Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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A Letter to my 6th Grade Daughter

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Dear C,

I recognized something in your eyes yesterday as you watched the other girls decorate their lockers. Over the summer we had fun finding girly stuff for your locker – a mirror, dry-erase board, pencil cups, and picture frame magnets. And of course, a miniature chandelier.

But we didn’t purchase wallpaper or carpet. And I studied you as you watched the girls and moms cutting and fitting their wallpaper.  We didn’t have anything to measure. You stuck the mirror on this side, the dry-erase board on that side, the cups underneath. Done.

“They have wallpaper,” you said. It wasn’t a whine – just an observation.  And part of me wanted to drive you straight to Target for wallpaper. But, as you know, I didn’t offer.

Another, perhaps wiser, part of me wants you to understand as you begin middle school that other kids will have other things.

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Pretty, expensive, and desirable things.  Relatively speaking, you have an abundance of those things yourself.  But I understand that middle school students look around to see who has what.

Adults do it too. I do. That’s why I saw myself in your eyes.
And because I’ve compared myself to other people and their other things since middle school, my soul has learned this to be true: “Comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt).

Comparison steals our joy. If President Theodore Roosevelt, one of most powerful and legendary men of his time, made such an observation, this must mean that people in all positions and stages of life struggle with comparison. It’s an equal-opportunity thief.

Even if you have everything in the world, comparison will convince you that what you have isn’t enough. It’s literally the oldest lie on earth.

As you begin middle school, sure – I want you to have nice things. But most of all, I want you to have a perspective that’s grounded in the truth.

Truth strips away all the layers of what we have or don’t have and it tells us who we are.

My girl, you are your own beautiful; you are valued beyond price. Of course Daddy and I think so, but you know what’s even better?

God says so.

He says that you are wonderfully made.

He says that you are HIS workmanship.

He says that He chooses you.

He says that He has plans specifically for you.

As God handpicked your gifts, interests, and personality, He set your life into motion in this place for this time. God will bring family, friends, classmates, and neighbors into your path for you to influence as no one else can.

There will be things that you do well and things that you can’t do so well. Some skills will come naturally to you but others will require extra practice or effort. These years of middle school are all about discovering these things.

As you and your classmates are making these discoveries, you’ll look at them, and they’ll look at you. People say it’s part of finding your place in this world.

But you know what? As we follow Jesus Christ, we come to realize that our place is not really in THIS world.

God has created us for eternity, sweetheart. He has made us to enjoy and worship Him. Jesus told His disciples that they could gain the whole world (meaning fame, power, riches) but all these things count as nothing apart from a relationship with Him.

My prayer for you, honey, is that you’ll understand that your satisfaction in things and your status among people are temporary but your soul is eternal.

The world gives and takes away but your worth in Christ remains forever.

Because Jesus is in your heart, you can have true joy, even if (when) you find yourself in a less-than popular, pretty, or powerful place in life.

It’s important for you to know that joy and happiness are not the same. True joy doesn’t depend on what you possess or what you can do or whether you’re chosen by a friend, coach, club, or boy. There will be times when you won’t be happy.

But you can have joy knowing that, no matter what, Jesus loves you and chooses you and keeps you. There is no thing, no person, no pain, no mistake, no rejection, and no failure that can steal Jesus’ joy from you.

But comparison – that age-old thief – can rob you of a joyful perspective.

When we measure ourselves against other people and their other things, we shift our focus from what matters most. But choosing an eternal perspective redirects our hearts to gratitude for our God-given treasures that will never fade or perish.

Wallpaper doesn’t matter. Your measureless worth in Christ matters.

We are really rich, you know? In Jesus. Joy. Love. Family. Laughter.

By the way, my heart did a little cheer when you noticed the locker carpet and you said, “Why do I need a rug in my locker? My books don’t need sleep!”

That, sweetheart, is perspective!

I’m proud of you. I love you. ~ Mom

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More letters to my daughter:

You Belong – A Letter to my Daughter

You Are Important – a Letter to my Daughter

It’s Okay to Choose Starburst in a Hershey’s Word – a Letter to my Daughter

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Leave Something on Someone’s Heart

While going through Daddy’s things, we’ve discovered some gems of family & social history. Daddy was adventurous and nostalgic, and his possessions speak of his glory days in drag racing, travels around the world, and his heritage. We’ve stumbled upon some photographs of our ancestors, and this family looks like a real lively bunch. In comparison with today’s photography norms, one might guess that this crew is highly bored, maybe even irritated.

