Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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My hope for us in the new year

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I think of my daughter and my mother and my family & friends and you, dear readers, and I ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the truth that we can’t achieve life in Christ. For life in Christ is only received. In the year to come, it remains true – our acceptance in Christ doesn’t depend upon our resolve to be better people.  The Father purchased our souls with the priceless, life-giving blood of His Son. Once we’ve received this gift, there is no failure, no disappointment, no would-have, could-have, or should-have on our parts that can invalidate it.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Simply curious and curiously simple

When summer began, I didn’t think about simplicity and curiosity like I do now, as summer nears its end. Sure, every time I rummaged deep through my closet, I thought about the need to clean out. But simplicity as an overall priority wasn’t in the summer plans.

And why would I think about curiosity? I guess it crossed my mind occasionally when my daughter was little and asked “Why?” probably a million times, as all curious children do. I suppose that many people think of curiosity as generally nosy and potentially irritating (not to mention dangerous for cats).

But when I consider what I’ve learned this summer, simplicity and curiosity are the recurring themes – which seems odd, given that I conceptualize the two as almost opposites. Simplicity, to me, seems a minimalistic quality, while curiosity is expansive. If simplicity is focused like a microscope, then curiosity is exploratory like a telescope.

Yet, I’ve discovered that these qualities, in tandem, are lenses through which I see more of God.

One of the more important lessons showed up on the summer curriculum when my husband, daughter, and I told our friends how much luggage we were planning to carry around Europe for 2 weeks. My heart sunk when they told us that, basically, we were nuts.

I’ve never traveled lightly. As I pack, my mind creates a plan for every “what if” I can think of.

If only I had been a Boy Scout, I could take the “Be Prepared” motto to a new level. Travel with me, and I’m willing to lug all the snacks, hair gel, Tide-To-Go, first-aid supplies, and ponchos that we could ever need.

Pack lighter, our friends said.

You won’t be able to walk quickly between train, bus, and subway stations.

You need to limit yourselves to a carry-on each.

Quite reluctantly we went home to unpack all the things we wanted and repack only the things we needed. This required a wrestling match between what could go and what must stay home.

During our trip, I discovered a lesson that traveling writer Tsh Oxenreider has known for a while: “There’s a beauty to curating our life’s needs to the basic essentials. There’s a step of faith involved when you decide to leave behind those socks in order to make room for that swimsuit” (In my case, room would be made for snacks). You can read the rest of Tsh’s post on traveling light {here}.

The Febreeze fabric refresher made the cut, thankfully, so I doused my outfits in Linen Fresh every time I wore them (repeatedly). We ate unfamiliar but delicious food, and the packed nibbles weren’t necessary after all. And we managed the buses, trains, and subways while looking as little like tourists as possible (well, that’s not completely accurate but, hey, we tried).

Lesson learned. I really can simplify and survive. I wanted to come home and streamline.

As I considered what to release, I decided that my newly acquired spirit of curiosity was worth keeping. For two weeks, in the midst of Austrian Alps, German rolling hills, and Albanian countryside, I marveled at the Creator’s glorious touch upon the amazing people, stories, and sights we encountered on our journey.

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Before Salzburg, I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in Mozart’s birthplace, his life, or his classical works. But I realized there that Mozart’s musical masterpieces bear witness to the One who composed heavenly melodies before violins and pianos existed.

My awareness of God’s glory was undoubtedly influenced by my surroundings. But could it be that wonder arises less from place and more from perspective?

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I’ve started to think of curiosity as a posture of open-handedness in which we release our grasp on the urgent things in order to freely receive the essential things. Traveling light increases our capacity for exploration, and simplicity creates space for curiosity to fill.  I long to live open-handed, in hopeful expectancy as I release and receive as God wills. Then He stretches my faith in His limitless possibility. Open-handed anticipation seems, to me, the essence of worship.

Even though, years ago, my little girl’s bevy of questions irritated me at times, they endeared me to her childlike spirit. I remember her delight in discovery, her ability to be awed. This is the sort of faith which children of God aren’t meant to outgrow.

We’re born with an innate curiosity that compels us to explore, marvel, and believe there is more to life … I don’t want us to just be curious about God; I want us to be curious for more of Him. I believe that the goodness and wonders of God can amaze us, but it’s our curiosity for more of Him that propels us forward to experience more of His presence in our lives (Logan Wolfram, Curious Faith).

