a comment

Discomfort and Joy

As I knelt to tie her shoes, a precious child with blond curls and bright eyes looked squarely into mine and whispered, “My mommy and daddy live in a hotel.” I gulped and replied with words wise and profound:

“Do you like your pink shoes?”

Of course, the truth is that I didn’t know what to say. My heart winced for this sweet foster child who leapt from the floor and twirled before the mirror in her sparkly silver skirt. She and her foster mom were our guests in the Mosaic Style with Love store, where foster children receive a personalized shopping experience where words of affirmation and blessing are offered, along with new clothes, shoes, and accessories.

In this instance, though, I couldn’t come up with timely words. I side-glanced at her foster mom who gave me a half-smile, an embarrassed “she-just-says-these-things” smile. Eventually the awkwardness passed as we admired the tip-toe dance of pink shoes and a sequin skirt.

20150804_110459

20150804_110610

20150804_110617

A few months earlier, my friend and I were in eastern Europe, alongside women in the kind of crisis and poverty that rattles my sheltered imagination. Their social worker, a Christ-follower who devotedly pours herself into their lives, had planned a retreat and asked us to speak about the love of Jesus. As we worked through our rehearsed outline, she interpreted for us.

20151009_154429 - Copy

20151009_153708 - Copy

About midway through, a woman interrupted. I didn’t understand her words but they sounded cutting and irritable. Our interpreter explained her agitation: “I don’t see God loving me. I don’t feel God loving me. I’m waiting for God to love me!

I gulped and I don’t remember if I said anything, profound or not. But another woman in the group – a woman whose crumbling home I’ve entered with disbelieving eyes, a woman who clings to her faith despite illness and poverty – spoke to her friend in their shared language:

“God is loving you right now. While you are sitting here, with these friends who love you, with your social worker who loves you. God loves you right here and now.”

Untitled design (23)

After these two experiences in 2015, I don’t see “missions” – local or global – the same way. Perhaps not consciously, but I once viewed missions as an “us” and “them” enterprise. And “us” consisted of the ones with the spiritual answers, the resources, the polish and the shine. Maybe that kind of missional approach meets some temporary needs and provides a few feel-good moments. But can it create joy or sustain transformation for either “us” or “them?” It puffs up but it doesn’t build up.

I discovered, as I looked these precious souls in the eyes, that I have zero to offer out of an “us” and “them” mentality. My only offering comes out of an admission that we are together human and needful of grace. And what I offer oftentimes lacks polish or the timely word or the right answer to hard questions. But Jesus calls me to uncomfortable places where people say things that I don’t expect. They are honest. If I enter their experiences, why should they insulate me? And so, my own humanity feels exposed.

But while these scenarios were discomforting, I can’t name two more fulfilling experiences of the past year.

Lord, I thank You for the discomfort. Can I say, that in its midst, I felt the joyful awareness of standing upon holy ground? It’s here where I examine my heart and ask if I am willing to be broken, as a seed which gives life.

An “us” and “team” mentality spoils a missions effort by 1) implying a condescension that steals dignity and robs fellowship and 2) leading people to think that they must have it all together and/or 3) compartmentalizing missions into occasional good works without growth toward a missional lifestyle.

If it means that I am all the more aware of my frailty, my tendency to be tongue-tied, and my needfulness, then Lord, send me. And thank You for the amazing thought that you use us, not despite our brokenness, but surely through our brokenness. Your power is made perfect in our weakness.

jar

I long for the fellowship of authenticity, as the “other” is human and vulnerable yet dignified, made in God’s glorious image. In truth, I don’t want to go on as an “other” – the one from the “right” side of town or the free, prosperous country who visits occasionally and returns safely to her sanctified bubble. This shared discomfort, between “others” colliding, gives us a glimpse of the incarnation – of Jesus becoming body in our humble, earthen mess.

In a world where people live in shady hotels and crumbling shacks, He came to “pitch his tent” (John 1:14). If Jesus incarnated Himself to birth in a manger, refugee status in Egypt, and to “have no place to lay his head,” surely we will experience Him in a new way when we identify with the “least of these.”

