Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

 

 


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Take Your Journey: Words of Blessing for Graduates

Dear Graduate,

In Deuteronomy 1:7, the Lord said to Moses, “Turn and take your journey …” It was time for the children of Israel to possess the land that God had promised their forefathers. Like them, you stand at the brink of newness where your days are marked with change and potential.

As I think of you, I remember words of blessing and wisdom that friends, counselors, and mentors have shared with me. I haven’t always heeded them as I would like, but I remember that the origin of the word “graduate” is from the Latin gradus, meaning “a step.” Each day you and I have fresh opportunities to step forward, learn, and take our journey. May these words help us to remember why we walk in Christ:

May you live with eternity in your heart, knowing Jesus and following Him wholeheartedly. When you ask Jesus to enter your heart, you begin an everlasting relationship with Him, and I pray that you will take this lifetime to enjoy and love Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Commit your ways to Him, and He will guide your steps. Every blessing in Christ is yours, and all your days on earth aren’t enough to fully grasp how rich you are. But take His Word, like a treasure map, and press on toward the prize of the upward call in Christ.

May you be a Grace-Receiver. You’ve spent most of your life as an achiever, and we celebrate your accomplishments. But when it comes to life in Christ, you cannot earn more of His love and grace. He has already lavished His affection upon you, giving His precious and holy Son so that you can draw near. No matter your status or title (or lack thereof), you are fully significant and treasured in God’s sight. There are no degrees of His love toward you. So when the world asks you to prove yourself, remember your place in God’s heart.

As a beloved child of God and a receiver, you are also a Releaser.  You have a sacred responsibility to help others realize their belovedness. As Romans 5 says, God pours His love into our hearts, not only to satisfy us but to spill from us. Live with awareness that the things you own can eventually own you, if you let them. In this fresh place in your life, determine now to devote your gifts, resources, and time to His Kingdom where your investments will never spoil, fade, or perish. I pray that you live with upturned palms, releasing your plans and your possessions and watching what God does with your loaves and fishes.

May you reflect the generous character of Him who gave His Son as you discover the joy of giving bountifully. God created you with something to offer, and may you – with your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness – release His goodness into your world.

May you see yourself and others as Image-Bearers. In the wise words of Sally Clarkson, “Deciding to like yourself is a choice to validate God’s design.” Yours is a high calling to add beauty, in your unique way, to this world. Turn down the volume on your inner critic and move courageously into that which makes you experience God’s smile. And may your eyes see the people in your path as fellow souls and may your voice speak for the inherent value of every person at all stages in life’s spectrum.

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Embrace weakness as a teacher. Remember that God isn’t waiting on you to be perfect; He is waiting on you to say Yes. May you realize that your inadequacies are invitations for God to work as only He can, showing His great strength and revealing His glory.

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Live fully in the blessings and responsibilities of community. For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. May your relationships be at a soul-level where you are mutual speakers and receivers of truth, courage, and grace. This requires you to communicate beyond letters and images on a device.

Be attentive to the generations before and behind you; in them lie precious opportunities for learning and legacy.

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May you rejoice with those who rejoice; and in times of weeping, may yours be the comfort of “common fortitude.” Let your knees bend beside others before a grace-filled table. Oftentimes this requires humility and forgiveness on your part.

Your place in the Body of Christ is a gift, but it is not without challenges. After all, community is where you learn to love others as Christ loves. As you seek to live authentically in community – with fellow, messy people – God will do His deepest transformative work in you.

Understand the difference between image and identity. Our culture simultaneously encourages “image-is-everything” and “be-true-to-yourself.”  But these mindsets can’t co-exist harmoniously. As we increasingly invest our efforts in image management, we are displacing our true identities. According to the dictionary, something is authentic if its origin is supported by undisputed evidence. That’s you, child of God; Scripture declares that your origin – your living and moving and being – is found in Him. We live, however, in a society where values and standards are relative, undisputed evidence is disregarded, and anything is fair game for dispute, especially our Creator and the Truth that He embodies. And so, our culture has no choice but to proliferate a watered-down version of authenticity as “being true” not to one’s origin but to one’s self.