So I have begun to see curiosity as the anticipation of God’s movement. This can happen as I wash dishes at my sink and watch the butterflies dance with the flowers and the hummingbirds hover and dart, jockeying for position at the feeder.

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As these miniature wonders capture my attention, the Holy Spirit reminds me that the Heavenly Father is mindful of the tiniest of creatures and He’s promised to be all the more trustworthy for His children. And He never grows weary or irritable with our pursuit of Him.

God’s patience toward our curiosity remains constant even when our childlike faith is obscured with hard questions. Even as I long to travel lightly, I can’t dismiss the heaviness in our world – in my own soul.

I started blogging after my father was diagnosed with cancer. Although I had followed Christ for most of my life, I was never awed in anticipation of Heaven, to be honest. Maybe it’s kinda boring, I thought … Maybe things of this world have more excitement to offer.

But Daddy died, and to have any comfort at all, I started reading and writing about eternity.  I was curious for eternity. And curiosity offered forward movement.

Grief was my companion but powerless to keep me stuck in despair.  As I learn to be awed by the Lord of eternity in the here and now, this moving forward with hope cannot fail.

When I take time to really seek and consider the greatness of our God as He shows Himself on earth, I am increasingly certain that His eternal presence is anything but boring.

In A Hunger for God, John Piper writes: “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

Curiosity, in my mind, is the drinking deeply, and simplicity is the making room for the great. Together, they satisfy a thirsty pilgrim who learns to travel lightly.

May we not stuff our souls, like we stuff suitcases, with so many small things that we become distracted and burdened and miss the great things. Margins built into each day allow us to pause and breathe and seek God in the marvelous and in the mundane. This requires some unpacking of what we want and repacking of what we need (which I suspect is what we want most of all.)

Maybe this means that we unload unnecessary material possessions or a people-pleasing mentality or a tendency toward comparison or a reluctance to forgive.

And we repack a curiosity that turns us toward one another. If we become more genuinely curious about our neighbors and their perspectives, strengths, wounds, and needs, perhaps that curiosity will birth compassion in our souls, rather than competition or criticism. It gives us a lenses through which we see God’s glorious image in His children. May we hunger to observe and to listen and to understand and to love and to experience the manifestation of God’s glory in this way.

God’s table is offered here for all of us, here and now. Let’s meet one another in this spacious place to be simply curious and curiously simple for Him, and our brothers and sisters, together.

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Here are my favorite resources for traveling light and staying curious:

The Art of Simple by Tsh Oxenreider and a community of people who define “simple living” this way: living holistically with your life’s purpose.

Curious Faith: Rediscovering Hope in the God of Possibility by Logan Wolfram ~

“Sometimes we may not be able to fix what’s broken. But we can’t lose the capacity to walk curiously after the Lord just because we can’t make sense of everything that happens in a broken world. Hope and curiosity are still for us. And when we carry heavy things we have to believe that the redemptive work of the cross can and will be redemption enough. In the end, God always ends. He always restores. He always redeems.”

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Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman ~

“What if, instead of thinking we have to choose between our ordinary life and an extraordinary life, we began to realize they’re the same thing?”

“Let me hear Jesus whisper to me the lesson he taught the disciples, the one about praying for this day our daily bread, not bread to last the week. Let me believe him when he tells me the most important work I’ll do today is to receive the love he wants to give and then hand it out to others.”

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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

There’s no room. More than I want to admit, the innkeeper’s words to Joseph and Mary express my heart attitude in December.

Every year on “box-opening day” (usually the day after Thanksgiving), our family brings the Christmas boxes out of the attic and opens each one with the anticipation of rediscovering our treasures.

A few years ago, on box-opening day, it happened that the first box we came to held all of our daughter’s special Christmas things. Child-like things with sequins and sparkles and puppies in Santa hats.

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While I turned to another box, my giddy little girl turned her attention to the mantle over the fireplace.

“No, no, no….these things don’t belong here,” I stammered as she placed stuffed animals at both ends.

Instantly we were at a standoff. The lion-faced nutcracker was not mantle-worthy.

“This is where we put our pretty candles and our greenery,” I explained.

She didn’t care.

“Mommy always decorates the mantle.”

She pouted.

As guilt and frustration mounted, I pushed her things aside. My actions communicated something to her: “There’s no room.” And while I set candles in place, my daughter disappeared.