Untitled design (8)

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” When we have a true perspective of our own poverty before God, without pretense or agenda, that humble spirit allows us into genuine fellowship with our brothers and sisters, and we see Him — in a foster mother, in an impoverished but grateful woman, in a social worker – those who pitch their tents and stay awhile. Missional living, after all, isn’t about “us” or “them” but about Jesus and His love being incarnated through human hands and feet.

Untitled design (8)

interrupted3

Perhaps I don’t yet fully understand what personal transformations and sacrifices this kind of mission – this pitching the tent – requires of me. But an incarnational life requires an encounter with the Cross.

Here I am, Lord (Isaiah 6:8).

tumblr_mqq4ivpL641st5lhmo1_1280

From Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, pages 104 – 105:

Compassion is something other than pity. Pity suggests distance, even a certain condescension. We can come close to another person only when we are willing to become vulnerable ourselves.

A compassionate person says: “I am your brother; I am your sister; I am human, fragile, and mortal, just like you. I am not scandalized by your tears, nor afraid of your pain. I too have wept. I too have felt pain.”

We can be with the other only when the other ceases to be “other” and becomes like us.

lightstock_148548_xsmall_user_6617753

There are 400,000 children in the foster system in United States. Many children enter into foster homes with just a few articles of clothing and necessities. Christ-followers are called to “take up the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17). The Mosaic Style with Love store is one way that members of Carmel Baptist Church are answering this call. Find out more [here].

 


7 Comments

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.

20151202_130426

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.

20140119_140808-1

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.

lightstock_57604_small_user_6617753

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.

lightstock_148548_xsmall_user_6617753

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.

20151202_125706-1


4 Comments

Saying Yes Where You Are

“(God) says to ordinary people like me and you that instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads, sometimes God wants us to keep our eyes open for people in need, do something about it, and bow our whole lives to Him instead.” – Bob Goff, Love Does

20140618_161609

I knew that we would quickly fall for the Albanian children at the orphanage. I felt it when the oldest, an eight-year-old girl with a gleam of mischief in her eyes, took the opportunity once the translator stepped out of the room to speak directly to the unsuspecting Americans:

What’s your name?”

This bright, bubbly child turned out to be a pint-sized translator herself:

Me – “Crayon?”

L – “Lapsi.”

Me – “Orange?”

L – “Portokalli.”

DSCF1863

My memories of my friend and her little sister are rooted in my heart. I was allowed to take a few pictures on our last day together. Most of the pictures are blurry, and eventually my mind’s eye will grow dim, but the eyes of my soul cannot un-see these children.

20140618_161602

But there was a time (not so long ago) when I succumbed to a feeling of helplessness at the darkness and suffering and injustice in our world and I basically chose to “un-see” the needful person across the street and across the sea.

My question was this – What can one ordinary person do to make a difference?

As I struggled with my hesitations and limitations, the Holy Spirit nudged me with another question, plus a challenge:

What difference does Jesus make in my life? Start there.

As I thought about these things, I read books by Richard Stearns, Henry Blackaby, and Emily Freeman which encouraged me to bridge the gap between sacred and secular and to open my eyes to all of life, even in my ordinariness, as my offering.

lightstock_148548_xsmall_user_6617753

Whatever you and I do, we are designed like no one else to say something unique and purposeful about God with our lives. As Emily Freeman says, creating a life of meaning is not about finding that one great thing you were meant to do. God has created you, Image Bearer, to know Him and to express Him in a million little ways.

The difference that Jesus makes in my life is that I’ve been saved by grace through faith, and Scripture says that this is a gift from God and not the outcome of my works (Ephesians 2:8). It’s tempting, in our cultural mindset, to be outcome-driven, even thinking that ministry is our deal, our doing.

But Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are God’s workmanship, created by Him for good works He planned before we were born. What we have to offer is by God’s design and doing. Recognizing this truth has freed me from the burden of outcomes. No, I can’t change the world but I’m not called to. I’m called to offer my heart, my voice, my hands and feet and let God work as He will.

I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. (2)

While we’re waiting for a place where we’re significant and sufficient, He’s asking us to begin with a small step of obedience.

An outcome-mindset comes easily to someone like me who wants to do some good, feel successful in it, and make the world seem more neat and tidy.

