Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life

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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.



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:

Also – from Ann Voskamp, September 2015 – Dear Alyan




Care {Five Minute Friday}

My sweet child,

Right in the middle of the week, you did it. You set this weary heart of mine on a new course.

Because when you surrendered your wadded-up bills and said, “I want to give,” I saw in you the graciousness and generosity that the Living Water pours into our hearts.  And sweetheart, after walking a long, dry road of serving and caregiving for a while, I was thirsty.

When you were smaller, you found it very hard to give, as most children do. But I see you growing into a young woman, earning your own babysitting money and engaging with a needful world across the street and across the sea. It’s Jesus in you; He’s giving you this compassion as a torch for your generation, and I pray that you will shine the Light of Christ in dark places.

When you saw a need and presented your offering, drops of Living Water fell soothingly on dried-out clay of my heart.

Could it be that caring is contagious?

I think yes. And so, my girl, I’m grateful that you interrupted my pity-party-of-one and infected me with a renewed compassion to knock out the complacency and entitlement that’s running viral in our world.

Thank you, daughter, for caring.



Kate Motaung hosts Five Minute Friday, a weekly gathering of writers who write for 5 minutes on the same prompt, this week “care.” Find the community and their fast & faith-filled words here.

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Day by Day (When You Need to Persevere)

To the Grandkids: “Your life in Christ is day by day, not a big ‘explosion.’ You never know what the Lord is going to do.” – Grandpa

These words from a beloved grandfather, printed on the program of his funeral service, are meant to remind his grandchildren that a life in Christ is lived through daily faithfulness.


As I’ve thought about these words this week, the Holy Spirit persistently whispers “perseverance” to my heart. But life in Christ, as I experience it at the moment, is more routine than remarkable. This string of recent days is empty of “explosions” – I haven’t experienced any jaw-dropping, glorious fireworks nor outbursts of crisis, fear, or despair.

Yet the past few months have reminded me that it takes one phone call to make the next moment/day/week/month anything but ordinary. And while a crisis may seemingly bring my routine to a screeching halt, the truth is that life keeps moving forward. This reality was especially vivid to me right after my father died.

While riding in the car, I remember observing strangers out for a walk or at work in their yards and wondering “how can they do that?” It was jarring to realize that the world had not actually stopped. Oh, I know it seems incredibly self-absorbed to think that my broken heart would suspend the world for a time, but shock and grief are like that. Forward motion, as the way of life, seems incongruent with mourning. But with time it helps the healing process. Day-to-day will continue somehow, someway.

When I think of “perseverance” I picture a runner in a race, as in Hebrews 12: “… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith …”

My husband is training for a race, and he prepares for different phases of the route. There are times when he will keep pace – meaning that he’ll concentrate on moving forward while preserving his energy for the duration. Then there are moments when he’ll have to push harder – perhaps against a headwind, or up an incline, or down the home stretch when his energy is almost spent.

If I picture my life this way, I am keeping pace – for the time being – moving forward, day by day. Seems simple, but days like these take consistent focus and re-focus. My mind can easily wander from my end goal. I become distracted by another path. The temptation to run ahead of my Pace-Setter is enticing. A critical, complaining spirit saps my energy. Sometimes I get discouraged when the route takes turns that I didn’t expect. And those darn entanglements are hurdles that hinder my stride.

It helps to remember that perseverance is more than endurance. More than holding on, perseverance requires perspective and purpose. The perspective comes by fixing my eyes on Jesus, the source of daily faith, energy, and strength. The purpose comes in knowing that this race course has been marked out for me, and the finish line is eternity:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (the words of Paul).

And this morning, as I’m keeping pace, I’m thinking about those I know who are in the midst of the uphill climb. In the past week, I’ve spoken with friends whose path is made steeper by depression, uncooperative people, financial worries, chronic health issues, job loss, unexpected delays, a startling diagnosis, caregiving demands, strained relationships, and disillusionment. Friends, my heart wants things to be made quickly right for you. But our Father is so much wiser and more loving than I could ever be. He has higher goals for you and me.