Graduate, may you grasp this distinction and choose to be true to your origin, your Creator. He will ask you to follow His revolutionary ways where the last is first and the least is the greatest. May your reputation be less about your image and more about your influence for Christ. You are not defined by your selfie.

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Don’t be afraid of stillness. Align your life with God’s pace rather than taking on the cultural badge of busy-ness. Solitude opens your ear to God’s voice, and it is a gentleness not to be feared. Setting margins is hard work – and counter-cultural – but you will be blessed beyond measure by the time you prioritize for prayer, listening, and paying attention to what God is doing in and around you. May your outward life grow from His peaceful presence within.

It may be tempting for you to spread yourself in service, but may you understand that “saying yes to everyone is not the same as saying yes to God” (Lysa TerKeurst). As a recovering people-pleaser, I often wondered how Jesus could walk away when crowds of needful people sought Him. But I’m learning that God was His pacesetter, and Jesus exemplified the significance of time alone with the Father, taking rest, and determining to do nothing except His Father’s will. God offers us more than full schedules; He offers us life to the full, and I pray you will discern the difference.

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Doing less when we’re in God’s will is far more efficient than doing the most we can on our own (Holley Gerth).

Pay attention to your “shoulds” (as in “I should do this or I should do that”). Not all “shoulds” are bad; if you’re a college graduate, you obviously told yourself many times that you should get up and go to class and you should study for your exams. But some shoulds are legalistic and demanding and woven into our lives so subtly that we don’t notice that the threads are suffocating ourselves and our relationships (I should have it all together or You should make me happy).

As I make more of God’s acceptance, I am less inclined to boss myself and my people around. And I’m finding that this perspective doesn’t lead to passivity; in fact, it enlarges my freedom and capacity to act, love, and serve – out of grace, not guilt. And I learn that laughing at myself is not a bad thing; perhaps I should do it more often.

Don’t get too comfy. If you can accomplish your goals with your resources, your plans are too small. God can do anything big with anyone willing.

Take any opportunity to go beyond the boundaries of your neighborhood, zip code, state, and country. Ask Jesus to give you His eyes for the world. Pursue a life that is large in love and solidarity for your worldwide brothers and sisters. Each day, ask God to show you how He wants you to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. Oftentimes this request will lead you beyond your own capacity and comforts, but as God plots your course for His glory, get ready for more grace and fulfillment than you ever imagined.

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Live open-handed in the ordinary. May you understand the necessity and value of faithfulness in life’s mundane moments. Whether you are going to a job day in and day out, or meeting one more deadline, or maintaining the car, or working through piles of laundry, see these opportunities as your places to worship and serve God.

Don’t compartmentalize your life into secular and sacred. All Christ-followers are called to full-time service, wherever our mission fields lie. Remember that Jesus called ordinary men and women in the midst of their ordinary lives, and the Gospel spread throughout the world without televisions, telephones, or social media. You have this one life to tell God’s story, so be salt and light wherever you are.

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Choose gratitude. May the Holy Spirit open your hands and lift your arms in praise, even when – especially when – life is hard. “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it” (A. W. Tozer). Instead of complaining or fretting, settle yourself in the One who loves you to the extent of giving Himself in your stead; allow trust in His character and His goodness to permeate your soul.

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May you have days when the sunshine warms you and God delights you with love and laughter. Celebrate His gifts everyday. May our Lord open your soul-ears to hear the song He sings over you. May you always remember the wonder of being called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Gratefully breathe every breath for the glory of God.

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“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23 – 26).

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. 2 Thessalonians 2: 16 – 17

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My Wish for Us in the New Year

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 and doubts 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.

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 those in grace are not the achievers but the receivers. Grace doesn’t say “if only you had kept last year’s resolutions” or “what if you don’t deserve love?” Grace comes to us only in the “what is” – the unstoppable, unchanging, unrestricted love and favor of God.