An offering-mindset is rooted in the belief that I can do nothing good except for God’s grace in me. Sometimes – most times – this is an uncomfortable process because God shows up best through weakness and humility. But could it be that God’s work is best seen in surrendered people, not skilled people?

lightstock_69274_xsmall_user_6617753

In our individualistic culture, it’s tempting to see ourselves as do-good lone rangers. But Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s workmanship and we are better together as each part of the Body of Christ does its unique and valuable part. God designed us to serve alongside, not alone.

lightstock_131372_medium_user_6617753

I’m learning that yes – I have a responsibility to this world, but when I am concentrating on my gifts, my purpose, my weaknesses, my calling, I am getting in the way. It’s all His deal, and what a privilege you and I have to be a collective part of His story. Let’s be available and willing to see what He does.

We are all in full-time Christian service …. What has God given you? Moses had a stick. David had a slingshot, and Paul had a pen. Mother Teresa possessed a love for the poor; Billy Graham, a gift for preaching; and Joni Eareckson Tada, a disability. What did they have in common? A willingness to let God use whatever they had, even if it didn’t seem very useful … We may not be clear on just how God wants to use us. But that’s no excuse for doing nothing. Just jump in, and start doing.”  Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel

God is greater than our gifts, and I think He wants us to keep our eyes on Him and open to the unexpected ways He is working. Your offering and my offering, wherever our mission fields may be, matter to Him.

pbj

When you ask God to help you see, He will open your eyes and your heart in a way that’s unique to you. His calling may not lead you to another country. God intentionally places us in our families, neighborhoods, and local communities too. What you offer in these places is significant and sacred.

Life-of-Pix-free-stock-photos-kid-boy-bubbles-back-leeroy-copie

The Great Commission is lived out through bedtime prayers, peanut butter sandwiches, a pick-up soccer game with the refugee kids, a gift to the crisis pregnancy center, a Sunday morning in the special needs class.

The hands and feet of Jesus represent the showing-up part, but they respond to the seeing part.

God invites me and you into His work. We don’t have to figure out where we fit. He will lead us when we keep our eyes open.

Lightstock photo

So, let’s not limit ourselves by the question – What can one person do to make a difference?

Instead let’s ask – What difference does Jesus make in my life? and Where is He working?

And let us start there. We can create a ripple effect that swells into a current of life-giving love.

*****

“Saying yes isn’t really about doing it all. It’s about saying yes right where you are. It may seem small or insignificant, but any time you love someone or care for another person’s needs, you’re changing their world, and yours too. It’s about looking up from your everyday life and seeing opportunities around you to make a difference. It’s about loving others as we are loved.” – Kristen Welch, Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith is No Longer Enough

Emily Freeman, A Million Little Ways and Simply Tuesday: Small Moment Living in a Fast Moving World

Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel and Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning

Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude King, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God

 

 


5 Comments

The change of seasons {and what-ifs, if-onlys, or what-abouts …}

With every waning summer, my daughter eagerly gathers school supplies (yet complains that she must actually use them). While my girl organizes her goods, I work alongside, sorting through dusty boxes of my parents’ possessions. She stacks brightly colored notebooks while I finger through crinkled photos and yellowed letters.

My daughter’s collection is new while mine is old, but our feelings are the same. We’re a little sad, nostalgic, and apprehensive about the unknowns ahead of us.

As we enter a season dotted with yellow leaves and school buses, I realize that the cycles of climate are relatively predictable but the seasons of life are sometimes not so.

These new seasons arrive 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. 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.

IMG_2582

Of Jesus’ disciples, I relate especially well with Peter (Who doesn’t, right?) From the first, adventurous moment he followed Jesus, Peter’s circumstances were as up-and-down as his impulsive personality.

As part of Jesus’ inner circle, Peter was eyewitness to glorious moments. He was the passionate leader of the twelve, and in Jesus’ eyes, the “Rock.” Even still, he experienced infamous growing pains, had devastating failings, and earned rebuke from his Master.

Although he had expected the Kingdom to come through uprising and triumph, Peter learned that following Christ is revolutionary in that the last will be first, the meek inherit the earth, and a cross precedes a crown.

IMG_2611

Peter must have struggled, as we all do, with “what-ifs,” “if-onlys,” and “what-abouts…” But if we flip between the pages of the Gospels and his epistles (1 & 2 Peter), we discover a man who became firm and faithful.

