Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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When hope seems pressed thin

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We wake up to terrible news again … more violence and bloodshed, and we are saddened for Europe and the world. I imagine the European airport where my family will enter and depart in a few months, and my heart shrinks a bit. How do we live in this world – when despair feels overbearing and hope is pressed thin?

As I read about the final earthly steps of our Lord, I imagine Him in Gethsemane where He went to pray through the agonizing anticipation of the Cross. Gethsemane, which means “place where the oil is pressed,” was at the foot of the Mount of Olives. There, our Savior said yes to His Father’s will, that He would suffer the unthinkable weight of our sin and judgment in our place.

Olives were pressed under the weight of a millstone until the oil flowed out from the crushed pulp. The imagery of Gethsemane is fitting in light of Isaiah’s prophecy:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain … Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted … he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53: 3 – 5).

Jesus endured suffering and shame because of His love for His Father and for us. And He did it for joy. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Because of the joy awaiting him, (Jesus) endured the cross, disregarding its shame.”

Scripture indicates that oil is a symbol of purity, light, healing, and the joy of God’s presence.

 

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Like an olive crushed for its oil, Jesus’ suffering yielded a precious treasure. Again, Isaiah’s prophecy points us to Jesus:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me (the Messiah), because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning…” (Isaiah 61: 1- 3)

The living Savior invites us to a joy-filled life, the kind of joy that comes through fellowship with Him, even in – especially in – suffering. It is a joy that is marked by surrender, by the willingness for self to be pressed out and replaced with Christ.

To the Son, God says –

Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.
    You rule with a scepter of justice.
You love justice and hate evil.
    Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you,
    pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else. (Hebrews 1: 8 -9)

Jesus hurts with us in these times of grief and trouble and brokenness. He draws near to those who are crushed in spirit. But Jesus is drenched in joy because He endures.

He is Risen is still the news of the day, of everyday. Jesus rose from the grave to resurrect our joy, not necessarily a cheerful joy, but a resolute knowing that He has the final word. Because of Jesus, there is no weight of desperation that can hold us down. In Him, we can have the kind of joy which overflows and overcomes.

 “The Savior looks upon the redeemed with an unspeakable delight, thinks of what they used to be, thinks of what they would have been, thinks of what they now are, thinks of what he means to make them in that great day when they shall rise from the dead; and as his heart is full of love to them he joys in their joy, and exults in their exultation … There is a joy of our Lord into which he will give his faithful ones to enter, a joy which he has won by passing through the shame and grief by which he has redeemed mankind.

The oil of gladness is abundantly poured on that head which once was crowned with thorns.” Charles Spurgeon

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow,will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them. Psalm 126: 5 – 6

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. Psalm 30:11

 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Psalm 51:8

When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. Proverbs 21:15

Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.

 No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,

   and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away ~ From Isaiah 35


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November Teaches Us to Have Open Hands

“Did you know that fall exists because of the Fall?”

My daughter asks me this as we talk about what she learned in Chapel.

“I haven’t thought of it that way but I know the leaves, so beautiful in all their colors, are in the process of dying.”

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We watch leaves fall to earth and reflect on autumn as a season of beauty and death, letting go and giving thanks. The crimson and golden leaves express the truth that beauty and death exist harmoniously, and can we accept this?

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The cycles of sowing, harvesting, degeneration, and rebirth are a natural, rhythmical part of our landscapes. Genesis tells us, however, that God created the Garden to be a place of continual abundance. Ever since the first sin, our sustenance from the land requires labor and vulnerability to drought, storms, and decay.

Our hearts know the vulnerability too. Emotionally we pass through seasons of abundance, seasons of loss. Past Novembers have found me in a cancer clinic, a funeral home, and a mental health hospital.

In such places, how do I give thanks?

As I remember these things and think about the conversation with my daughter, I ponder the thought that God made autumn, the dying season, beautiful anyway. I see myself in the letting-go, one leaf after another releasing from the limbs. The hope of redemption is the only thing that roots me. While November reminds me of pain, it also offers me a picture of the Gospel. Although death and devastation of the heart entered the human story, God married the gut-wrenching and the glorious at the Cross. 

November, the dying season, teaches me that these shriveled and decaying leaves produce rich soil for new life to grow.

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In moments of seeking life out of loss, I read reflective thoughts on the season, and I’m drawn to this:

Fall is a season for accepting the impermanence of things.

My heart says yes. This is way my soul has learned to live. How else can I open my fist and accept hope – except for the truth that only eternity is permanent?

