Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Powerless

I wouldn’t call it “outrage,” but deep within I’m down, restless, antsy, tired. I think maybe you are too.

I visited mom today, and I struggle with this role reversal, this constant wondering if I am serving her well. Since mom fell, we hired home health care to assist with her personal needs. The quality of care, I’ve discovered, depends on the person working with her and varies greatly, as this particular agency has difficulty in finding a consistent caregiver. This morning, I was saddened and concerned with what I observed.  When I left, the word “powerless” came to my mind.

I’m not one to complain. If I order a salad without mushrooms, and it arrives with mushrooms, I will pick through my salad rather than send it back (I see this as a tendency to shrink back, something I’m not proud of).

But when competent care for a loved one is what’s not being delivered, it’s a much different matter, and I have to speak. And so, I am learning – slowly, reluctantly – to “complain,” to make the phone calls, to be that client, to give words to something that isn’t right.

Sometimes, I admit, this feels like an imposition – it cramps my style, it goes against the grain of who I am. Speaking up, for me, is uncomfortable. But today, I realized afresh that this situation isn’t about me at all. It’s about my mother, and her right to be treated with kindness and dignity. If I have to speak up, I need to remember that I am giving words for her as much as I am speaking words against someone else’s lack of care.

The ladies at the place where mom lives always say things like, “Oh, you have such a good daughter.” And I wince, because really, I can very much be that clanging gong in 1 Corinthians 13 who goes through the acts of service without the purity of love in my heart. And every day, I must ask Jesus to make my heart a receptacle into which He pours His love. I am a needful soul who deeply wants to get over herself and learn what it looks like to reflect the One who was our advocate when we were powerless.

For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6

And I am not alone. Especially today, I see it in us, a common and visceral reaction when people are stripped of dignity and are left to wonder if they have any worth, in the eyes of a society that is most interested in applauding and preserving the attractive, self-reliant, young, and strong. I am sad when I observe, in many ways and degrees, how the world sees human worth in conjunction with externals. Those who are capable of contributing to society enjoy an elevated degree of status, according to the world’s standards, while the weaker members are marginalized.

From the incarnation to the Cross, Jesus identified with the vulnerable, and His Gospel defines human dignity. Our natural attraction to power is reframed at the Cross where Christ submitted Himself to weakness and death so that we may be reconciled to Him and our brothers and sisters as well.

And we must speak up. I want to be part of the response to the inequities. Like you, I want to speak against a cultural perspective that places people along a spectrum of power and worth.

Not everyone is powerless but it’s obvious in our society than some have less power than others. What would our world be like if this were not so?

Perhaps it would look like neighbor being for neighbor, regardless of zip-code or ethnicity. Men treating women like vessels of honor instead of pawns for pleasure. Women building each other up rather than backstabbing. Elderly persons participating in community rather than being cast to the margins. Refugees receiving welcome. A child who feels safe in a home.

Yes, sometimes we must speak against, but let us actively look for ways to speak for.  This doesn’t have to involve words at all. Sometimes it looks like listening. Sometimes it means looking away from a phone to meet one another eye to eye.

But may we remember that our tongues possess power, like a ship’s tiny rudder. Let us not give in to the lie of insignificance, for simple, heartfelt words or actions can steer a fellow traveler in the path of hope where she is no less than fully valued by Jesus, the all-powerful Lord of all.

Compassion


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From Charlotte …

I’d like to tell you about events that happened in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina this past week:

My neighbor helped a motorist with a flat tire.

A teacher gave her struggling student a fist bump and a “you got this.”

Friends invited the “new kid” to sit with them in the cafeteria.

A young woman took a lonely widow out to lunch.

After filling her prescription, a pharmacist at Walgreens walked an elderly lady through the store and to the parking lot where her ride waited.

A Sunday School teacher went to the hospital every day to visit a sick child.

In Subway, a customer entered line behind a police officer and stepped forward to pay for his sandwich.

A teenager, who recently entered the foster care system with no possessions, was clothed with new outfits, shoes, accessories, and the love of Christ.

A hospice chaplain took on extra hours to offer her prayerful presence to a heart-broken family.