At first glance, head-strong Peter doesn’t seem the sort to worry with “what ifs …” He sees Jesus walking on the sea; Jesus says, “Come;” and Peter exits the boat. We know, however, that Peter’s faith and feet give way to the water, because he wonders, “What if I heard Him wrong?” “What if He’s not really there?”

In the past two years, I’ve asked the same questions more than I can count. I’ve experienced the strains of caregiving, lost my beloved father, took a new job, traveled on mission, become the mother of a teenager. In better moments, I trust Jesus despite turbulent winds and step forward with him into the mysteries.

But when the waves slap hard, I lose my focus. “What-ifs” take me down. But Jesus, always He is there, saying “It is I; don’t be afraid.” He extends His hand, my lifeline, and pulls me up time and again. And every day I have a choice, like Peter, to look upon what if or what isWhat if = fear of the unknown. What is = faith in the one who says “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The two equations can’t coexist.

IMG_2610

Every day I make mistakes, and especially when a new situation stresses me out. Learning to navigate role reversals with an aging parent is tough. When I feel inexperienced and unsure, I beat myself up (as in “if only I hadn’t done this” or “if only I had done that …”)

Whenever I mess up, I have a choice to rehearse my “if-onlys” and stay stuck or to receive mercies with each new day and begin again. After a series of missteps and disgrace, Peter resigned himself to a boatload of regret and a lifetime of fishing (for real fish, not men).

But the risen Jesus walked where sand meets water to seek Peter out, to open a new chapter in this fisherman’s story. And Peter “threw himself into the sea” (again) to meet Jesus at the shore and embrace another chance. When we forgive ourselves, we affirm Jesus’ work on the cross. We remember that we are the receivers, not the achievers. We get to partcipate in His story, and His forgiveness and sufficiency cover us. With hearts saturated with grace, we can humbly move forward.

In Acts 3, we find Peter at the “Beautiful Gate” where he heals a lame beggar. As a crowd gathers, Peter proclaims the Gospel, and many who hear come to faith in Jesus.

In this passage of Scripture, the Greek word for “Beautiful” comes from the root “hora” – meaning the right hour or right season; beautiful in its timing.  Peter – emptied of his ego, freed from regret, and dependent upon the Holy Spirit – was finally the right man in the right season to preach at the Beautiful Gate.

lightstock_147502_xsmall_user_6617753

If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in that name” became the heart’s cry of a transformed man who had once cowered from identification with Christ (1 Peter 4:16).

In one of their final conversations, Jesus gives Peter a startling prophecy that Peter would die as a martyr, apparently by crucifixion (John 21: 18 – 19). But Peter doesn’t even absorb the gravity of the news before he asks about John: “What about this man?” And Jesus’ reply is freeing to anyone who struggles with comparison as I do – “What is that to you? You follow Me.”

Oh, how often I compare myself to people in different, seemingly easier or happier, seasons of life. But Jesus has given me a ministry in this place of life, and although it’s not what I hoped or anticipated, it’s filled with grace. He asks me to simply follow one trusting step at a time, and He produces fruit in due season.

During travels around Albania, friends and I toured a citadel built atop a steep mount. While I took pictures of the sweeping vistas, my friend was drawn to the ancient doors and beautiful gates. Since then, I see a gate as a metaphor for a place in faith where Jesus calls us forward. He doesn’t promise a wide-range view, and sometimes the way ahead is unclear to us. At times it’s painful.

IMG_2557

But I’m learning to receive new, perhaps difficult seasons, as hinges that open to deeper dependence upon God.  Yes, I occasionally stumble along an untried path, but even my fears and failures are stepping stones along an eternal course. Everything else may fall away, but Jesus is forever. His will prevails. His grace holds fast.

Friends, let us swing wide opportunities to place everything into the hands that opened the gates of heaven for us. Let us believe that God is the master of every season and makes everything – every heartache, regret, and transition – beautiful in His time. One certainty remains. Since Jesus secured our eternal destiny, surely He is trustworthy in every path along the way.

20140620_123803

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens.

God has made everything beautiful in its time … and has set eternity in our hearts ~ from Ecclesiastes 3.