And how else can I find purpose in this life – except to open my fist and say yes to generosity because nothing I possess is mine for keeps?

On this day when the gold and crimson fall like rain, my heart whispers a prayer of Moses: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

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About Thanksgiving, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Let us give thanks and walk into Advent knowing that time is manufactured for eternity and the breath of humanity for the glory of God.”

November portrays the wisdom of open hands, of trusting that I am deeply rooted in grace and I will be okay when it’s time to release. When it comes to things most important, most significant, and most enduring, I’ve received all that I need, and no matter what happens, it is well. When the winds blow and the seasons change, my soul is held fast in permanence.

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And so, all that I have and all that I am on this side of heaven are gifts to me but not mine to hold. As I am a receiver, I am also a releaser. Whatever is impermanent – my possessions, my time – can be lifted from my hands on the winds of God’s will to higher purposes, if He chooses.

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Those with open hands, who let the leaves fall and who watch for spring, are the ones who learn to say “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

The process of releasing our thanks, with our very lives, is no easy fix, no recipe for blunting our pain, no emotional escapism. Sometimes my hands ball up into fists and I want to fight. Yet grace reminds me that Jesus renounced His will and opened His hands on the Cross out of love. And as the recipient of such love, I can always be grateful even when I cannot be happy.

“God is good” is not some trite quip for the good days but a radical defiant cry for the terrible days “God is good” is not a stale one-liner when all’s happy but a saving lifeline when all’s hard…. Thanksgiving in all things accepts the deep mystery of God through everything. ~ Ann Voskamp

And so, November, this time of impermanence – for me, this time of hard things, is my reminder that only God can intermingle hope with death, gain with loss, suffering with redemption, and eternity with humanity.

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“Did you know that fall exists because of the Fall?”

Yes, and God made autumn beautiful anyway.


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A Good Home

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Daddy built us a good home. In the 1970’s, he drew the plans for rooms which would house his family’s joys and sorrows and togetherness for almost 40 years. In recent months, I’ve emotionally detached myself from my childhood home, trading nostalgic wistfulness for the tiresome duties of cleaning, sorting, packing, repairing, and preparing to move on.

But today I will hold the keys to my past in one hand and a pen in the other, signing over these rooms to another family who will create a future in their midst. The memories rush in, and I am happy and heartbroken. I remember.

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Countless games of hide and seek among the dogwoods and pines. The vibrations in the walls when my brother played his bass guitar. Good dog Charlie who faithfully kept all my secrets. Prom and graduation pictures with my big hair, 80’s style. The smell of Mom’s chicken casserole. The year that Daddy decided that he wanted a cedar Christmas tree with old-school colored lights and silver tinsel and Mom adorned her own fir tree in elegant white and gold.

I remember how Daddy, a General Motors man, muttered under his breath when my date parked a Toyota in the driveway. And months later, how he looked damp-eyed and proud when we came home to show off my new ring.

At night, when I was little and afraid, I would gaze at the light from the living room as it filtered through the crack in my bedroom door. And somehow the light formed the shape of an upturned hand reaching across the shadows on my ceiling. The hand invited and comforted me, and I knew God was there. I felt chosen and loved.

And home, I learned from an early age, is that place that beckons me. I understand that not everyone is able to look back at their childhood with warm memories of home. Yet, I believe that all of us feel this beckoning – this innate longing to be chosen and loved – to find where we fit.

In a world of shifting shadows, home is where there is purity, wholeness, safety, togetherness, and joy. It is a glimpse of Jesus and of our being made into His image and of His promise to love, restore, and heal.

Home is something we belong to and something that belongs to us in Christ.

We realize that we are a long way from Eden, our original home, where we were meant to walk in unbroken fellowship with God. And ever since sin separated us, we are homesick for heaven where suffering, temptation, doubt, and injustice are absent. Although we try, through worldly pleasures, accomplishments, or concoctions to numb the pain, we simply can’t come home to life as it was meant to be, forever.

But Jesus, the only One who could, has made a way. His light cuts through the dark and extends a hand of invitation. He calls us by name and says that we belong to Him. He doesn’t invite us to a perfect place in the here and now; if we identify with Him, we will be as strangers on this earth, still touched by sorrow, loss, perhaps injustice and persecution. But hope endures and will carry us on to our heavenly home, the imperishable place we have held in our hearts all along. Jesus is already drawing plans for rooms to house the eternal joys and togetherness of everyone who has trusted in His name.

He is building a very good home.

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Jesus’ promise in John 14: Do not let your heart be troubled. You have put your trust in God, put your trust in Me also.  There are many rooms in My Father’s house. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going away to make a place for you.   After I go and make a place for you, I will come back and take you with Me. Then you may be where I am.  You know where I am going and you know how to get there.

Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way to get there?”   Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one can go to the Father except by Me.

2 Corinthians 5:1 ~ For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.

Hebrews 11: 8 – 10 ~ By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God. (The Message)


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What Does an Empty Tomb Mean for Sealed-Shut Dreams?

Easter Sunday is a cheerful day on social media feeds, with affirmations of hope, victory, and resurrection life (and spiffy family photos).

Of everything that made me smile or rejoice on Easter Sunday, this tweet was my favorite:

When a few men tried to confine the Creator of the universe, here’s what happened:

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard (Matthew 27: 62-66).

Obviously we grasp what the Pharisees and Pilate didn’t. The ridiculousness, the futility of confining the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last!

But as I scoff at them, I recognize myself …

I think about dreams which I once cherished and vulnerably placed before people in authority, those who had power to bless or deny.  Each “no” felt as if a door slammed shut, with a stone set into place and stamped:

Impossible.

You’re done.

Forget it. Move on.

And each time I believed it, feeling a bare inkling of what the disciples must have felt on that in-between Saturday.

What now?

Has this been for nothing?

It is finished.

But in view of Sunday morning, we understand that Good Friday – when Jesus uttered “It is finished” – wasn’t the end. Yes, it was the culmination of His unjust, brutal suffering. Yet Jesus’ statement meant so much more. With mere hours remaining before His arrest, Jesus prayed to the Father with the conviction of “having finished the work You have given me to do” (John 17:4). Only God in the flesh could cancel mankind’s debt of sin. The Greek word translated “it is finished” is tetelestai, meaning “paid in full.”

Despite Pilate’s protective measures, a stone and a seal could not hold Jesus in the tomb. As Jesus’ death means access, a new and living way of salvation, His triumph over death means authority. By being raised from the dead Christ proved to be the mighty Son of God (Romans 1:4).

The enemy must have rejoiced at Friday’s “It is finished.” But on Sunday the tables were turned, and Satan’s delight was as short-lived as his demise is eternal. Jesus’ resurrection secured everlasting hope for those who trust in Him.

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The resurrection is our Easter rejoicing. Even as early as Monday morning, however, I must ask myself if the resurrection anchors my everyday reality. How will I respond to rejections, broken dreams, brokenness in myself? If I confine hope to what seems reasonable, humanly possible, and hedged against disappointment, I have nothing more than wishful thinking.

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But Easter as an everyday reality breaks wide open the confines of situational hope.

“We are the Resurrection People who know that hope can rise from dead places … Us bound in that sin that’s always been, us with that heartbreak that just won’t take a break, us who feel locked up in these patterns and someone’s thrown away the key — we’re the people who’ve seen that the stone’s been rolled away … We’re the Resurrection People who walk in strong hope because we’ve seen the strong stones moved and Hope come right out to meet us and move us.” Ann Voskamp

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Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday shows us that Jesus has demonstrated His love and proven His power. Everything that comes to pass – or not – in life is consistent with these truths, and that’s why I’m learning to trust Him on Easter Monday and beyond.

Rest is found, not in understanding your life, but in trusting the One who reigns over all the things you didn’t plan and don’t understand.” ~ Paul David Tripp

If our dreams have seemingly died, God is able to revive them. And if that’s not His intention, He can redeem our disappointments and set our hearts toward a path where opportunities – more than we could ask or imagine – await.

Of course now I give thanks that I didn’t marry my high school boyfriend … But I look back more recently to broken dreams that I don’t yet understand. Not yet having the kind of perspective that hindsight offers teaches me acceptance – not necessarily in the situation itself but in my Father’s sovereignty and strengthens my trust – not necessarily in the circumstance itself but in my Father’s character.

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And even as my soul tremors from time to time with disappointments, I’m anchored in His love which ultimately secures and satisfies me.

Sealed-shut dreams and seeming dead-ends can be trusted to the One who defeated death.

The empty places of the heart can be filled with the hope of the empty tomb.

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Lord Jesus, seal in desires in me that reflect Your purest, most perfect plan for my life. Help me to trust that You have given me Yourself – how much more will You freely give what is good? Thank you for Your wisdom, with love, to ordain what is truly good for me. Break loose those areas where I have been discouraged and defeated. Where I have boxed you in, I pray for a resurrection of faith in my heart. I thank You that You have sealed my soul forever in Christ, and there is nothing that matters more.