And so, may our souls deeply feel their worth in Jesus, the One who loves and redeems us. In the year to come, it remains true – our acceptance in Christ doesn’t depend upon our achievements.  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.

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

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


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Waterfalls (When You Need Fresh Grace)

My daughter finally admitted it. After these weeks of unstructured time, she’s ready for school. She’s in the midst of the annual (in her words) “discombobulation”  – the eagerness to see who is in her classes and the moaning about homework; the excitement of new school supplies and the dread of actually using them.

As we linger over the waning summer days, the mountains are calling. There are trails to be climbed and waterfalls to be discovered.

The perpetual motion of waterfalls fascinates me. While a waterfall looks the same, it is continually refreshed by the rush of fresh water molecules. Each drop, every gallon of water is moving to new destinations. It’s a picture of constant change.

Change has the capacity to both sadden and inspire. The reality of saying hello and saying goodbye is ever before me. I have friends and family who are in the midst of transitions – some promising while others uncertain. Loved ones are preparing a nursery while others are shopping for a dorm room while others are saying farewell to a lifelong home.

As I was reading a collection of Amy Carmichael’s writings, I came across this:

The picture before us is of a river. Stand on its banks and contemplate the flow of waters. A minute passes, and another. Is it the same stream still? Yes. But is it the same water? No. The liquid mass that passed you a few seconds ago now fills another section of the channel; new water has displaced it. Water instead of water.

And so, hour by hour, and year by year, and century by century, the process holds: one stream, other waters – living, not stagnant, because always there is perpetual exchange. Grace takes place of grace; ever new, ever old, ever the same, ever fresh and young, for hour by hour, for year by year, through Christ.

Tomorrow’s grace will be as dependable as – and yet different from – today’s grace. God knows what I need for each moment, and His constancy carries me through change after change.

And when, overwhelmed by the fear that loss or loneliness will dry up the supply, I call upon Him, and the Holy Spirit pumps fresh power and strength into my soul.

Life cannot be static nor stationary. And while it is often cyclical, life has the potential to swiftly change in an instant. I need a steadfast God who doesn’t allow my faith to stagnate. The waters move, but the rocks stand firm.

Whether the current is calm or chaotic, the grace God gives is old yet it is new; it is faithful and yet it is fresh. It’s an ever-sufficient stream of Living Water.

And so, I’ll see you somewhere downstream, carried by His grace!


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Commencement

In April, we celebrate new things.

Like our new baby birds 🙂

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And new flowers –

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New babies –

Aww, Elisabeth Grace - my great-niece. Isn't she precious?

Aww, Elisabeth Grace – my great-niece. Isn’t she precious?

Since this is a season of new things, I’m introducing Eternity in Our Hearts as my new blog today. If you’ve come from my previous blog, dimly burning, I welcome you and hope that you’ll stay awhile and become part of this community which is so dear to me.

If you’ve subscribed to dimly burning, I would be thrilled and grateful for your support of the new blog. You have been dear, patient friends to me as I’ve journeyed through seasons of grief, parenthood (with a tween!), marriage, and faith.

These seasons have taught me that in the midst of heartbreak, life continues because – as a responsible adult – I have to show up everyday whether I want to or not. But in my heart of hearts, I know that this is not all there is. God has placed eternity in our hearts.

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time and has set eternity in our hearts, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 11).”

April is what we longed for during the long, cold days of January. But sometimes new seasons, with their closures and beginnings, are messy.

For instance:

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These little maple seed pods are covering our yard, sidewalk, driveway, flower beds, and our lazy dog (no, just kidding). As a kid, I used to love to throw these things up in the air and watch them twirl to the ground. But now, I have to sweep them or pluck them out of the beds before this happens:

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A tree where I don’t need a tree

Often, when we think of “new” we think of things shiny and efficient. But “new” in life is not like a new car. Many times, “new” blows in with a storm, a crisis. New creates a mess. A new divorcee or the new widow knows this. Anyone with a new diagnosis knows this.