I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

 

 


13 Comments

Don’t Draw the Line

It’s just been THAT kind of week, I think as I peer into the oven at a cake that won’t rise. This is the second attempt at this cake; we inadvertently left out an essential ingredient the first time around. And as I wash dishes from tonight’s dinner of chicken and crunchy rice (also known as undercooked), I think about how we left a bag of perishable groceries outside overnight and made extra trips to school because of forgotten things and called a locksmith when our dog locked us out of the car.

Gently – persistently – for what seems like the hundredth time this week, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Don’t draw the line.”

Several years ago, my daughter came home with a “Fifth Grade Blue Card.” She started each week with 10 points and received a reward if she maintained them without deductions. As she pulled her card out of her folder, I saw “Grace” instead of “Grade” in the bold heading. The stem of the letter “d” in “Grade” had faded so that it looked like a “c” instead.

As I studied the card, it struck me how slight is the difference between the words “Grade” and “Grace” in print. Just one little line, a mere downward stroke.  Conceptually, though, “grade” and “grace” are opposites. A grade is a mark of measurement; it orients us toward performance. But grace orients our hearts toward peace with God, ourselves, and others.

When I have days like these, when I’ve missed the mark by my weakness and/or my outright rebellion, the stem of the letter “d” – the turning of “grace” into “grade” – feels like a measuring stick that tells me again and again that I have failed.

Drawing the line happens when I say things to myself like –

“You’re so stupid.”

“Why do you even try?”

“You can’t change.”

Sometimes I wield that same little line like a rod of criticism against my people, either silently or aloud.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“You’ll never understand.”

“Why can’t you change?”

But this week, in the midst of the inconveniences and the numbskull things that we’ve done, the Spirit has prompted me to notice and then pray for the fading of the line, the stem that differentiates “grade” and “grace.” I come frustrated and broken and rejected, and He erases the marks that I hold against myself by reminding me that the Cross is Jesus’ exclamation mark:

You’re loved!

You’re accepted!

You’re chosen!

You’re forgiven!

You’re Mine!

I think about the One who wrote the Ten Commandments with His fingers. But as He knelt beside a woman caught in adultery (direct disobedience of one of the Commandments), Jesus skimmed those fingers across the sand. We don’t know what He wrote, but He didn’t grade, accuse, or draw the line against her. Jesus wrote her a new story, calling her to a redeemed life of purity. No, she wouldn’t become perfect but I believe His love perfectly changed her from the inside out (John 8:1 – 11).

Grace reminds me that our acceptance in Christ is never achieved, only received, and our worth lies not in what we do but only what He has done. His love is so freeing, and I feel the line fading … I mess up and fall short daily but Jesus doesn’t grade me. He graces me. A drive for achieving stems from insecurity. Am I enough? But a posture of receiving secures my identity in Christ. Jesus’ grace is enough.

And when we see ourselves as receivers, we become releasers as well. God pours out His love to not only to satisfy us but to spill from us as grace to our people.

Jesus, thank You. Your banner over us is love. You are the embodiment of Grace and Truth. There are no deductions in this life in Christ. In fact, You delight in us! (Zephaniah 3:17) In You …

We’re loved!

We’re accepted!

We’re chosen!

We’re forgiven!

We’re Yours!

****

Romans 8:1 ~ There is no therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I John 3:1 ~ See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

“We all get to choose where we set up the stage of our lives — before the Crowds, the Court, the Congregation, the Critics (inner or otherwise)-– or the Cross of Christ. All except One will assess your performance. Only One will accept you before your performance … Only in Jesus is there 100% acceptance before even 1% performance.” :: Ann Voskamp

I have a (2)

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.” ~ Corrie ten Boom

chosen1

Prayer is the place where God never tires of telling us that life’s not about earning anyone’s love, but believing that we already are His beloved. ~ Jennifer Dukes Lee

Jesus wants us to trade our purses of “perfection” for a much lighter load instead. He offers us security in place of striving. Full hearts instead of full schedules. Receiving instead of trying to buy our way to acceptance. ~ Holley Gerth


18 Comments

Lean Into Jesus

The sunny, February day compels me outside into the unusual warmth. While this rare opportunity beckons me to rake out the flower beds, I’d rather set aside yard work until spring. These days, I set aside things I used to enjoy like getting dirt under my nails.