I don’t know how or when or if He’s going to alter or fix your circumstances but He has promised to “author” and “finish” your faith. He will initiate and complete whatever it takes for you to reach the finish with the fullness of His glory. As I’ve been thinking about perseverance, you come to mind. So, keep running – one foot in front of the other. Let the Holy Spirit permeate your lungs and energize your spiritual muscles. Ask Him because He promises to empower you.

Here are a few thoughts from some of my favorite authors that I pray will carry us forward in perseverance with purpose and perspective:

“Perseverance means more than endurance— more than simply holding on until the end. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands. Is there something in your life for which you need perseverance right now? Maintain your intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through the perseverance of faith” (Oswald Chambers).


“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work in order for you to be mature and complete … Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1: 2- 4; 12).


“Running with patience is a very difficult thing to do. The word ‘running’ itself suggests the absence of patience, or an eagerness to reach the goal. (Running with patience is) the power to continue working after a setback, the power to still run with a heavy heart, and the power to perform daily tasks with deep sorrow in your spirit. This is a Christ-like thing!

Dear Son of Man, this was Your kind of patience. It was both waiting and running at the same time, waiting for the ultimate goal….” (Streams in the Desert, October 30).


“Disciplined runners consistently clear their heads and focus fully on the journey ahead. Are their muscles tired? Yes. Are their lungs strained? Yes. But can they continue? Yes, because their passion and zeal for the goal supersedes the strain. The goal beckons them onward. Passion doesn’t negate weariness; it just resolves to press beyond it …Pushing past weariness is possible. So don’t stop now.” (Priscilla Shirer, Gideon)


“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.…” (Habakkuk 2:3-4).


“No matter what hardships the world may throw at you, you have—in Me— everything you need to persevere. Despair is a deep pit, and sometimes you totter around its edges, precariously close to falling in. Your only hope at such times is to fix your eyes on Me. The more perplexed you are—bewildered by complex circumstances—the easier it is to lose your balance. To keep from falling, you must change your focus: from your circumstances to My Presence.” ( Sarah Young, Jesus Lives)


“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5: 1 – 5)


“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3: 13 – 14).


Dear friends, Be strong and let your heart take courage. I press on with you, with gratitude for your example, with hope that comes from the Lord, and with the finish line in sight. We “never know what the Lord is going to do” but we will trust in the victorious God that He is!

Love you, Renee

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Recently I saw a random quote on Pinterest that could apply to my girl: “I hate it when I’m singing a song and the artist gets the words wrong.”  My daughter could have posted that one; it’s often really cute but true – she creates original interpretations of song lyrics.

A couple of summers ago, Caroline and I were on a short road trip, and she was in the backseat, singing along with the well-known worship song “Forever:”

“Forever God is faithful. Forever God is strong. Forever God is with us. Forever…Forever…”

Because she didn’t know she heard the words incorrectly, Caroline’s version went like this: “Whatever God is faithful. Whatever God is strong. Whatever God is with us.  Whatever…Whatever…”

While I was amused with the Caroline version, it struck me that her lyrics were just as true! At the time, my husband was preparing for a two-week mission trip to Asia, and the “what-ifs” almost overwhelmed me.  But in this moment in the car, Caroline’s unique rendering of “Forever” reminded me to trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness in whatever was to come.

In current slang, “what-eh-ver” denotes a flippant or anything-goes attitude. But is life really so carefree?

Not when your husband is traveling across the globe….Not when the doctor’s news is not so good…Not when you’re notified that your services are no longer needed….Not when your kid’s behavior is stealing your sleep and you wonder if your joy is buried under a pile of laundry somewhere …

At times like these, we don’t need a breezy life-philosophy. We need an anchor for the soul. As Caroline’s chorus rolled around in my thoughts, I was reminded of verses in Scripture that use “whatever” in quite a different way:

Psalm 135: 5 – 6 ~ “I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The Lord does whatever pleases Him in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”

Psalm 115: 1 – 3 ~ “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to Your Name be the glory because of Your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say “where is their God?’ Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him.”

The fact that God is able to do whatever He pleases should inspire our worship and faith. He is both completely sovereign and completely good. He shows us through the writings of Isaiah.  In chapter 40, the Word expresses the incomparable greatness of our God.  Isaiah 40:10 says, “The Sovereign Lord comes with power and He rules with a mighty arm.” In the following verse, the mighty God is pictured with mercy: “He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.” (v.11).