Today I’m celebrating a blog with a new title and a new look. I kinda like it and I hope you do too.

And yet, friend, the sufferings and experiences that I’ve witnessed this week tell me that it may be spring outside, but it’s not necessarily spring in your soul.

My husband and I were recently eating outside at a deli on a beautiful day, and a couple walked past us. Because both of them were formally dressed in black, I instantly thought “funeral.” And I remembered how I wore a black dress not so long ago on a day when lots of other people were stringing Christmas lights.

We live in this tension between merriment and mourning. Those who have trusted in Christ live in the now and the now yet. More than ever, I believe that eternal life in Christ begins the moment we say “yes” to Jesus. Living as if we believe this can change everything about the “now.”

We’re entering the season of graduation. At some schools, this final ceremony is known as “commencement.” It’s the end. Yet the beginning. Life will continue as a series of conclusions and commencements. Some people will be ready for these adventures while others are riddled with anxiety. I’ve been both. I suppose it depends in part upon the season but more fully upon my measure of trust in the Timeless One.

I wrote the following words on a January day when the year was young and my heart felt old. I read these words now and I can’t come up with any different words to close one chapter (one blog) and begin another:

The cyclical nature of seasons, even in the bleak midwinter, serves a preparatory purpose. Growth awaits. New life. Hope.

Duke Cancer Center, where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow with Daddy, is newly refurbished. It’s pretty and shiny, and no one wants to be there … You go there and realize that while the seasons of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of physical life are sometimes not.

And so, when we think we know what to expect, we really don’t. In a mortal world, we see through lenses that are scratched and dulled by the jagged edges of sin, brokenness, and grief.

Even still, in seasons we couldn’t and didn’t predict, there are preparatory purposes. Even here, growth awaits. New life. And Hope. The truth, as told in Ecclesiastes, is that we were created for an eternal world. A different set of eyes are needed.

The season of Hope is not contained to Christmas or Easter morning. It’s not boxed in the attic or hauled to the curb.

Because ultimately each of us needs Someone who created the seasons and knows the scope of time from beginning to end. We need His eyes to see beyond the exterior and into the eternal. To see beyond the mess and into the meaning of it all.

The eternal cannot be boxed or packed or managed. One day everything that once looked messy will have meaning. We will see. For now – in whatever season we find ourselves – let us live with anticipation, fully and with purpose.

The seasons, those present or those that have passed away, hold for us purposes unfolding and promises coming.”

I hope you’ll join me for new seasons at Eternity in Our Hearts.

And if you are in a place where it’s not spring in your soul, I’d like to pray for you … If you want to leave a comment with a request, it’s truly my honor to lift your concerns to our Father.

Holy and eternal Father,

Thank You for being the God of all seasons. I praise You for being the same yesterday, today, and forever. You are before all things and in You all things hold together. I pray today with thanksgiving for the community I’ve come to know through Dimly Burning. I lift these dear ones up to you and ask that You would hold their hearts, especially those who are in a season when circumstances and hope seem dark. Lord, would You open their eyes to Your Word, Your faithful and good character, and Your promises? Give them grace to trust that You are the Guide who makes a stream in the desert and a path in the wilderness. Where they feel weak, rekindle a new dependence upon You that makes a dimly burning wick shine as a lantern for Your glory. When storms blow in, may Your hope be the anchor of their souls. Allow their hearts to rest in the love of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb. May they stand on the truth that any suffering on this side of heaven is nothing compared to everlasting joys that await believers in Christ. May we give all new opportunities and circumstances to You – whether we rejoice or grieve – in the faith that Your unfailing purpose is to make beautiful, eternal things.

Amen.


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If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 2

“Anytime we think we can find salvation in our hard work, we are in grave danger. If our hard work fails or (worse yet) if it succeeds, we are stuck with ourselves for a god. That means we have destined ourselves to journeying through life’s wilderness assuming that the solution to every problem is to try harder.” *

When I struggled with anorexia, my sense of control, accomplishment, failure, or success was measured by the number on the scale. That number said:

“Yes – you’ve been good!”
“Uh oh, you haven’t been good.”