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You’ve probably seen older photographs like this, and have you ever wondered why everyone’s so formal and somber? Were those days that dull and bothersome? Perhaps in some cases, but a little research into these expressionless faces offered a few explanations:

Early film required long exposure times to capture an image (perhaps several minutes). It was difficult to hold a smile for this length of time, so people avoided smiling all together.

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Having a photograph taken was unusual and special, so people who might be remembered by only one picture took the occasion very seriously. When cameras became more portable, amateur photographers increased in number and captured more casual, animated images.

A broad smile captured in a photo was often thought to be unwise and reckless. A closed smile was acceptable, but showing teeth? Definitely not. Consider the opinion of funny guy Mark Twain who wrote, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more (unfavorable) to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.”

(What would he think now?? Yikes. Perhaps such photographic prudence should be a lesson we take to heart.)

Apparently image was important then too, but in terms of visible representation, it was much simpler to handle. Image management, once an industry primarily for famous people, is now relevant to anyone with a social media account.

Lately I think a lot about teaching my 12 year old daughter the differences between image, identity, and influence. She’s discovering who she is while learning to navigate an increasingly ‘image is everything’ world, and that’s complicated.

Image management can be enhanced or comprised by media but it isn’t limited to media. As a confessed people-pleaser, I’ve been overly concerned with what others think of me, long before the days of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, or Snapchat. My hope for my daughter is that she will find security and affirmation in the eyes of Jesus rather the eyes of people.

I googled “image management,” and learned that, yes, it is truly serious business. Take into account this definition:

“Image Management is the ongoing, pro-active process of evaluating and controlling the impact of your appearance on you, on others, and the achievement of your goals. It is a science and an art that provides a framework, addressing all the elements – clothing, grooming practices, body language and etiquette and vocal communication – that help create the right image for each role that a person undertakes at different occasions. Given that each person is unique, image management takes into account the person’s personal style, enhances strengths and downplays weaknesses while making optimal use of resources.”

Does anyone else think this sounds exhausting??

Yet we do this every day. It’s how we learn to navigate multiple roles and cultural norms. It’s okay to be concerned with how we present ourselves at job interviews. It’s okay to present ourselves differently at football games (while keeping some common sense, of course!)

Perhaps it’s because I recently lost my father that I think more these days about influence and less about image. In our digital world, image has a fleeting quality, because unlike our ancestors who may have had one literal shot to capture their likeness, we can present ourselves in hundreds of ways. When you lose someone you love, the pictures are precious, but it’s their character and lasting influence that stays with you.

Image management gets thorny, I think, where it is used to promote oneself above respect and relationships. We live in a world of entitlement and self-promotion. Discerning the motives behind our manner of presentation is more important than ever. It’s okay to encourage my daughter to dress nicely and speak politely at a future job interview in order to demonstrate that she respects the organization, the opportunity, and the person who is considering her. I want her to intentionally look people in the eyes because face-to-face connection is becoming a lost skill. And politeness still communicates respect for others.

It says more about a person when her first concern, above promoting her own image, is to honor the image of God in other people.

Everyone presents an image. Everyone makes impressions. I want my daughter to be an influencer. I pray that she will value respect and honor relationships; and that instead of promoting herself, she will demonstrate a preference for others (Philippians 2: 3 – 4).

When I asked Caroline what it means to be an influence, she replied, “Well, a person can be a good influence or a bad influence.” True. So assuming that I mean good influence, what does that look like?

“I think it means to leave something on someone’s heart.”

I couldn’t say it any better.

So, how do we do this? Here are some things that I want my daughter (and myself) to think about …

* God created us with needs for affirmation and acceptance. So often we look to the world to meet these needs, but the world is fickle, especially with failures. It’s inevitable – we’re going to mess up, fall, and fail. Only God can love us perfectly and unconditionally. It’s an amazing mystery that we are so human and yet we bear the image of God. We must learn to define and ground ourselves in this truth. Finding our worth in the eyes of Jesus and securing our identity in His image frees us from the futility of promoting and managing our image in the world’s eyes.

* Along with respect and relationships, integrity is a key that opens the opportunity for influence. When our church was getting to know our new pastor, someone said of him: “He is the same person on stage as he is in ordinary moments.” I consider that to be a very high compliment.