God is strong and He’s my shepherd. God is power and He’s my peace.

God is mighty and He is merciful, so I will trust Him through all the “what-ifs” and “whatevers” in my life. I hope you will too…

So I like Caroline’s version of the song. Though the lyrics aren’t in original form, they’re spot on –

Whatever God is faithful,

Whatever God is strong,

Whatever God is with us,

Whatever, whatever….

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Have Second Thoughts About Marriage

I noticed in Walmart on Tuesday, before the snowstorm that has paralyzed the South arrived, that just as many (well, almost as many) people were hunting the greeting card aisle as the bread aisle. Because no one, especially a Southerner, wants to be unprepared when the first flakes fall and the forecaster predicts that this is going to be a BIG one, right before the BIG day. Yet I imagine, especially if we’re still stuck indoors today, that there will be many homes in which the cards, roses, jewelry, and chocolate don’t arrive by Valentine’s Day.

And, you know, that’s okay … Makes me wonder why we buy in (literally) to the idea that love has to be expressed in these particular ways on one particular day anyway?

Last night, while the clinking of sleet against the window kept me awake, my thoughts wandered to things like love and Valentine’s Day, and how marriage to the man sleeping next to me has been a more unexpected journey than I could have ever imagined.

This April, it will be twenty years since the day we stood before God and spoke words from the second chapter of Philippians to each other.

And while it’s been a struggle sometimes, our vows to God and to one another are still intact even as the initial dreams that we had for our marriage are not.

So, I would advise any starry-eyed couple who is nearly married to have second thoughts.

I know, without a doubt, that my husband did.

Like on the days into the second year of marriage when he had to pick me up off of the floor because my legs (and my soul) were too weakened to stand. Who could blame a young man for having second thoughts when his wife is buried under failure, depression, and shame?

In the midst of this mess, when our marriage was severely tested, my husband made up his mind. Or perhaps I should say that he chose the mind of Christ:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus …”

My husband committed himself to the promises that he made, based upon the second chapter of Philippians. And he purposed in his heart that his personal ambitions, needs, and desires would be second.

And twenty years later, he and I know that enduring marriages are based upon second thoughts.

Our union is not perfect now. We still live in the consequences of that most painful time, but we don’t regret it – not for a single second. Because we had to learn early that not every day is Valentine’s Day. Yes, there are moments of romance, but the days of roses are limited. Real love is expressed in the ordinariness of taking out the trash, getting the kids in the bath, clearing the toilet, and paying the bills.

And the truest love – agape love – finds and expresses itself in the laying down of one’s very life, as Jesus did. Yes, it means (in the human experience) that there is morning breath, dirty laundry, harsh words, misunderstanding, and disappointment. But (in the eternal experience) there is a picture of Christ’s devotion for His Church – His unconditional love for His people who are utterly unlovable.

In her advice to young men considering marriage, Elisabeth Elliot writes this:

“Christ is the supreme example … His sole aim in life was to be obedient to the Father. His very obedience made Him the most manly – responsible, committed, courageous, courteous, and full of love. A Christian man’s obedience to God will make him more of a man than anything else in the world.”

“A Christian’s rule of life should be, My life for yours. He is concerned about the comfort and happiness of others, not of himself. He does not seek to have his own needs met, his own image enhanced, but to love God, to make Him loved, and to lay down his life to that end. In small ways as well as great, he shows the love of the Lord.” (Keep A Quiet Heart, page 162).

If God’s plan for my daughter includes marriage, I ask Him to bring this kind of man into her life – the kind of man who has second thoughts. A man whose commitment to her is second only to his steadfastness to the Father. A man whose aspirations and wishes come in second place to whatever gives glory to God in his relationship with his wife and children.

And lest I advise my daughter that second place is for the husbands, I remember that honor and respect is my calling as a wife. Placing myself second may require the setting aside of my pride and my preferences, but to follow God’s intention for my marriage is to lose nothing in the eternal realm. I must believe Jesus when He tells me that those who lose their lives for His sake will find them back again, fuller and richer and better than anything they could have expected. When a wife puts herself second in her marriage, she finds the grit and grace to do so for Jesus’ sake. And the immeasurable gift that she receives in return is way better than perishable roses and chocolate could ever be.