These events weren’t sensational enough to make the news, of course. Most likely, you didn’t hear positive reports broadcast this week from my hometown. I don’t mean to minimize the circumstances that prompt important and necessary discussions about race issues in our country. But I think we can agree that when it comes to the media-driven culture, negativity and drama are predominant, from the playing field to protests to politics. And sometimes my soul needs the kind of care which comes not from escapism or denial but from recognizing that God is still sovereign and still at work near and far. While I appreciate the American freedom of expression, these recent days remind me to intentionally look for other forms of expression – those ordinary actions which express God’s love for and through the people of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Perhaps you are like me, living a seemingly small-scale life that feels more ordinary than extraordinary. But this ordinary day is ordained by God to move you into a place where you can express His love as no one else can. When you help a person on crutches with her grocery bags, when you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a hungry person, or when you trim the widow’s shrubs, you are giving expression to the God-given dignity of every individual.

Regardless of developmental stage or ethnic/economic status, every person is the Imago Dei, created in God’s image. Persons who in faith receive His Son as Savior are also in a process of being transformed into the image of Christ, or the Imago Christi. If you are a Christ-follower, the fact that you can give expression to the Imago Dei and the Imago Christi is the most sacred, significant thing about you. If there were a heavenly news-reel, your simple, heart-felt actions would make the highlights. More than ever, cities like Charlotte need the hands-and-feet expressions of the Gospel, the good news.

Politicians can make speeches, players can refuse to stand, protestors can voice their perspectives, but the only form of expression which will truly heal originates and overflows from God’s heart –

Every person has worth, created by God with purpose. (Psalm 139)

Jesus paid the ultimate price so that every person can be free. (Galatians 5)

Every person is loved regardless of status or performance or human standards. (2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 16)

This love also bridges separations, breaks down barriers, and calls each one of us to unity. (Ephesians 2:14)

The Cross radically transforms how we see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; white or black; weak or strong. The healing begins as we choose to follow the example of Jesus who gave His all for all.

Expressions of healing happen when we choose humility and kindness, when we direct our eyes from our gadgets to another human, when we give our time as a free gift, and when we listen more than we speak.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

The Gospel reconciles sinners to God and also person to person, community to community. Imagine our symphony of voices, each uniquely gifted, rising in reverence for Imago Dei in every person. God created you with something sacred to express, and your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness add to a chorus which can change cities like Charlotte one life at a time.

(Thank you, Pastor Alex, for influencing me and my family so deeply in our appreciation for the Imago Dei in every person and for encouraging us to create ripples across the waters.)

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

 


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The value of one divine appointment

On Thursday, I enjoyed posting and scrolling through back-to-school pictures on Facebook. But between the images of kids with fresh clothes and big smiles, I saw a picture of a young boy unknown to me. I did a double-take, then I squinted to figure out what I was seeing.  Because what in the world??

What is he covered in? Dust, ashes? Why is blood smeared over half his little face, matted in his hair and eyelashes? The child sits alone with little hands folded in his lap and with face expressionless. Doctors who treated the boy said that he never cried.

Mahmoud Raslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Mahmoud Raslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Numbly, he looks as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

He is Omran Daqneesh, a five year old victim of an airstrike in his hometown of Aleppo, Syria. His rescuers leave him in an ambulance, where this picture was taken, so that they can save additional children. Relieved, I learn that Omran was treated and released from the hospital with no signs of brain injury.  His parents and 3 siblings reportedly survived as well, pulled from the rubble of their apartment building before it collapsed completely.

The Syrian Civil Defense, a volunteer lifesaving organization, saved the family’s life.

Bibars Halabi is the volunteer who carried Omran to the ambulance.

“My heart breaks for Omran but people need to know this happens everyday,” said Halabi, “This time it was just caught on camera.”

As I search for articles about Omran and his family, I learn that Aleppo, their hometown, has been in the news for years. Part of the Syrian city has been held by rebel groups since 2012 with the recent government siege, backed by Russian air power, cutting off many supply routes. As vital necessities diminish, humanitarian aid is blocked.

More than 6,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed or injured in 80 consecutive days of fighting in Aleppo.

I have never heard of Aleppo. I’m grieved by this. I didn’t know that just last week, the remaining 15 doctors in the city of 300,000 sent a letter to President Obama to appeal for intervention so that medical supplies and food can offer relief to the suffering civilians.

Honestly, I can’t understand or explain the Syrian civil war, although I know that millions have fled for their lives, but for most of them and for those still in Syria, there is nowhere to go.