Think about this: “Integrity not only calls us to live inside-out, it keeps the outside from coming in. Consistency in our walk and in our talk becomes a transportable cloak of protection around us, going anywhere we go. Life becomes so much simpler when there aren’t so many costume changes” (Beth Moore, Daniel Bible study).

* Understand that everyone is wired differently. For me, finally understanding and owning the qualities of an introvert helped me to accept that I will never be the life of the party. And it’s okay. We don’t need to try so hard. God has given you and me unique ways to be an influence. Be true to the personality that God has given you.

* Don’t find it so important to capture memories with a device. Sure, it provides a visual reminder of the moment, but can you capture it with your other senses (while zooming and focusing?) If there’s always a phone in the middle of memory-making moments, consider the impact upon your relationships.

In an increasingly visual world, appreciate all of your senses when it comes to making and persevering memories. While I enjoy looking at pictures of Daddy, it’s the recordings of his voice and the clothing with his smell that bring his memory to life. While your loved ones are still with you, notice and appreciate those qualities.

So, be present. Technology is meant to make life easier, but if we allow it, it can make life more shallow. Our communication devices often interrupt the natural flow of conversation. “The cognitive challenge children and youth will face (as we are beginning to face now) is integrity, the state of being whole and undivided. There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives.” *

* Find out who your true friends are. When I was my daughter’s age, I found friends who are still among the closest people in my life. I was painfully shy and awkward, and in those crucial middle-school days my image couldn’t possibly enhance theirs. They didn’t care about that. They took time to get to know me. Their investment in and their influence upon my life are priceless. True connectedness is an intentional choice to remove our masks, look up from our screens, and engage people authentically.

* Forget comparison. Remember this quote: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” (Pastor Steven Furtick).

* Release your expectations of people who, for whatever reason – perhaps it’s simply something about the way that they are wired – don’t pat you on the back. Find your satisfaction in a job done well and faithfully, working as for God, not the praises of people (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes while we are busy trying to look important in front of important people, we bypass opportunities to serve the least of these – the very work that is most important in the eyes of God.

* Embrace your weaknesses. The professional definition of image management would disagree, of course, because our world would rather “downplay” weaknesses. Unflattering pictures should be deleted. Life is not a snapshot, however; it’s a full album of the good, the bad, and the ugly. My moments of greatest failure have taught me that life is meant to be received rather than achieved. It’s all about a gift of grace. I don’t have to be a “good girl” in the world’s eyes. I can’t be, not all the time.

Trying to achieve that image is inauthentic. But Jesus has taken this heart and made it good.

Sweet daughter, what He has done is your heart is the most important, influential thing about you. If you share anything with this world, share that and leave it on someone else’s heart.

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“Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will.” ~ John D. McDonald

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Resources:

Michael Zhang – http://petapixel.com/2013/09/23/didnt-people-smile-old-photos/

Robinson Meyer – http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/why-didnt-people-smile-in-old-portraits/279880/

Nicholas Jeeves – http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/09/18/the-serious-and-the-smirk-the-smile-in-portraiture/#sthash.87vIitKw.dpuf

Ohio Historical Society – http://ohiohistory.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/why-dont-people-smile-in-old-photographs/

Image Consulting Institute – http://www.imageconsultinginstitute.com/image-management/

* Quote by Barry Chudakov from the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/02/doomed-or-lucky-predicting-the-future-of-the-internet-generation/


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It’s Okay to Choose Starburst in a Hershey’s World

Dear C,

So you don’t like chocolate. Big deal, right? You’ve been a pretty good sport when faced with a lot of light-hearted teasing about this; and true, some of it has come from your own mother.

– I mean, how is it that we share DNA?

But seriously, honey, I really am sorry. For a long time, I thought that you didn’t like chocolate the same way that people refuse Brussels sprouts (having never actually tasted Brussels sprouts). And I thought when you eventually realized the error of your ways that, along with chocolate, a whole new world of green beans, spinach, and cauliflower would open up to you.

Yeah. Right.

But as you’re growing up, I’m starting to realize that your dislike of chocolate has become something that makes you, you. Perhaps, you’re learning, in a small way, that your choices become a part of who you are, and it’s okay to own your differences.

Sometimes your choices are based on your preferences (like Starburst instead of Hershey’s kisses), and that’s fine, but as you grow up, you’ll find that the most important choices are based upon your convictions and your standards.