I want the mantle to be elegant, the gifts to be perfect, the cards to be beautiful, and the cookies to be spectacular. But such expectations create a barrier to the beauty of real-life experiences. And honestly, serving up my own pride pushes generosity and joy right out of my spirit.

Call a friend? There’s no room in my day for that.

Let the customer with 2 items ahead of me in the grocery line? There’s no room in my heart for that.

Visit a widow? There’s no room in my day for that either.

Take time to be still and pray? Are you kidding?

Eventually mommy-guilt sunk in, and I turned from the Christmas boxes to find my daughter, fully expecting that she would be sulking in her room.

“I’m in here, Mommy.” I discovered my girl sitting at her desk and drawing a picture of a jointly-decorated mantle, her toys mixed with greenery and candles.

“Isn’t it pretty, Mommy? When we work together?”

(Oh. Ouch.)

I’ve had my share of moments as a mom, or human being in general, that won’t make the annual Christmas letter. My suspicion is that your experience might be the same. But friend, receive this truth with me:

Jesus came to earth to find each person where he was, not where he ought to have been. And the same is true today. God reaches into the darkest, dirtiest, most fearful places to correct and restore us into who He meant for us to be.” (Charles Stanley)

Once again I realize that Christmas exists because in God’s eyes, I’m not an achiever. There’s no decorated house or culinary spread that will ever turn me into who He meant for me to be.

If I can’t be an achiever, my only hope then is to become a receiver. I need the dawn of redeeming grace to break into the dim recesses of my heart where pride and perfectionism overshadow my longing to be free. To be giving. To be love.

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Jesus came to release us from the striving and the chaos of achieving. Friend, it doesn’t matter if we over or under-do Christmas. The Father purchased our souls with the priceless, life-giving blood of His Son. That’s the singular purpose of Christmas.

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Once we’ve received this gift, there is no failure, no disappointment, no would-have, could-have, or should-have on our parts that can invalidate it.

And once we are secure in our identities as receivers, something else happens. We become releasers. When we receive love and grace freely, freely we release love and grace to others.  Advent becomes a season of listening for the footsteps of Jesus. We hear His movement in the hush and not the rush.

When our spirits are still, we notice Him in the hurting friend, the customer behind us in the grocery line, the lonely widow, the little girl longing for Christmas joy.

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This December, may we see ourselves as innkeepers. In the midst of the plans and preparations, we have multiple opportunities each day to decide if there is room for Jesus. May we receive and release Him fully in each moment.

By the way, the mantle was especially festive that year.

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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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Sacred Scattering, Part 2

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My husband calls, and I irritably report that I watched a Fed Ex truck as it sped past our house. “But it didn’t stop.” And then he explains, “That’s because you’re waiting for UPS, not Fed Ex.” Ugh.

I find it ironic that I am stuck at home, impatiently waiting to sign for an important delivery, on a day when I intend to write about rest. And now the inability to go anywhere has me restless and twitchy. Obviously I write as a learner and not an expert.

As I wrote in Part 1, I tend to place more emphasis on my productivity for God’s kingdom and less emphasis on my position as a daughter of the King. But when my soul feels scattered amidst my commitments, I know deep down that this isn’t Jesus’ way.

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

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I’m learning that Jesus exemplified the difference between working for rest and working from rest. I usually work for rest, meaning that I persist in my duties until I finally achieve a semblance of order, empty laundry basket, or someone’s approval and then I take an exhausted break.

Jesus, on the other hand, chose an unforced rhythm of working from rest. He set apart time for stillness, prayer, and solitude even as impatient crowds waited for miracles (see Mark 1:35 – 37). By choosing the essential over the urgent, Jesus submitted to His Father’s pace and priorities. And out of this deeply rooted relationship with the Father, Jesus “completed His work” in three years of ministry (John 17:4).

Our culture believes that we must do more to produce more, but Jesus shows us the better way:

Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does (John 5:19).

I am the Vine; you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

Jesus’ example calls us to live with obedience and dependence, trusting our Father to work in and through us what we could never do ourselves. Ultimately our accomplishments are His doing, the outcomes of the time and skills that He’s given. When we acknowledge that our days are His, we receive time as a gift and not our own possession. As we follow His initiative, He replaces our striving with His sufficiency. And when we accept the truth that He is God and we are not, we embrace His boundaries as gifts. When God tells us to rest, we never need worry that His work will go unaccomplished.