I remember it’s been almost a year since the world was shocked by the image of Aylan, a Syrian boy whose drowned body was recovered off the shores of Turkey.

But then, well, I forgot …

“I hope the world will learn something from it,” said Aylan’s father who also lost his wife and another son when their dinghy capsized as they tried to flee Syria. “I hope this people will be helped, that these massacres are stopped. We are human beings, just like Westerners.”

Every child is a divine appointment ~ Wess Stafford

Aylan and Omran – yes, you are human beings, divine appointments, made in the image of God, held in His heart and precious in His sight. So much more than another victim caught on camera. My heart is filled with remorse and regret for the way I forgot you. I didn’t pray. I guess I reasoned that the situation in your home country is “complicated” and “political” and I didn’t know how to pray. That’s garbage for an excuse.

I am so sorry. Omran, if your precious little face looks numb to suffering, perhaps it’s because my heart has been numb to your suffering. May this day conclusively close the door on my ignorance, apathy, forgetting.

Reader and friend, if you are like me, perhaps you also find it overwhelming to articulate the tremendous needs in our hurting world as you try to pray. May we remember that the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it.

May we simply and humbly and faithfully come and choose to not forget.

Together, let us hold every Aylan and Omran in our hearts and trust that God receives our prayers for

– peace and for protection over the innocents caught in the crossfire

– a ceasefire so that aid can be delivered to the suffering

– safe places for the vulnerable

– material support to flow abundantly

– courageous volunteers like Halabi and the 15 doctors who are risking their lives for every Omran.

– the Christ-followers to stand firm in their faith and serve as the hands and feet of Jesus to their neighbors in Syria and refugee camps

– their suffering to be redeemed by His goodness and glory

– all of us, a call to action in giving and praying and remembering.

We can all do something. Thank you for reading and remembering with me.

“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” Max Lucado

If you can share any additional prayer points or ways to help, please include in the comments.

“I believe that now more than ever, Jesus is leading His church into the margins of our world, where the suffering is greatest and expressions of His love are most needed.” Richard Stearns, President of World Vision

Where is the Church? by Steve Haas of World Vision. In this article, you can find and download the free guide, “Understanding the Syria Crisis and the Role of the Church”

World Vision International

Open Doors

World Relief Disaster Response

The (Bloody) Face of Violence in Syria

Compassion International –

Aylan Kurdi: The Power of One Child

Doctors Without Borders

News sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/17/world/syria-little-boy-airstrike-victim/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37125400

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/18/490461992/a-wounded-child-in-aleppo-silent-and-still-shocks-the-world

http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/09/05/437486484/a-viral-syrian-moment-will-it-be-different-this-time

Also – from Ann Voskamp, September 2015 – Dear Alyan

 

 


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A prayer when we feel powerless

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The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post is a prayer in response to the tragedy in Orlando and to words I wrote last week:

Lord Jesus, You tell us to speak on behalf of the powerless: the orphan, the widow, the outcast. We look to You, our Advocate, for the courage and conviction to go to the margins and open our arms. Jesus, You are our example and our guide when we need to speak against injustice and speak for the Imago Dei, every person created in the image of God.

But it’s increasingly and frighteningly clear that even the places where those of us in the prime of life go to learn, to worship, to gather with friends are no longer secure from just one person filled with hatred and bigotry.  God, this leaves us feeling powerless too. We need You. When we feel scattered and confused, we run to Your safe arms. Remind us that nothing happens apart from your power to redeem and rescue.

When it seems that we cannot relate in lifestyle or choice with those who have been targeted, Lord may we draw together in humanity. Forgive us for making distinctions, and give us courage and conviction to go beyond the safe lines we draw around where we feel comfortable. For all of us can relate with the experience of being human, being afraid, being needful of comfort and grace and someone to stand with us.

And in this world, sometimes we also feel powerless to do anything against the encroaching darkness. May we remember that the dark only exists in the absence of light.

Give us courage to be Your light in any way and any place where You lead us. Today that can happen in our homes, our workplaces, our grocery stores. We can shine for You in simple, small ways that will never make the news but can give someone a glimmer of hope that kindness, honor, and respect still exist in our world. For You are still here, You are still in control, and Your love always overcomes.

In You, Jesus, Love is the most powerful force in our world, and we will choose and live it to the full this day.

May Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

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

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. attributed to Edmund Burke

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Compassion

 


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Speaking Life in the Small

Last week my husband and I received an email we didn’t expect. Our daughter is entering high school next year, and the college placement team reached out to say it is time to meet. I am not prepared for such preparations. What is expected, of course, is to say that just yesterday I was brushing her hair into a Pebbles-style ponytail right on top of her sweet little head. But it’s true.

What seems especially ironic or painful or some emotion I can’t articulate is that all this transition and looking forward for her comes on the cusp of a mid-life birthday for me. Here I am, looking backward and wondering where life veered from what I expected. It’s not necessarily cliché, nor is it crisis; it’s just real-life awareness that I am not really in control of anything.

I can’t stop my girl from growing up, and for all my own attempts to move upward, including a post-grad degree that took 11 years to complete, I’m in a place where I can choose to be disillusioned or to accept that life happens and circumstances sometimes collide with dreams and I feel as small as ever.

The complicating thing is that I have a really beautiful life. My blessings are abundant, and I know that the lines have fallen for me in very pleasant places (Psalm 16:6).

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Here, I am learning that my questions don’t mean that I am ungrateful; they mean that I am human.

Usually when I write, the editor in me gets in the way. Because I am actually employed as a writing editor. It is hard to write without evaluating every.single.word. (Is it grammatically correct to begin a sentence with because? Ugh.) But when I do, I am surprised at what revelation comes out. And so perhaps I need to pay attention to the above paragraph, where I off-the-cuff wrote that I have invested years and money in moving “upward.”

Is upward what I have wanted?

In itself, I see nothing wrong with this. I am for education and hard work and dreaming (and even college placement meetings *sigh*). I want this path for my daughter. My parents and my husband provided every opportunity for me to develop my potential and chase my desires, and how could I not look at this place in her life without dreamy (yet misty) eyes?

But as I grow deeper in relationship with Christ, I’m increasingly moving toward acceptance, even comfort, with a small life.

As an American, I live in a culture where small and upward are seemingly incongruent. But I am firstly a citizen of another Kingdom, where the highest goal is to go small. I think of John the Baptist who, when his followers left to pursue Jesus, said “He must become greater and I must become less” (John 3:30). And of him, Jesus said, “Among those born of women is none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

I also think of the widow who gave the smallest offering, a mere two coins, and Jesus esteemed her offering – all that she possessed – as the greatest (Luke 21:1 – 4).  Even the apostle Paul, who had once relished the utmost in accolades and accomplishment, surrendered everything – counted it as garbage even – in order to move forward with Christ (Philippians 3).

Some of my lifelong goals are yet unrealized. When I set my perspective on God’s grace, sovereignty, wisdom, and the call of discipleship, I’m really okay with this.

I am learning that I never needed those accomplishments to validate me, because who I am in Christ is enough. Perhaps small fits best. (Hey, I always wanted to be a size small).

I should clarify what I mean by “small.” Part of my life mission statement is that I will “speak life.” By this I mean that I want my words and actions to be a voice for the dignity of life, in every stage and status.  I am inspired when I see other people doing this in “big” ways, crusading on platforms for justice and equality. I have sat in forums and movies where I was deeply moved by Christ-followers who have, in large-scale ways, been champions for the outcast. I’ve wanted to do that too.

And as I went to special events and heard the stories of young women who were forced into sex slavery or child marriage, I was inspired by the heroes who rescued them. I’d say, however, that I always had one reaction more urgent than any other. As much as I appreciated the message, I couldn’t wait to bolt from those events and go home and wrap my daughter in my arms. It was an expression of my motherly-gut-level calling to speak life to her.

Most victims of human trafficking are deceived into believing that they aren’t worthy of anything else. But they are created by God to bear His image, and that makes them beautiful and worthy. Every person needs to know this about themselves. My daughter needs to know this about herself, and God has gifted her to me for a season. I am telling her that she is God’s hand-crafted, priceless possession.

My calling may be very small-scale. But I am realizing that it is no less significant.

Perhaps you are like me, living a seemingly small-scale life that feels more ordinary than extraordinary. But Christ-follower, it is significant. This day is one ordained by God to move you into His will and His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). You have a God-given design and purpose to influence your people and your community as no one else can.

You wipe noses and pick up toys all day …

You crunch numbers in a cubicle …

You sit with the lonely …

You spend out of your own salary to supply your classroom …

You write words that you think no one reads …

You stroke the hand of your frail loved one …

You serve in the church nursery …

You take in a child without a home …

You go to your prayer closet where no one sees …

You choose integrity in your job day in and day out …

You are speaking life. You are living your sacred responsibility to help others realize that they are God’s beloved.