In a world that follows the masses, these choices might be the ones that single you out.

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It’s one thing to know what you like in a dessert and another thing to know what you like in a friend.

Choose well, honey.

There are few decisions in life that will influence you as much as your choice of friends. The preteen years, especially for girls, are known for all sorts of relational drama, and you can choose to play the parts or not.

As you’re growing up, you’re making more of your own choices, and that’s the way it should be. But for now, your Dad and I are going to keep a close watch on your choice of friends. It’s our God-given authority and responsibility as your parents to steer you in the direction of positive peer pressure.

So you’re probably wondering what’s positive about peer pressure. Am I right? It’s okay, if I am 🙂

Peer pressure is basically the desire to fit in with others, which is not necessarily a bad thing. God designed us to be in relationships and community with people. Kids, teens, and adults learn interpersonal skills in order to navigate the world of relationships. We learn how and why to be polite and conform to basic societal norms; for example, people wear regular clothes (not pajamas) and cover up their underwear when they go to the store.

Because we are living in an anything-goes culture, however, such societal norms are breaking down as people communicate a lack of respect for community in general. (Oh, pardon me – I’ve stumbled upon a soapbox, haven’t I?)

Anyway, Daddy and I want you to be a friend and to have friends who positively influence one another. Healthy peer pressure motivates a person to engage other people in respectful and meaningful ways. It can bring out the best in yourself and your friends. Positive friendships are established through authenticity, acceptance, and intention.

What does this mean? It means that you be yourself and spend enough face-to-face time with your friends to know and value them for who they truly are. Face-to-face time means looking at each other instead of just being together and looking at your tech gadgets. In positive friendships, you commit to also looking out for one another. You actively look for ways to support and cheer for each other. There’s no competition or jealousy or pressure to conform to any behavior or standard that goes against the truths and values that each of you stand for.

Your relationships are going to change during these years as you seek out the girls with whom you want to identify. During this time, you need to remember your identity. You are a child of God, set apart, completely loved, and chosen by Him for a beautiful purpose.

Daddy and I pray that you will identify with other girls who are grounded in the same identity and that together you will love Jesus and determine to honor Him in every way. Does this sound too spiritual for a group of preteen girls? Not at all! I trust that my Starburst-loving girl has the character and courage to be different and live out the pure and purposeful calling that God has placed on your life.

The enemy wants to distract you from this high calling; he wants you to conform to anything apart from Christ, and one of his favorite strategies is to preoccupy girls with their outward appearance. It’s becoming increasingly true in our culture that image is everything and integrity is nothing.

But remember that God’s purpose in conformity is that you will become (and you will influence others to become) who you are truly created to be – an image bearer of God. His is the only image that truly matters. It is purity and goodness, grace and truth, joy and gentleness, justice and mercy, strength and patience. When girls help one another bind these traits upon the heart, their bonds of friendship don’t break.

And yes, we do want you to have relationships with people aren’t Christ-followers. That’s how you learn to be salt and light in your world. Forming those relationships is the first step to making disciples. But your closest friends will be those girls who share your values, goals, and principles, who sharpen you, who speak truth into your life, and who walk closely alongside in life’s milestones, deepest joys, and darkest moments.

I don’t mean to say that your friends should be exactly like you. Remember that the Bible tells us that differences are good – especially because God has fashioned each one of us uniquely. Our Creator could have made us exactly the same. But a world filled with only Starburst would be too tart and totally boring!

You know that Priscilla Shirer is one of my favorite teachers, so let me share with you some of her wisdom:
“Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.”

My dream for you, sweet one, is that you will choose friends who are one with you in purpose. Friends who help you grow up to be like Jesus.

It’s cool if they like chocolate. It’s all right if their clothing style is different (as long as it’s modest). It’s okay if they have a different skin color or body type. Maybe you have friends who are on the honor roll and friends who can’t deal with geometry. Or friends who attend a different church. It’s cool to have friends who are into sports and friends who can’t stand P.E. class. It’s good to have friends who have way bigger or way smaller houses. That’s all okay.

What matters, remember, is that your choice of friends is based not on sameness but on godly standards.

If you choose friends based on sameness, it’s pretty likely that you’re going to get caught up in a clique. A clique is a distortion of community; it’s an exclusive place where girls (and guys, but mostly girls) jockey for position and power. This means that there will be gossip, jealousy, competition, and teasing.