When something other than God becomes a gauge for your goodness, it becomes a god.

Besides a set of scales, our culture is filled with other measuring sticks:
• the number of your social media friends & followers
• your grade point average
• your salary
• a sticker on your car that reads 13.1 or 26.2 (or 0.0, in my case)

And some measuring sticks aren’t attached to numbers, yet they remind you that you’ve come up short (again). The job went to someone else or you missed the cut or the invitation never arrived.

Yet if we will accept by faith that we are loved immeasurably by a limitless God, all other measures are limited in their power to define or dishearten us.

Consider these words from C.S. Lewis – “ … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

While we are preoccupied with making ourselves worthy of love, God has loved us all along. So it is.

Are you weary, friend, of trying so hard? The weight of your own worth will exhaust you of any enthusiasm and joy in life. Are you discouraged because you can’t fit your own definition of goodness?

The truth is that God loved you before you could move the scales of goodness or worthiness one single ounce. Knowing that we can’t do it on our own, He placed the burden of measuring up to His holiness upon His Son.

A gauge that becomes a god says “try harder,” but grace that comes from THE God says “Trust Me.”

The original meaning of the word “glory” is “to be heavy” or “to weigh upon.” God’s glory is weightier – or more momentous, more powerful, and more significant than any created thing. We see in Scripture that God’s glory knocks people right off of their feet.

The weight of God’s worth knocks away all the props that once held us up. And when we find ourselves on our faces, we come to realize that trying harder is like putting a band aid on major cracks in the foundation.

As one who has been face down in the debris of a broken life, I want my story to remind us that God’s love cannot be achieved.

When I was 25, I was newly married and held a position as a special education teacher for preschool children with profound disabilities. Having always struggled with perfectionistic tendencies, I wanted to do so well in my various roles at home, work, and church. When I discovered that I had gained about 10 pounds since the wedding, I decided that I needed to spend extra time at the gym too. Very subtly, the desire to control my weight became that gauge for my goodness. Although there were many things in life that I couldn’t control, I determined to control what I did or didn’t eat.

Over time, I knew that I had lost much more than 10 pounds, yet I equated success with my self-control and exercise. My family and friends expressed concern, but I was stuck in that place of “try harder,” that place where my weight was the only measure of my worth. To my hungry soul, anorexia was a twisted achievement.

Honestly, I don’t have many vivid memories of that time of my life, except for 2 distinct moments – one of severe mercy and the other of simple grace. A child’s curiosity prompted the severe-mercy-moment. When she asked me why I looked like a skeleton, her innocent inquiry shocked me into the truth that I refused to see in the mirror.

Isaiah 42:3 – a verse about a bruised reed and a dimly burning wick, on the other hand, takes me back to the moment of simple grace. It was a Sunday, and our pastor preached a sermon on the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 42:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth… Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Our pastor lit a candle, and from where I sat in the large sanctuary, it looked like a tiny flame. But he asked for the lights to be lowered, and in the midst of darkness, the little light shone persistently. Unmistakably.

As I watched the flame, my heart leapt with hope. Yes, my life was a picture of a candle dimly – barely – burning, but because God’s Son had come to live in my heart, I suddenly realized that the flame of His Spirit would never be snuffed out. The Holy Spirit whispered to me, “I will not leave you. I am still here, shining in your darkness.” It was a moment of pure and simple grace.

In that moment, I finally realized that grace is not meant to be achieved. It is meant to be received.

Truly I felt deserving to be extinguished. My fear and shame and failures were so painfully obvious. Many struggles can be hidden but not anorexia. And yet, the Lord spoke undeserved love and forgiveness into my life. And He promised a future and a hope.

In return for this priceless gift, God didn’t ask me to prove that I was worth it. He simply desired my worship. And I learned that in worshipping – in ascribing the highest honor and worth to Him and not myself and my efforts – I was freed to let go of my controlling and striving and let God be God.