So what do I say to my daughter? These years are pivotal, a time for her to dream big.  I want that for her. And I want her to be small too, in the way that Christ is greater and she is lesser, and every ordinary day is ordained by Him and for Him.

I want my child to speak life, whether from a platform or a pick-up game with kids from the other side of town. They may seem big; they may seem small; what matters is that there are God-sized plans awaiting her.

And you too.

Every small way is no small thing in the Kingdom.

The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus. (2)

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Such a good word from Jennifer Dukes Lee:

Could we, artists and writers and mothers and fathers and preachers and teachers and ordinary, everyday pilgrims — could we willingly lay down our lives for a life separated with Christ — a life hid in Christ with God?

And there, we would find the only approval that matters. 

And we would know it with certainty:

that it’s the approval we always had.

Writers are speaking life with Jennifer Dukes Lee and #TellHisStory.

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Connecting with other speakers of life @ Missional Women and Faith Filled Friday.

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Read this insightful post about a Christ-follower’s perspective on ambition at Purposeful Faith with Kelly Balarie.

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I’m having Coffee for Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth

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Linking today with Thought Provoking Thursday @3dlessonsforlife

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A Prayer for the Speakers of Life

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Our world is filled with negative noise, from the playing field to press conferences to political platforms. If we are offended, culture encourages us to express it. Then we are outraged at one another’s outrage.

Father, I have played my part. I’ve added to a chorus of criticism. Not only in public matters but in my private circles, I have sought to tear down. I’ve been easily offended and vocally so.

I’ve not chosen the way of love when I’ve been silent about the things that matter and outraged about the things that don’t, in the end.

But You have given me life that I might be a voice for life.

Your Word says – “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (2 Corinthians 5:14 – 16)

Your Son died for my life. My neighbor’s life. The sex slave’s life. The black man’s life. The refugee’s life. The unborn baby’s life.

That truth must radically transform how I see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; American or foreign; white or black; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; weak or strong.

Your Word also tells us that the tongue has the power of life and death. We “speak life” when our words and actions honor the inherent value in every person You have created.

Sometimes speaking life doesn’t involve words at all. How we treat our brothers and sisters on a day-to-day basis, whether in the grocery line or online, speaks what our hearts believe about the sacredness of life.

Thank You for the kind stranger who walked me to my car with his umbrella to shield me from the pouring rain.

Father, give us eyes to see each other as Your children.

When virtual culture tempts us with enough separation to express opinions that we would never say to a person’s face, remind us that we are never away from Your presence. While a person in Seattle may never actually read the disparaging comment I wrote about her, You see it.

May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

Forgive me, Father, when my words, in whatever form they take, grieve Your heart. Who of us has never made a mistake or acted regretfully? When our critical words take the form of stones, release our grip, we pray.

Father, we ask You to cultivate Your grace in our hearts. Put Your plow to what is hardened. Give us the understanding that our words will sow blessing or curses. May our words reflect humility, like a broken seed gives life.

Remind us that our words and actions can build up or strip away layers of dignity in another person’s soul. The dignity is inherently there, because You have woven purpose into every person. But rejection and shame can wear our perceptions of ourselves down to near nothing. May we grasp our sacred responsibility to help our neighbors realize that they are more. More than their performance or their regrets, they are Your beloved.

And expand our understanding of our “neighbor,” meaning that we extend ourselves to people outside our zip codes.

Let the speakers of life recognize Your image in their friends, spouses, parents, pastors, students, co-workers, and children. Let Your voice pour through them like water, refreshing weary souls.

When we think ourselves to be small, remind us that our tongues possess power, like a ship’s tiny rudder. Let us not give in to the lie of insignificance, for the simplest, most heartfelt words or actions can steer a fellow traveler in the path of hope.

In moments of a friend’s grief, may we refuse the pressure to fix the pain. Let our willingness to be present, without words, reflect the incarnate Word made flesh.

When we are tempted toward a heated discussion without deliberation, may Your Spirit help us to speak life by staying silent. When we are tempted to ignore injustice, may Your Spirit quicken us to speak truth in love.

Father, help us to hold our words with open hands, that You may restrain or set them free.