Amen …

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Beautiful words from Ann Voskamp on “The Truth You’ve Got to Know About After Easter:”

What’s been wearing death clothes in a life can get up and walk, what we’ve felt as wounds, by His wounds, are being healed, what’s being burnt to ashes will birth beauty. He is Risen indeed – because I want Him to be risen in me.”

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Psalm 138:8 – The Lord fulfills His purpose for me.

Philippians 1:6 – I am confident of this – He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.

Psalm 57:2 – I cry out to God, to God Most High who fulfills His purpose for me.

Job 42:2 – No purpose of God’s can be thwarted.

Romans 8: 28 – 32 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?


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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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


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Hope for Mighty Warriors {and you’re one of them}

I wanted to write a letter to cancer. Because I intended to tell this thief of vitality and health and loved ones that one Day it’s time will be up.  But it was 2:30am, and though I was forming vengeful words in my mind, I asked myself: “Why personify cancer that way? It has no ears or perception to receive your insults … Go to sleep.”  I had been thinking of Kara. Her dying by degrees weighs heavy on my mind and heart since I first learned of and wrote about her.

The next morning – Sunday – I learned that a friend’s husband – a young man, a cancer fighter – had entered his new, glorious Home on New Year’s Day. And, with many, I thought often of Stuart Scott who passed away on Sunday after his lengthy battle and reflected on his words:

You beat cancer

And so, on Sunday I decided to write, not to cancer, but to Kara. Of course I said ‘thank you.’ Because this young mother, in keeping with Scott’s words, is showing us how to be victorious.

Kara’s words challenge me:

Cancer is growing in my hip and weakening my leg. So I’m learning new weakness, finding other strength to compensate for the lack of strength … Mostly we are savoring our moments … I am praying to spend my strength well, my time in love, and my moments cherishing those around me. Who are you cherishing today? How are you spending the love that was given to you to give today?”

As I expressed my gratitude to Kara, my thoughts turned to some of my favorite words in Scripture – God to Gideon: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior. Go in the strength you have” (read Gideon’s story in Judges 6-8).

As Priscilla Shirer notes in her Gideon Bible study, the Lord was not bound by Gideon’s limitations. Gideon behaved like a scared farmer in hiding, but God’s presence was the reality behind Gideon’s potential and purpose. Gideon’s story shows us that divine strength is displayed in weakness. No matter what makes you and me feel like hiding, it’s true for us too.

I think this is what Kara would want you and me to know. Countless people are being inspired by the God-strength that shines through her honest hurts and struggles.  Redemption is something that becomes real in our lives when God, the One-With-Us, exchanges our spiritual poverty for His saving provision; when He takes everything that beats us up within and makes it beautiful; when He calls us out from a shameful hiding place and gives us hope.

Yesterday, before I went to visit a loved one as she sat among chemo patients in the oncology center, I read this truth in my devotion:

God is not limited to working with our strengths.” (Henry & Richard Blackaby)

And I kept this thought in mind as I looked around. I saw yellowed complexions, burnt-red splotches from radiation, and tiredness, lots of tiredness in the faces around me.  But in the midst of the physical realities, I observed God’s presence. It came in the loving touches of caregivers and in the gentle faces of nurses, but perhaps because of my Dad and Kara and Stuart Scott and my friend’s husband, I saw God’s presence best in those without strength to call their own.

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Cancer does something to our benefit – it teaches that achieving is not enough. Believe me – I saw a fighting spirit in Daddy ‘til the end, and I understand the patient often undertakes extreme interventions to gain ground against growing malignancies.

God is not limited to working with the best that medicine has to offer. He can speak one word and heal, but whether He chooses to do so this side of Heaven is not known or decided by us. And sometimes, because He’s not constrained by our understanding, permission, or capabilities, God gives us more than we can bear.

But the Father can bear and redeem it all – every broken body and each wrecked heart.  Here we learn that those in grace are not achievers anyway.  At our core, we are the receivers.  This is why God made us with eternity in our hearts. And try as we might, eternity, and ultimate healing, doesn’t come to us through achieving.

Our bodies have this terminal wiring, and all the technology in the world cannot elude eventual death.  But our souls have eternal wiring, and if we live with our need for a Redeemer ever before us, we learn that receiving from Him is all we could ever want.

Hear the receiving in a dying woman’s words: “Mostly we are savoring our moments … ”

Kara is teaching me that strength is not achieving but receiving. It’s not the world’s way of grasping for more, getting ahead, or being known. It is living open-handed to receive what Jesus gives and to release it back to Him with thanksgiving.  And thanksgiving yields more receiving – not necessarily things in our hands but peace in our hearts.