But as I kneel beside the Lenten roses and scrape the dead leaves away with my fingers, I notice that tiny blooms are rising like a fist against winter.  Suddenly invigorated, I rake and rake and rake away the decaying leaves. My plants need to breathe.

20140121_101535

Something like hope rides on the fresh air, so I lean upon the rake to take it in.  And I remember:

“The best advice I can give you is to lean into your grief.”

I had nodded at the kind lady as if I understood. But I didn’t understand.

In the middle of my yard, propped against my rake, I wonder –

What does that mean?

Although “lean into grief” sounds a bit cliché, I know this lady has experienced this kind of heartache. So I abandon my rake and decide to see for myself.

Underneath my soiled nails, fingers tap out a search “Lean into grief.”

Many stories, blogs, and articles appear, articulating a similar theme:

The process of grief can be long and bleak, like winter, but it’s necessary to let the grief take its course. Instead of pushing it away, patiently work through the pain. Eventually another season will come.

Ok, I get that.

Is that all?

As I dig a little deeper, I discover that the metaphor, “leaning in,” originates in athletic activities – which doesn’t relate at all to suffering, I think.

But perhaps it can.

In sports like snowboarding, skiing, or speed skating, athletes learn to “lean into the turn.”

skiing_downhill_2_edit[1]

i-0fd320ca678cbadfea1b20cd87507619-2010-02-17_ohno[1]

The general principle (I think, because I’m no physicist) is that leaning in drives an athlete’s energy forward by acting as a counter-balance against forces that would drag the athlete down. It also suggests embracing risk and not shying away from obstacles.

imagesCVBYFQZC

I had visualized “leaning into grief” as if it were a crutch. And there are moments when the urge to wallow in sadness is greater than the longing to move through it. Sometimes that’s okay. I’ve been there.

But if “leaning in” is a metaphor for onward and forward, it changes the way I think about leaning into heartache.

Loss unearths emotions which are complicated and unique to every person. Scripture says that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). In this world, we are constantly confronted with the sting of bad news, disappointment with ourselves and loved ones, fading of health and vitality, media reports that disgust or frighten us, and stalled dreams. When we’re heart-sick, human nature (my human nature, at least) wants to push away and hide.

But a spiritual perspective of “leaning into grief” expects that any kind of suffering, although difficult, can be redemptive because there is hope, and His Spirit is the fresh air on which it rides. This means that when we want to run away from suffering, we actually do the opposite and allow it to teach and transform us.

So I get what’s meant by “lean into grief,” but ultimately I’ll fall flat if I lean into my unreliable feelings. I need to lean into something – Someone – unchanging, immoveable, and steadfast.

The times when I’ve tried to lean upon my own strength have left me at the brink of despair. But Jesus comes to my pain with a gentle reminder: Cast your burden upon the Lord [release it] and He will sustain and uphold you. He will never allow the righteous to be shaken (slip, fall, fail) (Psalm 55:22, Amplified).

Grief shows me what it means to live with eternity in my heart. I’m not just moving through … I’m moving toward.  At times I’m still struggling in the dirt yet I’m persisting in the hope that life in Jesus goes on.

I lean through the heartache until I’m leaning with all my might on Jesus.

When we feel that downward tug of heartache or discouragement, we can throw our weight fully upon the Overcomer, and by His power, we press forward.

I encourage you to cast your burdens – those nagging doubts or restless worries or stabs in the heart – on to Jesus. He can take them because He has already shouldered the weight of a dying world. Go ahead and embrace the hard and lean with your grief, your troubles, your failures into His everlasting arms. Sometimes leaning, like me with my rake, means pausing. Sometimes leaning, like a downhill skier, means movement. Let’s lean into the One who, with perfect timing and tenderness, knows what is best for our healing in this moment.

What will “leaning in” look like for you today?

The eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3: 14

… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him … so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12: 1 – 3

_________

The Physics Classroom – http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/circles/u6l2c.cfm

Photo credits:

Skier – aLindquist @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/alindquist_/3529374910/

Speed Skater @ http://scienceblogs.com/dotphysics/2010/02/17/apolo-ohno-physics/

Snowboarder @ http://wakpaper.com/id49666/snowboard-slide-sports-snowboard-full-hd-desktop-wallpaper-3000×2000-pixel.html