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The Sabbath is one such boundary which God set into place because He created us to work from rest. On the sixth day, God created Adam and appointed him the work of naming the animals. With all the wonders of the Garden and its inhabitants, Adam must have been eager to dive into his responsibilities, but his first complete day of life was a day of rest with God. On the seventh day, God created rest and called Adam and Eve to join Him.

God’s creation of rest wasn’t born out of His need to take a break but out of His authority to set boundaries and a rhythm of relationship.

The Ten Commandments appear in Exodus and in Deuteronomy. While the Sabbath commandment in Exodus is grounded in the creation story, in Deuteronomy it calls the Israelites to remember and worship God in their new freedom:

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (5:15).

These former slaves had been trained to continually appease their taskmasters. Calling them to rest was God’s way of showing the Israelites that He loved them not because of their productivity but because they were His possession. The Sabbath is the principle of receiving – not achieving – God’s love and favor.

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I’m learning that a Sabbath heart isn’t simply about how I spend Sundays. At the core of my rest-issues, I believe, is my willingness to let God be God and my confidence in who He says I am. True rest isn’t the same as doing nothing; it is a humble & purposeful stance of remembering who God is, worshipping Him, intentionally setting pace with Him, and learning to hear His voice.

Several weeks ago, I shopped in a gift store that sells chalkboard signs with clever sayings. My favorite one said:

“Yesterday I cleaned. Which is dumb because we still live here.”

You know, that little sign has given me a lot of freedom. I am making a home with my people – and pets –  and we are real-life messy. If I wait until the taskmaster in my head is satisfied, I will never rest. But if I learn to live from rest, I see my life happening in a context of real people and real challenges and real joys. These are gifts, and I want to pause and savor these years before they disappear like a Fed Ex truck before my eyes. This happens only if I can see myself as a receiver, not an achiever.

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Sabbath rest isn’t a reward for an accomplished task; it’s a pure gift, and to receive it, I don’t need a clean house; I need a surrendered heart.

As a Christ-follower, a busy schedule doesn’t validate my worth. If you have received Christ as I have, you are God’s child, God’s heir. There is nothing we can do to change His love and acceptance of us. God writes our eternal story, and He promises to carry on a good work in you and in me that He will bring to completion on this side of Heaven. And that’s just the beginning!

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When I truly believe that Jesus is sufficient and sovereign, my effort to scatter seeds for the Gospel is impacted in a sacred way. I become content with the fields He gives me to sow, no matter the size.

Confidence in His purpose and provision allows me to rest, surrender, open my hands, and trust that seeds will fall as they may, yielding a fruitful harvest wherever God directs my steps.

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For the times when you feel scattered, I share a prayer written by Emily Freeman. May we meet the One Who Holds All Things Together with these words from a fellow receiver –

When it comes to our work, we confess our desire to grow, determine, fill, and control. Remind us these outcomes belong to You. Instead, may we simply plant, act, build, and offer, releasing the outcomes into Your hands because they are not our business …

We want Your presence to be its own reward.

Resources for cultivating a Sabbath Heart:

This article by Pastor Andy Lewis introduced me to the concept of working from rest – Sabbath: Living From Rest Rather Than For Rest

Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath by Priscilla Shirer

The Rest of God: Restoring your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan

Your Sacred Yes by Susie Larson

Tyranny of the Urgent by Charles E. Hummel

What the North American Church Needs to Know About Rest by Emily Wierenga

Sabbath Hearts @ feminagirls.com

How Can We Rest in a World When There is So Much Need? by Hillary Rector

Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman


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Don’t Draw the Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re so stupid.”

“Why do you even try?”

“You can’t change.”

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

“What’s wrong with you?”

“You’ll never understand.”

“Why can’t you change?”

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

You’re loved!

You’re accepted!

You’re chosen!

You’re forgiven!

You’re Mine!

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

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

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

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

We’re loved!

We’re accepted!

We’re chosen!

We’re forgiven!

We’re Yours!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Best Song You Can Sing

I’ve thought and written a lot recently about my “one-word” – receive – as I’m learning (again and again) to rest in my Father’s unconditional love.  His grace invites us to come to Him in a posture of receiving, not achieving. Nothing we do can add to or take away from His love.