Marriage is not for us. It is for God’s glory, designed in His mind to be the picture of sacrifice and selflessness. Husbands and wives who give Jesus first place in their marriages live in a way such that romance comes second to redemption. There are occasional opportunities for husbands and wives to be flush with romantic feelings. But there are daily opportunities for our marriages to reflect God’s redemptive love for us through continual giving of forgiveness and grace.

Let us have second thoughts about marriage and follow hard after the example of the One who loves us first.


Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 5 -11, J.B. Phillips New Testament).

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

Dear C,

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

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

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

Yeah. Right.

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

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

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


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

Choose well, honey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Different … Better (for the New Year)

A few days ago, my family made a special trip to a grocery store. On the way, we passed at least five stores where we usually shop for groceries. My daughter couldn’t understand why we were doing this, especially when picking up a little food wasn’t our primary goal. The reason behind our special trip was to check out a store which is brand new to our area. We like new grocery stores around here. A few years ago, Trader Joe’s came to town, and we couldn’t even get close to the parking lot for weeks. And on Whole Foods’ opening day, we were literally shoulder to shoulder with our fellow shoppers, but I don’t remember if we actually purchased a single thing.

We’re drawn to the new. “New” offers a possibility of different, perhaps better. Advertisers hope a “new and improved” product will capture our attention (and money). This week, many people will expectantly welcome the arrival of the New Year and the possibilities of different, perhaps better. Admittedly I’m really not into making the yearly list of “more” or “less” – as in “more Scripture memorization” and “less junk food.” (Yesterday we passed a church sign that I found amusing – ‘May your New Year’s troubles be as short-lived as your resolutions.’)

Of course, I’d love to be more organized, exercise more consistently, have more verses committed to memory, and eat more fruit, but what I really need is newness in my attitudes and not just in my actions.

Ezekiel 36:26 ~ “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

2 Corinthians 5: 17 ~ “… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Ephesians 4: 23 – 24 ~ “… let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

Romans 12: 2 ~ “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Each of these Scriptures indicates that transformation is God’s doing. I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit is alive and real and lives in me! He cuts to the heart of the matter and gives me power not merely for annual resolutions but for daily renewal.

My part is to be the offering. Of course that means tangible steps – making time to be in the Word, attending worship with the Body of believers, participating in Bible study, choosing to honor God with my choices in eating and exercise, living by the convictions He has placed in my heart. But these actions arise out an attitude (humility) and an approach (dependence).

Christ said to His disciples: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And Paul later wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (4:13).

Jesus, the Vine, produces new life and new fruit in His followers, the branches. What do my striving, my goodness, and my resolve produce apart from Him? That’s right – nothing. Seems that the key is being made new each day is “abiding.” Some versions of this Scripture use “remain” in place of “abide” – “Those who remain in Me will bear much fruit.” Remaining = renewing.

Personally, I prefer the image of “abiding.” Somehow it gives me a fuller picture of resting in, depending upon God’s grace. In the book Abide in Christ, Andrew Murray describes abiding as “unbroken communion.” Now there’s a vision for the new year!

“A close walk with Me is a life of continual newness. Do not cling to old ways as you step into a new year. Instead, seek My Face with an open mind, knowing that your journey with Me involves being transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Jesus Calling, Sarah Young).

All this reflection about “new” has me thinking that while “new” usually means different, it doesn’t always result in better, at least in our limited perspectives. “New” implies transformation (especially in reference to the New Year), but “new” can also refer to transition (which is almost always stressful, if not downright difficult). Take divorce. Or widowhood. A new town or new school.

Sometimes we find ourselves in new situations because of events beyond our control. Here is where we have to rest in the One who is in control. What is new to us is not new to Him.

And sometimes we find ourselves in a place where change is truly necessary for our good. Going back to Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Vine, He spoke of times when the branches, through pruning, take on a new shape. Something that inhibits the growth of the branch has to be taken away. I’m thinking bitterness. Holding on to unhealthy habits. Needing another’s approval.

Pruning is painful. But through the process of pruning, branches are better able to produce new flowers or fruit.