The apostle Paul, who had once been laden with self-righteousness, was transformed – literally knocked off his feet (Acts 9:4) – by the weight of not his own glory but the glory of Christ:

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4: 5 – 7).

Paul describes us as jars of clay, and the treasure inside is the precious message of the Gospel. Our credentials, abilities, and winsome personalities are dim flames compared to Jesus’ glorious, dark-dispelling light.

Through the fragility of a clay jar, with its flaws and cracks, the glory of God shines. If we can’t trust that we are accepted, we can’t be authentic. But if we will forget that gauges that once measured us and if we will receive grace, we will be vessels for God’s glory – flawed, perhaps, and fragile, but genuine. I truly believe that God is glorified when we are genuine – when we authentically share our lives and our struggles and our weaknesses – and allow people to see that we can only press on because inside of us lies a hope and a strength that is not our own.

In the words of Saint Augustine: “When God is our strength, it is strength indeed. When our strength is our own, it is only weakness.”

So when the weight of my worth is based upon my performance, appearance, or emotions on any given day, it is weak and unable to withstand the pressure of failure, doubt, and criticism.

But when the weight of my worth is based upon who I am – a jar of clay that contains the light of Christ, it is strong and reinforced by His acceptance. It doesn’t crumble under the strain of self-reliance but relies on the Light within to radiate God’s glory. It doesn’t need to try harder. It trusts.

So today, remember with me that the weight of our worth is a load we are not meant to bear. That burden was pounded into the ground with the Cross. Join me there as we exchange this weight for worship.

*********************
(Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 4 to speak of suffering in comparison to God’s “eternal weight of glory.” In Part 3, I’ll share why this gives me hope).

“The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is My hand.” ~ Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young (entry for February 5).

Resources:
* When God Interrupts by M. Craig Barnes, pages 157 – 158
C.S Lewis, “Weight of Glory” sermon published in Theology, November 1941. http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf
T.M. Moore – “The Weight of Glory,” http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/viewpoint/20387-threads-in-the-tapestry-of-truth-2


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The Present is the Gift

It’s a very different Thanksgiving for my family this year as we celebrating in south Florida instead of our North Carolina home. We’re with my husband’s siblings and their families, and our days have been filled with swimming and playing on the beach with cousins. We’ve discovered live starfish and sanddollars and even happened upon an alligator this morning! This is the first Thanksgiving we’ve ever spent away from our parents, and we’ll go to a buffet instead of cooking.

Even though it doesn’t seem like a traditional Thanksgiving, I realize that we don’t need the aroma of roasting turkey or the sounds of the Macy’s parade on TV to remember thanksgiving in our hearts. We have many, many reasons to thank God for the abundance that He has provided.

And when I think about Thanksgiving this year, I am trying to stay anchored in the present – with all the gifts that this day offers. Two things often rob me of a grateful heart. They are “ifs” – as in “what if?” and “if only…” The “what ifs?” put my focus – and worries – on the unknowns of the future. As the daughter of aging parents – one with cancer – my thoughts trend this way quite often. What if there will not be any more Thanksgivings together?

And the “if onlys” put my focus on the unchangeable realities and regrets of the past. If only I had not wasted the promising years of my young marriage and early career, bound by an eating disorder….

When these big “ifs” steal my peace and joy, I have to make a choice to stay right here in today. The past can’t be changed and the future can’t be controlled. I have to fix my mind on the one “IF” that brings my heart and mind back into the right focus:

IF God is for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31.

God is for me, and neither the if onlys of the past or the what ifs of the future can take that away. That truth anchors my heart in gratitude for today. Gratitude that my regrets and shame are wiped away in Christ. Gratitude that He promises His sufficient grace for whatever lies in the future.

My heart is free and thankful today. I like the expression “Today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present.” May we sincerely lift up our thanks today to the Giver all of good gifts – to the One who has redeemed our past and secured our future in Christ.

I truly hope that your heart will be free and thankful in Him too.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8: 38 – 39