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And as I study what the Bible says about receiving from God, I notice a pattern like this:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:2).

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God (1 John 4:7).

This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away (2 Corinthians 9:10, The Message).

Do you see the pattern? As we receive love, we’re not meant to keep it for ourselves. Love comes to us that we can release it back into love for God and love for a needful world. So I’m thinking that perhaps my “one-word” has turned into 2 words: Receive and Release are a package deal.

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

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On her beautiful site, Abiding Love, Abounding Grace, Karrilee expresses what releasing looks like:

I feel Him all around and I breathe Him in!
The temptation is to hold my breath…
to keep Him in…
To fill my lungs and try to push Him down…
To swallow Gulps of God.
 But Always, He was meant to be let out!

Last year I wrote a series on speaking life, being deeply inspired by these words:

Each of us is the beloved of God. Helping others claim and realize their belovedness is a privilege and sacred responsibility. This means we learn to be “for” our friends and family and not against them. Being for people means that we believe they are God’s beloved. (Stephen W. Smith)

To me, this being “for people,” this speaking for the belovedness of every person, especially those who cannot speak for themselves, is my sacred responsibility to release love.

This coming Sunday – January 18 – is Sanctity of Human life Sunday, and being “pro-life” is much more than taking sides and resigning this perspective to a political platform. It’s a worldview that embraces each person that God has created, from “womb to tomb” as our pastor says. It’s “a way of looking at life that transcends culture, class, race, age, and opinion, knowing that we are all uniquely created in the image of God” (The Dignity of Human Life video).

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Friend, you are created in God’s image. You are fashioned uniquely by Him for a purpose. He longs for you to receive His love and then to release it into your world. When you and I understand ourselves as the Beloved and the Image-Bearers, there is no limit to the difference we can make through our receiving and releasing.

As I wrote about speaking life, I learned many things, especially that it is not a solo effort. Rather it is a symphony of voices, each uniquely gifted, rising in reverence for Imago Dei in every person.

Fellow Image-Bearer, God created you with something to offer, and you – with your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness – add to a chorus that can change a world one life at a time.  YOU have something to say, someone to bless, and your receiving and releasing gives glory to God, like breathing in God’s grace and breathing out His praiseIt’s the best song you can sing.

As Sarah Bessey beautifully says, “If there is one soul in your care, one face in your loving gaze, one hand in yours, then you are loving the world … And so the work today, the love we give and receive and lavish on the seemingly small tasks and choices of our days can tip the scales of justice and mercy in our world.”

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May the following words inspire us to present our unique offerings, embrace the ordained ordinary, see weaknesses not as obstacles but as opportunities, and surrender the outcomes as our opened bag of loaves and fishes:

Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those who sang best. Henry Van Dyke

“If your personal genome sequence were written out longhand, it would be a three-billion-word book. The King James Version has 783,137 words, so your genetic code is the equivalent of approximately four thousand Bibles … My point? You aren’t just surrounded by miracles.  You are one.” Mark Batterson, The Grave Robber

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“There are many false ways of achieving uniqueness. These all result from attempts to create a self rather than receive the gift of myself in Christ. . . Identity is never simply a creation. It is always a discovery.” {Thank you, Emily Freeman, for sharing these words from David G. Benner. I’m eager to read his book, The Gift of Being Yourself}

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Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good;
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.
~ Saint Teresa of Avila

Releasing God’s love and our art in a way that reflects His glory is our highest purpose and greatest joy.

Join me in the song?

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Thank you, Lisa of {www.lisanotes.com} for introducing me to some truly inspiring thoughts from Sarah Bessey. Lisa’s post on Women in the Kingdom is filled with encouraging words about receiving and releasing for the sake of the Kingdom.

Linking with Beloved Brews Thursday @ Faith Barista. Fellow writers in Bonnie’s community are sharing their “one-words” for 2015. Bonnie’s offering a giveaway too, worth $100!

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Linking with Lyli and her friends who offer challenging, encouraging, and inspiring words @ Thought-Provoking Thursday.

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Linking today with Kelly and her encouraging community at Purposeful Faith and the #RaRaLinkUp. Find inspiration by clicking {here}.

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Does your heart need a pick-me-up? Join us over at Holley’s Coffee for Your Heart by clicking {here}. Holley is offering a giveaway today too 🙂

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