I don’t know what 2013 holds for me in way of transformations and transitions. All I know is that each day is a new day of God’s mercy (Lamentations 3:23 – 24). Sometimes my actions will correspond nicely with New Year’s resolutions (more of the right stuff, less of the bad stuff). Sometimes they won’t. Pruning will come. But I pray that my focus this year will be on abiding.

Depending on Christ, for different, certainly better.

Romans 12: 1 – 2 ~ “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 ~ “This is what the LORD says— who makes a way in the sea, and a path through surging waters, ‘Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”

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Purposes Unfolding and Promises Coming

(Sigh…) The lights lay in a pile on the floor, as it’s that necessary day in January – the day the Christmas tree leaves the house. Although I don’t look forward to this annual chore, it always triggers a favorite memory of my sweet girl.

Caroline, a kindergartener, had just finished learning about all of the December holidays in school. A wonderful Christmas had past. My husband and I were relieved that Caroline was too busy playing outside to notice that we were dismantling the tree. After we hauled it to the curb, I went inside to deal with the stray needles. But from the front window, I suddenly noticed Caroline standing over the tree. Alarmed that she was so close to the street, I hurried outside to see what was going on.

As I suspected, my girl was crying, but she caught me completely off guard with what she said.

Tears streaming, Caroline wailed – “We forgot to do Hanukkah!!

Oh, how I tried not to laugh.

Caroline is the sort who rises early every day, even when she doesn’t need to. There are new things to learn, new books to read, new pictures to paint. Caroline is the type of person who decorates for Christmas without muttering about how long it will take to pack the stuff back up (ahem, isn’t that what mom is for?)

Caroline has the innocent, unburdened perspective of a child. I’m grateful that she’s had the kind of childhood that allows her to expect a good day everyday. She sees life through the lens of anticipation.

Over the past few days, I’ve heard several references to the well-known Scripture found in Ecclesiastes 3:

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.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end (verses 1 – 11).

This passage offers the wise perspective that a young girl like Caroline does not yet fully possess. But in small ways, she’s learning. Today will help her understand that there is a time to keep and a time to throw away. The sadness of saying goodbye to this tree will eventually turn into anticipation and appreciation for the next trip to the tree farm.

Ecclesiastes 3 was fittingly read at a funeral that I attended yesterday. The family grieves this dear lady, but they are comforted by knowing that she had peace with her Lord and Savior and she accepted that it was her time to die. While I didn’t know this sweet woman personally, I came to appreciate, through the lovely words said of her, all the ways that she made life beautiful for her loved ones. According to her son-in-law’s heartfelt tribute, “She lived life fully and with purpose.” Most importantly, she understood that God had made her heart for eternity, and she lived in view of an unending season of fellowship with Him.

Ecclesiastes 3 speaks of closures but also beginnings. In Christ, a passing away is a promise coming.

In the bleakness of January we anticipate the beauty of April. But sometimes new seasons, with their closures and beginnings, are messy. Often, when we think of “new” we think of things shiny, orderly, and efficient. But “new” in life is not like a new appliance. “New” is not necessarily easy. Usually it means an end to something that may have been beautiful or, at least, comfortable.

Daffodils are a spring favorite until they droop, and the messy leaves have to remain in order to feed the bulb and strengthen it for next year’s bloom. Where I live, autumn creates a big, beautiful mess. But throughout winter months, the decomposing leaves provide essential nutrients to the soil.

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. Painful procedures and painful discussions happen behind the fancy exterior. The pain is meant to serve healing purposes. If not healing in the body, perhaps healing in the spirit. It’s the kind of pain that triggers a shift in perspective. 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 even Easter. 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.

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A Prayer for the New Year

We hear Your call to go – go and make disciples,

Identify with strangers, walk on shifting sands, and

Build a kingdom church.

“Go” is not a comfortable word.

Teach us how to depend on You again;

We need Your initiative, Your boldness, Your blessing,

Your plan.

Make us unafraid to break new ground,

To take new steps of faith with You.

Do a new thing, Father…

Give a new passion for worship, a new love

For the lost,

A new unity in purpose, a new strength in our resolve,

A new heart of repentance, a new humanity of spirit,

A new pulse for the people, a new heart laid bare,

And send us out.

~ A Salvation Army Prayer, printed in It’s Just You & Me, Lord: Prayers for a Woman’s Life by Marion Stroud (2012)

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28: 18 – 20