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During his encounter with the angel, a trembling Gideon presented his offering – the meat and the broth – and the angel asked him to release it – to literally pour it out.  In such symbolism, the angel pointed forward to Jesus who would pour out His life-blood. Then Gideon built an altar which he called “The Lord is Peace” and received strength in place of his weakness. This is a picture of life in Christ – Receiving, Releasing, Receiving, Releasing.

“When we live in thanks we receive the love given knowing we are undeserving vessels, but thanks shouts- I SEE THE GRACE BEING POURED OUT!  Thank You!” ~ Kara Tippetts

“Terminal” is not only defined as “fatal;” it can also mean “a place of transportation, as in an airport.” A woman with an incurable illness who opens her soul to receive God’s peace and who releases thanks in the midst of the hard shows us that His grace will indeed carry us.

And so, I write – not to cancer which is only a tool in the hand of a defeated foe. Instead I write to say “thank You” to God for making me terminal – for giving me the grace to loosen my grip on anything but eternity and for giving me Jesus to carry me there. I write these words to my heart and yours:

The Lord is with you, mighty warrior. Go receive your limitless grace-portion, savor your God-gifts, release your self in worship, and spend your strength in love.

 ___________

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Linking today with encouragers at Kelly Balarie’s #RaRaLinkup, Jennifer Dukes Lee’s #TellHisStory, and Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart.

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When You Want to Know the End of the Story

And seven years later, we’re still buzzing about the infamous end of The Sopranos. The black screen sparked outrage from fans. What happened?!?  There was no definitive answer to Tony Soprano’s fate.

Until a few days ago when David Chase, the creator of the series, insinuated that Tony did not get “whacked” to the backdrop of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

But then Chase’s representative issued this statement: “As David Chase has said numerous times on the record, ‘Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.’ To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.”

Huh????

We want to know the end of the story.

I think about loved ones – dearest family and friends – and the suffering that you are experiencing right now. Your hearts are heavy and your spirits are weary of illness, chronic pain, broken relationships, confusion, financial uncertainty, and grief. Life has been interrupted. With you, I cry out to God.

Staring at a black screen, we wonder – what happened? Is this the end…

of a dream?
of security?
of being able to do things we used to enjoy?
of family as we’ve known it?
of hope?

While we, in the midst of the plot, struggle with these questions, the Story-Teller is orchestrating the outcome:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” (Jeremiah 18: 1 – 4)

“Marred” is an unusual word, I think, that we don’t use very often.

To be “marred” means to be spoiled or disfigured or marked by failure. Yes, I’ve felt that way. Life – and my very soul – were so messy that I thought I was at the end of hope.

Have you ever been there?

If so, read on, friend –

“Marred” is found in one other place in Scripture –

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness …” (Isaiah 52:13 – 14).

This is our Messiah.

About this Scripture, Matthew Henry said: “His visage was marred more than any man’s when he was buffeted, smitten on the cheek, and crowned with thorns, and hid not his face from shame and spitting.”

His essence is unspoiled and holy, but because we are marred the Messiah became marred.

And now as then, He is for you, with you, fighting for you.

Because the empty tomb marked a game-changing chapter, we believe in the power and the purpose of a God of new beginnings.

On the potter’s wheel, the marred lump of clay isn’t discarded. The soggy mess doesn’t get tossed aside.

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But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You are the potter, and we all are the work of Your hand” – Isaiah 64:8

The wise and gracious Potter reworks and shapes the clay as seems best to Him. God turns the mess into a message.

Is this is the end?” is indeed a spiritual question. And a gracious, victorious, God of Hope has provided the right answer:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 21: 3 – 6).

This illness, this brokenness, this uncertainty and fear, this grief and heartache. These sufferings are not the end. We know the End.

The One who says that He is the End is also the Beginning.

I am making everything new!”

*****

Linking today with Lyli and a community of encouragers @ 3-D Lessons for Life and Thought-Provoking Thursdays. Find more hope-filled conversations here:

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Thank you to my new friend, Ronja, who introduced me to Jason Gray’s song, Love Will Have the Final Word:

Sorrow may close the chapter
But the story will end with laughter
Cause the worst thing is never the last thing
No, the last thing will be the best thing

Of all the things I’ve ever heard
Let me remember when it hurts
That love will have the final word
As long as God is on His throne
I am carried by the hope
That love will have the final word.

Resources –
Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Isaiah 52: 13-15
Lysa TerKeurst – “When you give your mess to the Messiah, He can turn into a message.” from What Happens When Women Say Yes to God.

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