But – whether in a family, church, or a group of friends – communities as God intends are places of mutual respect, acceptance, humility, honorable accountability, and love. This seems like a really big goal, but sweetheart, you and your friends can live up to it.

And in the inevitable times when you are hurting or lonely, remember that Jesus is truly your best friend. I really mean it – He will never fail you. Your Mom and Dad can’t love you as perfectly as He does, but we will do our best to fill our home with love, support, guidance, discipline (yes), and encouragement.

We are so proud of the lovely young woman that you are becoming. Keep choosing well, honey.

Love,
Mommy


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You Belong – A Letter to my Daughter

Dear C,

Have you ever noticed how people talk as if they’re a part of their favorite sports team? Like just last week, when Daddy talked about the World Series, he said things like “We’ve got to win tonight!” or “We can’t let them take this game from us.” Obviously Daddy is not a team member of the Boston Red Sox, Carolina Panthers, or the Demon Deacons.  But most people, like Daddy, want to affiliate – or connect – themselves with other people around a common goal.

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People like belonging. Even when a team is good at losing, their fans will unite in common disappointment or armchair quarterbacking. And – ugh, it’s not Christ-like – but fans will also rally around the demise of the archrival. Your mom and dad are so guilty (and Duke is still puke).

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Whether we’re for or we’re against, we’re wired for togetherness. We enjoy being a part of something bigger than ourselves.

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Honey, your desire to belong influences everything about you – like what you think, the friends you choose, the words you speak, how you treat others, how you dress, and how you care for your body.

So, first of all, remember always that you belong to God. He uniquely created you for His purposes (Philippians 1:6, Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 139:14-16). You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He knows why you love reading and why writing comes more easily to you than math. God delights in the big heart He gave to you.

And God not only created you, He loves you unconditionally and adopted you into His forever family (Ephesians 1: 4). Because Jesus lives in your heart, there is never, ever anything that will separate you from your Heavenly Father’s love and commitment to you (Romans 8: 38 – 39).

Remember when you were trying SO hard to move up to the next level in swimming? Every time you finished a lap, you raised your head out of the water and immediately looked for the deck manager – the one who makes the decisions. I could see the frustration on your face when she wasn’t watching you.

Honey, God’s not like that. You are never out of His sight. In fact, He says that you are precious in His eyes (Isaiah 43:4) and He keeps up with every little thing about you (Matthew 10: 29 – 31), even swimming!

You know, though, there are going to be times when, like me and Daddy and everyone else, you’ll fall short. God loves you as you are and not as you ought to be. You don’t need to be perfect. Because of Jesus, you are forgiven. (Romans 3:23-24). All He asks is that you receive His gift by faith. Because you’ve done that, you bear His seal of ownership and you are “Property of the King” (Ephesians 1:11-14).

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 And you belong in our family. There are special things about “us” – our silly habits, meaningful traditions, and Saturday morning games in our pajamas. These things build camaraderie in a family. You know how lots of cars have, in addition to the team stickers, those stick figure families in the windows? That’s another display of belonging.

Our family isn’t perfect; we make mistakes and learn humbling lessons about grace and forgiveness. As you grow older, Daddy and I are increasingly aware that you don’t belong to us in a possessive kind of way. But you belong to us in a secure kind of way, meaning that we hope to give you the grace, confidence, and freedom to become the young woman that God has created you to be.

Knowing the difference is not always going to come easily for us. God has entrusted you to us, and we entrust you daily to Him.

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And you belong in the church. I don’t mean you belong at a church building. More importantly you’re a member of the Body of Christ. It’s way better than Red Sox Nation. It’s an everlasting KINGDOM!

I don’t know if you are an eye or a foot or an arm in this Body. But Scripture promises that you have an important role for an eternal reason (1 Corinthians 12). May you grow into great joy by using the gifts that God has given you.

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” said a wise theologian named Frederick Buechner. My prayer, sweetheart, is that God will lead you into this place.

I believe that will happen when you know who you are and Whose you are. One day you’ll understand that deep gladness comes from a place of belonging – not to a club or a set of friends or a team. It’s more than camaraderie – it’s communion.

Your relationship with Him is not restricted by your appearance, popularity, performance, or grade-point average. The presence of Christ is a safe, secure place to rest in His forever love and acceptance. It’s where you belong.

I love you,
Mommy